Will embracing Agile put an end to Offshore Outsourcing?

Over the last 15 years, organisations have implemented an outsourcing model which has seen a large volume of development and/or test activities being moved offshore in order to achieve their cost reduction targets.

In an attempt to optimise IT costs and increase efficiency, while putting the customer at the heart of all decisions, organisations are now focusing their energy on investing in their Agile and DevOps capabilities. Likewise, industry experts now expect significantly more testing to take place onsite or onshore in the coming years.

Does this signal the end of offshoring?
Change happens and for many organisations, the adoption of Agile principles is seen as key to enabling their desire to increase the pace of change.  Following an Agile methodology relies on close cooperation and collaboration between team members and stakeholders. Clarifying requirements just in time and keeping all team members on the same page throughout the process is important.  Sitting and working as a team facilitates greater communication.

As the distance between different teams grows, the effectiveness of their communication decreases yet the backbone of a successful transition to an Agile methodology or DevOps is organisational culture and communication. Breaking down silos, providing an environment which encourages creativity and innovation, getting people together with different ideas and perspectives are all aspects of the Agile culture and help towards transformational change.

I am not saying that offshore resources are not skilled Agile practitioners or that technology hasn’t evolved to help dispersed teams collaborate better across the globe. I am not naïve enough to think that every organisation can have all key resources sitting together, however, even with improved technology in play, while organisations Agile capabilities mature, there is no better approach than to having all key resources sitting and working together. There are many examples which demonstrate that human nature defaults to this way of working when addressing a problem or needs to respond to a situation quickly.

How do we ensure we address the skills gap created by a decade of offshoring?
According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK currently has an unemployment rate of 4.9%.  It also has in excess of 1.5 million students in higher education. Not all of these people could become good developers or testers but a proportion of them would stand a greater chance given the right training.

Regardless of where you source these potential resources, the crux of the matter is ensuring the relevant organisational infrastructure is in place to create and nurture a culture of education and learning. In my experience, we have enabled many of our major offshore service providers with an ability to develop their junior, more inexperienced staff by contracting with them on a fixed price or managed service commercial model. This enables them to train junior, less experienced members of staff working on client accounts while still meeting the expectations of the client. The risk and reward sits with the offshore supplier. I see this approach implemented less often when engaging local suppliers or across teams resourced by permanent employees. In my experience, it is more common for projects to meet resource demands by hiring or using permanent employees with already proven track records in the required subject matter – leaving little or no opportunities for less experienced resources. If this approach continues, it will become more and more difficult to get hold of skilled, knowledgeable resources and those who currently have these skills will be harder to come by and, probably, more expensive.

Working in partnership with clients or internal teams, with a focus on developing new talent, can help ensure the future skills gap, created as a result of offshoring, is addressed. It will however, take time!

So, in conclusion, offshoring has helped organisations address a very real challenge for many years and, in many circumstances, it may still be the right model for some organisations. On the other hand, there is an evident shift towards having resources working alongside one another – to converge and overlap the development, test and operations communities, in order to drive organisations further towards an established Agile and DevOps culture.   Many organisations are already working effectively using an Agile methodology with a proportion of functions and resources spread across the globe. For those organisations who have a steeped history in legacy systems and who currently adopt a more traditional waterfall methodology but have a desire to increase their Agile or DevOps capabilities -  it may be better to look more locally to source and locate their resources in the future.

Sourcing, training and providing opportunities locally is an excellent legacy for organisations adopting agile and DevOps. I can’t think of anything better!!