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The financial fraud news from Indian outsourcing firm Satyam dominated business headlines for weeks and is still playing out as buyout suitors and the Indian courts determine the outsourcing giant's future. As of March 31st, the company was still in limbo, waiting for an investor. But outsourcing experts have a hard time seeing how the scandal will have much impact on demand for offshoring in Silicon Valley or elsewhere. "The Satyam incident looks like an isolated incident, at least for now, although corporate governance in India leaves a lot to be desired," Bardhan says.
Adds Bendor-Samuel: "Satyam is a crisis of fraud not a crisis of delivery model, so it's a huge cautionary warning around accountability. We have had Enron...and now India has Satyam." He believes the fallout might be that top U.S. services firms including HP and IBM will get more offshoring dollars for their facilities in other countries.
It's also likely that that the Satyam scandal will help other countries gain a stronger foothold in offshoring. The Philippines, for instance, has earned a reputation for quality work, competitive prices, and strong English-language abilities, says Bendor-Samuel. Diversifying beyond India is a smart strategy for American companies regardless, and is a trend happening now, he adds.
As well, while India will remain appealing to Valley tech firms because of its highly educated workforce and ability to provide the desired IT skill sets, prices in some cities like Bangalore are getting higher, which will also push demand to other locations, says Venk Krishnamoorthy, a Palo Alto-based IP patent attorney with Finnegan.
In the end, Satyam might have more benefits than risks for CIOs, as competition increases and US companies learn to become more vigilant when selecting and monitoring their offshore vendors.
Another undercurrent that could affect demand for offshoring is about protectionism: some companies simply want to help Americans stay employed, given the historic number of job losses that have occurred in the past 12 months. "There is a 'buy America' provision in the [federal] stimulus package," concedes Bardhan, who says altruism will be a factor influencing US executives to reconsider domestic sourcing.
Rural Onshore America which provides low-cost contractors from the American heartland, is hoping to capitalize on that sentiment. The company, with offices in Ohio, Wisconsin, and Kentucky, employs 75 contractors in those states and also in North Carolina and Michigan-with plans to grow to 20 states by 2011. "We currently have more projects active, and in the project pipeline, than we have hired people," says the company's CEO Christopher Derrington. "Our best sales point is that we are 25-40 percent cheaper than USA urban labor, and provide the same time zones and communication skills of USA urban labor. I get a call once a week from a big company looking to relocate resources back from overseas." Smaller companies that don't want to hassle with the oversight staff needed for offshoring contracts are also knocking on his doors, he says.
A January 2009 survey of 100 tech firm CFOs in the United States, by the accounting and financial advisory firm BDO Seidman LLP, indeed indicates more interest in domestic than offshore outsourcing. The firm's 2009 Technology Outlook survey found that 22% of participants plan to outsource to American companies this year, compared with 16% who plan to outsource to China, 14% who plan to outsource to India, and 19% have no additional outsourcing plans.
The decision to outsource or not, and to hire overseas or domestically, will depend on a variety of economic, business, and cultural factors. For Silicon Valley companies at least, the proven business strategy of using offshore companies to develop, support and maintain IT products and services on a 24/7 basis has become so entrenched over the years that it's hard to imagine a future without this dynamic, says Krishnamoorthy, who often advises Valley technology firms and worked for many years as an engineer in the area.
"The trend for the long term will be growth driven by cost pressures and the culture of the Valley which is focused on startups and the push by VCs to have offshoring plans," he says. And what Silicon Valley does, the rest of the country usually follows.
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