I'm a CIO in a relatively small organization. With less than a dozen IT staff and only 200 employees in total, we don't qualify for Fortune 500 status. However, that doesn't mean that we don't face similar challenges as those faced by our larger brethren.
Like many organizations, we routinely run through the build vs. buy debate when it comes to deploying new software. Does it make more sense to buy and off-the-shelf package or does it make more sense to build it ourselves? As you might imagine, with a very small IT staff, we don't have a lot of spare capacity to build our own software solutions, so when we begin considering a project that falls into the "build" category, we have to take the next step of deciding if we want to outsource the development or have someone in house build.
In the past, when I've needed custom programming assistance, I've enjoyed outstanding success in finding people using services such as guru.com. After all, different programming tasks require different skill sets, and guru.com makes it possible to find people with exactly what we need.
When I'm posting one of my projects to guru.com, I have to decide whether or not I want to accept bids and proposals from companies that reside outside the United States. Guru.com is chock-full of talented people from all corners of the globe. I constantly have trouble when it comes to whether or not I should check the box that allows bids from freelancers and companies in places like India and China to bid.
Now, if you're thinking that I'm some "buy American" kind of person that can't see past his country's own borders, I'm not. Sitting in my driveway are two foreign vehicles, although both were probably actually manufactured here on American soil. That said, our own auto companies have not exactly endeared themselves to the general public, and they are paying the price now. Even when they try to get it right, someone seems to manage to botch it up. I'm about the furthest thing you'll find from "Buy American" but lately, as American companies continue to downsize their American workforces in order to take advantage of lower overseas wages and as American companies continue to clamor for an increase in H1B visas and other immigration concessions, I wonder about the future. Do American corporations and other organizations, including non-profits, hospitals, and colleges, have a social responsibility to help keep the overall U.S. economy strong even if it means pressure on profits?
Personally, I do feel that this is the case. While I fully realize that we live in the days of a global economy, it doesn't mean that social responsibility and local issues suddenly take a back seat. With double-digit unemployment in many states and with entire cities under serious financial pressure, companies that have built their businesses on the backs of the American consumer need to take stock of their success and where it came from and help make a better future.
This is not to say that companies should never offshore services. In fact, in some cases, it makes sense. I'm all for the concept of "the best man wins." If a company in another country has more experience and can do a better job on a particular task, great. That company deserves the business. If, however, the sole reason for outsourcing is to move tasks to a cheaper locale in order to maximize profits for shareholders, I think we enter a gray area and the plans need to be rethought to make sure the right thing is done. I've done a ton of business with consulting firms based elsewhere that I felt were the best choice at the time for the task at hand.
It's also heartening to see U.S.-based companies also working hard to keep jobs in local communities.
We can't be successful unless we immerse ourselves in the global economy and it's important to keep costs down and make sure that shareholders enjoy a return on their investment; but keeping costs down in a way that will ultimately make sure that there are no consumers left in the U.S. that can afford product is not a sustainable business model, unless corporations eventually plan to completely abandon the U.S. market in favor of global venues.
Me? I'll check that box on guru.com that allows bids from non-US freelancers, but unless there is a serious and compelling reason to do otherwise, I'll still favor my own economy.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at email@example.com.