Discussions of offshore software development often reference cultural, communication, timezone, and language issues. Prashanth Rai, author of the CIO-Reinvented blog, raises a subtler and less discussed problem: the role of business maturity and sophistication in producing great software:
One of the problems in the industry currently is that lot of the Indian IT Services companies are still in the business of providing "Technically Sound/Well trained Bodies". Of course it is an advantage that Indian IT Services companies provide technically sound/well trained people at a fraction of the cost. [However,] since these people are IT people and not technical people working in a manufacturing company they bring additional technical prowess to the table, but lose out on the knowledge of the functional aspects of the businesses.
As Prashanth suggests, even the most basic outsourcing supplier should be expected to provide qualified developers with good coding skills. That's a given.
However qualified bodies alone don't create successful software projects. In my view, "success" in this context is defined by four conditions:
- The finished software meets planned specifications, with a reasonable level of quality
- The project is completed more or less on time and budget
- The software solves the business problem for which it was intended
- Users adopt the software, preventing the project from failing by obscurity (as described here)
Items one and two describe the basic requirements and expectations one should have of any software services provider.
Items three and four evaluate the degree to which the software accomplishes its business purpose and achieves the intended ROI. Sure, it's difficult to design software that fits naturally into existing workflows, encourages users to feel comfortable, and reduces obstacles to adoption. Nonetheless, the best business software does meet these requirements.
It's fair game to raise the four points above when negotiating with software services providers. The issues are difficult, but they're substantive and worth examining.