When IT workers and employers in the U.S. and the U.K. talk about offshore outsourcing, they might as well be speaking different languages.The employers say they're cutting costs, but their employees hear that as cutting jobs.
One thing that's saved employers and employees in continental Europe from similar misunderstandings is that they really do speak different languages — not so much from one another as from low-cost countries like India, which have so far picked up the bulk of U.S. offshore outsourcing contracts. English, the language that allows Indian companies to compete on equal terms with U.S. and U.K. ones for IT contracts in those countries, takes second place in the rest of Europe.
IT project proposals tend to be written in a company's native language because they begin life as internal communications, according to Marian Hanganu, marketing manager of TotalSoft SA, a developer of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems in Bucharest, Romania. So even if a German company considers its international working language to be English, it's important for outsourcing suppliers to be able to communicate in German, he said.
Despite their programmers' prowess, that's a skill that Indian companies lack, Hanganu said.
"The important thing about Eastern Europeans, and particularly Romanians, compared to Indians, is that you can easily find people speaking French, German, Italian or Spanish," he said.
You'd expect a European outsourcing vendor with programmers fluent in six languages to say that, but the story is the same from clients too.
According to a survey of the chief information officers (CIOs) of 200 French enterprises, while 36 per cent had outsourced IT work, only four per cent used offshore vendors. Only the largest companies had experimented with offshore outsourcing, according to the study, published in September by SAP AG and Kearney Interactive, a division of Electronic Data Systems Corp.
The survey was released at a debate about outsourcing between the CIOs of elevator manufacturer Schindler Holding AG, banking group Caisse Nationale des Caisses d'Epargne and outdoor advertising company JCDecaux SA, organized by the French IT and Telecoms Press Club. If offshore outsourcing has been slow to take off in France, the CIOs said, then it's in large part because most suppliers insist on speaking English, and French IT staff don't deal well with that.
It's important for outsourcing service providers to understand these cultural and language differences, and work to mitigate them, according to Gartner Inc. research vice-president Ian Marriott, who spoke on the topic at Gartner's Symposium conference in Cannes, France, last month.
But although he was addressing Gartner clients from many different countries, Marriott himself took an anglo-centric view of the language issue, identifying English-speaking service providers from India, Ireland, Northern Ireland and South Africa as most suitable from a linguistic point of view, and rating vendors in Russia, China, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as "poor".