Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 21/01/2004Outsourcing is getting to be really big business --the number of billion dollar deals doubled last year, according to Datamonitor. And these are just the sort of technology-related jobs that we were supposed to embrace to revitalise our post-industrial economy, now that making cotton shirts and steel girders for the Empire isn't quite the thing.

Wednesday 21/01/2004
Outsourcing is getting to be really big business --the number of billion dollar deals doubled last year, according to Datamonitor. And these are just the sort of technology-related jobs that we were supposed to embrace to revitalise our post-industrial economy, now that making cotton shirts and steel girders for the Empire isn't quite the thing. That's the trouble -- or the great saving grace -- of industrial capitalism: the impetus is to deskill and reduce cost on production while improving efficiency and techniques. At some point, it will always be easier and cheaper to take a mature technology and transfer it to a place with lots of people and a much lower cost base.

But it's not just the big stuff that's going. Shopping in Camden with a friend, we popped into Holt's -- one of the country's finest purveyors of Doctor Marten's footwear and the only place to find many of the classic designs. As my friend was purchasing a fetching pair in oxblood red, he asked whether it would be possible to get his old shoes revitalised. Yes, certainly. Do they do it on the premises? Hardly. Although they still go out to a local cobbler, it's looking as if it'll be cheaper, quicker and more efficient to DHL them to Calcutta to have them rebuilt.

If it's got to that point, what's left? Stuff that's in situ, like washing machines, plumbing and the larger car, will presumably have to be left to the local artisan to fix, but anything portable is liable to find itself shoved in a Jiffy bag and despatched to the subcontinent pronto. As for the bigger stuff, I rather think we'll invent ourselves out of a job again. Take a look at all that remote viewing and tele-surgery stuff, where a surgeon half a world away watches an operation over a high-definition video link and either operates via a robot or by talking to a local, less skilled doctor. Now think videophones and Mumbai call-centres stuffed with highly trained washing machine, car and plumbing experts. Phone up, show them the problem, show them your credit card and they'll talk you through.

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