Outsourcing is an Outdated Term

Andy Hilliard

Andy Hilliard

May 17, 2023 | Accelerance Blog

Forget the cliched labels - ‘outsourcing’ is about building highly effective teams.

Accelerance, as a company, is strongly associated with software ‘outsourcing’ and in the world of search engine optimization, it's definitely a term that leads a lot of people to our door.

But in truth, I dislike the word. It’s one that carries 30 years of heavy baggage. It evokes layoffs, budget cuts, dysfunction and mistrust. That’s why I don’t mention ‘outsourcing’ once I start a conversation with a prospective customer. Outsourcing has changed massively, particularly in the last decade. It shouldn’t be defined by a tainted term.

For over 25 years, I’ve been helping companies build globally distributed teams. I’ve never written a line of code in my life, never shipped a new software application. But I’m a problem solver and I understand intimately what makes for effective software development teams. That is ultimately what is at the heart of software outsourcing. 

It is people working together in an environment of mutual understanding, trust and respect. It doesn’t fundamentally matter where those people are located or whether they are given the label ‘contractor’ or ‘FTE’.

John Lennon’s famous lyric plays on a loop in my mind:


"Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do"


The defining trend in my lifetime has been globalization. We are more interconnected than ever. Technology has made borders and time zones mostly irrelevant. I can show you dozens of examples of companies that have built globally distributed software development teams and achieved incredible business success in the process.


Trust is everything

But there are many more senior IT leaders who have become hung up on all the negative stuff outsourcing has come to represent. It’s too often used as an excuse for failure.

“That’s what happens when you shift development to the other side of the world,” they’ll say.

“Outsourcing was never the right answer.”

That’s a complete fallacy. When you start from a position of low trust, you have a huge job to dig your way out. My philosophy on team building is heavily influenced by the three years I spent in the Peace Corps in the early 1990s as a microenterprise volunteer consultant in Costa Rica.

I quickly learned that there are three key tenets to being a successful Peace Corps volunteer - you need to understand and appreciate the culture of your host country, appreciate and uphold the culture of the country you’ve come from, and be open to a truly collaborative approach to the duties you are there to perform.

Only then can you build the trust that allows a team to thrive. In the case of the Peace Corps, that could mean for example, teaching crop planting techniques to host country nationals or teaching kids STEM skills preparing them for a career that will lift them out of poverty.


Our CEO, Andy Hilliard, during his time in the Peace Corps.


When you put in the time to optimize a software development team’s dynamic, you can shed the baggage that drags down a collaboration or project spanning borders and timezones.

Outsourcing is too often treated by CTOs as simply a quick way to ‘build capacity’. I get it, a lot of people are just leapfrogging to the next lily pad, trying to make it to the next quarter, with deadline pressure and looming launch dates. We are still in the midst of a severe tech talent shortage so recruiting skilled staff in-house is tough.


Evolution mode

But do you want to stay in survival mode, or enter evolution mode? At Accelerance, we help you evolve your approach to building software. We teach customers to operate fundamentally differently when collaborating with international software development partners. 

It delivers results because the best software develop service providers around the world who work beyond their own borders, have reinvented how they operate. They have embraced hyperspecialization, offering deep expertise in high-growth areas of emerging technologies. 

These best-of-class service providers have optimized how they collaborate with customers to share knowledge and operate as a team, breaking down the ‘us and them’ culture that defined outsourcing for too long. They have developed better KPIs and measures of success to reflect the common goals shared by the customer and development partner alike. 

Labor cost savings from outsourcing is obviously expected (however not as much as before), but other quantifiable benefits increasingly overshadow it, like technical expertise, delivery quality, reliability and stability, speed to talent and speed of product to market, innovation, security, scalability and post-deloyment support.  

It is increasingly the norm for businesses with ongoing software development needs to maintain a network of tech partners spread around the world, scaling their input as required. That is, assuming they have evolved their approach to global partnering.

When we take customers to meet software partners around the world, we always arrange the trip so that they spend 50% of their time together on business, the other 50% just getting to know each other. They go sightseeing, share meals of the local cuisine, talk about the history and culture of the place.


It’s about people.

It adds a new dimension to the relationship. Life is about more than business outcomes. There has to be personal payoff in terms of experiencing the world, learning new things, getting a different perspective.

So if not outsourcing, what do we call it? There are lots of other terms thrown around - strategic partnering, resource augmentation, talent acquisition.

But when you accept that software development is really about people, and building an effective team, the labels fade away. It doesn’t matter what you call it.

Three decades on from when software outsourcing really became a thing, the game has changed. I like to think Accelerance has played a part in that change and, as Lennon put it:


"Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world

You may say I'm a dreamer

But I'm not the only one

I hope someday you'll join us

And the world will live as one"


Get in touch with Accelerance to find out how we can help you build an effective software development team, drawing on the best skills and most competitive rates in the world.


Andy Hilliard

Andy Hilliard

As CEO, Andy leads and advocates for the globalization and collaboration of great software teams with companies in search of talent, innovation and a globally-distributed extension of their engineering function and culture. Andy founded the ground-breaking nearshore software development services company, Isthmus Costa Rica. He began his global software services career as a division manager at Cognizant during their early formative years.

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