Thursday, February 23, 2012

Help! I've been outsourced

 I was aware of the problems of outsourcing in general, and I had used call centers in Mumbai regarding computer problems.  I had never had any problems with the contacts I made; in all cases, the assistants there solved the problems I had accurately and quickly.  They were well-informed, cordial, respectful, and incredibly efficient.  In general, however, the problems that have been discussed in articles on outsourcing had to do with the reliability and quality of the information. 
When you read articles on outsourcing, you get an idea about some of the problems that occur.  At the web site Outsource2India, for example, the unknown author of the essay, “10 Biggest Concerns of a Customer While Outsourcing,” makes the problem clear in the opening paragraph: “The key is to choose a service provider with integrity, honesty, efficiency and great communication skills.”
In my case, there was no choice.  The selection of an outsourcing service was determined for me by my publishing company, McGraw-Hill.  The reason for McGraw-Hill outsourcing book production to India are simple.  According to Prisca Rollins in an essay at eHow titled, “India Outsourcing Problems,” Rollins says, “Businesses in America began heavily outsourcing work to India in the 1990's.  It was a way to save on overhead and production cost.”
Satish Jacob, in an essay titled, “India's Outsourcing Boom Runs Into Trouble ” located at the web site ABC News /International makes the problem about outsourcing to India very clear. Why should anyone be concerned?   “India employs about 350,000 people in the outsourcing industry and adds 150,000 new jobs each year,” writes Jacob, “But filling those vacancies is proving to be a nightmare. At this moment [December 24, 2005], the industry needs to hire around 9,000 people but can't find them.”  Think about it, the outsourcing industry needs high-quality, well-educated, English-speaking workers.  In India that is a bigger problem than it is (or would be) in the U.S., and in the U.S. it is a problem as well.
Let me explain my experience with outsourcing.  With the exception of my computer questions/problems and dealing with assistants in Mumbai, this was certainly my first experience, and it lasted about 11 weeks.
In the previous 9 editions of my textbook, Communicating Effectively 9th ed. (McGraw-Hill, 2009), all of the production was handled in the U.S..  Not only that, with the exception of the 9th edition, the process of manuscript development included reading galleys in hard-copy first, having those developed into hard-copy pages, and then the production, from page proofs, into the final textbook. 
With the tenth edition, it was not only an adjustment to outsourcing, but also not having hard copy at all, skipping the entire galley stage, and working entirely with electronic copy.  For me, this was not just a surprise but a giant step into the technological age.  I thought giant steps were only supposed to take place when stepping on the moon for the first time!
Full service for the tenth edition, once my developmental editor completed her work with me in preparing the manuscript for publication (raw new material, new footnotes, changes within chapters, new chapters added, rearrangement of existing chapters, etc.) was turned over to a company in New Delhi, India, called Aptara Corporation, and I was introduced to my new project manager, Antima Gupta, who I thought all along during the development of the manuscript was a male.  This makes no difference whatsoever, but I was shocked to see her picture when I Googled her name in January, 2011, after work on the manuscript was complete. 
Incidentally, as an aside here, all of the editors with whom I have dealt over my 36 years of work on this book have been female.  Why should I have even thought that my new editor would be male?  Yes, it makes no difference whatever; however, when you are working with someone (as a colleague) intensely for 11 weeks — even if it is over the Internet — you form a picture of the person, and my picture was not accurate.
It was October 20, 2010, when I received my first message from Gupta: “McGraw-Hill has outsourced the project management of your book to Aptara Corp., and I am the project manager at Aptara who will be your contact for all production-related issues.  You will be working directly with me on this project, so please feel free to email me if you have any questions or concerns about the production process."
To show you how much of the production process was outsourced, Gupta writes, “During production we will copyedit your manuscript, prepare the artwork, and arrange for typesetting and printing.”
Besides her name, there were several indicators in her initial email to me that she was not a Westerner nor did she have a Western education (at least, as it appeared in her letter).  At one point she said: “A request!  If you deem okay, could you please forward me your contact number . . . ,” and at another point, she was explaining the use of Adobe Acrobat Reader and said: “It is a simple process and I can walk you though [sic] steps over phone.”  Also, at still another point, she said, “I shall look forward to hear from you.”  Otherwise, her English was perfect.
At the end of October, 2010, Gupta established the schedule for reviewing the page proofs: 3 chapters per week with my responses due one week after receiving each set.
In response to a message from my editor at McGraw-Hill Higher Education in New York, which read: “We are very close to finishing up the production for Communicating Effectively, 10e. I hope you have been pleased with the production.  Please know that your feedback concerning the full service project:  management communication, the quality of the copyediting,
proofreading, & paging, & the schedule are beneficial and welcome for future editions.”
My response to her request for information read: “Things have proceeded smoothly and on schedule.  I have, indeed, been pleased with the production process --- copyediting, proofreading, and paging.”  The formatting, pictures, charts, graphs, marginal boxes, front matter, and back matter all looked superb.  Indeed, Aptara Corporation and Antima Gupta should be commended for producing a high-quality, attractive, competitive textbook.
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At TechRepublic, Anthony Tardugno has a great essay, “Ten keys to successful outsourcing,” in which he says toward the beginning, “If your company is contemplating or pursuing outsourcing, these 10 keys can help you develop a successful outsource partnership.”

Johanna Rothman has a wonderful essay, “11 steps to successful outsourcing: A contrarian’s view” (September 15, 2003), at the web site computerworld.  She begins her essay saying: “During the past few years, we've been bombarded with news of outsourced call centers, help desks, testing, development, projects and entire IT infrastructures. It sure looks as if outsourcing is the way to go.  Before you jump on the outsourcing bandwagon, ask yourself this question: What's the value of the knowledge your staffers learn in the work you're planning to outsource? That's the value you give up when you outsource”

In his short Ezine essay, “Dealing with outsourcing issues,” Ben Thurman begins by saying, “Outsourcing sounds great in theory but you may find it a bit frustrating. When you run into less than stellar performances when you're expecting to get excellent value for your dollars, you begin to question whether inferior quality is the price to pay for paying less and expecting more. Quality assurance is perhaps the biggest of the outsourcing issues you will encounter in the global outsourcing arena.”
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Copyright February, 2012, by And Then Some Publishing, L.L.C.

1 comment:

  1. Maximillion Ryan IIIFebruary 23, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    Fascinating to read a story about outsourcing in an industry that many probably wouldn't imagine being sent overseas (language barriers being the prime reason).


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