Offshore connect – New mantra for complex IT delivery

For more than three decades, IT outsourcing vendors have been helping their clients across the globe. Through this journey, both clients and their vendor partners have evolved, as has the evolution of delivery and  the engagement model. Both big and niche IT players have had to adapt according to their business strategy and market forces. Cost arbitrage is not sustainable; thus it has been replaced by value-adds. Execution methodology has traversed the road of big-bang waterfall to iterative to agile with different degrees of success in each. The engagement model has also changed over time. Recently, outsourcing service providers use offshore centers more because they are the most important component of the delivery engine in program specific work. In addition to routine-work, offshore centers share additional value-adds like technical excellence, industry experience and various good practices from knowledge repository and past implementations. This gives providers better margins because of high-end capability at relatively low-cost while clients get both value-adds and cost benefit. Irrespective of the execution or engagement model used in such offshore-heavy delivery, communication is the critical success factor. As programs increase in complexity, the importance of communication increases exponentially. Technical excellence, process maturity, domain knowledge or management efficacy are also important for complex IT programs, but without effective communication, primarily communication from offshore delivery teams, delivery would not only face a bumpy journey, but also could derail. Also without effective communication from offshore, no delivery model would gain maturity for complex programs on a consistent basis. So the offshore team, having maximum presence in delivery, must actively and directly partake in client communication.

In an onshore-offshore model, without effective communication from offshore, clients face perception and transparency issues about offshore. For many IT programs, large or small, vendor’s offshore acts as a black-box for client and vice-versa. Many clients in Australia and elsewhere thus do not take the risks of giving IT vendors complete responsibility of managing the program end-to-end in an onshore-offshore model. On the other hand, from the IT vendor side, thin onsite team acts as the only face of delivery in client communication. While this helps clients talk to only a few people from the vendor side, this approach many times faces inherent challenges of improper information passed or wrong expectation set to clients. The onsite vendor team is expected to be competent enough to meet the expectations of clients and the offshore delivery team. Unfortunately, in most cases vendor onsite teams fail to meet all expectations simultaneously and consistently, especially in regard to complex delivery. This can lead to collaboration challenges between the vendor’s onsite and offshore teams, which leads to relationship issues within the overall team and to delivery adversity. To resolve all such issues, direct communication with clients from offshore in regular intervals is of utmost importance. When the offshore team communicates with the clients directly and effectively at regular intervals, clients realize the vendor team’s expectations and challenges better. At the same time, vendors’ high dependence on their onsite teams would decrease, and the offshore team would be able to comprehend client expectations better. With direct communication from offshore teams, surprises in delivery would decrease, the quality of delivery would improve, clients’ apprehension towards offshoring or outsourcing would reduce along with improvement of trust in offshoring capability. Clients’ perception would change and they would appreciate the value stored at offshore within offshore centric players more. Unfortunately, even today, active communication with clients from offshore is still rare – either clients or IT vendors discourage that.

Here are some recommendations on offshore connections with clients that can help complex IT delivery without adding confusion or complexity:

  1. A regular connection between the client and vendor’s offshore team in the presence of their onsite contact is a must for any critical program. Discussion should not be limited to status updates but should also include sharing various implementation ideas, potential risks and mitigation plans. Frequency of such conversations depends on stability and risk situation of the project.
  2. Every team-member’s participation is overkill, but the offshore project manager, project lead, tech lead and QA lead should talk to the client directly as needed. Other members, based on importance of their role in delivery, should also be included e.g. if User Interface (UI) is a critical element of project delivery, the UI designer from vendor side must talk to the client directly.
  3. Written communication with the client should also be done from offshore by a few fixed points of contacts (PoCs) following a well-defined communication management plan. In all such written communications, the vendor’s onsite PoC must be included.
  4. In case of agile methodology, it is even more important to have direct communication with the offshore team (scrum meetings) to clearly understand the scope, status, risks and mitigation plan.
  5. Collaborate through secured social platforms that are accessible by both the client and vendor teams (both onsite and offshore). Such social tools help clarify requirements, update status and co-develop the final product.

In the world of globalization, anything that adds contextual value would be adopted by winners. Effective, open, transparent communication between clients and vendors, with strong emphasis on direct communication from offshore to clients, is one such value-add for complex IT delivery. Once adopted, this would make IT offshore players trusted partners for their clients, and clients would realize the effectiveness of offshore in the entire value-add equation even more.

Suman Kumar Chandra

Director - Delivery, Virtusa. Suman has worked in multiple areas spanning from delivery of large complex IT and business programs, to managing multiple global accounts, consulting and sharing thought leadership. He was associated with BPM, CRM, DW/BI, Social, Mobility and Testing engagement for his clients. He has worked on multiple process initiatives for systemic improvement. He is a PMP and Certified Process Professional. Suman holds Bachelor degree from Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology (IIEST), Shibpur and MBA (Finance & Strategy) from Melbourne Business School, Australia with international exchange from Darden School of Business, USA.

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