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Offshoring and Outsourcing Quality

The other day Yusra Ikhlaq, a Business Analyst / Application Team Lead with IBM Global Services, posed the following interesting question on LinkedIn:

Is Quality compromised through off shoring and outsourcing?

These days the hype is all about outsourcing and off shoring another way of cutting cost by our major Corporate causing further the US employees face the hardships of this present economy.
Being in a virtual team myself where the project was off shored and outsourced I saw a drastic change in quality of work performed. Be it inexperienced fresh graduates posing as experienced developers with lack of understanding of the consequences of their actions, cultural bearers or time differences but I feel we are compromising the quality of work performed. Especially when we assume our strategic business partners are tackling things right. Whatever happened to ensuring that the deliverable is quality finished?

This was my considered response on a topic that I feel particularly strong about:

Outsourcing in of itself is not a bad option to take - after all I have had a 25 year career providing and managing such services, although always in a domestic context. Well trained, well motivated people will provide an excellent service and, in my opinon, often better than in-house development personnel.

Off-shoring is a completely different issue and my experiences of such have not been good. Sure code gets churned out to meet functional specs in the immediate term, but at the cost of true software engineering skills and best practices. This turns maintenance into a horrific and costly undertaking. I don't doubt there are some success stories out there, but I have not seen any that have come close in quality to anything I have been involved with over my 25 years.

Someone else mentioned the adage of you get what you pay for. This still holds true today despite increased commodization in the software services industry. Even though the smaller sticker price of the project is appealing, often the true TCO may end up being higher. The traditional service companies have had no option but to modify their profile to mirror the large offshore players in order to survive and compete. I can't help thinking that there are parallels with the auto industry. This trend isn't going away but one can't help but think back that the heyday of great software prowess and the profession of true software engineering is but an increasingly distant memory, as today's inefficiencies get masked by moore's law inspired advances to hardware and infrastructure.

The bean counters win and firms get the software they deserve.

By Mark Lowe
June 8th, 2009

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