Imagine trying to staff up for an offshore project and every time you think you’ve got someone about to join the team, that person decides to take a job somewhere else.
That was the biggest and most annoying problem Chris Snyder ran into while working with a Nearshore IT provider. Snyder, director of IT services and CIO for Hulcher Services, getting the team from 80% to 100% staffing was the thing that kept him awake at night. “It might sound like a minor thing,” he says, “but it happened a number of times where we’d have a candidate we really liked tell us near the end of the hiring process, ‘Sorry, I’m taking a job with someone else.’ And that someone else was usually the government.”
“It became a problem because we’d have the team nearly fully staffed but couldn’t get that final person hired. It took much longer than I had expected,” says Snyder, a 20-year IT vet. “We were raring to go, our provider was raring to go, but this held us up for four to six weeks.”
“One thing I like about outsourcing is that I can generally get people quickly. I’ve never had this problem locally or with India,” Snyder says. “But I did have this problem with Brazil.” Most of the candidates he liked ended up taking jobs with the government. (In the U.S., this would be like a software developer taking a job with the San Jose city planning commission instead of going to work for Google.)
It’s No Myth
We hear a lot about Brazil’s shortage of IT workers, but Snyder’s experience indicates that this shortage is no myth. Demand for talent is high, and some workers have their pick of jobs. And it wasn’t like Snyder’s offshore provider was a minor player. Hulcher had partnered with Stefanini IT Solutions, one of the premiere technology companies in Brazil as well as all of Latin America.
Snyder and Hulcher—a 47-year-old services contractor that works with the railroad and other industries—turned to the Nearshore after working with providers in India. “The logistics of software development with someone 12 hours off, it’s as difficult as you’ve probably heard,” Snyder says. High turnover was also an issue. “Trying to get people there aligned with our team here in Dallas, you get the night shift in India, and no one ever says, ‘Woo-hoo it’s midnight, I get to go to work!'” Consequently, people fall off the radar and it becomes too difficult to manage, Snyder says. “You’re always bringing people up to speed. We realized we needed something in our time zone.”After checking out a number of firms in Brazil, Hulcher decided on Stefanini for several reasons. Stefanini “looked the best in terms of catering to a company our size,” Snyder says. “Most of the providers that had what we needed only wanted to work with huge operations, not someone our size with 750 employees. Stefanini looked like they could work with us and in our market.”
Hulcher’s work with Stefanini has mainly involved “custom software to correlate logistics, where vehicles are, focused mostly on dispatch apps.” Emergency response is part of the scenario, and that means you can’t be fooling around when it comes to software quality and accuracy. Snyder says that although it took junior team members in Brazil a while to get up to speed, “quality was about where I expected. By the time we got to user testing, we ran into a few bugs, but it was about on par with local development, and much, much, much better than India.”
Price, Pushback, and Process
We asked Snyder about other criticisms you sometimes read about Brazil. Too expensive, for instance. Stefanini’s pricing “was about where we’d want it to be,” he says, and was not adjusted as a result of real-vs.-dollar currency fluctuations.
Snyder also saw no evidence that Brazilian developers are passive or won’t point out problems when they see them. “Our team down there was flagging design errors,” he says. “They were involved in the architecture. It was a thousand times better than working with India, where I could come up with a bad idea and no one would say anything.”
Snyder adds that this more active relationship with the Stefanini team could have been a result of his having visited them in Brazil. “I never traveled to India,” he says. “But I think because I went to Brazil, on a kind of social call, and got to know the team as people, and they got to know me as a person, that really helped. I told them, ‘If you have an objection to something, let me know.’ I wanted them to understand that they should not be quietly obedient.”
In one case, the client wanted some last-minute changes. The next release was a week away. The Stefanini team said, “Okay, we can make those changes, but it will mean not implementing some other things,” Snyder recalls, so “we explained the situation to the client and negotiated around that. They agreed they shouldn’t be making those kinds of changes at the end.”
Whereas Indian companies are famous for being masters of process, Nearshore companies are sometimes criticized for being more ad hoc. That can be good and bad. “Stefanini doesn’t impose their scrum methodology on you, which can be good news because [scrum] requires a very flexible framework,” Snyder says. “But it can be bad news if there’s an aspect of development where you’re not mature or there’s a gap. They’re not there to fill in that gap with their processes. We ran into this with change management, so we developed our own CM process.”
Snyder advises anyone considering a Nearshore provider to “travel to that country and get to know the people.” Hulcher brought someone from Stefanini up to Texas to get to know the company. You have to include that kind of travel as part of the process and the expense.
He has one last piece of advice for anyone new to offshoring. “One other thing is vital: Collaboration tools,” he says. “Since you can’t just walk down the hallway to talk to someone, you need the software and hardware to do that. You have to have screen-sharing capability, whether it’s Webex or something more sophisticated. A webcam, videoconferencing, that’s extremely important because you can then associate a face with a name.”
Although the Brazilian government threw a wrench into the works, Snyder says he has so far been “quite happy” with Stefanini and the team in São Paulo. “Excellent-quality apps, no language problems conveying concepts,” he says. “When I get an e-mail from someone down there, I know I don’t have to take a deep breath.”
Meanwhile, any company sourcing from Brazil had better keep in mind that the hiring process could take longer than expected.