Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Offshore partnerships demand a wide range of expertise

Like it or not, offshore outsourcing is becoming increasingly central to IT. As the drumbeat grows ever louder, chances are you’ll eventually be asked to get in step.

But how do you design and implement an effective offshore initiative? What are the key issues to keep in mind? The offshoring landscape is littered with the spectacular failures of companies that missed or lost sight of the big picture. “People who jump on the bandwagon to make some quick savings get quickly frustrated,” says Ramakrishnan Ramamurthy, general manager and practice head at Bangalore, India-based Wipro Technologies.

To avoid becoming an offshoring cautionary tale, heed the following tips from expert offshore outsourcing consultants, vendors, and analysts.

1. Never outsource your core value.
Firmly establish which IT functions are key to your company’s competitive advantage, advises Frances Karamouzis, research director at Gartner. Those functions are the ones you’ll want to keep in-house or at least onshore. She advises managers to consider how they expect their companies to remain competitive and what intellectual capital they must retain in order to thrive.

After deciding what you should not move offshore, put everything else on the table. “The scope is really the big kicker,” says Ben Trowbridge, managing partner at Alsbridge, an outsourcing consultancy. “People go into an offshore deal thinking it’s only the nonthinking work [they] can move offshore -- the raw coding. In reality, they can probably move a much wider scope.” Karamouzis recommends a complete portfolio analysis for every application development project or IT process. For example, examine how offshoring will affect customer retention, the supply chain, and so on.

Make offshoring part of a broad business strategy. Unfortunately, many companies dive in tactically in search of cheaper labor rates on specific projects, Wipro’s Ramamurthy says. “The ones who succeed are the ones who’ve thought it through, ... have very clear areas they want to outsource, and [have] a long-term strategy.”

2. Get boardroom ownership.
Get senior management committed to your offshoring initiative in its initial phases. “The CEO, the CFO, someone pretty senior has to own a direction and a broad business case for offshoring early -- and keep steering the team back to that business case,” Trowbridge says.

With buy-in from the big shots, you’re better positioned to get everyone else on board as well. To do so, develop a communication and change management strategy for handling the various internal issues that will arise. “Passive resistance in the organization can doom the outsourcing relationship,” explains Cliff Justice, multishore practice leader at consultancy EquaTerra.
3. Forge internal competencies.
Build a strong internal project management team. “The greatest challenge is getting yourself prepared and putting the governance structures and people in place,” explains Peter Bendor-Samuel, CEO of The Everest Group, an outsourcing consultancy. “Managing this when it’s remote takes some organizational redesign. There have been plenty of cases where people have badly stubbed their toe.” Bendor-Samuel advises creating an internal “center of outsourcing excellence” that can provide the “superstructure” of tools and best practices for effective outsourcing project management, including governance vehicles, incentives and penalties, oversight mechanisms, risk mitigation strategies, service descriptions, and metrics.

Internal competencies include the ability to manage internal demand so that the offshoring vendor isn’t overwhelmed with excessive or conflicting requests. “The client organization has to become very good at developing requirements,” EquaTerra’s Justice says. “You can’t do that at the watercooler anymore.”

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