IT Knows No Borders

U.S. information workers must face the challenge of growing global IT competition.

If a rising tide lifts all boats, a receding tide has the opposite effect. Right now, the economic tide is out for many U.S. IT workers facing uncertainty in their careers. Some blame foreign workers. That is a mistake. Fraudulent or abusive use of temporary immigration business visas must be punished, but targeting these long-standing programs, which bring limited numbers of workers to the United States, misses the much bigger challenge: the growing strength of IT competitors around the world. The globalization that U.S. hardware companies have faced for decades has now hit the U.S. software and services industries. While this chal-

lenge has been building for years, the boom of the late 1990s hid it. That was then; this is now. The rise of non- U.S.-based software development, often-inadequate domestic work force education and training, and reductions in IT spending by U.S. and non-U.S. businesses have squeezed U.S. IT workers and many U.S. IT services companies.

Several factors have accelerated offshore IT outsourcing. The global telecommunications revolution allows instant access to information workers everywhere. Countries have spent billions training their people in contemporary IT skills. Companies in the United States—and other developed economies—now frequently send work to offshore partners, suppliers or subsidiaries; establish business operations in foreign countries; or combine these approaches. Research by the Information Technology Association of America shows that more companies plan to initiate offshore practices.

How should we respond to the challenge? First, recognize its existence. Just as the U.S. car industry ignored the challenge from foreign competitors in the 60s until a crisis arose, too many in our country have missed the global IT competition or focused only on foreign workers coming to the United States rather than the millions being trained globally to compete with U.S. workers.

Second, join major stakeholders in a dialogue. U.S. IT vendors and customers, the government, and the IT education community must address the challenge. Third, focus on best value in addition to best price. Best value covers innovation, quality, productivity, total cost of ownership, suitability and customization.

Fourth, create new models for partnering. U.S. projects and offshore work can coexist. Fifth, support opening foreign markets to U.S. IT offerings. Sixth, build on the strengths of U.S. IT resources. An increased focus on education and training is needed.

We can act like King Canute and order back the tide, or we can start building frameworks that maintain U.S. economic strength through technology leadership.

Harris Miller is president of the ITAA, a trade group based in Arlington, Va., representing the IT industry. Send your comments to