Offshoring: Is it Appropriate?
Have you examined the business reasons for offshoring or are you emotionally reacting?
If we look at offshoring from a non-emotional, practical perspective, there are positive factors to consider in having mid-to-high level jobs exist abroad. Not too long ago, I sat at a networking event that featured three prominent executive speakers, all of whom were admirable and highly successful women. At the end of the evening, the audience was allowed a brief "question & answer" period, where they could branch out on topics other than what was discussed during the seminar. A brave attendee raised her hand and, having been an untouched subject thus far, asked how the speakers felt about sending work overseas. Before one of the speakers could offer an opinion, another attendee a few chairs back quietly mumbled that offshoring is never appropriate, and a few hushed agreements followed. I was a bit disheartened, feeling as though we had reverted back to first base in the span of a single moment.
Why was it that these attendees felt the line had crossed into the realm of inappropriateness? Was it the concept of low-cost labor over quality, or was it the mind frame of shipping out American jobs, both of which are popular reasons for the disapproval of offshoring? Having come at a time when the IT industry was experiencing major pains, the sensitivity of the latter reason should be recognized. At the same time, it can be argued - and it has - that outsourcing overseas helped to alleviate some of that pain by allowing companies, who would have folded otherwise, to continue on through a workable cost model.
Sharing work overseas has been a reality for many years. There seems to be a disparate gap between the level of acceptance of sending jobs overseas in terms of labor-intensive work, such as in assembly or manufacturing lines that can incorporate on-the-job training, and specialty trade intensive work that requires a given level of educational training and expertise, such as in technical programming. That is, we tend to be more accepting of offshoring when it affects blue-collar jobs. It appears that our judgment in whether offshoring is appropriate is dependent on the level of qualification for a job.
This response is almost entirely emotional. We have allowed our feelings to transcend beyond the rational into the territorial. In reality, the difference in using products created abroad and developing technology abroad is the level of interaction involved. We feel the difference in the latter because now we must interact directly with the process, whereas ignoring the fact that products are assembled abroad is easy - just don't read the label. Along with direct involvement comes the need to confront the issue of utilizing a workforce overseas. By doing this we limit ourselves and we limit our potential.
If we look at offshoring from a non-emotional, practical perspective, there are positive factors to consider in having mid-to-high level jobs exist abroad. A key word here is "exist", and not necessarily to replace those positions domestically. Technical jobs cannot be completely shifted abroad; believing they can be continues to be a major misunderstanding regarding offshoring. Fully removing the localized workforce causes several issues: a gap within communication caused by cultural and language barriers, and the thinning of potential future relations with a customer.
In reality, what is changing and evolving is the role that the localized workforce will play, just as the changes caused by the assimilation of computers into the workforce many years ago. Computers did not replace the workforce, as many had thought they would at the time, but instead allowed us to achieve results more efficiently and effectively. The localized IT staff now plays a more critical role in ultimately understanding and producing the customer's vision, as well as ensuring that communication with the customer remains strong. Those who have participated in an offshore model and have seen unsatisfactory results should consider whether their onshore IT workforce was strong enough, and whether an onshore team existed in the first place.
Here are some benefits to consider in coexisting with an offshore model:
1. Global Partnership
Clearly, technology has furthered our capabilities of working together on a global level, and we are following on the logical path toward global partnership where, regardless of location or culture, we are working together for a common goal - or in this case, a common project.
2. Global Exposure
In a 2002 survey conducted by The National Geographic Education Foundation, young Americans between the ages of 18-24 came in next to last in a geographical literary survey conducted within 9 countries (nearly 30% could not locate the Pacific Ocean). As the number of companies collaborating with countries abroad increases, the number of Americans traveling and living abroad increases as well, generating a larger American presence that assimilate and work together with cultures from around the world.
3. Global Communication
In addition to a global presence gained abroad, Americans within the U.S. have begun to develop an understanding that there are varying levels of communication within different cultures; what is appropriate to say and do in one culture may be inappropriate in another. This transcends itself from the workplace to politics, recreation/travel, and other forms of interaction: our perspective widens to consider the world as a whole.
Perhaps the greatest thing to consider when contemplating whether the offshore model is appropriate is to analyze the reasons compelling you to believe what you do, and whether these beliefs are properly founded. Have you examined the business reasons for offshoring or are you emotionally reacting? American based companies are creating jobs overseas at an increasing pace, and are forecasted to continue doing so. Picking apart the reasons that companies choose to do this, carefully reviewing their results, and understanding the real impact these decisions have in our society is what accurately reflects the level of appropriateness in offshore IT work.