7 Sins of Offshore Outsourcing

Offshoring business operations offers the potential for cost savings of 15 percent to 20 percent, but Compass analysis show that organizations that properly plan and operate offshore initiatives can reap substantially higher rewards.

Organizations that focus on short-term cost reductions often rush through projects without adequate planning, due diligence or consideration of the long-term implications of the inevitable changes in business requirements or offshore market conditions. In many respects, the mistakes organizations make when implementing and managing offshore initiatives can be understood in the context of the seven deadly sins: pride, sloth, avarice, lust/extravagance, envy, gluttony and anger.

1. Pride
Many organizations succumb to the sin of false pride and plunge headlong into an offshoring initiative without performing due diligence. They assume they have the internal capabilities to create and govern an offshore operation, but they seriously underestimate the management resources needed to set up and run such an operation. This contributes to poor productivity and communications, and to missed cost savings and improvement targets.

It takes time, good planning and detailed execution to offshore successfully. An organization unwilling to invest time at the outset and do it properly cannot expect to reap the long-term benefits of offshoring. Don’t be too proud to learn from the mistakes of others, nor too arrogant to assume that you can cut corners in implementation and abdicate the responsibilities associated with the ongoing management of the operation. Acknowledge that your existing internal resources may not be adequate. Invest the time and resources needed to do it right the first time and keep it successful over the long term.

2. Sloth/Laziness
It’s lazy to move an inefficient business operation offshore and rely on lower salaries to run the operation at a reduced cost. This “lift and shift” strategy is seriously flawed: Although individual salaries may be substantially lower in an offshore environment, the personnel resources required increase by as much as 15 percent. Consider this real-life example:

The chart shows that a “lift and shift” strategy achieves short-term cost savings, but does not address underlying problems. When these problems are offshored, the solution is often to throw additional resources (people) at the problem. This strategy becomes unsustainable over time as offshore salaries increase and traditional offshore locations experience staff shortages and high turnover (up to 80 percent a year in certain sectors and regions). A decrease in individual productivity is common in offshored environments. While offshoring to a captive operation offers the chance to solve problems over time, outsourcing a “lift and shift” approach means managing problems through a third party.

Top-performing companies are shaking off laziness and adopting a “fix and mix” approach. This involves an analysis and improvement of operations prior to offshoring (fix), followed by a movement of specific functions offshore where appropriate (mix). Data shows that the investment in such initiatives is more than offset over the long term by increased savings.

3. Avarice/Greed
In offshoring projects, avarice shows itself as a lack of concern for the fate of the business, as well as a disdain for the well-being of offshore development. Apart from the dubious morality involved, this approach eventually collides with the reality of staff-retention problems offshore, and the associated cost and quality problems. A long-term view focuses on investment in local resources, specifically in staff training, orientation and retention. Offering a career path will pay off in higher productivity and lower attrition.

4. Lust/Extravagance
The desire to solve a problem by taking on more, cheaper personnel is extravagant and wasteful and has serious implications for service quality. Many offshore operations have lower productivity and excessively high turnover, reducing cost savings.

Here’s a typical scenario: A problem is offshored, and additional lower-cost but highly educated staff are thrown at the problem, without any effort to find a solution. After awhile, employees grow frustrated and depart for more rewarding jobs, which means more staff must be hired. A vicious cycle is created: Service quality and cycle times suffer, and error rates increase.

Upward salary pressure in India and elsewhere is forcing organizations to seek new destinations, but the low-cost/low-efficiency model will likely be replicated in those markets. Although the salary differential between onshore and offshore workers remains substantial, the combined effects of lower productivity, increasing salaries, hiring/training replacement staff and managing problems associated with continuity will close the gap far sooner than anticipated. Fixing problems before offshoring enables organizations to reap the benefits of both lower salaries and an efficient organization.

Don’t give in to the impulse to compensate for low productivity with more bodies: It’s a false economy. Leading organizations apply the same continuous performance improvement mind-set to offshore operations as they’ve applied to onshore operations for years. Companies that have invested in technology, infrastructure and processes in their offshore operation continue to show improvements in productivity and cost savings.