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BLOG: Outsourcing: Beyond cheap labour

Paul Michaels, CEO ImprovIT | April 22, 2013
Skills, best practice and business alignment mean outsourcing is here to stay

Is the IT offshoring trend we have seen over the last few decades now beginning to reverse whereby outsourcers and their customers are beginning now to opt for an 'onshoring' alternative?

It is true that traditional lower cost IT centres like India are no longer quite so appealing as local wages rise, but there will always be other, newer emerging economies that offer attractive labour arbitrage opportunities. However cost is only one consideration: these inexperienced new service delivery centres may struggle to provide a suitably skilled workforce, operational maturity and the levels of governance and risk management that Western markets require - which means that whatever is saved in labour cost can easily be lost in risk exposure.

The end of labour arbitrage?
Over the years industry surveys have consistently confirmed low labour cost as the prime driver for outsourcers moving services delivery to offshore centres. But with the cost differentials between the buy and supply side economies now reduced, outsourcers are now being forced to focus on building up their service portfolio so they can provide specialist expertise in everything from implementing IT governance procedures to implementing emerging technologies.

From the CIO's point of view, the debate goes on about whether to offshore or onshore, and whether to outsource or run the IT operation or develop applications inhouse. It is worth noting here that despite the confusion, outsourcing and offshoring are not synonymous. A global outsourcer may have multinational operations and favour lower-cost centres where appropriate, but ultimately cost is only one aspect of their overall service offering. So if offshore cost advantage is becoming less attractive as a reason to outsource, what are the other issues driving the debate?

The offshoring/outsourcing debate
Politics is one. The rhetoric surrounding offshoring, particularly during election season, has notched up since the economic crisis. The story of jobs (in IT, manufacturing or anything else) lost to overseas workers has been a sore point for some time. Indeed, perhaps as a condition of its government bail-out, General Motors undertook a highly publicised "reversal of outsourcing" strategy in the US in 2009. And because of this offshoring and outsourcing conflation, the negative result of such high profile cases is that in many minds outsourcing can automatically equate to a loss of local jobs.

There are other issues as well. Since the onset of the economic crisis CIOs have become increasingly impatient with what they perceive as a lack of transparency from providers in areas like cost, mission creep and service deliverables. So does this mean that the outsourcing market is shrinking? Well, actually, no. Of the estimated $US3.6 trillion global IT spent, only 22% goes to external services providers who assume full or partial responsibility for an IT operation - a percentage that has remained roughly the same for many years.


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