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When Offshore App Dev Projects Go Bad

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that application development tasks are among the most likely to be sent offshore by U.S.-based firms.

What is surprising, even though it probably shouldn’t be, is the uptick, anecdotally, at least, in offshore app dev horror stories: Application deliverables that don’t satisfy project requirements; are characterized by poor, sloppy or incoherent coding; or are simply unusable.

Increasingly, codejockeys report that they’re being asked to dress up the shortcomings of outsourcing app dev projects, some of which are products of the fabled Indian sub-continent. Consider the case of a production support engineer with IBM Global Services who says he recently cleaned up some Java code his employer had outsourced to a programming team in India.

“I jumped into this project in the middle, so I couldn’t tell you if it was a case of bad or poorly defined requirements from the start,” he says. “I just felt that knowing that somebody else had worked on it for some period of time, it astounded me that they could have tossed out what I was looking at.”

The irony, of course, is that this engineer isn’t a Java programmer by trade; his expertise lies in another language. “Basically, the problem was an elementary logic error. A condition was set, yet there was not an ‘else’ in this condition,” he explains. “Like I said, it could have been a case of poorly defined requirements, but this is something that’s pretty basic. This should have been caught.”

In a recent survey, Enterprise Systems Journal (http://www.esj.com) found that 20.6 percent of respondents currently outsource some or all of their application development responsibilities. Of these, more than 40 percent are expected to outsource app dev tasks to near-shore or off-shore providers, with the bulk of offshore app dev responsibilities destined for the Indian sub-continent.

In both cases, this was nearly double the tally for all other skill areas. The reason is obvious: Indian programmers have a reputation for skill and competence that’s unrivaled.

Although this reputation is in many cases deserved, analysts say, it’s also true that Indian programming excellence has been accepted as a fait accompli by executive decision-makers. This makes for a seller’s market in Bangalore, Hyderabad and other sub-continental outsourcing hotspots.

“Certainly, it’s probably the case that some of the Indian programmers are sort of padding their resumes to take advantage of this [demand],” agrees Gordon Haff, a senior analyst with consultancy Illuminata.

But when offshore programmers overstate their capabilities, their counterparts in the U.S. frequently end up picking up the slack. The irony, notes Don Cave, an IT professional with a prominent global insurance firm, is that by doing so, offshore IT pros gain even more leverage.

Cave knows whereof he speaks: one of his company’s database applications was recently moved offshore, where it’s now supported by several “green” IT pros. He and his co-workers have been cleaning up after the offshore team for several months now. “We will make it a success, and the company will save millions each year,” he says. “As a result, the offshore groups will gain even better understanding of the system and how to modify it successfully. Then they will hold even better cards to back up an increase in cost. Eventually they will become as skilled as our former staff, and probably cost 70 percent with extra overhead for testing and other interfaces.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a contributing editor. He can be reached at daedalus@percipient-analytics.com.

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