Projected cost savings are almost always the key draw when companies consider sending some of their IT and business operations offshore. But performance gains can be a benefit of sending work overseas as well - as long as they are planned for from the start and built into contracts.
That was the conclusion drawn by AT Kearney following a survey of executives and IT leaders at 42 Fortune 200 companies with offshoring experience. In a 19-page report, the US-based management consulting firm said the companies that showed the most improvement in both operational performance and cost savings focused on performance issues early in the offshoring process.
"The people who really concentrated on performance saved more money than companies that offshored and didn't stress and analyze performance," said Adam Dixon, a Kearney consultant and co-author of the study.
And, he said, the greatest gains were realized by companies that improved on three or more of the six operational process metrics considered in the survey. That runs counter to a belief held by many IT leaders who worry that sending some operations offshore will reduce the performance of their departments, Dixon noted.
Vijay Sonty, CIO for a county public school system in the US state of Florida (Broward County), agreed that although cost savings are certainly one goal of offshore outsourcing, operational improvements are also possible, depending on the work that is being sent overseas.
"You can build in performance gains," Sonty said. "You have to do it upfront and bring in offshoring experts who understand your business."
Broward County Public Schools, which serves 270,000 students and has an annual budget of about $US4.5 billion, is one year into a planned three-year implementation of a new SAP ERP system. The work is being done under a $US30.5 million outsourcing contract with IBM; about 10 percent of the tasks have been sent to India, Sonty said.
He added that offshoring those functions - preparing data logistics reports, as well as reports for the school district's payroll, human resources and purchasing departments - did not affect the quality of the work or cause the district to lose control of the tasks.
Kearney's online survey, which was conducted during last year's fourth quarter, asked respondents 50 questions about their offshoring experiences; the questions covered topics such as operational performance capacity and flexibility, revenue performance and process maturity.
Of the 42 respondents, 35 said they had completed their offshore implementations and had cut costs by an average of 49 percent while gaining some improvements in all six of the measured categories. Still, 60 percent of those companies reported that their performance gains weren't as high as expected, and 34 percent said they didn't meet their cost-savings goals, according to the study.
Kearney said that offshoring some medium-complexity work, such as IT and advanced business processes, improved operational performance more than sending low-complexity functions like call centre operations overseas did. Offshoring the latter functions also saved less money - an average of 28 percent, compared with 38 percent for the more complex work, the firm said.
"Some companies can take advantage and grab an operation and move it offshore," said Adam Braunstein, an analyst at US-based Robert Frances Group. "It's definitely doable, but the number of companies that can do it correctly is still in the nascent phase. It's difficult to get there."
Particularly in areas such as software development and maintenance, companies that succeed "are not giving up the entire kit and caboodle," Braunstein added. "What you'll find is that in order for things to move [offshore] effectively, nobody hands it all over. If you do that, you're in for a world of pain."
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.