Fixing problems in the new era: Offshoring in practice

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odesk.com allows you to monitor the work of your contractors through time-based computer screen shots

We have a rather major problem with our websites. The responsive theme/design at their foundation, developed at some expense by North Carolina-based developers about two years ago, has remained rather static, as developers updated and enhanced the underlying framework. In the latest update, we (and thousands of other users) discovered a glitch: We cannot use the editing tool to update our posts/pages and sites. Volunteers on the open-source WordPress forum explained that there have been many updates and improvements, and it looks like the theme we were using never received these enhancements.  (I suppose if we paid several hundred dollars a month to our designers/developers, they would have done this work.) So now, we have sites that look okay, but, well, cannot be updated.

In the “old days” I might have spent quite a bit of energy struggling with the problem. Today, I can call on a couple of offshore contractors, one of whom has been working on the problem — and making progress — for about three days. I pay him by the hour at a level that would get us into major problems with minimum wage legislation in Canada or the U.S. He is happy, though, and will receive a modest cash bonus when he is finished.  If he cannot solve the problem, I can put a team of equally inexpensive people I have worked with in the past on the task — or reach out to the marketplace through elance.com or odesk.com for additional hands.

Similar options/challenges of course have become available in the AEC field, where certain back-office and BIM/design tasks can be sent offshore at extraordinary low cost, and (if you are organized) large project teams can be assembled in the “cloud” to take on seemingly daunting tasks. These skills don’t replace the creative intelligence and project management skills that require both education and insight, but certainly have created some cost savings opportunities (and threats to conventional lower-level employees/assistants) in several professional fields/practices.

Of course, we don’t announce this stuff to our clients, though we don’t hide it either. Nor do we practice it without sensitivity for our Canadian/U.S. employees and contractors. Instead, we give them opportunities to use the support for grunt work, and allow them to focus on higher-level tasks.

If you haven’t considered offshoring for some of your operations/admin/support and commodity design projects, I encourage you to test the options. You may be surprised about the potential for enhanced productivity. We pay about $500 a month for effectively three additional ‘hands’ — the highest paid, a competent English writer/editor in Pakistan who charges us a really high (for offshore) fee of $3.00 an hour.

These resources won’t replace your need for really skillful support and relationship-building capacity with sales and marketing locally, but certainly if you handle it right, you can maintain/develop your websites and offshore for back-end support on data entry and management. I would be wary, however,about any spam offers you receive unsolicited, especially for SEO and professional services. These are usually agencies and others with less-than-perfect ethics. Go to the marketplace yourself, post your task, and then give your short-list candidates small, non-mission-critical assignments. You’ll have some failures and mis-steps, but after some effort will develop a network of competent offshore contractors who will save you lots of money, and work hard while you sleep to enhance and secure your business.

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