Friday, 25 January 2008

To outsource or not to outsource scripting?

In a recent post on GMI's blog the five main reasons to off-shore of data-collection and processing and even project servicing are mentioned. According to ESOMAR’s 2007 Global Market Research Report, outsourcing has become wide spread among the world’s 25 largest market research firms in the search to stay competitive by lowering costs. The Top 5 reasons mentioned in the article are: 1) more time to spend on insights, 2) Economies of scale, 3) alleviate skill shortage, 4) Save on technology costs and 5) quicker response to customers. I guess the real underlying reason for the industry to outsource is the assumption that the cost savings gained by this practice will simply flow back into the company coffers. And indeed: many companies now use outsource services, especially for questionnaire programming (scripting). But I can think of plenty of reasons why outsourcing of scripting is not the best strategy for our market research industry. Here the most important ones that come to ming: When does outsourcing of questionnaire programming not make sense?
  1. When it involves a lot of non-standardized research projects If your research firm is in the business of ad-hoc customized market research, every survey will be more or less different, which makes outsourcing them risky. Communication with local programmers is difficult enough, won’t it be impossible with a non-native English speaker living half-way around the world in another time-zone? These scripts are best handeled in house by researchers who have first hand knowledge of the research objectives.
  2. When the questionnaire is the core-source of success for your research project If it is critical to the success of your project, outsourcing is probably not the best solution. A lot of back-and-forth between the scripter and researcher will take place and again time zone differences impede the relationship when frequent discussion is needed to communicate requirements and last-minute changes.
  3. When experience is required (know-how) If a manual can replace the briefing to the programming or DP department than send the job abroad. If expertise is needed from the scripter, if scripting is another quality check in the process of getting the best suited online survey programmed, think twice before you decide to do it abroad. How can they perform a task the way I want it done without asking a lot of questions…the questions will drive me nuts? I remember hard it was to convince an Indian programmer that chocolate sprinklers in Holland are used for sandwich filling (nice: with lot's of butter!) and it really did not belong to the Cake / Pastry category!

An additional concer has always been retention of employees at the vendor. And now it's a widespread one: Staff churn is absolutely increasing. At first it looked as if it was just the programmers which college kids. These kids get a few months of experience and move on to greener pastures in their country. But we're seeing it across all staff levels now. It's a big issue.

Once a MR firm starts to outsource, it will take months (if not a couple of years) to realize that outsourcing may not be the best approach for efficient and seamless scripting. By the time the company realized this, the people who had the knowledge of doing it in-home would already have been laid off. And it will cost double the effort to obtain this business critical knowledge back in the company.

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