Monday, December 6, 2010

Is Outsourcing Worth It?

So…this has been bugging me for a while, and I’m finally going to put my thoughts down in a blog. Outsourcing…good thing if you’re the one being outsourced to, since it can be quite a lucrative business, but maybe not such a good thing if you’re the one doing the outsourcing.
So why does outsourcing bother me so much right now? Outsourcing is best utilized when you need something that isn’t a core function completed. Well, my organization outsources something that I feel should be done in-house by the documentation team: templates. This outsourcing was being done before I came along but will hopefully stop once I point out things to my manager in a month or so. I can understand a small organization outsourcing this as a one-time deal for a universal template. But I work for a multi-million dollar, very large corporation. We have a small team of writers – some are proficient enough to handle the templates themselves. But no. We’ve outsourced this. Enter me. I start using the Structured Framemaker template and start noticing all kinds of usability issues and things that we need to have changed to make it work for more than one manual type. I see documents as living things – they should always be evolving and improving. This becomes too expensive if it’s being outsourced and you’re charged $200/hour. It’s much more cost-effective to have someone in house that is a document design specialist/writer/editor/whatever that you can utilize to make changes when necessary. The other problem comes down to translation issues: templates also may need to be created for other languages – specifically those that read from right to left. So let’s say I need to have a template modified for a completely different scenario and the outsourcing company says it will take 2 days of work at $200/hour to accomplish – that’s a whopping $3200 for a 2-day venture. If you have to do this a couple of times a year, you might as well invest in your team and pay for the proper tools and training so you can do it yourselves. I would think investing in your employees would be a way to improve team morale and documentation quality.

So that’s my current negative rambling on outsourcing. To sum it up: I don’t think outsourcing template design when it can be done better and cheaper in-house is a good idea (when you have your own team of writers that are capable. It limits the writers too much when things can’t be modified and the documents can’t evolve to meet the changing industry and customer needs.