A possible end to the fighting in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka doesn't often sort to the top of the list of outsourcing hot spots, but I have been lucky enough to work with several dozen very bright, dedicated, excellent engineers who work for a great OPD company with a center in Colombo.  And I've visited Colombo twice, and enjoyed my visit both times in spite of the then heavy military presence.  So I've always had a bit of a personal interest in the multi-year civil war there.

As anyone who follows global news knows, fighting between Sri Lanka's  government and the LTTE (the Tamil Tigers) has been on a steady rise over the last several months.  The LTTE have been fighting and occupying an ever decreasing territory in the North-East of the country. There has been a lot of international pressure on the SL government over the question of civilian fatalities and displacement due to the fighting. 

Apparently the military capability of the LTTE was eradicated this week, facilitating a significant move toward peace.


Earlier this week, on May 19 2009, the President of Sri Lanka declared a national holiday in celebration of the end of the 25 year-old Civil War.  Sri Lankan army troops have allegedly killed the leader of the LTTE, and the current leadership of the Tamil separatists have agreed to lay down arms and begin peace talks.


While it seems premature to declare a single-day victory in a 25 year insurgency, such are the events on the ground in Colombo this week. 


Apparently the general mood in the country is one of elation to finally be leaving a bad chapter in the past. There's a good article on this here, at Financial Times.  

I wish the country luck in its peace, and in its rebuilding and relocation of displaced Tamil citizens.



Book Review - The Services Shift

For the last 8 weeks or so I've been carrying around and reading an excellent new book on outsourcing by Robert E. Kennedy.  Kennedy runs the William Davidson Institute, that I mentioned in a post in April.  His book, co-authored with Ajay Sharma, is called The Services Shift, Seizing the Ultimate Offshore Opportunity.

I like the book; and I recommend it,  But I have to admit that one of my primary reactions to the book is jealousy - the jealousy of an unpublished author for a published author.  To explain that comment, I have to digress into a little personal narrative.

When I started my own outsourcing adventure in 2000 or 2001 (a small project doing a Linux port of a server product) I was largely disinterested in the nuances of the outsourcing market. In 2003 I was charged with selecting a vendor for a larger QA outsourcing project, and at that point I put a little more thought and effort into the endeavor.  I reasoned that much of what I was having to learn (about vendor selection, locale selection, work selection, knowledge transfer practices, global team management, cultural nuances in the global workplace, etc.) was or should have been known science. So I expected to be able to go to Amazon.com and find several excellent books on outsourcing, study up, and be an instant master of the art.

In 2003 that was not the case.  There really weren't any good books on outsourcing, or if there were, they were very difficult to find.

Fast forward to 2008, in which year I dedicated a significant amount of my life to researching, writing and trying to sell a book on outsourcing.  The book I envisioned (and partially completed) was positioned for engineers and managers in the USA who are struggling to understand and cope with the global services shift.  I intended it to be somewhere between Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind and Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat.  After unsuccessfully pitching my proposal to a dozen or so publishers, I came to the conclusion that the market for books on global outsourcing was pretty well saturated.  I have ten such books on a shelf within easy reach of my desk.  I have probable read or skimmed another twenty.  And there are literally dozens more that I haven't bothered to look at, for various reasons. Publishers liked my proposal, but unanimously viewed the market for this topic as supersaturated, and either had a book in the space already, or didn't see a way to make any money on a new book in the space.  (And by the way, I think in many ways it is easier to raise venture capital for a software startup than it is to get a publishing deal for a business book.)

So, getting back to The Services Shift, it might be enough of a recommendation to point out that it was published by FT Press.  That's the book imprint of the Financial Times newspaper.  (As a further aside, If you don't already read FT, you should start, as I think it uniformly offers a good global perspective to balance the WSJ or NYT.)  This is a serious publishing company, and as you'd expect, The Services Shift is a serious book.

I like most about this book the fact that it does a nice job bridging theory and practice.  It's an excellent, scholarly book, without being too abstract, and without being overly burdened by the business school jargon and theory-bloat that plagues many business books.  Think of it as The World is Flat, for a more analytic and intellectualizing audience.

Early in the book, Kennedy sums up what has been the guiding principle of my work for the last several years.  The long quote that follows will give you a sense for the direction the book takes, and for the writing style:

"...[Companies" have to be better and cheaper and faster - all at the same time! ...  We contend that most of these forces compel companies to look offshore for solutions to at least some of their problems.  From a defensive standpoint, they need to lower their costs to compete -- and offshoring certainly offers that prospect.  But offshoring also allows companies to be proactive in shaping their futures: by improving the quality of products and services, developing new offerings, and -- over the long term -- creating toeholds in the economies and markets that will be most important years and decades down the road."

This is the "faster, cheaper, better, closer" argument I've made many times, in this blog and elsewhere. Kennedy understands this new imperative, explains it well, and provides keen insights into both the macro and micro level issues in the services outsourcing space.

There are a lot of books on outsourcing.  I have a hard time saying that any of them are must reads.  But this is a very good book.  It earns a place next to The World is Flat, and Multisourcing (by Linda Cohen and Allie Young) in my bookshelf.  

If you were just starting out on an outsourcing epic, or if you were trying to grasp the shift toward globalization and devaluation of knowledge work, this book would be a great primer.  And if you're already a practitioner, this book is chock full of facts, frameworks, and complex business theory explained in a way front-line technology managers can understand.   

And perhaps the highest praise I can offer: The Services Shift is very close in concept and execution to the book I spent a good deal of 2008 researching and writing.  And it's exactly the book I wish I could have found in 2003 when I started shifting routine and repetitive work to teams I built in India.

Buy it, read it, reference it.


A bit about oDesk, and props for Inside Outsource

I've posted several times about the growing list of freelance outsourcing "clearing houses."  This week, I discovered another, and possibly the most mature of these sites - oDesk.   They take an interesting approach to global outsourcing - Allow direct brokerage between people with jobs and people with talent, without the overhead of a services vendor standing in the middle of the transaction adding margin overhead.  

They have over 200,000 freelance providers bidding on jobs, and over 6000 active jobs.  The oDesk manifesto says better than I could what they do and why they do it. They've assembled a serious management and advisory team that reads like a Silicon Valley fantasy league roster.  They're on to what seems like a great idea, and I wish them much success.

The reason I found out about them is even more interesting, to me at least.  They recently published a "Top-100" list for resources and blogs for outsourcing.  They ranked the Inside Outsource blog in their top-100 list.  (I'm number 23, but the list ranking is topical and alphabetic, not hierarchic.)  That's great recognition, and certainly a dose of encouragement for me to pick up my pace and post more frequently.  Thanks oDesk, for the recognition, and I hope your readers enjoy both the archive and any future insights.