Insights | EXECUTIVE SPOTLIGHT: “Swallowing the Watermelon” with Software Outsourcing

EXECUTIVE SPOTLIGHT: “Swallowing the Watermelon” with Software Outsourcing

By Accelerance Research Team | November 9, 2021

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Mike Williamson, Vice President of Research and Development at Softdocs

Over the last year, Mike Williamson has gained new perspective into tech sourcing models during a crisis and in the future. Williamson joined Softdocs to lead the 50 person engineering team two years ago.

Since then, he has grown his Accelerance nearshoring partner team from four people to 14 with his software development partner in Mexico and Argentina. “Our relationship with [our partner] is outstanding. We are grateful that Accelerance introduced us to them. They are as much of our team as the other staff at Softdocs,” he says.

The partner team – mostly software developers with some quality assurance test engineers and one product manager – helps Softdocs with building new product features and operational functions to keep up with customer and business needs. The Columbia, SC-based company develops enterprise content management solutions for educational institutions.

Accelerance has assisted Softdocs with what he calls “swallowing the watermelon,” an outsourcing strategy that allows him to scale up his development teams quickly when he needs significant additional resources.

Accelerance: How did cost considerations factor into your outsourcing partner decision?

Williamson: The most important thing is that we didn’t just go for cheap labor. We got good labor. I’m not looking for half the cost and all the problems because I have so much work to do. I’m happy to pay the rates as long as the engineers can provide the value.

Accelerance: Are there certain contracting terms that contribute to the success of your relationship?

Williamson: We just rewrote a contract for our current outsourcing team. In our terms, we guarantee that we’ll keep the team employed for two years. With that certain contract length, they gave us a minimal rate increase well below the market trends.

Accelerance: What is software outsourcing’s role in your technology strategy?

Williamson: Outsourcing helps us manage surges in the need for product features to ensure our customers are well served by our product. It’s the elasticity that is important to us, but with a team that we trust to take care of our customers using well written, tested software.

They’re burst capacity – we call it “swallowing the watermelon” when we need to ramp up the team fast and for long term projects. Such as when we’ve got a major initiative coming, or several software major feature upgrades or an upgrade to a multi-tenant model in cloud technology.

We can quickly supplement our team with outsourced partner resources or reduce the team size if needed. It helps because we can scale up or down as conditions change.

Accelerance: What is the biggest business challenge that software outsourcing solves for you?

Williamson: The demand for software engineers, product owners and test engineers has gone up. The number of software engineers and quality assurance test engineers in the U.S. is not sufficient to meet the demand. There’s a shortage of quality people who have the experience to build quality software. We’re in Columbia, South Carolina, and our business doesn’t have the ability to pay New York City, Silicon Valley or Raleigh-Durham rates so it’s difficult to compete for full-time hires.

Outsourcing - going north and south of the U.S. border but remaining in similar time zones - has become an important part of our solution. It’s helped us find cost-effective software engineering talent with passion for customers who speak English fluent enough to be on our sprint teams.

Accelerance: What outsourcing model do you use and why?

Williamson: Time zones are far more important to us than cost. Resources located within plus-or-minus two time zones are our rule of where we’ll outsource. The only model we’ll use is nearshoring. The offshoring time difference is too challenging but nearshoring with the right partner can be a raving success.

Our team is most effective when everyone collaborates in real time with a lot of feedback. That approach requires some period of regular, daily working hours in the same time zone.

Accelerance: How did the pandemic change your team’s perspective on remote work that is key to outsourcing?

Williamson: The pandemic made us realize that there is no need to have an office. All but one of my team members is now working from home or remotely. It’s been a huge success. The team likes the flexibility, and they’ve been super productive - we’re getting even more from them.

The COVID-driven change in work practices has proven that soft engineering is not bound by geography. It is becoming borderless in the sense that we have had to learn to work virtually so my team is on my screen. I don’t really care where you live if you do good work. The need for geographic-focused technical centers of excellence will start becoming obsolete.

Accelerance: How do you foresee this new reality impacting future software development work practices?

Williamson: I think the world is going to change over the next two years where the software engineering function is borderless, and my staff are across time zones. I could see myself considering using more outsourcing resources and even looking outside the U.S. for permanent hires. My strategy will be less focused on getting resources for scalable capacity and more on effectively staffing my team to get our work done.

Accelerance: From your experience, what is your advice for building a good long-term outsourcing relationship?

Williamson: We treat our partners in Mexico and Argentina no different than our employees in South Carolina or Virginia. They’re true members of our team. When we’re working together with one person in Virginia and another in Buenos Aires, we don’t really notice the distance because their internet connection allows for good communication, they’re focused on writing code together or they’re doing virtual team standups. It’s become the normal way that we work.

Having a team with this high level of quality and dedication makes the difference. Accelerance found us an exceptional partner. They’re just as talented as our onshore developers. They care about our customers. They’re just as well trained as our U.S. team, they have just as much skin in the game, they are fun to work with, add value to our team and write good software as anybody here. They’re just solid.

Accelerance: You sound very satisfied with your team. Is there anything in particular that really stands out?

Williamson: They have learned and know our business as all our employees and new hires are expected to. There’s a difference between being just a software engineering resource here to build code versus really understanding our business need for enterprise content management in the education space. They know our core products; they know what we do.

Softdocs is just one of the clients that Accelerance has helped. As a trusted advisor in strategic outsourcing partnerships, we can help you find the right partner for your goals, at a fraction of the time and cost of in-house development. We’ve assessed custom software development providers in 40-plus countries to certify the top 1% as premium partners who understand Western business models and are world-class innovators in their fields.

To find out more about our suite of software solutions and advisory services, get in touch.


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Mike Williamson, Vice President of Research and Development at Softdocs


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