Chris Warner cares about his community, and he works for a company that purports to do the same. That's why he can't understand why his Oakland, Calif.-based employer, Kaiser Permanente, is sending Notes/Domino development jobs to India.
"Part of Kaiser's mission is to is to contribute to the health of the communities it serves," Warner said. "It doesn't do the people in a community any good to hire people working in another country."
Warner, a senior data consultant at Kaiser, said he has no objection to companies' hiring international workers in the U.S. on H-1B visas. Those workers are living in the U.S. and returning much of what they earn to local economies. But critics say that offshore outsourcing (also known as "offshoring") sucks money -- and jobs -- right out of the U.S.
Many U.S.-based Domino professionals are competing for jobs with workers that they'll never run into at a user group meeting or technology conference. Forrester Research Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm, has estimated that over the next 15 years, 3.3 billion U.S. service industry jobs will move offshore. And IT jobs will be the first to go.
That's why those Domino developers that can demonstrate their unique talents and the value of on-site services are going to win new contracts and permanent positions.
"It's the price of working in a global marketplace," said Scott Lemieux, president of Portsmouth, N.H.-based software development firm Stone Pond Software and a SearchDomino.com expert. "It's a struggle we're going to have to go through." Stone Pond Software, which produces FleXML, an XML integration tool for Notes/Domino, is half as likely to land large-scale projects. "Many of these jobs are going to developers in other countries," Lemieux said.
Some technology workers are banding together to staunch overseas competition. IT workers in New Jersey are pressing their state legislators to limit offshoring. Others are asking Congress to look into the practice and its impact on jobs. But analysts say offshoring opponents will have little chance of success as software development skills become commodities in a free market.
"When a business' requirements are basically fixed, and they can get that job done for 40% to 60% cheaper, then that commodity activity is going to go overseas," said Stephen Lane, an analyst at the Boston-based Aberdeen Group. Web services integration, an important future source of business and employment for Domino developers, will also be sent abroad, Lane said.
Domino developers are already being confronted with contract offers that reflect international competition. "It's really depressing to go to the job sites and see that the rates being offered for Notes-specific jobs are commodity rates, like $20 an hour," Lemieux said.
India captures most of the offshoring of software development jobs from the U.S., but Russia, China and others are drawing in new business, thanks to lower wage requirements. And while language and cultural barriers can occasionally trouble offshore outsourcing relationships, "I would not rely on language or cultural differences to save my job," Lane said.
IT managers who outsource to other countries often do not communicate directly with developers. Instead, they relay job orders through the development firm's sales representatives, who speak English and may be U.S.-educated and trained.
One advantage that U.S.-based Domino professionals can offer their customers (and potential employers) that their offshore competitors cannot, however, is frequent face time. Customers often want consultants who can come into their workplaces and help solve business problems. "You need to be able to stand in front of a whiteboard and come up with unique, new answers to difficult problems," Lane said.
The skill drill
Developers and administrators should also diversify their skills to include expertise in platforms other than Domino.
"Customer demand is certainly down, but there are projects and opportunities for those who have a broader spectrum of skills," said Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing at Yoh Company, a technology staffing firm based in Philadelphia.
Consultants have to shift their focus to becoming rapid responders and troubleshooters. "You have to be a greater presence to demonstrate the value you can offer," Lemieux said. "It's hard to compete on skills alone, when offshore companies have extremely talented, well-educated, experienced and, in many cases, well-funded people."
Lemieux is putting increased effort into his business' sales and business development, especially for follow-on business. "It's about being there when they ask for you," he said. "If you miss one request to help your customer, you're going to lose them."
Kaiser Permanente's Warner says that full-time Domino developers can make themselves invaluable to their employers by showing a deep understanding of their business objectives, something that may be difficult for offshore contractors. "The most important thing you can do," said Warner, "is to understand what your business is trying to accomplish."
Mark Baard is a contributing writer based in Milton, Mass.
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