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The Globalization of Technical Writing - Threat or Opportunity


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Presented by: Barry Saiff, founder and CEO of Saiff Solutions, Inc., and Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler & technical communication management strategist.

Published in: Technology
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The Globalization of Technical Writing - Threat or Opportunity

  1. 1. AGENDA I • What is outsourcing? How common is it? • Why do companies outsource? • How much money can we save, really? • When does TWO make sense? • How can tech-comm professionals influence TWO decisions? • What are the options, and the pros/cons?
  2. 2. AGENDA II • What do process maturity and content strategy have to do with TWO? • Is outsourcing hurting the profession? • What are the major risks involved in TWO? • What are the key success factors for TWO? • What is the impact on existing teams?
  4. 4. What is Outsourcing? Out-sourcing: Separate company (usually offshore) Widely used to mean offshore/outsourced Offshoring: Other country, distant (usually outsourced)
  5. 5. What is Outsourcing? In-house offshoring: Other country, distant, same company Near-shoring: Other country, close (same continent)
  6. 6. What is Outsourcing? Global Sourcing: Procuring different services and job functions in different places
  7. 7. How Widespread? Some partial/related examples: • By 2003 77 global software development firms had R&D operations in India • By a recent estimate, there are 80,000 software developers in the Philippines.
  8. 8. How Widespread? Some partial/related examples: • It is fairly easy to find tech writers with 10- 15 years experience in the Philippines. • Many tech writers in the Philippines have years of experience in topic-based authoring.
  9. 9. Why Outsource? Underlying causes – the drive to:  Reduce costs  Improve quality  Increase sales - reach – footprint
  10. 10. Economic drivers of outsourcing:  Labor cost differentials  Labor availability – growth of global labor market  Communications cost reductions  Global market growth Why outsource?
  11. 11. Why outsource? Cultural - political drivers of outsourcing:  Increased ease of doing business globally  Convergence of global business culture  Global economic liberalization
  12. 12. Why outsource?- Potential Benefits  Cost savings  Productivity increases  Process improvements  Increased innovation  Increased speed, agility, flexibility  Increased revenues
  13. 13. Why outsource? Productivity is a powerful, historical force: Productivity rises, and everything changes to facilitate rising productivity.
  14. 14. Why outsource? When we operate out of fear, opposing productivity advances because we feel threatened, we are less effective, for our organizations and our careers.
  15. 15. Why outsource? To succeed in a changing world, we must embrace change. Not blindly, but wisely.
  16. 16. Why outsource? For smaller companies: Focus on what you do best Outsource the rest
  17. 17. How much money can we save, really? Wage differentials can be 80% or greater. Wage differentials are not true savings, due to hidden costs. Including all costs: savings of 15% to 45%.
  18. 18. How much money can we save, really? More evidence for savings of 15-25% Costs decrease over time. 15+% savings typically achieved after 3-5 years Savings of 15% can be significant $$$
  19. 19. Why aren’t savings higher? Hidden costs: – Search, contract, program development – Restructuring – Knowledge transfer (travel?) – Overhead, management – Governance – Risk mitigation, disaster recovery – Ongoing travel, training – Infrastructure
  20. 20. Technical Writing – When? You may benefit from outsourcing whether: –Budgets are tight or abundant –Product release timelines are short or long –The company is small, large, local, or global –Documentation is/is not translated –You have/don’t have tech writers
  21. 21. Technical Writing – When? Even if your engineers are great writers: –There are better uses of their time. –Good documentation requires more than: good writing skills + product knowledge. –
  22. 22. Technical Writing – When? Even if you have a robust writing staff and experienced management: – As work grows, you can expand capacity at lower cost via outsourcing. – By outsourcing simpler tasks, reserving advanced tasks for in-house, you can improve morale and cost-effectiveness.
  23. 23. Tech Writing When: Lessons • In-house staff may be replaced/or not • Work lives of local writers may improve To determine if TWO is right for YOU: – No one-size-fits-all formula – No simple rule to follow – Deeper analysis is required – Quality varies everywhere
  24. 24. Influencing Outsourcing How can technical communications professionals effectively influence outsourcing decisions? By moving from WHETHER to HOW. Instead of focusing on: Should we outsource technical writing? Focus on: How could we effectively outsource technical writing?
  25. 25. Influencing Outsourcing Technical communicators typically have more influence over the answer to HOW. Yet, we often waste our own power by focusing on the answer to WHETHER. Consider these two scenarios:
  26. 26. Influencing Outsourcing: Scenario I Background: Division of large US company, global customers, product development centers in US and Asia. Outsourcing Event: Executive outsources all documentation, to large Indian IT firm. US tech writing staff laid off. No prior consultation with TechPubs leaders.
  27. 27. Influencing Outsourcing: Scenario I Results: – 2-3 years later, executives unhappy – Total loss of US-based expertise makes recovery from quality impacts difficult – Plans to use cost savings to fund new languages derailed by quality problems – Prognosis unclear — given enough time, will the new structure work?
  28. 28. Influencing Outsourcing: Scenario I Question: Why was the TechPubs group not consulted? – They fought the idea of outsourcing? – They were not forward-thinking in exploring outsourcing alternatives and strategies? – They focused on the wrong question – Whether vs. How?
  29. 29. Influencing Outsourcing: Scenario II Background: Division of large US company, global customers, product development centers in US and Asia Outsourcing Event, Round 1: Product development & QA split US/Asia – Management not supportive of US staff morale – Repeated rounds of layoffs, some stealth, some too large to go unnoticed
  30. 30. Influencing Outsourcing: Scenario II Outsourcing Event, Round 2: Seeing the writing on the wall, TechPubs leaders begin to: – Explore how offshoring some work could benefit the company – Train staff to adapt to global sourcing – Experiment with pilot offshore projects – Develop a unified content strategy
  31. 31. Influencing Outsourcing: Scenario II - Results • Within 2 years, 60% attrition in US • India: less advanced tasks; US team’s morale up • Writers learn to work cross-Pacific, cross-culturally. • Systems redesigned to support global sourcing. • Cost reductions allow for more languages • Indian writing team improves
  32. 32. Influencing Outsourcing: Lessons Regardless of WHETHER you outsource, processes and quality can benefit from an examination of the HOW question. Example: Executive mandates a specific outsourcing provider for the entire product team
  33. 33. Influencing Outsourcing: Lessons TechPubs leadership has: – Found evidence that the provider had documentation quality issues on other projects – Established a relationship with a provider that specializes in documentation TWO may now have a much greater chance of success.
  34. 34. How: What are the options? Location Outsourced or In-House General or Specialized Offshore Outsourced IT Generalist Firm Offshore Outsourced Technical Writing Specialist Firm Near-shore Outsourced IT Generalist Firm Near-shore Outsourced Technical Writing Specialist Firm Onshore Outsourced IT Generalist Firm Onshore Outsourced Technical Writing Specialist Firm Offshore In-House Technical Writing Team Also: Provider/Client Hybrids (General)
  35. 35. Process and Strategy What do process maturity and content strategy have to do with TWO? – If technical writers struggle to discover design changes when co-located with engineers… – If redundant, inconsistent content is produced & information design is within writers’ heads… – Outsourcing can magnify problems.
  36. 36. Process and Strategy Mature processes & unified content strategy: – Can make outsourcing easier and more effective – Are valuable investments whether or not outsourcing is pursued – Can lead to significant cost savings on their own
  37. 37. Process and Strategy Outsourcing success is often based on a clear, detailed analysis of business processes and roles A Good Content Strategist Can Help
  38. 38. Outsourcing Controversy Why is outsourcing controversial? – Poor outsourcing decisions & management – Misconceptions re: reasons for outsourcing – Misconceptions re: impacts of outsourcing – Scapegoating, resistance to change: blaming outsourcing for the impacts of other factors – Real impacts of outsourcing
  39. 39. Outsourcing Controversy When outsourcing goes wrong, it can be due to any of the following issues: – Location – Function – Inclusion – Language – Experience level – Culture – Competency – Management
  40. 40. Outsourcing Controversy In many cases, outsourcing is blamed for issues that exist with or without outsourcing For example, location issues: When staff are not co-located, whether due to outsourcing or not, four kinds of breakdowns can occur: • Communication • Coordination • Control • Group Cohesion
  41. 41. Outsourcing Controversy Example: language issues – • Language issues also occur onshore/in-house. • They can often be addressed by process changes. Not all outsourcing issues are outsourcing issues.
  42. 42. Bad management, outsourced! Outsourcing Math Bad management + outsourcing =
  43. 43. Outsourcing Math Poor process or lack of process + outsourcing = Expanded dysfunction! Example: – Writers achieve accuracy due to physical proximity to other teams, despite process breakdowns. – With new writers thousands of miles away, the documentation is now inaccurate! – The cause is not outsourcing per se. – The cause is a lack of awareness of your process maturity level and why it matters.
  44. 44. Outsourcing Controversy: II Is outsourcing damaging the technical communications profession? Let’s unpack the assumptions: • Only technical writers in wealthy countries are a part of the profession. – There are now tech writers with 15+ years of experience in developing countries.
  45. 45. Outsourcing Controversy: II • The impacts of outsourcing are uniformly negative on tech writers and on quality. – Outsourcing can improve local staff morale. – Many writers in developing countries started out doing topic-based authoring. – Quality problems can be fixed via process improvements. • Only tech writers in wealthy countries contribute to the profession. – Really?
  46. 46. Outsourcing Controversy: II • Only tech writers in wealthy countries matter. – TWO brings opportunity to thousands of people. People who can now feed their children, and send them to college. • Imagine that we only had male tech writers. Would adding women damage the profession? – “Pin money”
  47. 47. Outsourcing Controversy: II What is missed in the fight against outsourcing? – Potential benefits to the organization – Potential benefits to teams – Potential benefits to individuals For example: – Outsourcing can enable affordable team expansion, lessening the workload on existing writers. – Onshore writers can focus on more rewarding advanced tasks. – Global collaboration can increase learning and skill development for everyone.
  48. 48. Outsourcing Controversy: II Is outsourcing damaging the technical communications profession? • The question misses a world of transformation. • The changes in people’s lives due to the globalization of content development are breathtaking and inspiring. • Our profession is spreading across the globe. • We are at the dawn of our golden age.
  49. 49. Outsourcing Controversy: Lessons • Focus where you can have an impact • Prepare yourself for change. • Focus on the success of your enterprise. • Focus on improving quality. • Be careful about scarcity thinking and scapegoating.
  50. 50. Outsourcing Controversy: Lessons For management: • Start with process improvement and content strategy. • Focus on morale and effectiveness. Don’t ignore the need to sell change effectively. • Use inclusive planning. • Be aware of potential cultural pitfalls.
  51. 51. Risks = Uncertainties • Country (political, financial, regulatory) • Intellectual Property • Loss of proprietary knowledge • Security (data, system) • Corruption • Contractual • Infrastructure • Home country regulatory change
  52. 52. Risks = Uncertainties • Loss of onshore expertise due to attrition • Reductions in quality, customer satisfaction • Increases in customer support costs • Failure to realize anticipated savings • Inability to hire and retain needed staff • Management failures
  53. 53. Key Success Factors for TWO Assess process maturity and content strategy first, and improve if needed Research, planning, inclusion, vision: – Include TechPubs in planning – Ensure a realistic financial analysis – Identify & communicate vision & benefits – Incorporate staff feedback – Focus on career development
  54. 54. Key Success Factors for TWO Carefully choose country – Consider English, infrastructure, labor pool – #1 country in business English: Philippines Carefully choose provider Start with a low-risk pilot project
  55. 55. Key Success Factors for TWO Carefully mitigate and manage risks Carefully manage the differences: –Time zone –Language –Culture –Expertise –Background, context
  56. 56. Key Success Factors: Culture Collaborating across cultures is a whole field of study – learn, learn, learn! All cultures are valuable and capable. Be aware of differences in communication and work styles. Management must be very aware of potential problems.
  57. 57. Key Success Factors: Culture Tips re: Asian/US cultural differences: – Higher: respect/deference to authority – Lower: Questions, Help?, Challenges – Silence or Yes =/= Agreement – Never criticize someone publicly. – Be careful with accusations. – Don’t expect overnight cultural change.
  58. 58. Include tech writers in meetings, reviews, scrums, defect tracking, wiki/intranet, email lists, etc. Documentation testing = key part of the project schedule Document review = performance review factor Key Success Factors: Tech Writing
  59. 59. Impact on Existing Teams What impact will outsourcing have on existing teams? – Entirely up to the people involved – Potential impacts: • Annihilation • Decimation • Loss of morale and motivation • Fruitful collaboration and career advancement • Quality and process improvements • Re-invigorated flourishing
  60. 60. Conclusion TWO is here to stay. Powerful economic forces drive the expansion of outsourcing. Many varied scenarios. Wide range of competency in: – Decisions to outsource – Management of outsourcing engagements Wide range of impacts on companies, teams, and individuals.
  61. 61. Conclusion The process of deciding how to outsource can lead to productivity and quality improvements. By focusing on the HOW question, technical communicators can gain greater influence. The jury is still out on the competency of large offshore IT companies to manage technical writing. Firms specializing in technical writing are a better bet. The Philippines is uniquely positioned to excel in technical writing. With careful planning, excellent results are possible. Threat or opportunity: You choose.
  62. 62. Conclusion Outsourcing, poorly conceived, planned, and executed, can spread, expand, and increase the worst qualities of an organization. Outsourcing, done well, can promote the growth of a thriving organization and contribute to continual improvement.
  63. 63. Invitation Do you want to: Reduce technical writing costs and ease writing management woes, while maintaining or improving content quality? Then contact Barry Saiff: Skype: SaiffSolutions US #: 415 350 2959 +63 917 872 0929
  64. 64. Sources • Offshoring Information Technology: Sourcing and Outsourcing to a Global Workforce, Erran Carmel and Paul Tjia, Cambridge University Press, 2005 • The Services Shift: Seizing the Ultimate Offshore Opportunity, Robert E. Kennedy with Ajay Sharma, FT Press, 2009 • Outsourcing Technical Communication: Issues, Policies, and Practices, Edited by Barry Thatcher and Carlos Evia, Baywood Publishing, 2008