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Current systems analysis techniques + outsourcing to skilled people != (not equal) to success

An interesting topic of conversation has come up in our systems analysis course module about the choice of developing bespoke in-house solutions, outsourcing, and purchasing solutions.

Ultimately the evidence (empirical and anecdotal) seems to point towards the fact that outsourcing work does not in fact save money in the long-term! Shock horror!

The main reason cited for this is the clear communication problems that can occur when work is outsourced to a development organisation in a foreign country. This communication barrier is due to a combination of factors, and I believe is far more complex than one might assume by face value alone. It seems that systems analysis and design techniques are relatively sophisticated these days with the inclusion of detailed Object Oriented class diagrams. It is also true that developers in foreign countries often do have qualifications that should indicate they are capable and skilled programmers and it is also true that many have qualifications that are supposed to assert their aptitude at carrying out work outsourced to them from another country.

You would think with this combination of design skill on the outsourcing side and development skill on the ‘outsourcee’ side that these projects would be really rather successful.

However as I have already mentioned this is often not the case, with the company paying for the outsourcing often also having to pay for large amounts of quality assurance (QA) in order to check and fix poor quality coding. All the factors to blame here seem to essentially come down to this communication problem: That these people are not working together in the same office, with the same level of understanding of language, cultural and business paradigms. As a result all manner of misinterpretations occur and cannot be resolved due to the lack of easy clarification of problem areas.

This leaves both sides quite able to hold their hands up and say: wasn’t my fault this didn’t work out!

I do not presume to be so clever to present a solution to this problem. Sometimes outsourcing software development is successful. But it seems clear that currently the software industry is still not a universal language-independent industry. With software different people work in different ways on different problems. While some applications of software development are common and proven, such as many e-commerce solutions for shops that wish to sell their stock online, many more applications of software development are so hugely varied and often previously unexplored.

Anyway I’m rambling on now. From a programmers perspective it is curiously appealing to think of software development as  a bit of a mysterious art, from a business’ perspective it is probably hugely frustrating.  However when skilled people are working together collaboratively in the same environment – both analysts and developers – it is a very creative and productive atmosphere. Under these circumstances people are much more effective at establishing a clear design and implementation pattern that works for them.

In short the most important tool to use in the specification of a software system still seems to be verbal communication in person. This allows discrepancies to be clarified and the project as a whole to be managed in a consistent manner.

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  1. [...] were bemoaning the lack of quality developers and development companies that are based in the UK. Outsourcing happens a lot in the current economic climate, and while some developers abroad are genuinely [...]

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