Outsourcing or offshoring, as it was known initially, implies an act of getting an item developed from an outside supplier instead of using internal resources – the rationale being reliability and cost-effectiveness. In 2012, the market for training outsourcing in North America alone was about $55.1B, of which Training Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) comprised about 4.5% – 4.8%. Companies spend about 42% of their training budget on outsourcing, according to an estimate by TrainingIndustry.com.
Clearly outsourcing as an option in corporate training, is increasingly being considered by organizations. Despite the fact that the market for eLearning outsourcing is growing quite fast, there is quite a bit of reluctance by some to explore this option. What makes some organizations reluctant to outsource their eLearning requirements, and how can they work their way around their concerns.
The reasons could vary depending on the organization. But broadly, they can be listed as follows:
Questions about expertise & quality
How can one assess the capability of a remote service provider? Vendors may stake claim to capabilities they are not equipped with in reality. That could result in a serious drop in the quality of the work delivered. It is certainly not what you want.
However, in the days of Skype and Google Hangouts, it cannot be such a difficult task to assess the capabilities of the team that is going to work on your project. Ask for such virtual meeting with the team such as instructional designers, project managers and technology experts, who are going to be closely involved with the project. Get them to present some samples or develop prototypes, based on your inputs. A combination of these efforts should enable you to judge the expertise of the vendors and the quality that you can expect from them.
Control over timelines and deliverables
Some people have concerns about control over timelines and deliverables. They feel,”We struggle with timelines and deliverables with internal team members, how can we manage and expect on-time delivery from external teams?” They do have a valid point. Nonetheless, there are remote teams working on projects in organizations and eLearning outsourcing is no different. What is important is the work ethics and pedigree of the outsourcing partner.
You need to ensure that you are working with an eLearning company directly and not a contractor, who in turn outsources to various other independent vendors. In such cases, there are too many variables involved and your project timelines are likely to be in jeopardy. However, work with an organization that has a full-fledged in-house team of instructional designers, visual designers and multimedia experts. Also, see how the organization responds to your RFP and enquires even before the project has been given to them.
The extent to which outsourcing partners can be trusted with in-house training material is always an area of concern for organizations.
Check to see if the organization has a strong Non-Disclosure Agreement. If not, you can make one of your own and get it included as a part of the service contract. That way, they are legally bound to ensure that your content is not misused by the organization.
Project management feasibility
Somehow, we tend to feel if team members are physically closer to us, we are more likely to be under control. We feel in relation to remote service providers, it is easier to handle a team closer home. However, think of the times that you were helpless even with in-house teams.
The success of any project depends on exacting processes and procedures. Look for a company that has set processes and procedures in place, for each of the activities involved in eLearning development. Ask for them and evaluate them. Check if they have assigned a project manager, who becomes your single point of contact to address all your queries. He or she will be your go to person, who monitors and controls every step of the project; one who ensures adherence to quality, budget, timelines and ensures timely deliverables.
Communication and cultural differences
Another concern is that how would an external vendor understand our organizational learning philosophy and goals? What about communication and cultural differences? This could indeed pose a great problem when dealing with an offshore eLearning development partner.
There are many service providers and not all would have the necessary expertise to deal with multi-national clients. Therefore, it is essential to understand the profile of the organization, its ability to service multinational clients and a profile of its exiting clientele. Additionally, it helps to have a written understanding of expectations on both sides to avoid any miscommunication in terms of deliverables. Typically, professional organizations that have had the experience in handling projects of large organizations in your region would not have any problems understanding your requirements. Similarly, if the organization is a ‘learning organization’ where senior management has a background in learning and training, they will be able to understand the organizational learning philosophy accurately and translate the same to course development.
The concerns about partnership are not unique to eLearning as such, but are same in any partnership, for that matter. E-learning offshoring requires establishing a long-term relationship with your eLearning partner. Experts have admitted that very often the success of outsourcing is dependent on the ability of the client to efficiently manage the outsourcing partner. This needs investment of time and effort, at least, in the initial stages when the partnership is being established. What do you think? What have been your experiences in detailing with outsourcing partners? Do share your thoughts.