MCBASSI & COMPANY

India – first-hand observations on offshoring

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The meeting was supposed to start at 9:00 p.m., but because of the horrific Bangalore traffic and other vagaries of India, it didn’t get started until 10:40.  No problem, our hosts assured us.  Their shift didn’t end until midnight, and there was another shift after that.

 We sat in the office of BrickWork India, talking with five bright, young, U.S-trained Indian entrepreneurs.  At some point during our meeting to learn about their business model, I got a glimpse of the impact that they and others like them will have on the US economy in the years and decades ahead.  It’s going to be huge and potentially disruptive.

I’ve written before on offshoring – in particular about Alan Blinder’s views that an additional 30-40 million U.S. jobs could potentially be lost to offshoring in coming years.  Sitting in the office of BrickWork India, I found myself wondering whether Blinder’s estimates were too low. 

These are impressively-trained folks, they know the American way, and they report they can solve some of your most vexing problems while you sleep:

– Working late to get a PowerPoint presentation perfected for a morning meeting?  No problem – pop it over to the folks in India, and they say they’ll have it waiting for you when you arrive in the morning. 

– Got some complex spreadsheet work that no one on your staff has the time or skills to tackle?  BrickWork has the necessary skills available.

– Need help getting your social media strategy to work?  The folks in India can knowledgeably handle just about every aspect of that for you for a fraction of what it would cost you in the United States.

– Just published a book and found that your publisher is not going to lift a finger to promote it?  The folks at BrickWork have a cost-effective solution for that too.

– Need a 3-D animation for a branding campaign that you are about to launch?  Handled.

Now does all this work as smoothly as described?  I haven’t tried it myself, so can’t speak from first-hand experience – but it’s certainly clear that companies like BrickWork India have a broad range of skills available.

And what’s particularly striking to me is the array of tasks that these folks can handle; they are going higher and higher up the skills spectrum. 

For example, it’s not just legal research that they can do for you (work that would typically be done by a paralegal or junior associate).  They can also handle a wide array of standard legal contracting issues and processes.  This work is done exclusively by lawyers in the United States.  In other words, Indian outsourcing is now beginning to reach into one of the most highly paid positions that requires years of post-graduate schooling.  It is, as Blinder would say, an “impersonal service” – one that can be delivered remotely with little if any loss of quality.  In this case, by US-trained lawyers working in India at a fraction of the price of their US counterparts. 

That’s a big deal if it can be deployed successfully.

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5 Comments

  1. avatar

    Peter NixonMarch 24, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    I think only a fool would dismiss the possibility of increased outsourcing of “white collar” jobs to India for all the reasons you and others have described. But there are also some practical limits to this.

    I am the business sponsor for a web-based application in use at my company. Part of our production support team is in India. On the whole, we’ve been happy, but there were a few bumps in the road.

    First, it can take a long time to build relationships and impart the necessary business knowledge if you only deal with part of your team through teleconference and webex.

    Second, while it’s an uncomfortable subject, heavily accented English(admittedly that’s from a US perspective)filtered through a teleconference line can sometimes lead to communication problems. You can’t see faces and it’s hard to read body language.

    Third, the time difference can also create challenges if you need to pull a meeting together quickly.

    I suspect that the most successful outsourcing companies in India will be those that successfully tackle those “soft” challenges.

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    Laurie BassiMarch 25, 2010 at 1:11 pmAuthor

    Peter raises some excellent points. Indeed, I have also experienced some of these “bumps in the road” in my dealings with Indian partners. But what struck me as different about the folks I met with in Bangalore is twofold: (1) they understand the “time difference problem” and work in shifts around the clock to ameliorate it, and (2) the depth of their “Americanization.” Neither of these makes the bumps in the road go away, but both have the potential of smoothing the ride.

  3. avatar

    ChaniMarch 26, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    I’ve been promoting a model of “personal outsourcing”, where individuals can outsource/offshore tasks or aspects of their work. Since January 2009, we have connected about 30 people in the US to “work buddies” in India (through our workshops for those in job transition). That could be for doing graphic art work, preparing a PowerPoint presentation, research work, getting content up on a website, software programming and so on. Many recently hired managers are finding that their new organizations expect higher levels of skills proficiency than they actually possess. This may relate to use of such tools as SharePoint, Visio, MS Project, PowerPoint, Photoshop, Office 2007, etc. By off-shoring they are able to maintain their stride and confidence at work, acquire new skills (through knowledge transfer from their Indian buddy), and most importantly retain their job. My message: Off-shoring is not just for organizations, individuals ought to be thinking of leveraging offshore skills too. Their livelihood may depend on it.

  4. avatar

    Laurie BassiMarch 30, 2010 at 5:47 pmAuthor

    Thanks, Chani. That is a really interesting and useful development to know about! I hadn’t thought about this option, but clearly it makes a great deal of sense in the right circumstances.

  5. avatar

    Stuart ShawMarch 31, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Hi Laurie
    My only question here is the time it takes to brief those doing the work for you. If I need some research done, I’m sure they can help. But by the time I have explained what research I need (and what I don’t), where to look(unless we are just talking unstructured internet trawls), and what shape I want it in that’s of most use to me, could I have just done it myself? Just how much – or little – can be done without the context, background, purpose getting in the way (in terms of time)? Hope you don’t mind, but I’ve posted a link to your blog on the HubCap Digital forums to see what others think of your research!

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