On Offshoring and Remote Roman Outposts

(Disclaimer: This post is the result of personal observations over more than a dozen years. I would like to think, like Shakespeare, that there is no single company that manifests all these scintillating qualities. All companies must be approximations of this ideal!)

Creative Commons License photo credit: Rob Meredith

I have come to a conclusion that Offshored operations and remote Roman outposts share similar characteristics.

This has been brewing in my head for way too many years.

I see offshoring as a tool in the hands of corporations to increase their efficiencies, in how they become profitable and respond to potentially hostile environmental factors. I have first hand witnessed its ability to lift lives from poverty. But this sudden influx of values of another society bring with it a variety of hazards. The impact of transplanting an alien work culture and life-ethic leads to an island of values that does not mingle amongst most societies that are at the receiving end of outsourcing largesse.

Allow me to explain the primary causes or symptoms, listed in no particular order of severity.

  • Power Center – This is seldom present at the offshored location. All decisions of any significance are taken at the power center. The most successful of the offshored locations are given symbolic tokens of independence. Items of purely local relevance that it means nothing to the power center. This is the sort of lame self-governance that the Indian National Congress wanted from the British many hundred years ago. Thank God for nationalists!
  • Bread and Circus – This fascination with utterly childish celebrations at the work place. Not sure where all this crap started. Could be HR departments figuring out ways to keep the masses engaged. Could be a workforce that has not known fun during college times. Premature celebration indicates a superficial goal. By all means have fun, but do something worthy first. Not success as defined by an arbitrarily cooked up metric. Change the game and then fool around.
  • Alien laws – That will not be questioned. With no shared context, meaning is a by product of interpretation. And the one who interprets is the law maker. Reminds me of the Vatican or a Brahmin priest!!
  • Bureacracy – It starts off as specialization. To focus on one aspect sufficiently deeply to learn all nuances. In tandem with Processes creates a labyrinth of deferred purpose. A form to fill up, manually in triplicate, to be signed by a platoon of people, who have nothing to do with the proceedings. By the time you know it specialization has morphed into silos of mediocrity.
  • Processes – Success begets size, size begets complexity, complexity demands processes. Without processes scale and complexity cannot be tamed. But processes also hide the worst of human kind. The kind that does not want to think. That lives with a theoretical free-will that will never be manifest in real-life.  That cannot, and will not, think beyond the rule book.

Of course this is just an initial list to get us warmed up. As a follow up I shall post about perspectives on the power center and the assumptions they make.

All is not lost though. I shall end this mini-series with steps anyone can take to work out a win-win, in the offshoring game.

What would you like to hear more about? Tell me about a tough situation you are facing in your offshoring/onsite relationship and we could work through possible resolution approaches. I would not claim to have seen every situation but have learnt a lot from the little I have come across.

Drop me a note with your feedback. Thanks a ton, if you have read this far!

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  1. Mahesh,Wonderfully written – the pain oozes truthfully out! Your observations are more applicable for captive centers – I think the 3rd party fellows are to a large extent shielded from the vagaries of their HQs. You bring a good parallel with the Roman empire. History teaches us that such nebulously held empires did not last for ever. So, is the business model of offshoring (especially captives) fundamentally flawed? Thoughts?Btw, I chuckled when I read your bit on Processes. I wrote a similar piece in my blog http://subrataalpha.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/th…Another interesting post on why captives are fundamentally brokenhttp://6ampacific.com/2007/05/07/the-real-deal-…BestSubrata

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