Offshoring Technical Documentation

Short-term savings or long-term solution?

© contrastwerkstatt / Fotolia

© contrastwerkstatt / Fotolia

As globalisation increased in the last quarter of the 20th century, an idea emerged: why not take advantage of the extreme wage disparities on global markets in order to generate identical or very similar product quality at drastically reduced production costs? A lot has happened since then, and many companies have returned, disappointed, to their countries of origin. They accept high wage costs in Germany, for example, because they know that “Made in Germany” has its price for many reasons. But there are also plenty of success stories demonstrating that, when set up correctly, offshoring can work well and provide considerable advantages, particularly in the age of digitalisation, that are not linked exclusively to wage costs. So what about technical documentation? Does it work? And if so, how, and where? And when does it make no sense? Several examples should make it easier to reach a decision.

  • The first question to ask is whether services can be replicated. In general, clearly defined and thematically limited service packages are fundamentally suitable for outsourcing abroad. They can include large numbers of procedures (instructions) that involve little or no research, or products that require research and are small enough to be transported to the country where the service is provided. This can be the case for consumer goods, for example, but also applies to software descriptions.
  • Another option is to have repeat services, such as the creation of graphics, performed in a low-wage country. Here, the success or failure of the project depends heavily on the amount of communication required. In our experience, the linguistic and cultural barriers between service provider and customer should not be underestimated. Even though the service provider is adequately qualified in technical terms, their different cultural background and language present an obstacle when I want to explain, for example, that hands or faces have to be represented in our region of the world in a specific shape, shading or proportion.
  • Offshoring can be successful if processes have been honed over a longer period. In that case, the task and the entire communication behaviour can be transported, within certain limits, and companies can benefit from considerably lower hourly rates. Once a product or service reaches a certain level of complexity, however, this advantage vanishes swiftly, and the additional operational and quality assurance loops nullify the financial benefits.

Ultimately, every project must be considered for itself. A reliable TCO calculation (total cost of ownership) that includes hard (process costs) and soft (quality, satisfaction, punctuality) factors is the only way to reach a well-grounded decision. Then you can consider the best way to blend regional and global services. We do this with our customers and then determine shared solutions.

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