Offshoring – the hard yards (and the hidden value)

cebu-it-parkI never imagined in my early days of business I’d be sitting here in our building in South East Asia balancing work and life.  Yesterday I was on an island off Bohol with my family and our team, today I am driving recruitment and competing with Accenture and Lexmark for the best people here.. tomorrow I have meetings with our Australian clients but these will be conducted remotely.

After three years of being in the Philippines (sometimes physically, mostly remote) there have been some hard lessons and there has been some joy – those two experiences can and often do occur in the same hour.

Anyone who has taken the plunge and operated offshore will understand that the concept of saving some cost on staff or having a nice holiday is quickly replaced with a fundamental issue – what am I doing here? why reinvent my business? why not follow the trodden path in my own city or town?

I can only answer these questions from my own perspective.  We knew that in order to increase our level of service in Australia we needed to scale while keeping our services in line with Australian expectations.

If you’re not a regular reader that’s ok because I haven’t been a regular writer.  In large part that has a lot to do with where I am now – here, running a much bigger team than we could grow in Australia, handling much larger clients at home and still learning every day.  In many ways I didn’t feel like I had much to share while we went through the trials and tribulations but I’m ready now.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned so far.

You need to throw out your processes and technology and start again

This is the hardest part.  When you decide to offshore all or parts of your business there are always partners that can help you recruit people, there are nice modern offices to lease or local companies who can ‘manage’ your team but there are few, if any, that understand your business processes or your clients better than you do.

We took this journey the same way most companies do – “here’s our process and it works fine in Australia”.  The reality is most organisations have dated technology i.e. servers sitting in your local office that are too slow to access from abroad or older software that isn’t cloud based so they’re cumbersome to use.  Add to that the fact that our approach to a problem is quite different from other cultures and many businesses find themselves declaring that offshore doesn’t work for them.

Communication is paramount but if you don’t invest in the best quality internet or roll out state of the art “pin drop quality” voice over IP you’ll diminish your client experience.

In three years we were forced to re-organise, re-map and reduce the number of steps it takes to do a task and we are still investing in smarter technology every day.  We had to throw out old accounting and document management systems and move online, we needed to tighten the language in our documentation to minimise the risk of misinterpretation. For every single technology problem we’ve run in to there’s been a new app or platform to solve it.  Teaching your new offshore staff and your local staff to work with these new tools and techniques takes time, energy and effort.

People

Good people and bad people can be found all over the world.  We are all human.  Some are drawn to the Philippines because of the allure of low cost staffing.  You can find someone in the Philippines to work for $200 per month full time but this individual is unlikely to have had the exposure or training to work in your complex business environment.  Once you recognise that cheaper isn’t better it comes down to finding amazing people to help you scale and that still comes at a cost.  In Australia we are all relatively small companies but in the Philippines a solid operations manager, senior graphics designer or top level software developer may have worked for an American or European company at far higher levels than are generally found onshore where we’re from.  Tapping in to the knowledge of someone who has worked in a team of 100, 1000 or 20,000 people is when you start to see true value in what you can achieve here.

Finding great people takes time and patience.  The general rule is to try and find a very senior person right away and have them help you find more talent.  Starting from the bottom up is expensive and does not work.

I won’t get in to the management of your team in this article but will say that getting your communication and presence tools working properly means your people can stay in touch and connected to you and your culture.

Changing the game

Going offshore brings with it a lot of assumptions and uncertainty.  You feel like a pioneer and you feel like you can change the world and bring new ideas – that in part is true – but what is more likely to happen is you need to change the game to fit the new  culture you are now in.  This might manifest as new product ideas, it might give you a platform to launch your servces  in other countries, it will definitely test you as a leader.

Once the core of your business is working properly you can explore roles that you may not have attempted in Australia because you didn’t have the budget.  Perhaps a small (or large) sales team, a social media team, a QA team that tightens up your business processes or a software team to develop that ground breaking app that will change your industry.

We live in a global workforce, there are no borders to how you run your company today but there are technology and people challenges that come with it.  I can now finally say we’ve made it through the tough times and we work with the best people in the world both here in the Philippines and Australia.

If you’re thinking about offshoring I’m always happy to have a conversation.  You can reach me via the I Know IT page or drop me a note in the comments.

–James

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