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4 Reasons Offshore Isn't a Dirty Word - You Can Do This

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 No matter where you live, programming runs on coffee!

No matter where you live, programming runs on coffee!

For many in the United States, just the mention of offshoring evokes rolled eyes, questioning looks, and a good helping of doubt.  To be sure, there are pros and cons to approaching your next technology project using an offshore team yet having been in this business since the late 90s, I can attest that struggles tend to exist with both on and offshore scenarios, following a pattern familiar to anyone who’s previously been involved with a sizable IT effort.

Most projects of scale involve so many spots where things can go wrong that there just isn’t a substitute for good project communication.  Anyone who’s worked with me knows I’m fond of saying that IT projects are 80% governance and 20% IT.  I spend a good deal of time around associations and their association management system (AMS) back office software.  Would you believe that I’ve seen almost every iteration of clients moving from one competing AMS to another?  One client spends a great sum to move from AMS A to B (data migration can be a nightmare) and another from B to A.  Rinse and repeat across the spectrum.

We tell ourselves that the grass is always greener on the other side when actually, from what I've observed over the years,  communicating, investing, and putting a little elbow grease into it is often all it takes to bring success.  A common mistake I observe on one out of three projects is the assumption that the ‘vendor will take care of it all.’  To the contrary, every project I’ve been a part of that’s been truly successful had a champion on the client side who was instrumental in making it happen.  So, for all the eye rollers, questioning lookers, and doubters out there, ask yourself what you could have done better during your last project (offshore or onshore) before throwing the whole effort under the bus.

It’s Easy to Overcome Communication Challenges

I’ve found that communicating using services like WebEx and GoToMeeting to be frustrating due to poor VOIP connections with locales in India and the Philippines.  Perhaps it’s the compression algorithms those services use? Interestingly, Skype, Slack, and Zoom seem to offer much better clarity in my experience.  What’s most important is finding a solution that works best for you and your organization - not penting up anger over not being able to understand what someone is saying.  And remember, you’re not so easy to understand on the other end sometimes either!

I've also discovered that using my mobile phone's headset makes the sound too deep and muffled to hear clearly.  Playing with different setups (speaker, headsets, services, location) is important.  When I'm able, using by Bose noise cancelling headphones is my favorite way to go as it isolates all the sound around me and I can concentrate on the discussion at hand - helpful even in non-offshore scenarios.

This is to say that yes, accents can make be tricky to negotiate - particularly over long distance. In my experience, however, it’s not someone’s accent that makes things hard - it’s the poor connection (typically the service being used).  Experiment which service gives you the best quality and don’t suffer in silence!  As with any relationship, you’ll get into a groove over time and before you know it you’ll be finishing each other’s sentences.

It’s Cost Effective

Cutting to the chase, offshoring is very, very inexpensive.  There are two approaches: work with an offshore firm directly (crazy inexpensive) or work with a US-based entity to act as the middleman (inexpensive).  What are we talking rate-wise?  Say, five times and three and a half times less expensive than typical rates in the US respectively.  This is perhaps the biggest pro to offshoring.

A technology project is a technology project and isn’t prejudice to whom is completing the work: you’ll have challenges, highs, and lows just the same.

Many organizations need complex solutions and service but cannot afford the accompanying expenses.  Offshoring could be a good option for you.  Regardless of how your project is developed, you’ll need a project champion on your home turf - either someone at your organization or a hired consultant like NotchPoint.

This person will help develop project requirements: what needs to be built and to achieve what result in our business?  This person will then enforce the requirements, make decisions, and test the output all throughout the project.  Offshoring doesn’t mean you send away some instructions and magically a few months later you get back a finished product.  That’s a recipe for an unhappy ending.

It’s Quality Work

Work from India, China, the Philippines gets associated with being of poor quality.  Here’s a secret: the quality of code coming from these countries is just as good as what comes from the development shop next door.  Had a bad experience?  Perhaps code that was poorly optimized?  Or had cross-browser issues?  Since 2012 when I first began working with offshore teams, I’ve observed exactly no difference between the quality of code emanating from those teams than those who worked right outside my office door.  

This isn’t to say there aren’t mistakes: of course there are!  Software development is far from an exact science and not for the faint of heart (you know this already if you’ve ever been involved in a website redesign, database work, or the like).  Code reviews, requirements adjudicating, and quality assurance testing needs to occur just as much as it would otherwise.

It Comes with Legal Protection

The United States (at the time of writing) is the largest information technology market in the world and the offshore firms that want to do business here understand this.  The large reputable companies that I’m aware of have US-based operations: offices, bank accounts, employees.  To compete in the global economy it’s practically a requirement to have a flag in the ground here.  In turn, this also means there’s an entity to tie into contracts with.  Having said this, working with a US-based company which contracts some of the work to an offshore firm can afford additional protections as that firm would be responsible to satisfy a contract.

If it ever came down to it and you needed to take an international firm to court, things will undoubtedly get complicated (and expensive).  On the other hand, things will certainly get complicated and expensive if you needed to do that with a US-based firm too!  This is obviously an extreme.  Most of us have been involved in an ugly technology project now and then but they rarely end in lawsuits.

Summary

Offshore isn’t scary.  Connecting with labor wherever it happens to be has never been easier and it’s made the world a much smaller place to do business.  A technology project is a technology project and isn't prejudice to whom is completing the work: you'll have challenges, highs, and lows just the same. 

The best offshore companies will offer US-based protections and means legally that will allow you to enforce contracts.  Using an onshore company like NotchPoint can make the process easier as the company sources the work and is responsible to deliver.  The quality of work product equals what you'd find anywhere and the price is tough to beat.  As for communication woes?  Experiment with different methods - you'll find one that works for you.