The tyranny of time

Time zones can work in New Zealand's favour, but they can create problems too

Just because a lot of people employ Kiwi software developers overseas and think they're good, could this really translate into "we think New Zealand is a good place to outsource our development work"? When it comes to outsourcing to the other side of the world, the "tyranny of distance" is still a disadvantage, in spite of its mitigation by the internet.

This leads me to have sceptical thoughts on the likely success of Outsource 2 New Zealand (O2NZ), the joint venture promoted by five local software firms to encourage overseas organisations — starting with the UK — to outsource IT development work here.

The distance effect may actually be worse with the sophisticated kind of development that O2NZ is hoping to participate in. It must be easier to control and administer a bunch of coders in Bangalore than to discuss higher-level, but still detailed concepts at great distance, without necessarily having the ability to demonstrate what is needed first hand. Broadband videoconferencing would be a help, but New Zealand's infrastucture is, let's say, a little less than world-class in that area.

And you have to ask — because potential outsourcers will — are the Kiwis who have the gumption to take off for the other side of the world and immerse themselves in the ICT business of another country the same proposition as the stay-at-home Kiwis who are used to a relatively relaxed NZ lifestyle?

Then there's that time difference. I once worked with a nocturnal subeditor. She preferred to sleep and take care of her kids during the day and did all her editing in the wee small hours. Not infrequently, she gave up on a story that someone (not necessarily me) had written a bit obscurely. It would remain untouched until regular working hours the next day when we could discuss it and didn't get subedited until the next evening.

This was pre-email, but I don't think a bit of "asynchronous messaging" would have speeded the process noticeably.

I see the danger of similar problems arising with outsourcing software development from the UK. The time difference can in some ways work to our advantage — "bung it at the Kiwis and we can go home to bed; it'll be done by the morning" — but if urgent real-time communication is necessary, that 11- or 13-hour difference becomes an obstacle.

O2NZ is a worthy effort, but it'll take some time for the bugs to become evident and a while longer for them to be successfully "ironed out". I wish them well.

Bell is a Computerworld reporter

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