Offshore Management Framework: The key to managing outsourced IT projects across time, distance and cultures.

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June 2, 2008

Offshore Architects as High Tech Cowboys

I read the interesting story about “High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas” in the Wired magazine a few months ago. [blog on gizmodo.com] The part that caught my fancy was the distinct parallel between the Cowboy life of the protagonists in the story and Architects working for offshoring firms: experts in their niche skills who are able and willing to travel to unchartered waters (literally) to salvage sinking ships (or projects). Unlike the Deep-Sea-Cowboys, the Offshoring ones don’t generally risk their lives or limbs; though it sometimes feels like it when one hits rough tides in projects. This said, for Architect-cowboys, roughing-it-up may include a missed flight connection or being stranded at an unscheduled stopover due to inclement weather, secondary inspections at unusually long immigration and customs etc etc.

And of course, another key difference as Paul posts in a forumpretty damn awesome, 10 million for a few days work, split by maximum 10 men in a team.” I haven’t heard of many clients paying as much for software service projects.

Now, before we get carried away by the analogy and differences, the point I was really driving at was the “Cowboys” aspect of having to jump into deep end of projects where IT Architects may have little control over the strategic aspects or even key technology drivers, but still have to help salvage them.

Case in point is a project that architects from my team were involved in a while ago. The client had invested in a massive re-engineering of a legacy system. The key challenge here was that the legacy system was internal facing: users were a select number of customer service representatives accessing the system. The focus of the initiative was on moving the functionality to the web to enable ‘customer self service’ but the folks conceptualizing the new system missed out on a key aspect of Non Functional Requirement: need to scale up to be able to support an exponential growth in concurrent users who would use the system, now that it was web-enabled. The switch was turned on and sure enough the system worked as promised. However, the (un-anticipated?) surge in concurrent users brought it to a grinding halt during the first week. After much finger-pointing, the team got into a salvage mode and decided to involve an independent third part; and this is where the “High Tech Cowboys” from my team were requisitioned.

Perhaps a plug here would be for the “Performance Engineering and Enhancement” services Infosys offers. If only all my clients took a proactive and holistic approach to performance improvement. Well, we live in the real world and the world is littered with challenged/shipwrecked technology programs [Top 20 Risks U.S. Tech Companies Are Losing Sleep Over]; which is why “High Tech Cowboys” seem to be much in demand. And if a client really finds themselves in a shipwreck, our Tech-Cowboys are not going to ask why they got where they got.

Ps: And in case you are wondering about the thousands of Mazdas that the cowboys in the wired magazine story helped salvage: Wall Street Journal ran another fascinating story on a “A 'Disassembly' Line After Odd Sea Disaster”

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