Monday, May 02, 2005

Chinese firms polish skills in outsource competition

It is part of Lisa Pointe's role at Shanghai Wicresoft to stop her Chinese colleagues from writing "I'm deeply sorry for your inconvenience" three times in a two-paragraph e-mail to an American.
For the Chinese, she explains, apologizing repeatedly means they really feel for the other side's pain and trouble, but it can sound very insincere to Americans.
That is just one of the many lessons that Pointe, who hails from Traverse City, Mich., tries to impart in her role as an adviser at Wicresoft, a 400-employee joint venture between Microsoft and Shanghai Municipal Government.
Microsoft has outsourced part of its Web-based technical support to the concern, and Point is one of 10 people who are teaching the Chinese techies how to best provide that support for users of Microsoft products in North America.
Forget about cheap labor and factories churning out shoes and toys. Some Chinese companies now want to become known for developing software programs and providing back-office services for U.S. companies — just like their counterparts in Bangalore, India.
Simon Bell of A.T. Kearney, a Chicago management-consulting firm, thinks it will take five to 10 years before China rises as an equal to India in providing information technology and outsourcing services, at least in the English language.
But if multinational companies look for alternatives to India, he says, China often tops the list. A.T. Kearney ranks China second, after India, in its 2004 global offshore-location attractiveness index, citing the country's large, educated labor pool and cost advantage.
"Language is important, but more broadly, it is accounting skills, financial analyzing, information-technology skills (that matter)," Bell says.
To gain a foothold in the global outsourcing market, Chinese companies have to overcome many inherent difficulties. Among them: poor English skills, weak protection of intellectual-property rights and a shortage of managerial talent — not to mention a fragmented industrial structure less likely to spawn giants like India's Wipro Technologies and Tata Consultancy Services