JOBS. OUR BIGGEST EXPORT?
Outsourcing, offshoring, nearshoring, bestshoring. Call it what you like. To most people in my business, custom application development, it means your prospects for the future may look dim.
Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer prize winning author of “The World is Flat”, tells us of world with a technology-leveled playing field in the global arena. As a result, we are going to see more and more exports in one key area. No, not Baywatch, but jobs.
What type of job is at risk? I hope yours is not "location insensitive”. If you do tax returns, work for a call centre, read X-rays or other medical data, search titles, or in my case, develop software, I am sorry to say that you are in the “list”. Here are the factors that make a job “offshoreable”:
• No face to face customer servicing
• High information content
• Work process is telecommutable and internet enabled
• High wage differentials, e.g. your counterpart makes only $8,000 a year
• Low setup barriers
JUST HOW BIG IS THAT MONSTER UNDER THE BED?
According to Lou Dobbs of CNN, big enough to devote 10 minutes nightly in 2004 to his “Exporting America” show segment, where he publicly humiliated the corporate “evildoers” who shipped jobs abroad (while his protectionist table-thumbing helped drive his viewership up 7%). Big enough to put Thomas Freidman’s “The World is Flat” on the New York Times bestseller list and to keep roster of speaking engagments full (see him speak here).
As for “numbers”, Mckinsey and Company have published enough reports to look at you will need a trip to Staples for more printer toner. The bottom line is, the multinationals, driven primary by cost pressure, are flocking to places like Bangalore, India where programmers are available at a 90% discount over Silicon Valley. Accenture, a prominent outsourcer with over $16 billion in revenues, is now ranked as the world's largest systems integrator.
IS THE GRASS GREENER ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PACIFIC?
In the first pages of the "The World is Flat" Friedman paints a picture of a golf game set against the backdrop of gleaming corporate towers that evokes the high-tech landscape of Silicon Valley. The names on those building are familiar: Intel, IBM, Oracle, Cisco, and Accenture, We soon learn that this is not the Silicon Valley of California, but of Bangalore.
Aside from reading the book, I suppose what got my attention was looking at some of the large Bangalore-based IT services companies:
Infosys started their global initiatives in the late 90’s with setup of development centers in India, and sales offices worldwide. By 1999 they had reached sales of $100 million. Today they have over 65,000 employees and enjoy revenues of $2.2 billion, representing a growth rate of 60% each year for the past five years. Among their core values is “Customer Delight: A commitment to surpassing our customer expectations.” Their corporate slogan: “Win in the Flat World”.
Tata “pioneered the adoption of the flexible global business practices that today enable companies to operate more efficiently and produce more value”. They service 70% of the the Fortune top TEN. Like Infosys they have grown exponentially to over $2 billion in revenues, and their share price chart for the past five years looks like a climb up the north face of Everest. Last year their income was up 44%. Among their core values: “sharing and learning”. Apparently they have learnt some lessons very well.
Wipro Technologies, is the number 3 player. They have a market capitalization of nearly $20 billion, and their success has been documented in the book Bangalore Tiger. So, what is their formula for success (the “Indian Tech Formula”)?
Internet + Brains – High Costs = Huge Business Opportunity
TIME TO THROW IN THE MOUSEPAD?
Apparently so, at least in the minds of the millions of North American students who are deciding that a tech education no longer the way to go with so many offshore counterparts to compete against. Ironically, businesses are reporting that they can’t find enough qualified workers, and Bill Gates is on Oprah warning that by 2020, the U.S.A. may face a shortage of 14 million workers with college level skills. In Canada there is an IT skills shortage in Ottawa (Silicon Valley North), where 70% of the firms there are reporting “limits of local supply”. In fact Ottawa is now reporting the highest high-tech employment since the last boom in 2000.
PERCEPTION IS ONE THING, REALITY ANOTHER.
Looking at the big picture the GAO (US Government Accountabiity Office) reports that in 2003 the US imported $8.7 billion in BCT (Business, Professional and Technical) services from India. In return they imported just $420 million from the U.S.A.. OK, maybe some of those 800,000 engineering jobs in Bangalore could have been filled locally. But with the US economy sized at $11 TRILLION, all that we really have here is small potatoes.
It’s a narrow view that just because workers cost 90% less overseas that its game over for the North American IT worker. Actually, the majority of IT Service positions that are being offshored are lower-value positions such as entry-level programmers and computer support specialists.
I THINK WE HAVE A COMMUNICATION PROBLEM
The North American IT worker is still attributed as having better communication skills, better education and training, a better understanding of the market, and being more creative. In an Accenture study, two-thirds of 200 US business executives said that communication difficulties from cultural differences has caused problems when outsourcing offshore.
Companies are also moving away from offshoring due to “underestimated operational difficulties”. Offshoring does not work when complex interactions are required when creating a solution; in cases like this you need the local representation of system analysts and system engineers with excellent communication skills and a good knowledge of the local market.
WHAT IS THIS BLACK STUFF I AM SINKING INTO?
Not to say that it’s a great time to be looking for work in IT. But when it comes to the blame game, there is one other factor that has had an equal if not larger impact: gains in technology itself have given companies the capability for producing software solutions with fewer resources, i.e. people. And of course, if you are still peddling your outdated IT skills (from 2003), it’s “this way to the tar pit”.