The Hidden Costs of Offshore Outsourcing

Moving IT work overseas can be a much more expensive proposition than you may think.

By Stephanie Overby
Mon, September 01, 2003

CIO — The current stampede toward offshore outsourcing should come as no surprise. For months now, the business press has been regurgitating claims from offshore vendors that IT work costing $100 an hour in the United States can be done for $20 an hour in Bangalore or Beijing.

If those figures sound too good to be true, that’s because they are.

In fact, such bargain-basement labor rates tell only a fraction of the story about offshore outsourcing costs. The truth is, no one saves 80 percent by shipping IT work to India or any other country. Few can say they save even half that. As just one example, United Technologies, an acknowledged leader in developing offshore best practices, is saving just over 20 percent by outsourcing to India. (For more, read "Inside Outsourcing in India," www.cio.com/printlinks.)

That's still substantial savings, to be sure. But it takes years of effort and a huge up-front investment. For many companies, it simply may not be worth it. "Someone working for $10,000 a year in Hyderabad can end up costing an American company four to eight times that amount," says Hank Zupnick, CIO of GE Real Estate. Yet all too often, companies do not make the outlays required to make offshore outsourcing work. And then they are shocked when they wind up not saving a nickel.

In this article, we will explore a new TCO -- the total cost of offshoring. We will uncover all the hidden costs of outsourcing—areas in which you’ll have to invest more up front than you might think, places where things such as productivity and poor processes can eat away at potential savings, and spots where, if you’re not careful, you could wind up spending just as much as you would in the U.S. of A. (For more on how to calculate your own TCO, see the worksheet "Do the Math" on this page.)

"You can’t expect day-one or even month-six gains," Zupnick says. "You have to look at offshore outsourcing as a long-term investment with long-term payback."

The Cost of Selecting a Vendor

With any outsourced service, the expense of selecting a service provider can cost from .2 percent to 2 percent in addition to the annual cost of the deal. In other words, if you’re sending $10 million worth of work to India, selecting a vendor could cost you anywhere from $20,000 to $200,000 each year.

These selection costs include documenting requirements, sending out RFPs and evaluating the responses, and negotiating a contract. A project leader may be working full time on this, with others chipping in, and all of this represents an opportunity cost. And then there are the legal fees. Some companies hire an outsourcing adviser for about the same cost as doing it themselves. To top it off, the entire process can take from six months to a year, depending on the nature of the relationship.

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