Global IT Outsourcing: Software Development across Borders

Haiyan Huang (School of Information Sciences and Technology, The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, USA)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Article publication date: 1 September 2004




Huang, H. (2004), "Global IT Outsourcing: Software Development across Borders", Information Technology & People, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 343-345.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Global software outsourcing has become an established practice of information system and software development. Initially driven by economic incentives, it has become such a distinct social phenomenon that stimulates a variety of economic and political debates and posts intriguing challenges in many research disciplines. Situated in the contemporary globalization context, the work practices and managements of global software development are pragmatic, complex, and multifaceted in nature. Studies of the global software development are mainly surrounding themes like outsourcing policy, outsourcing strategy, software development process and method, communication and coordination techniques and mechanism, project management, and cross‐cultural difference.

There are several issues associated with these studies. First, there is a lacking of systematic approach to study the software work practice in specific global contexts. Global software work (GSW) faces two sides of challenges – the inherited intrinsic challenges associated with software development and the adopted extrinsic challenges associated with globalization and collaboration over temporal, geographic, and cultural distances. Only addressing one side of the challenges may not be able to understand the phenomena comprehensively. Second, there is lack of evolving views to address the emerging themes and ongoing changes evidenced in the practical settings. Third, there is lack of multiple analytical lenses and methods in social cultural studies. Most of cultural studies focus on the national level of the cultural difference. There is a need to study how national culture interacts with other levels of culture and how those different cultural effects interplay with different perspectives of GSW. Fourth, there is a need to extend and connect the study of global software development to other domains. Although the major incentive of GSW is driven by economic concerns, we should not overlook its further intellectual, societal, and global impacts beyond economy.

In Global IT Outsourcing: Software Development across Borders, authors, Sundeep Sahay, Brian Nicholson, and S. Krishna depict the global software alliance (GSA) relationship as research subject and study how GSA relationships evolve in GSW practice that is situated within a particular global context. They intentionally use the term “Global Software Alliance” to describe the diverse forms of relationships established between the outsourcing organization and the outsourced organization based in different countries to enable software development in both real time and asynchronous times (p. 3). They raise two major research questions in the book: how the GSA relationships are shaped by and reflect the globalization and how they in turn play active roles in the context of globalization in GSW practices; how GSA relationships evolve in practice over time and how to build, develop, and manage the global relationships to make them more effective.

After a brief overview of the nature of GSW, current organizational forms and global trends in GSW in chapter one, they lay out two important research propositions in chapter two and set‐up the tone for the whole book. Proposition one. Global software alliance relationship is a model of globalization and a model for globalization as well (p. 27). By saying that GSA can be conceptualized as both “model of” and “model for” globalization, they argue that in global contexts, while GSA relationships inherit and bearing general characteristics of the networking structure of globalization, they also develop distinct characteristics of their own. Proposition two. Globalization is the mutual adaptation and interpenetration of the universalism and particularism, the standardization and identity (p. 29). They highlight this proposition throughout the book and point out that the networking structure of GSA relationships are situated within a particular context in which influential factors from macro‐level to micro‐level interconnect, interact, and interplay to shape their distinct identities.

Theoretically, they draw upon three mainstreams of contemporary social theory on globalization from Anthony Giddens, Manuel Castells and Ulrich Beck and focus on study three macro‐level aspects of GSA relationships: the structure, process, and nature of risk. Practically, they conducted empirical case studies to investigate several relationships of GSA: relationships between a Canadian company and four different Indian companies, between a UK firm and an Indian company, between a UK firm and its Indian subsidiary. They also studied several Japanese and Korea companies who show interests in working with Indian firms. They take the interpretative lens and connect the three mainstreams of social theories to the longitudinal case studies to further identify and develop six micro‐level themes related the three macro‐level aspects of GSA relationship:

  1. 1.

    tensions of space and place;

  2. 2.

    issues of power and control;

  3. 3.

    transformations of identity;

  4. 4.

    tensions of standardization;

  5. 5.

    complexity of knowledge transfer; and

  6. 6.

    cross‐cultural communication challenges.

From chapter 4 to chapter 9, they use each GSA relationship as a case example, and focus on analyzing one micro‐level theme in each case to gain in‐depth understandings of how this micro‐level theme is manifested in and evolved with the different stages of the relationship development in the situated changing context.

In the last two chapters of the book, they pull together the theoretical insights developed from those empirical investigations and analyses and interconnect the six micro‐level themes with each other. They further articulate the implications of these studies on how to effectively manage the GSA relationships. Instead of giving a set of prescriptions of how to manage the relationship, they elicit key questions relating to managing knowledge, people, communication, relationship and management ethics. By doing so, they emphasize the constructive and situated nature of managing GSA relationship and encourage analytical, reflective, and critical thinking in practices and future research.

What is unique about this book is the authors' proposition on interconnection and tension between localization and globalization, between particularism and universalism, between identity and standardization. Such mutual adaptations are evolving and dynamic in nature. Building on this stand, they interconnect global, industrial, organizational, and individual level to integrate different levels of analysis. Another contribution of this book is that it starts with mainstream social theories, applies them in empirical study, and further enriches the theoretical bases with practical insights. By taking the interpretative epistemology, this book also highlights the situated nature of GSA relationship in global context and undertakes intensive qualitative approaches to illustrate how GSA relationships evolve in practice. Therefore, regarding those previously mentioned issues in global software development studies, this book sets an example of how to approach the complex space of GSW practice analytically, systematically, and integratively.

There are also some limitations of this book. The cases it draws upon are limited by only including Indian companies as outsourced companies. The authors acknowledge this limitation and intend to include some European companies from Russia in their future research. One of the case studies has four pairs of GSA relationships with one outsourcing company. Instead of depicting different micro‐level themes to analyze different relationships, it may be interesting to compare and contrast how the same theme is manifested differently inbetween this outsourcing company and its four different partners. It may also be interesting to conduct similar comparison and contrast study on how one outsourced company develop and manage their relationships with different customers. Another limitation of this book is that it only stays at the managerial level from sociological perspective. Although it emphasizes the significance of studying GSA relationship, it does not relate the building and changing of GSA relationship to the software developmental process and outcomes of the process. Without building such connection, the “effectiveness” measure is less visible from the context.

In summary, this book is important to a variety of audiences who are interested in the phenomena of global software development and the situated globalization contexts. Readers of this book can benefit this book in multiple ways. The direct benefits include the theoretical and practical insights of how GSA relationships evolve in practice and how the macro‐level social theories of globalization interplay in the micro‐level themes of GSA relationship development. Readers can further benefit from this book through its analytical, systematical, and integrative research approaches.

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