Offsetting the offshore pain

The burgeoning trend of sending information technology tasks outside one’s own four walls towards other parts of the world – commonly known as offshoring – is one that presents both a wealth of opportunity for Canadians as well as a number of potential pitfalls.

For enterprises looking to relieve the sometimes heavy financial strain of managing key tasks on their home turf, the prospect of sending it elsewhere for an much smaller overall expense is an inviting one. With tight IT budgets and an increased scrutiny from above as to the spending habits of technology departments, any concept that promises dramatic savings is at least going to be investigated meticulously by both IT bosses and corporate bean-counters.

For some aspects of the IT machine, offshoring has proven to be well worth the bother of shipping responsibility to other parts of the globe, such as with the case of call centre functions. Labour is cheaper in many parts of the world for such work, and many national governments overseeing traditionally weaker economies are welcoming North American corporations with open arms and business-friendly regulations.

As communication technology continues to improve and the globe becomes more of a global village with each networking advancement, it would seem safe to say that the barriers to carrying out business from anywhere in the world will continue to fall over time.

This could very well turn out to be the case, but even if the offshoring trend does take off to such an extent, it will not mitigate the risks that currently exist around the concept for Canadian companies and industries.

One of the biggest and most worrisome aspects of the offshoring trend is one that is eerily similar to the situation surrounding the practice of outsourcing. With work being contracted out to foreign countries, many IT workers fear that their jobs will be lost to competing job candidates in other countries.

When the outsourcing concept began to grow in popularity a few years back, its proponents reassured worried workers that their jobs would not disappear; they might, however, shift from being in-house positions with individual firms to being in-house positions with pure outsourcing shops and service providers.

In many ways, that prediction has come true, with a rise in openings occurring at global services firms and smaller IT service provisioning companies. Nevertheless, many laid-off IT workers have struggled to find similar employment elsewhere, and even for those who have, the prospect of losing a job and looking for another one is daunting – no matter how long and up-to-date one’s resume is.

In the case of offshoring, the situation is potentially bleaker. In this scenario, jobs aren’t moving down the street or across town; they’re moving across the world, making it virtually impossible for Canadians to attain them.

One way to ensure that Canadian IT workers remain employed is to enter into the offshoring game ourselves. By attracting jobs from other parts of the world, the balance sheet of jobs lost and gained might not contain so much red ink.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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