The jobs are going away. They won’t be back.
Here in my home, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, it’s mostly light manufacturing jobs. But in the Silicon Valley; in Austin, Texas; in the Washington Beltway; and in Boston; it’s programming and help-desk jobs. In Redmond, Wash., it’s software architecture.
You can call it outsourcing, but that’s a name that hides the hard truth of men and women, once loyal employees, once valued professionals, who are now on the street looking for a job, any job, that’s related to the technology that first took them to the top of the job market—and then dropped them.
It’s 21st-century capitalism in action. When you can get the same job done in Bangalore, India, for a tenth the price it would cost you to do it in San Francisco, what CEO in his right mind wouldn’t outsource the work to India, or soon, the Philippines?
But what if it’s not the same job? Small box resellers tell me that they’re seeing business coming from former Dell customers. Why? Because, they tell me, Dell has outsourced some of its desktop help-desk support to India, and once-loyal customers are disgusted with the lousy quality of help they’re getting.
This isn’t to say that all work in India is poor quality. It’s not. Some of it is outstanding. But you can’t simply partner with someone in India, or anywhere else for that matter, on price alone.
Back in the 1980s, I worked for several Washington, D.C., area IT firms. Yes, I was once a member of the Beltway Bandits. It was a “ha-ha, only serious” kind of joke then that whoever could promise the government the most engineering man-hours for the lowest price would always win any given contract.
Of course, once the contract was awarded, you ended up with such fiascos as the Federal Aviation Administration contracts, where—surprise!—the work from 80-hour-a-week programmers at $10 an hour turned out to be utterly awful.
You get what you pay for.
So, should you outsource? Yes, sometimes you should. Sometimes, outsourcing out of the United States is the best decision you can make for your business. But as Robert McNeill, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, observes, companies need to “change from a focus on providing services at the lowest cost to one of business value.”
But before you do so, before you even start doing your homework on who to work with and who to avoid in India or Thailand, you need to look at your own company and to your own country.
Can you save money by making better business decisions about your structure? Do you really need an office in San Francisco or Manhattan? For that matter, do you need offices?
Why not let programmers work at home? Don’t trust them to work? Why not? It certainly seems to have worked for open-source programmers, hasn’t it?
The reason why IT is now outsourcing out of the United States is that the Internet makes India as close as New Jersey. But why not outsource call centers to, say, Morgantown, W.Va., or Asheville, N.C.? No, the costs won’t be as low, but you might be able to keep your tried-and-true staff. Or at the least, you’ll be in a position to better manage your outsourcers.
I’m no dreamer. It can be done. It is being done. As Christopher M. Carter, president of CCI, a SAP and Salesnet.com outsourcer and certified partner of Microsoft, Dell, HP and Sun, says, “I am so disheartened to see firms attempt to make outsourcing to India the greatest thing since sliced bread.
“I am the CEO of a firm here in the USA who believes in outsourcing, yes, but outsourcing to America [to] keep Americans working on American systems,” Carter says.
“As I mandate to our marketing staff, I personally guarantee our services and price points will beat that of any offshore firm, and we are doing it every day, so much so that the EDSs and IBMs cannot match either our pricing, our service levels or our staff’s abilities.”
Can he do it? I don’t know. But what I do know is that he’s trying to keep outsourcing good not just for his business and his customers, but for his American employees as well. And that’s a goal every system integrator, value-added reseller and outsourcer should strive for.
Some jobs will never come back. But we can keep some of our jobs and I believe, in turn, we’ll also keep more of our customers.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is the editor of Channel Zone and has been covering the channel for more than a decade.