Monday, December 31, 2007

Outsoursing next stage: Solution accelerators to retain clients

Chasing the mouse is an eternal quest for Tom. In Designs on Jerry, the scheming cat decides he has had enough. He tries to automate the process of trapping a mouse. He builds an elaborate system with cheese as bait. When pulled, it would cause a chain reaction crushing the mouse under a heavy weight. Tom calls his invention the Better Mouse Trap. Business consultants would have called it a solution accelerator.

Today’s globalised businesses are caught in a similar cat-and-mouse game between value and cost. Nowhere is the need for a better mousetrap felt more than among software companies and their customers. Indian outsourcing companies have just come out of a glorious decade in which they chaperoned offshoring to the mainstream. But things aren’t going to remain static.

On the one hand, increasing costs, staff turnover and the gradual loss of foreign exchange arbitrage are eating into the profit margins of Indian companies. On the other hand, global companies are looking to automate more of their business functions, especially those performed iteratively by a large number of people. The combination of these factors is extracting innovative answers from the industry and the age of automation may have just begun.

After years of using low-cost labour to produce software, companies are moving to the next stage: more and more software coding and business process functions will now be put on auto-pilot, leaving employees free to pursue higher value tasks. Software firms are adopting solution accelerators to execute more work with the same people and deliver results faster to clients. Increasingly, this strategy is also becoming essential to retain clients.

“Within two to three years, as clients become accustomed to the cost savings, they begin to look for productivity benefits and service delivery innovations,” a Nasscom-McKinsey survey of business process offshoring in India says.
If you want to get a sense of how software applications will be developed in the future, try Scratch.

You can download the program free from MIT Media Labs Web site ( By dragging and dropping blocks from one part of your computer screen to another using a mouse, you can, within minutes make an animation, create a video game or tell an interactive story — without writing a single line of code.

Earlier, it would have taken some knowledge of computing, a lot of patience and time to do something similar. Now, all you need is a mouse. Admittedly, in the complex world of enterprise computing, developing a solution will never become this easy.

The Lego blocks approach

Scratch is aimed at children — not professionals. But its working can help in understanding why some of the biggest software makers such as IBM, Accenture, TCS, Infosys and Cognizant are upbeat about doing something similar in software development and business processes. Now, take MIT Media Lab’s product. When you drag and drop these building blocks in Scratch, you are in fact adding ‘lines of codes’ that had been written earlier and tested thoroughly.

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