Outsourcing guide: Brazil

Brazil is well known for the bossa nova, string bikinis and Amazon forests. Less well known is that, by many measures, it's one of the world's major countries. It ranks fifth in both geographic size and population (180 million people) and has the world's eighth-largest economy.

That said, it generally isn't on the radar screen of IT departments thinking of outsourcing. "I don't know anyone going to Brazil (for IT outsourcing)," says Michael Janssen, an outsourcing consultant at Everest Group in Dallas.

This isn't all that surprising given Brazil's perceived limitations as an outsourcing venue. Peter Bendor-Samuel, CEO of Everest Group, says Brazil has a number of shortcomings compared with other offshore centres. Among those are higher costs than outsourcing giant India (he says Brazil has a 30 % advantage over the US vs. India's 50 percent), a longer distance from the US than neighbors Canada and Mexico, and a smaller pool of educated English speakers than, say, India or Canada.

But Brazil isn't out of the running. Thiago Maia, executive vice president at IT outsourcing vendor Vetta Technologies in Belo Horizonte, Brazil's third-biggest city, cites a number of the country's strengths: time zone (depending on the season, Rio de Janeiro is just one or three hours later than New York, since one's on daylight-saving time while the other's on standard time), a culture more similar to the U.S.'s than India's is, an expanding software industry and an oversupply of IT professionals.

Ben Goertzel, CEO of Biomind , a bioinformatics company in Silver Spring, Md., outsources software engineering, software design, project management, artificial intelligence R&D, and system and database administration to Vetta. He says Brazil's advantages include a good knowledge of computer science among IT professionals, a tradition of high-quality software engineering and the relatively short flight time to Brazil from the US East Coast, making it feasible to hold in-person meetings several times a year.

He also likes the way Brazilians approach development. "(They) tend to stick a lot closer to the software development and project management processes that are taught in universities," Goertzel says. "Everyone in the US knows what these 'correct practices' are, but American software teams tend to make a lot more shortcuts. Brazilian developers are a lot less likely to produce undocumented or poorly documented code."

Goertzel says he has to provide Brazilians with explicit requirements and specifications, which takes him more time upfront, but "the end result is more robust software and less time spent on the later phases of the product cycle."

Infrastructure can be an issue, since much of Brazil is very poor. Major cities have reliable electricity and phone service, but Internet connectivity is slower and more expensive than in the US Goertzel likens Brazil's Internet infrastructure to that of the US about five years ago.

Horowitz is a freelance writer in Salt Lake City. Contact him at alan@ahorowitz.com.

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