Outsourcing to India is not always the best solution

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Outsourcing to India is not always the best solution

Why is so much e-learning design being sent abroad? Companies claim it saves them money. But does it? And, if so, are the challenges that a business inevitably faces in outsourcing to India, or elsewhere, worth the cost savings?

Let’s take a look at some of the challenges and costs related to outsourcing to India.

Time

The time difference is certainly one of them – they are ten and a half hours ahead of us here on the East Coast and that can definitely impair communications. Some companies address this by having staff available around the clock.

Language

Another difference is native language. While most companies employ individuals who speak English, the individual may not be fluent or a strong accent can make communication challenging. Communicating via email or text can often alleviate this challenge to some degree.

Culture

There are also challenges that have nothing to do with language or time of day. They have more to do with differences in culture. When visiting Ghana a few years ago I learned a phrase called “Ghana Time.” This refers to how things can take much longer in Ghana than they do in the United States and is something we need to be aware of when traveling to Ghana or working with a Ghanaian company. This is just a cultural difference, though. It isn’t a judgement, it just speaks to our expectations, and it goes both ways. And it’s the same way in India. Things just move slower there than in the U.S. There are certain things we take for granted as understood just because they are part of our own culture. But it isn’t always the case elsewhere.

Cultural differences can lead to notorious misunderstandings. And when you consider developing educational materials, a difference in culture can have a big impact indeed. Particularly if you’re leaving some decisions on design, language and the structure of the learning experience up to the outsourced firm. The meaning of colors and symbols can have entirely different meanings. Metaphor examples, used often in education, will likely be different as well. Even placement of objects on a page can impact user experience between cultures.

Another example of cultural difference is that in India it is considered impolite to say “no” to someone. For example, if you have outsourced a project and need them to make additions or changes while maintaining the same deadline, even though they may know they can’t possibly do the work in the time allotted, they likely won’t tell you this. And it could result in missed deadlines on your end.

Lost Employee Ingenuity and Internal Growth

Through outsourcing e-learning a company is also outsourcing the internal growth potential of their own employees. When staff work on projects in-house, collaborating with other employees and/or with individuals from local firms, they are exposed to new challenges and exchange new ideas. New ideas – higher quality products – are more likely to bubble up during collaborations where more involved participation can occur. And when it is developed locally there is a greater opportunity to include the customer in the outcome, increasing customer satisfaction.

Cost

Lastly is cost and the question of savings. No doubt some companies have saved money outsourcing their e-learning to India. However, when you include the time needed to prepare the materials to be developed, to manage execution, communicate feedback and manage revisions, and the lost potential of employee development, they have likely not saved as much as they think, if any at all. I have won projects where the in-house instructional designer was developing storyboards that were then sent to India for development and my estimate, which included the storyboards, actually came in lower.

No doubt there are situations where it makes sense to outsource, but keeping the work in-house or local likely makes more sense most often.

Why is so much e-learning design being sent abroad? Companies claim it saves them money. But does it? And, if so, are the challenges that a business inevitably faces in outsourcing to India, or elsewhere, worth the cost savings?

Let’s take a look at some of the challenges and costs related to outsourcing to India.

Time

The time difference is certainly one of them – they are ten and a half hours ahead of us here on the East Coast and that can definitely impair communications. Some companies address this by having staff available around the clock.

Language

Another difference is native language. While most companies employ individuals who speak English, the individual may not be fluent or a strong accent can make communication challenging. Communicating via email or text can often alleviate this challenge to some degree.

Culture

There are also challenges that have nothing to do with language or time of day. They have more to do with differences in culture. When visiting Ghana a few years ago I learned a phrase called “Ghana Time.” This refers to how things can take much longer in Ghana than they do in the United States and is something we need to be aware of when traveling to Ghana or working with a Ghanaian company. This is just a cultural difference, though. It isn’t a judgement, it just speaks to our expectations, and it goes both ways. And it’s the same way in India. Things just move slower there than in the U.S. There are certain things we take for granted as understood just because they are part of our own culture. But it isn’t always the case elsewhere.

Cultural differences can lead to notorious misunderstandings. And when you consider developing educational materials, a difference in culture can have a big impact indeed. Particularly if you’re leaving some decisions on design, language and the structure of the learning experience up to the outsourced firm. The meaning of colors and symbols can have entirely different meanings. Metaphor examples, used often in education, will likely be different as well. Even placement of objects on a page can impact user experience between cultures.

Another example of cultural difference is that in India it is considered impolite to say “no” to someone. For example, if you have outsourced a project and need them to make additions or changes while maintaining the same deadline, even though they may know they can’t possibly do the work in the time allotted, they likely won’t tell you this. And it could result in missed deadlines on your end.

Lost Employee Ingenuity and Internal Growth

Through outsourcing e-learning a company is also outsourcing the internal growth potential of their own employees. When staff work on projects in-house, collaborating with other employees and/or with individuals from local firms, they are exposed to new challenges and exchange new ideas. New ideas – higher quality products – are more likely to bubble up during collaborations where more involved participation can occur. And when it is developed locally there is a greater opportunity to include the customer in the outcome, increasing customer satisfaction.

Cost

Lastly is cost and the question of savings. No doubt some companies have saved money outsourcing their e-learning to India. However, when you include the time needed to prepare the materials to be developed, to manage execution, communicate feedback and manage revisions, and the lost potential of employee development, they have likely not saved as much as they think, if any at all. I have won projects where the in-house instructional designer was developing storyboards that were then sent to India for development and my estimate, which included the storyboards, actually came in lower.

No doubt there are situations where it makes sense to outsource, but keeping the work in-house or local likely makes more sense most often.

About the Author:

Amanda Robertson is CEO and owner of The Farthest Pixel, a full service instructional design and media development firm based in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

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