Archive for the 'Offshoring design' Category

Conference presentation on SlideShare

To view my presentation slides from last month’s USID Conference in Bangalore, India, head to – http://www.slideshare.net/vmalhotra/usid2008-presentation

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USID2008 Conference on Design Innovation & User Experience

In our personal space, we artfully manage a constant dialogue across our networks – whether on Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn, or via tools like Twitter and Friend Feed. We effortlessly forge new communities of interest, and participate in a wider conversation.

In contrast, our workspaces are far better at enforcing hierarchy than they are at fostering a sense of community. Our workspace tools help control the message, rather than start a dialogue that would encourage collaboration and participation.

What can businesses do to adapt and thrive in this new environment? And how can smaller businesses take advantage of these new tools and technologies to compete globally?

I will be discussing the above themes in detail at the USID 2008 Conference on Design Innovation and User Experience, being held in Bangalore, India from 4 – 6  September, 2008 (via a video link).  If you happen to be in Bangalore and would like to attend the USID conference, please register at their website.

And if you happen to have any specific queries based on the themes discussed above, drop me an email and I’ll try and cover it in my presentation.

Pitching services to entrepreneurs

When Thomas Friedman had his epiphany about the Flat World, he eloquently connected the dots, fragmenting any activity into divisible and distributable tasks that could effortlessly be reassembled, creating a whole truly greater than the sum of its parts. In his tome titled “The World is Flat”, he proclaimed a new trade in bits and bytes across international borders, where information was the only currency that mattered. Reading his book, I started to believe in this levelling of the playing field, which made plausible comparisons between global institutions such as IBM against India’s Infosys. And I started to better understand the forces behind the groundswell of confidence and energy that now most metros in India exude.

Over the course of the year, I would experience first hand the opportunities and rewards, as well as the short comings and frustrations of offshoring. The wealth management firm where I worked at the time decided to engage a tier one offshoring vendor, identifying a sizeable program of work that would allow the vendor to demonstrate their global leadership and experience, whilst at the same time would expose any pockets of resistance and insecurity around offshoring in our own backyard.

As much as there was plenty to discern from that experience, I was far more intrigued about how entrepreneurs could eventually benefit from competing in a Flat World. The dotcom boom years showed that upstarts could take on old world stalwarts, with varying success. More recently, the commoditisation of underlying web technologies and ubiquitous broadband access has further levelled the playing field – for every budding entrepreneur, there are a multitude of service providers who specialise in UI design, writing code, or providing maintenance and support services.

So how might the better and brighter amongst these service providers distinguish themselves, and get noticed? In this post, I’ve listed 10 things small (and ambitious) service providers must do to in order to get noticed when an entrepreneur starts Googling web designers or developers. By no means comprehensive, and in many ways obvious, I have encountered numerous service providers who have ignored these basics –

1. Introduce yourself

Clients need more than high search engine rankings to gain confidence in their service provider. After a potential client has ascertained from basic info on your site that you could provide the services they seek, they will inevitably try and glean a bit more about your company and the team behind it. All too often, there is vague information about how the company has a terrific team with years of experience etc, but no real names or bios of the key people in the business. At the very least, introduce yourself and include a short bio, and if relevant, do the same for key members of your team.

2. Give real examples of past work

Expect all potential clients to ask for examples of past successes. Wherever possible, provide case studies explaining what role your company played on a project, and provide URLs to websites. Avoid listing big name clients (or for that matter, obscure ones) without explaining in what capacity you helped them achieve their goals. Did you conceive the entire visual design concept for a site, or merely slice up PSD files into XHTML/CSS? Did you design the database and build the backend connectivity, or write a few lines of ASP code? Clients want to know.

3. Let clients choose their preferred method of contact

I was surprised that it mildly bothered me when a particular service provider I wanted to hire did not have a phone number for me to call and discuss my project requirements in more detail. To be fair, the work itself was of low monetary value, and I reminded myself of all the eBay and Amazon activity I had engaged in without once dialling a phone number. But simply providing alternate means to contact you – if not a landline phone number then via Skype or Instant Messenger – makes your company that little bit more real and less virtual.

4. Give evidence of process and project management discipline

Often, if you are dealing with an entrepreneur, it is possible that they also have (or had at one time or the other) a full-time day job in a large organisation where they were trained to be process tsars. Expect them to expect the same standards and competencies when dealing with you. Clearly describe your project methodology and your own expectations over the course of the project. Early on, even during the sales process, send a possible high level project plan that shows you are thinking and planning ahead. In short, build confidence with your potential client.

5. Be transparent when it comes to costs and effort estimates

Leaders like Infosys have built their reputations on the high standard of transparency they bring to their engagements. Every bit of effort and corresponding dollar cost is there for the client to mull over. Even if you are running a small software development company, you should build trust with your clients by communicating all costs and estimates clearly. Your clients will be better educated about your pricing model and are likely to increase the scope of their engagement with you. When asked to provide a cost estimate for a project, attach a high level breakdown of the costs and effort involved.

6. Leverage as many opportunities as possible to build your profile

It can be hard to stand apart from your competitors, especially when your potential client is overseas and is relying on Google to find you. Look for opportunities to try and build your company’s profile within your industry. Participate in online discussions on popular blogs by adding insightful comments and feedback (and don’t forget to include a link to your site!) Even better, if you are so inclined, start a blog on your domain of expertise to engage with a wider audience. Your next client may find you via one of your posts, and you may already have earned some credibility with them.

7. Be upfront about what you can do, and especially what you can’t

Avoid putting yourself in a situation where you’re pressured to pull a rabbit out of a hat. If a potential client wants you to deliver something that is at odds with your competencies, be honest enough to admit it. If you feel you would like to take on the project regardless, and may need outside assistance to deliver a part of the project, let the client know how you would address the gap. If you want to build a relationship that drives more business and eventually referrals, invest in building trust first.

8. Explain how you will manage risk during the project

Potential clients are understandably paranoid when outsourcing work to overseas companies. What if I pay the 25% advance and never hear from the vendor? Could the vendor take my idea and pawn it off to someone else? Who owns all the IP developed as part of the engagement? What if I am dissatisfied with the quality of work? I keep dialling my vendor’s mobile number, but it rings out – who do I contact now? These and many more questions are probably going through the mind of the client. Demonstrate your sensitivity to these matters before commencing any project. Offer to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement. Ask the client if they have prepared a contract, or if they would prefer to use your standard contract for the engagement. Be flexible where you can afford to be. Taking the lead on these matters offers you yet another opportunity to show your professionalism.

9. Communicate, communicate, and communicate!

If this hasn’t come through in all the other comments so far, then let us restate the obvious – the single biggest risk to your relationship with any client will possibly stem from poor communication, miscommunication, or no communication at all! Get into the habit of sending out project status reports. Maintain an issues log, and keep a risk register. If you can, provide secure online access to project artefacts and documents. Little things, such as a short email or SMS alerting your client to when a web build is starting so that they do not try and test or do a demo during that time will go a long way.

10. You have more passion and hunger than the big guys, so show it

You biggest asset is your own hunger and passion for the work that you do. When the opportunity presents itself, demonstrate your commitment to seeing your client succeed, and to making a significant contribution towards that end. Entrepreneurs have great ambitions for their start-ups, and are willing to make many sacrifices along the way to see their dreams realised. Let them see that you’re no different. Chances are, you started out like them and persevered against all odds to succeed. Now you need only to stand out.

Have more tips to help both entrepreneurs and service providers at the smaller end of the market? Share your thoughts.

Offshoring design

While technology offshoring is par for the course at many large global firms, many had a tepid start with insignificant projects that scaled as confidence and trust between the customer and vendor grew. The offshoring learning curve is now being scaled by smaller businesses in North America and Europe, and many of these businesses are pioneering in their own right by outsourcing activities like brand identity development and usability projects. New Delhi-based Hatch Design has a respectable roster of international clients, some of whom have never met the Hatch team, and yet have taken the plunge and been pleasantly surprised with their overall experience.

And herein lies both the challenge and the opportunity. While the top tier offshoring market has an established hierarchy – Infosys, Wipro, TCS, Satyam, IBM, Accenture and Congnizant rule the roost – the bottom end of niche players is incredibly fragmented. A small business operating in Cardiff will not have the resources to evaluate and select the right vendor in India, China or Mexico to outsource design and development. As for niche players like Hatch Design, word of mouth and repeat business will remain key revenue drivers.

Whether we will see a consolidation of some of these smaller vendors remains to be seen. Perhaps, some will establish strategic partnerships or hope to be bought out by established tier one vendors.

Are you a customer who dared to offshore visual design or web usability? Or are you a vendor with a proven track record? Tell us about your experiences and lessons learnt.


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