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Outsourcing Project Management - Onshore or Offshore?

I work in the publishing offshoring industry and we are a leader in this market.

However, USA based publishers have a very hard time dealing directly with our project management group based in Chennai for any number of cultural and language reasons. USA publishers have a very hard time understanding and interpreting what our project group says over the phone or through email or even through presentations unless I am there in person to interpret. And I must admit, we, like other offshore companies in India, have a difficult time with the finer nuances of the English language, and I very often have to proof and correct messaging before it goes to the client which is very time consuming. I would be interested in hearing others comments about the importance and challenges of having project management interface 100% offshore and how they make it more effective from a cultural and language perspective.

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Comment by Jim Hill on October 7, 2009 at 6:29pm
SPS was one of the early founders in publishing outsourcing and started in Chennai. Yes, myunderstanding is that at the time the cost there was lower, but probably not as much now. There is a lot of "push back" to outsourcing in the USA in the Midwest and in the Southwest United States due to lack of international business issues, and the fact that these regions tend to be much more conservative, Republican, and the current political environment is not as pro outsourcing as it is on the East and West coasts. As you note, I amsure that much of the langauge issue is Chennai specific, and have heard this more from others than I was aware of. Thanks again for your input.
Comment by Rajat Verma on October 7, 2009 at 10:36am
Hi Jim, Thanks for starting an important discussion!

Could you list the reasons for your decision to set up your offshore center in chennai compare to other indian cities (DElhi, Mumbai, hyderabad or pune) Chennai may have been slightly more cost effective however the language problem rather i must say the accent problem is huge, you cant do much in it...but still being more stringent at the hiring stage would help..Including a few stringent voice and accent rounds...

You also said "the lack of international awareness of these accounts in this geography.".. you need to see if this awareness wouldn't affect your business adversely. Also, Many Clients include not to disclose the offshore location... the freeze which you have mentioned "they totally freeze up during our WebX demo or conference call." is it from both sides.. are your executives able to understand them? I think it must be from both sides, sorry to say but the main problem seems to be at the hiring stage

"This language issue in Chennai has made us rethink the importance of having onshore project management" No doubt the language issues would be hurting your brand /business development viz a viz your competition.. However i would suggest you to try test run with some other vendor in any other city.. Analyze the results before making any decision..
Comment by Jim Hill on October 7, 2009 at 2:43am
Rajat, this is very insightful. Appreciate the comments. The critical issue for us has been when we approach a non scientific, technical, and medical publisher (STM) with our services. STM is very mature with outsourcing since the content is not design driven so more suitable for XML and automation, and outsourcing. But when we get in front of a consumer book or magazine publisher from Chicago or Cincinatti, Ohio, or Tulsa, Oklahoma, people who for the most part have not interfaced with East Indians very much, they totally freeze up during our WebX demo or conference call. Much of this is not an East Indian issue as much as it is the lack of international awareness of these accounts in this geography. This language issue in Chennai has made us rethink the importance of having onshore project management.
Comment by Rajat Verma on October 7, 2009 at 12:49am
yup, the accent etc. is lot different in south in comparison to north of india... delhi and mumbai are more neutral , easy to understand.. whereas chennai or even kolkata have the regional touch which makes it difficult for an average US guy to understand...however you also mentioned that they need your assistance for the emails. Now this is strange... mails should not be any problem.. if you are facing such issues see if you have hired the right guys.. and if they are more or less indispensable may be they need quick course in business English .... just my two cents. : )
Comment by Jim Hill on October 6, 2009 at 7:10pm
Subra, thanks for this comment and observation. One of the issues that we have become more aware of, which makes perfect sense in hindsight, is the variances in English proficiency depending on the geographical location in India. We have found that the English used in Mumbai and in New Delhi is more "westernized" than it is in Chennai, for instance. Anyone familiar with the USA understands that there is a vast difference in the use of English in New York City, San Francisco, or Birmingham, Alabama, too. Geography, culture, and education levels play a signficant role in this difference in the USA, as it probably does in India, and elsewhere.
Comment by Subra Sundaram on October 6, 2009 at 7:16am
Dear Jim, Greetings. I am Subra from Integritti, Bangalore. We are in the HR services, Training and BPO industry. Coming from a thorough IT(SW delivery) background from one of the biggest institutions in India, Infosys, my ideas may differ a lot. I completely do agree with you that the finer nuances and subtleties of the English language isn't something that any and every layman is able to procure. However, there are a set, a group of niche people who are very particular about the language and its finesse.
An IT job may not require excellent English skills over technical skills, but yes, a publishing offshoring job does need one. However, having a PMI 100% offshore may not be the only solutions. It may help to build a local layer which is proficient in the skills required, over the gross development layer which can do the proof reading and correction. This could reduce the overheads of having a 100% offshore PMI. Deployment of appropriate tools/technology will also help towards this cause.
And, building the right skills, a positive attitude and dedication and commitment will definitely override the aberrations provided by the cultural and linguistic perspective.
Subra

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