More Letters: Readers Speak Out on Farmsourcing

Here are additional reader reactions to the March 28 editorial "IT Inbreeding":

While I won't disagree with the benefits of enriching companies with culture, companies typically select for outsourcing things that are best done outside and can allow the company to concentrate on more core issues. There is little to be gained by enriching culture in these areas. Companies should expose themselves to other cultures, but in an environment where the cost of that cultural adjustment can be favorably weighed against the value of the working arrangement. In outsourced solutions, the margins are typically low, and cultural differences tend to affect that margin and cause it to become a frustration much quicker.

Jim Brain

Applications architect
AegonUSA
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

While I concur that one can gain diversity that would otherwise not be available by outsourcing work overseas, consider the following two points: 1) Diversity isn't necessarily a function of being located overseas. The IT worker in a rural location may have viewpoints that are very diverse from his Silicon Valley counterpart. If you want proof, look at a map of the results from our last two presidential elections. 2) If the business purpose is simple production of code (or closely related work), diversity doesn't really matter.

Tim Davidson
IT project manager
Summit County, Colo.

Don Tennant is a genius! I'm sure the idea of multiculturalism should be near the top of every CIO's to-do list. Let's push efficiency, agility, growth and strategic vision down the ladder to make room for such business-critical needs as globalization and diversity. While there are certainly benefits to diversity, American businesses would be smart to realize that diversity starts at home - and with the strength of the U.S. dollar at an all-time low, farmsourcing also starts to makes fiscal sense. Globalization and outsourcing are products of bottom-line capitalism. Diversity and multiculturalism are side effects of those practices, not vice versa. I think you've forgotten that fact.

Robert Toro
Chicago

I am a developer on the world's largest Microsoft ERP implementation. Our development consultants ran out of resources and farmed out our needs to developers in another hemisphere. Believe me, exposure to other cultures was not an asset. Their complete lack of experience with common U.S. business practices didn't inject new ideas, just bugs. They were eight time zones away, so we could never just call them to discuss an issue. We had to explain complex issues in writing, which were translated into another language or given to someone whose command of American English was questionable. Each e-mail exchange cost an entire day, stretching minor issues that could have been resolved in a five-minute phone call into weeklong ordeals. I'll take a Podunk programmer any day.

Phil Doucette
York, Pa.
PhilippeDoucette@hotmail.com

Tennant suggests that companies that farmsource might miss out on serendipitous gains in exposure to a new culture, or perhaps a new market for their goods. This is an appealing theory, but unrealistic in practice. The kinds of companies that benefit from serendipity are already doing so. These are the great places to work, the ones that value their employees, the ones with long-term outlooks. The average outsourcing decision isn't made at one of these companies, but at a company where vice presidents focused on their own short-term gain won't take time to look for unexpected benefits. This is the sort of company in danger of becoming inbred. Sadly, it is also the least likely to notice.

Howard Parks
Systems analyst
West Allis, Wis.

Tennant underestimates the power of language. Look back through history at the major empires that have come and gone, and you will find that when they fell, they broke on language lines. Do you think IT departments are immune to the problems that have plagued every world empire? There is a place for diversity in creativity and complex decision-making. There is a place for commonality when clear communication and five 9s of uptime are necessary.

Matthew Williams
Bangor, Maine

Thank you, Don Tennant, for speaking out against the narrow-minded, parochial mind-set that is stifling us all. Thank you for pointing out that in the world most of us want to live in, making a big deal out of someone's accent is a really misguided way to go. Globalization has already happened; we just need to wake up and get used to it. We Americans seem to think that we don't have to deal with the rest of the world except on our own terms. We as a country are living through the process of coming to terms with the fact that the world is bigger than we are and we will have to find constructive (not destructive) ways to engage and find our new place in the scheme of things.

This process is hard on the American psyche, and we have only just started. What do you suppose it was like for the Brits in the '50s and '60s to come to terms with the fact that Britannia no longer ruled the waves and their empire was a thing of the past? We are going through a period of denial and jingoism. It won't do us any good, though. Keep up the good work. Don't let us IT guys get away with narrow-mindedness in the name of "patriotism" or "America first" or whatever other excuse we want to use for this behavior. The sooner we open up and get on with things, the better.

The American culture and can-do spirit is a vital ingredient that we have to contribute to the world culture. The world will seem a much less hostile place when we stop being so hostile ourselves. There is a whole new game forming up right now. And we Americans are going to do really well in that game when we put our minds to it.

Michael Hugos
CIO
Network Services Co.
Mount Prospect, Ill.
mhugos@nsconline.com

Note: Hugos is a Computerworld columnist.

As much as I enjoy Tennant's commentaries, and like Computerworld, his March 28 column was more like an academic exercise than good business sense. Most of us in IT know that, along with scope creep and bad communication, one of the most common contributors to project failure is poor risk management. Outsourcing is inherently risky, and it's prone to failure because of the change in culture and accountability. Why introduce language problems so early in the process? By avoiding that issue at the outset, Gary Hart, the manager quoted in the editorial, is mitigating risk to his business in a responsible way, even as his Southern syntax probably grates on Northern sensibilities. Hart's quote that farmsourcing makes sense because of the common language sounded like a good business decision to me. Tennant seems to have heard a Southern redneck who will only accept others like himself, and his reaction (including the word inbreeding) seems to reflect a personal distaste for Southern culture.

Then there is the double standard applied to outsourcing efforts. As I recall, the press gleefully reported Dell and others' failure to outsource to India recently, pointing out the difficult problems of integrating across distance, time and language barriers. Hart has found an elegant solution that avoids most of those uncontrollable factors, and now he's being accused of insensitivity. That accusation seems irrational to me.

Putting all that aside, to be a good corporate citizen, diversity truly has to be encouraged, but it should be managed properly to avoid cross-cultural breakdowns and delays. At least give Hart credit for moving some processes to a lower-cost location, increasing company profits and providing jobs to an area in need. Allow a business the flexibility to make those decisions without forcing a litmus test that ignores business realities and tries to solve the world's problems at the expense of increasing shareholder value. That doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to push for diversity in the workplace, and I'd ask that you revisit these case studies each year and see if the businesses continue to progress toward some sort of ideal state of open culture and diversity. But please don't snipe at someone who is clearly trying to do the right thing in a measured, careful way.

Mark Holt
IT manager
Media General Inc.
Richmond, Va.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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