Offshoring presents new career paths

The most vociferous objections to offshore outsourcing come from developers and other IT professionals who feel that their jobs are threatened. What they might not realize is the extent to which they can mitigate the effect by taking advantage of the new career paths that globalization is creating.

“What U.S. industry needs more than programmers are IT people that understand business processes and can translate these processes into technical requirements,” says Michael Doane, an analyst with Meta Group Inc. IT professionals based in the U.S. can play the decisive role in any offshore development project, he says, “by positioning themselves as the intermediary between the client, the onshore and the offshore resource.”

Global outsourcing “is a great opportunity for people in project-management roles,” says Keane consultant James Brewer. “They are in the driver’s seat.”

With an offshore development project, Brewer says, the project manager controls the communications and the exchange of software. “This puts them in a great position to add value to their companies and their careers,” he says.

But to remain competitive, IT pros can’t rely on technical expertise alone. “They must be expert in the business practices of a particular industry in order to help their clients get the most out of their business processes,” Doane says.

Such sentiments echo the way Kim Ross, CIO of Nielsen Media Research Inc., organizes his project development work teams. Typically, there are three components to the team’s structure: onshore and offshore developers, who work for third parties, and a Nielsen anchor team that oversees the project and ensures quality control, Ross says.

Members of the anchor team “must be able to translate business needs into IT requirements,” he says. “They are responsible for ensuring that the specifications are correct and reflect the business objectives, and for maintaining accountability and confirming that the end product is of suitable quality.”

Offshore outsourcing “represents a new career path, but also a challenge for IT professionals to keep their skills current,” says Thomas Kochan, a management professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In this new phase of the profession, those involved in IT will need project leader and quasi-management skills in addition to deep technical skills and will be under pressure to move into these new roles quickly.”

But Kochan also warns that the responsibility for making this transition cannot be foisted solely onto individual professionals. If it is, the U.S. could face a serious skill drain over the next five to 10 years. For the U.S. to maintain its skill base, “industry leaders and professionals, professional associations and academic centres must all work together,” he says, to devise ways of nurturing the profession.

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