Waiting for Offshore Outsourcing

Offshore outsourcing of IT services may be bumping security, archive and business continuity on the worry list. Several readers sound off on the subject and wonder what can be done about the issue. Storage Center Editor David Morgenstern talks of response

In my previous column, I examined some signs of the quickening pace of offshore outsourcing of IT jobs: the results of a recent eWEEK.com reader poll, a trade show devoted to the subject and concerns from a networked storage educator. Still, where are the signs of a kickback from IT and storage admins and techs?

Many of you weighed in with observations, some were angry, many worried and most had few answers to the situation. Here are a few of your thoughts:

  • The situation may be worse than the figures suggest, offered Don Clements. He pointed to the eWEEK.com reader poll, where almost a third of the respondents companies had offshore outsourcing already.

"While on the surface, that is a big number—it may actually be worse than it looks," Clements said. "Id guess that if [the poll] used some sort of weighted average of those respondents youd find that the third of respondents represents a much larger share of the total dollar outlay and employees at risk. My anecdotal observations point to the largest companies, those with the largest budgets and largest staffs, moving to offshore outsourcing first. Hence, the skew that I believe youll find if you look at the numbers in depth."

  • Will Murray, an IT consultant based in Sacramento, Calif., wondered if there wasnt a generational aspect to the current lack of visible action. He said IT workers, especially those newcomers to the profession, may just see offshore outsourcing as just another challenge.

"Its a generation that doesnt know about business pre-NAFTA, pre-Internet, or pre-outsourcing overseas," Murray said. "These are standard business practices as far as many of these folks are concerned. They may remember stories about the glory days of the dot-com boom, but unless they entered the labor market more than 5 years ago, its probably as much a fantasy as Cinderella meeting a really great guy."

"The current IT labor force knows the IT market as one where you struggle to get certified just to take a call-center job because theres a glut of MCSEs [Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers]. Its a group of people who have read the writing on the wall about shrinking jobs and still have decided to try to grubstake their claim anyway. Offshore outsourcing is just another obstacle to impede the weaker among them. With the innocence (or is that arrogance?) of youth, perhaps they dont see it as being something that can hurt them in the way that we do," Murray said.

  • Heres an observation from one "first-level IT manager" in a Fortune 100 company who wished to remain anonymous. He said upper-level managers were cutting positions from the bottom up, and most IT staff were trying to keep a low profile and somehow avoid the axe.

"Why is there no comment or outrage over the outsourcing of IT jobs offshore? IT managers are hoping at the least to keep their jobs," he said. "Someone will have to stay behind to manage the outsourcing relationship, and with the glut of IT after the IT bubble burst, people cannot find jobs that are paying about the same."

"Moral within our IT organization is extremely low. Within my company, IT is shrinking extremely fast. We are reducing our department from a headcount of 130 to a target of 25. While there are other jobs impacted within the company, IT is a large contributor," the manager said.

"The strategy with IT and other functions and business entities with our company is to cut from the bottom up. I have seen no reorganization or consolidation at higher levels. That said, from at least an IT point of view, I think that upper-level managers are also concerned about their jobs. Heck, there is even a market to outsource your outsourcing projects, so even the mid-level managers could still be at risk!"

Most responders expressed difficulty in determining a course of action (beyond keeping their heads down). And thats no surprise given the magnitude of the problem.

Travis Adams, who works in storage support, pointed to an online petition at E.thepeople.com, a do-it-yourself petition Web site. It calls for a surcharge that equalizes the lower foreign labor rate for business looking to move operations offshore.

Dennis, an unemployed software engineer, said he has sent e-mails to all of his representatives. "They all respond back, but basically they dont care. Basically no one cares about the implication of us losing the software industry. The only smart ones seem to be future college students, who are avoiding engineering as a career," he said.

So, do I have the answer? Of course not, since there is no such one animal. However, I will offer a few suggestions for you to consider:

  • Stop the rants against the offshore countries and their workers. Some of you sent angry messages targeting specific countries such as India and Russia, even though offshore means any country (and could be). Of course, these nations are obvious targets, since their governments have spent millions of bucks in partnership with industry to create an infrastructure for this market, and have boosted training and education for their IT sector, unlike our own governments short-sighted policies.

Besides, for those who believe in outsourcing, the rants are dismissed as whining and are an immediate turn-off. And for those who might be sympathetic, the arguments either sound like code-phrases for racist sentiments, or at worst, they are racist.

Instead, IT managers and staff must develop materials that can counter the message from the offshore outsourcing camp. What are the benefits of keeping IT services and data closer to home? Security? Improved communication? Accountability? Only you can provide the reasons, examples and the ROI figures that may counter the pure cost equation from the outsourcing consultants.

  • Recognize that there isnt any one easy answer to this problem. There is no quick-fix solution, such as signing a petition online. At this point, petitions get filed in the trash just like all the other junk mail.

And no white knight or non-governmental organization will be coming to the rescue of this industry and our jobs. What is needed is personal action, a commitment of time and money by each and every individual in the field.

  • The place to start isnt on the Web, which seems to defy common sense when thinking of anything in the technology field. The response to a political and economic problem must begin with "beef." The only thing that will persuade decision-makers in government and business will be the people who are willing to move away from their monitors and be counted.

I suggest folks organize meetings from companies in a geographic area, at lunch or after work. Connect with other IT workers and start building an organization to discuss the issues. Start developing a plan to connect with other local business and governmental groups. When you have some steam built up, start bringing in local political figures, to share your concerns.

  • In addition to a political push, a similar organizing of IT workers should take place inside companies. In past columns, Ive pitched the idea of a union for storage professionals. Certainly, an organized IT workforce operating under a collective bargaining agreement could better present its concerns to management and at least mitigate some of the pain from offshore outsourcing.

Of course, management expects the usual reaction from IT managers and staff: "were overloaded with work and dont have a moment to spare for anything else." Action may, or may not, bring a positive result, while inertia offers an absolute certainty of futility.

eWEEK.com Storage Center Editor David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.

Discuss This in the eWEEK Forum

More from David Morgenstern: