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Open-Source Model for Outsourcing

By Pimm Fox
January 26, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - It doesn't take an MBA to know that you can save money paying a salary of $20,000 for IT skills in India vs. $80,000 in Indianapolis. That's why the outsourcing movement now encompasses software creation, not just support and maintenance.
According to a Meta Group study, 41% of all new application development, whether involving Cobol, .Net, C# or C++, is happening offshore. And the Fortune 100 are increasingly dependent on distributed talent. But using offshore programmers requires sophisticated communication and collaboration technology. Without it, the cost of managing outsourced application development can easily strip away any savings you get from salaries.
Unfortunately, such technology is still in its infancy. But there is one tool that suggests how offshore development can be managed: the Web site. Run by Fremont, Calif.-based VA Software Inc., the site hosts thousands of projects for free, serving as an open-source development platform for project teams as well as a real-time monitor for executives and partners.
Richard Christopher, delivery manager at Allstream Corp. in Calgary, Alberta, uses enterprise software based on this repository of open source code and applications as part of his effort to manage integration work for clients in the oil and gas industries. "My role entails ensuring an IT project has the appropriate resources and is delivered on time and on budget," Christopher says.
Using SourceForge enterprise edition, also from VA Software, Christopher's team manages code, content and process. The tool also handles document management and version control. From his clients' perspective, it's easy to perform acceptance testing, log defects and bugs, and assign priorities tagged with notes. "The nice thing is a user can see what happened yesterday and why," he says. "We're not waiting for the Monday morning status meeting or phone call."
The open-source nature of and the enterprise software edition also carries benefits. As open-source development proliferates, people will contribute to existing projects, producing additional functions and new security features. Stan Carney, a consultant working with Allstream, tells me that as each project gets rolling, the open-source community comes and adds the changes it needs without having to invest in a ground-up development program. "It brings software development closer to traditional engineering," he says. That's because "code is no longer hidden in a black box that can't be inspected."
The more that open source code moves into the enterprise, the greater transparency -- and accountability -- there will be in development. That places the emphasis even more squarely on people with project management skills, whose jobs will remain close to home.
Pimm Fox is a freelance writer in Santa Barbara, Calif. Contact him at
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