The Bottomless Pit of SEO

bottomless-money-pit-seo-If you are a novice blogger, an affiliate, or plan to make a killing by placing Google ads on your site you may believe that SEO will bring you tons of money. It may, but unless you watch every step and invest a great deal of efforts in building the traffic, it won’t.

A couple months ago I started a mid-sized SEO project. I guess by now, after going through a few dozens of SEO engagements I should not be too worried, yet I was. The SEO world has changed a great deal since my last project. Also this time I needed to start from scratch – new site, new for me, very competitive market, and as usual very small budget, both in terms of money and my availability. So, eLance / oDesk here we come.

As it’s typical for SEO engagements I started getting responses to my project almost instantly after I submitted it. 20 or so proposals came in the first hour, about same in next 24 hours, and about a dozen afterwards. Most of the proposals came from India with cost ranging between $5 and $15 an hour. Pretty much all proposals I got were boilerplate documents some of which were slightly modified to acknowledge my name and the project. For follow up I picked about 10 companies with near perfect rating and high number of hours billed in the last year.

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Finding a great outsourcing coordinator

About six months ago one of my old friends, VP of Engineering for an East Coast based company, asked me to help him to find a good offshore manager / outsourcing coordinator. That by no means was an easy task and in this case, a not-so-rich relatively small company, it was even more challenging. It took us about two months and few dozens of candidates to find someone who we perceived as a great match. A few weeks later our pick hit the ground running and now, three months after starting the work, he is continuing to exceed our expectations and has proved to be a rock star of an offshore manager. I guess that’s at this point we can give ourselves a pad on a back a look back and see what we did:

First, the task & landscape: the task was to find someone who would manage/coordinates offshore activities for a small product development company. The company’s product, written primarily in Microsoft technologies, has been around for ~15 years and inevitably grew in complexity, size and not so much in quality of code within. Some of the new product development and the lion’s share of maintenance has been outsourced for almost as long as the product development itself. SDLC is a modified waterfall with some elements of agile. The outsourcing team size has fluctuating around average of twenty.
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“Outsource it!” is now in beta

A couple days ago my first full size book went into beta and is now available at the publisher website – http://pragprog.com/book/nkout/outsource-it. I feel very happy and relieved that the book is finally out, writing it was far more challenging than I’ve ever anticipated. At the same time I feel happy and proud, proud to be one of the authors of the pragmatic bookshelf, the group of technology writers that earned respect across very broad and demanding technical audience.

It will take a little while before the book hits the shelves of Amazon and other bookstores, but you don’t have to wait and get your e-copy of it today. While the book is in beta your comments and suggestions would be taken quite seriously and could result in changes and additions to the content, hopefully making the book even better. I am not sure how long the beta would take but hopefully much less than it took me to get here –

Roughly two and a half years ago I came up what seemed a great idea at the time – compile my blog material into an easy to read eBook. In a couple months I produced the first volume that was dedicated to making decisions on whether and how to outsource. In a short order I received substantial feedback that made it apparent that just recompiling the blog and doing surface level clean up won’t add too much value, and probably was not worth the effort. Continue reading

List of Outsourcing Advisors

After my post on outsourcing governance I received a few emails raising the topic of outsourcing advisory. And that prompted me to do a bit of a deeper dive into the world of corporate matchmaking / marriage counseling – helping companies to find offshore vendors and later on help them with governance and management of the engagement.

This field remains huge and profitable and more so, seems to be growing in leaps and bounds. According to one of the leaders in outsourcing governance, KPMG, 70% of outsourcing users want better governance.  That’s not surprising since there many compelling reasons to engage advisors throughout the full lifecycle of outsourcing. The main being obvious – as I often say, outsourcing is a powerful tool but it a complex one and without proper knowledge using of it could be self- destructive; having someone with in-depth knowledge of the tool will spare you some injuries. If you are looking for me reasons consider taking a look at this article.

While doing my micro research I stumbled upon somewhat unexpected problem – I could not find a comprehensive source of companies that provide outsourcing advisory services. After googeling for a couple hours I figured out that a better tool here would be oDesk :) I pinged one of my VAs and she put together a list for me in just a couple days.

Please see below the top ten Outsourcing Advisors from the list based on Alexa rating (probably not the best way to rate them though), in addition you can find more comprehensive list sorted by Name, Alexa Global, and Alexa US.

Hopefully you find it helpful, as usual feel free to suggest new entries, or comment on existing ones.

Name PR Alexa Global Alexa US Description
IBM Global Services
8 446 608 IBM Global Services claims to be the world’s largest business and technology services provider. It has over 190,000 workers across more than 160 countries. IBM Global Services started in the spring of 1991, with the aim towards helping companies manage their IT operations and resources. Global Services has two major divisions: Global Business Services (GBS) and Global Technology Services (GTS). IBM Global Business Services (GBS) is the professional services arm of Global Services, including management consulting, systems integration, and application management services while IBM Global Technology Services (GTS) primarily reflects infrastructure services. It includes outsourcing services, Integrated Technology Services, and Maintenance.
Deloitte
8 6,851 4,965 “Deloitte” is the brand under which tens of thousands of dedicated professionals in independent firms throughout the world collaborate to provide audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk management and tax services to selected clients.
Gartner
7 8,659 5,056 Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) claims to tbe world’s leading information technology research and advisory company. They deliver the technology-related insight necessary for their clients to make the right decisions, every day -from CIOs and senior IT leaders in corporations and government agencies, to business leaders in high-tech and telecom enterprises and professional services firms, to technology investors.
PwC
8 10,816 8,629 PwC firms help organisations and individuals create the value they’re looking for. We’re a network of firms in 158 countries with close to 169,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, tax and advisory services. “PwC” is the brand under which member firms of PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited (PwCIL) operate and provide services. Together, these firms form the PwC network. Each firm in the network is a separate legal entity and does not act as agent of PwCIL or any other member firm. PwCIL does not provide any services to clients. PwCIL is not responsible or liable for the acts or omissions of any of its member firms nor can it control the exercise of their professional judgment or bind them in any way.
Ernst & Young
8 13,374 8,634 Ernst & Young is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. Worldwide, their 152,000 people are united by their shared values and an unwavering commitment to quality. They make a difference by helping their people, their clients and their wider communities achieve their potential.
Capgemini
7 16,622 4,942 A global leader in consulting, technology, outsourcing, and local professional services.
McKinsey & Company
7 17,418 15,185 McKinsey & Company, Inc. is a global management consulting firm that focuses on solving issues of concern to senior management. McKinsey serves as an adviser to many businesses, governments, and institutions.
KPMG
7 18,567 13,291 KPMG operates as an international network of member firms offering audit, tax and advisory services. We work closely with our clients, helping them to mitigate risks and grasp opportunities.
Boston Consultant Group (BCG)
7 37,830 23,291 BCG is a global management consulting firm and claims to be the world’s leading advisor on business strategy. They partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises.
Bain & Company
7 40,359 28,581 Bain & Company is a global management consulting firm headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Bain is considered one of the most prestigious consulting firms in the world, with 47 offices in 30 countries and over 5,500 professionals on staff globally.

Outsourcing Governance

A couple days ago I received an email with a very interesting question –

Hello Nick,

I have come across your blog (http://pragmaticoutsourcing.com) while doing some secondary research.

I have been quite impressed after reading your blog, and hence writing to you to seek your pro bono help :)

As you have such a good depth and breadth of outsourcing experience, I would like to seek your opinion on this:

– Many Companies who Offshore their IT/Product Development to Russia, India, China, etc. face many challenges during the projects execution phase. They spend significant management overhead in managing their vendors. They may need to make multiple trips to the outsourced location to resolve issues. So there are significant costs/pains involved
– Would such Companies like to hire third-party consultants, who work as their agents and be physically present with the suppliers, does the Program Management function (tracking of projects, timelines of deliveres, identifying and sharing potential issues/challenges, metrics reporting etc.) and help reduce the costs/pains of managing the outsourcing vendor?
– Would such Third-Party Consulting services be attractive to Companies who Offshore?
– If No, Why?
– If Yes, Why? Do you know of any company providing such Consulting Service?

Your opinion would be highly valuable to me. I am eagerly waiting to hear from you.

Thanks,
Sujay

Yes, Sujay many companies can take advantage of these kind of services and providing them could present a very interesting and lucrative opportunity. As a matter of fact many companies are already in this business and offer large portfolio of services related to managing the full cycle of outsourcing (not necessarily only offshore) engagements.

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Trip to blogosphere

Outsourcing is a very broad topic with plenty of controversial topics, inevitably there plenty of people who have something to say about it. Chances are if you are interested in this subject you run across articles and posts by Outsourcing Institute or Horses for Sources. A couple years ago I put a few references in my blogroll and started a blogosphere directory. Thanks to the law of reciprocity that generated a few back-links and traffic to my blog. Over time the blogroll become stale pointing the blogs that become dormant or completely disappeared. I did not notice it till just recently, as I was doing some cleanup of the blog.

Similar to my freelancing directory the blog roll needed to be refreshed. In addition to cleaning it up I decided to create an outsourcing blog “directory” as well. And with no hesitation I went on blog hunting with a help of my fearless VA Yesha, looking for blogs that cover outsourcing. Very soon we had a list with more than 100 entries, unfortunately, many of them covered topics that I am not too familiar with and/or not too interested in such as Law Process Outsourcing or blogs solely focused on BPO. So we went back pruning the list getting it to less than 50 entries. Some of the blogs that got the ax were fairly active in outsourcing blogosphere, and I may include rejected entries in the list later on after I get a chance to check a few posts and see whether they are worth considering. Of course what’s one man trash is another man’s treasure, so “worth considering” is a very subjective term. Plus in any blog the posts are typically hit-or-miss, and even loosely related sources can put some interesting article once in a while. Well, I cannot create full directory, even with help of a couple dozen of Vas, that’s why we have omnipotent Google.

Anyway, please see the list sorted by URL of the blog on this page. To make the list a bit more helpful I added PR and Alexa ratings in the same manner as in my freelancing marketplace directory and created two additional versions of the list, one sorted Alexa Global and another by Alexa US. As usual, feel free to comment and suggest new entries. I am planning to update the list in ~12 months from now.

Communication Failures in Outsourcing

It was Malcolm Gladwell who introduced me to Geert Hofstede’s concept of the Power Distance Index (PDI). After I read the chapter seven of Outliers I had to stop to catch the breath, it was just too exciting. Implication of PDI on cross-cultural communications is immense and it has direct relevance to outsourcing, and I’ve observed over the years. It’s something that you most likely dealt with as well. I did a bit of research and realized that I am far not the first to discover PDI’s impact on outsourcing, for example, this post offers great insights on PDI implications in the world of software development.

The idea behind PDI is quite simple, a perceived “distance” between a boss and an employee varies dramatically based on culture, biases, heritage, etc. The “distance” is defined as measure of how a person would generally react / respect / deal with a person of authority. The PDI is a measurement of that “distance”; it ranges from 1 to 120, the bigger the number the bigger the distance separating a boss and an employee. Small distance puts both boss and employee on very much the same floor of a corporate pyramid. As the distance grows the boss moves in a corner office or on the top floor, becomes master and commander, royalty and at some point a divine authority. While in cultures with small PDI an entry level employee can have a chat with CEO in a cafeteria, even just a single step in a corporate ladder can create master / slave relationship in cultures with high PDI.

In cultures with low PDI communications between a boss and an employee are quite different from countries with a high PDI. If you, an employee, are very much at the same level as your boss in terms of cultural hierarchy, you do not perceive any significant distance or differences with your boss and you tend to collaborate. A straight forward question gets a straight forward answer. If your boss is wrong you tend to have no qualms about pointing it out. And your boss expects you to. There are of course variations based on company settings and individual preference, someone might say to the boss “I respectfully disagree” and someone might use much less politically correct language. Moving up in PDI would convert collaboration into discussion akin to a military style of orders. Going higher in PDI changes a conversation into a dialog that for most of people from the Western world would be impossible to decipher as instead of a straight forward answer a response comes in a form of hints surrounded by layers of polite blabber, well, at least that is how people from low PDI cultures see it.

Interestingly enough high PDI doesn’t create too many communication issues between people from the same country. The traditions and unwritten rules of communications are well understood and do not present obstacles. Not always though, see some examples in Outliers, they are stunning and illustrate how high DPI drives catastrophic outcomes. And situation gets substantially worse when it comes to cross cultural communications, that’s where miscommunications and mutual frustration proliferate.

When we consider a typical IT outsourcing initiative in this country we face significant differences between buyer (boss) and supplier (service provider) – USA (40) vs. India (77) or China (80). It is not surprising that communication issues in all forms and shape plague the vast majority of outsourcing engagements. Even though I do not necessary agree with conclusions of The Real Reason Outsourcing Continues To Fail, blaming it all on PDI is an unjustified simplification, I believe PDI-related issues contribute a great deal to many of outsourcing engagements failures.

To minimize the damage that PDI difference can inflict on your engagement you need to deal with it on several levels:

  • Educating your staff, in particular local low-PDI employees.
  • Developing communication vehicles that inhibit PDI-related miscommunications.
  • Adjusting SDLC to minimize potential damage and inserting elements minimizing the impact.

That might be easier said than done, but there is no way around it. Left to themselves things tend to go from bad to worse.