Communication is 'key' to successful outsourcing

Successful outsourcing means ditching the traditional supplier-customer relationship, HP manager tells Borland seminar

Communication is the key to successful outsourcing, said a speaker at Borland's quarterly Thought Leadership seminar.

Alex Bouma of Hewlett Packard’s technology solution group in Christchurch has been involved in a number of global projects. He shared some of his hard-earned lessons at a Borland seminar in Auckland this month.

The first lesson is that “Remote is a state of mind”, to use Bouma's phrase. It really doesn’t matter whether you are outsourcing to a company in Hong Kong or a department down the corridor, he says — the problems and solutions are largely similar.

“Communication is key and face-time is essential,” he adds. (Face-time is Bouma's expression for describing requirements elicitation and progress negotiation in person.)

Bouma also warns that for IT managers who are not in the habit of outsourcing, the act of providing work to another organisation can have a serious destabilising effect on staff. He makes the point that key staff members are often the ones who can easily get another job and so companies can lose core business skills unless they proactively work on morale.

He goes on to suggest that companies should also endeavour to have common procedures and toolsets as their outsourcing partner as this eases communication. (Of course, Borland would prefer you and your outsourcing partner to use their tools.)

Ensuring everyone knows their roles and their lines of communication is very important in the project initiation phase. The waterfall model of software development was designed with outsourcing in mind, so Boums says outsourcing will lead companies away from the more fashionable iterative method of software development.

Bouma finds that multiple organisations there are multiple opportunities for office politicking to raise its ugly head, so open and frequent communication is absolutely essential to avoid disconnected agendas. Creating a win-win situation between partners is much more lightly to succeed than using the more traditional supplier–customer relationship, he says.

In outsourcing, Bouma suggests embracing an engineering approach with tools and processes to create formal auditable means of communication. But whatever managers try, they can be sure software development is a people-oriented exercise and that “people will be people,” Bouma says.

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