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Offshoring Digital Application Development is a Bad Idea

The first time I recall learning about sending digital work offshore was in 2002. It probably had been going on for a while before that, but that’s about the time it came across my desk. At first, I was intrigued at the implied upside of offshoring work - getting design and development done at a fraction of the cost otherwise incurred here in the States. Out of shear curiosity, we decided to give it a shot and outsourced a large e-commerce project.

The offshore firm was represented by a friendly gentleman who seemed very knowledgeable and there were no apparent communication barriers. He had approached Rhythm Interactive several months prior explaining that he represented and worked for an offshore agency and acted as the U.S.-based contact and project manager. The fact that the company offered development services for a mere $10/hr (typical costs in the States ranged from $50 to $75 an hour) with a dedicated local project manager seemed to good to be true so we decided to give it a whirl.

When giving something a whirl you are always hoping for a positive outcome, but this experience turned out to be more of an out-of-control whirlwind. Initially, the project started off on track, however, when it came time to review the first deliverable, the offshore firm was late and we couldn’t reach our “dedicated” project manager for more than two days. The deliverable was not just an internal milestone, but something that our client was expecting to review as well. This did not make for a good situation as we were in the dark and did not know what to tell our client.

This was the start of the end. From this point on the project went badly as deliverable dates were consistently missed, proper QA was not performed and the quality of the code was extremely poor. To compensate and save ourselves huge embarrassment with the client, we routinely had to perform user and cross-browser testing, and reject deliverables that by the offshore firm's standards were considered final and bug free, slowing the project to a crawl. When the project was finally completed, the entire experience presented a huge cost rather a significant savings for the following reasons:

  • We spent five times what was budgeted for regular project management.
  • We had to have our programming team perform code reviews and verify/reject code.
  • We found that commenting within the code was not done in English and had to be translated.
  • We found bug after bug during final testing, which took four times what we budgeted for.
  • We spent four additional months working on the completion of the project, which kept us from beginning new projects and managing existing accounts became more difficult.

All-in-all, outsourcing was a deplorable experience for Rhythm Interactive. The reason why I’m writing about an experience that took place 10 years ago is that to this day, outsourcing continues and in my opinion has not improved. We have clients that have tried outsourcing project work including web development, SEO, app development and more only to have similar horror stories to share. In fact, clients often hire Rhythm to rebuild entire websites that were developed by outsourced firms and never completed properly. As you can imagine, the cost to try to build something for less that never gets completed correctly and has to then be rebuilt, is in the end twice the cost.

The moral of the story is this: There’s no place like home. Good old American ingenuity, thinking and work ethic is where it's at. If you want it done right the first time, hire local talent and pay for what you want, as that's what you’ll get.