Virtually every MR company of any size that I can think of does some amount of outsourcing to offshore entities, whether to a wholly-owned sub or one of the major providers of market research services. The attraction has tended to be threefold: (1) a smart, well-educated labor force; (2) a near fanatical reverence for process; and (3) and significant cost savings. The companies that do this work provide an increasingly broad range of services including data collection, survey programming, tabulation, charting, and basic analysis. Some have become very large and there are those who believe that they may soon evolve into major, global full-service research companies in their own right.
But there are also are those who argue that outsourcing may becoming the victim of its own success, that its traditional strengths may now be weaknesses. In an interview out on cio.com Andrew Wasser from Carnegie Mellon University sees IT outsourcing as now facing two major challenges. The first is talent. As the outsourcing industry has grown the demand for top tier talent increasingly surpasses what the in-country universities can deliver. They no longer can count on getting the top decile of math, computer science and engineering graduates. MR outsources probably always had trouble competing against the Accentures of the world for top talent and likely are moving even further down the chain as the big IT firms grow. The second challenge is difficulty innovating. The strong process infrastructure that has made these companies terrific order takers and on time quality performers also makes it difficult for them solve problems that their processes were not designed to handle. And, more often than not, outsourcers see only one part of the elephant, don't have a grasp of the business problem at the core of the research and can't be the creative strategic partners that the sourcing company had hoped for.
None of this necessarily means that we have reached the limits of outsourcing. But we need to think much differently about how we structure our relationships with our outsourcing partners and be sure to be realistic about what we can get out of those relationships. We can't just keep throwing the work over the wall which unfortunately is what a lot of us have been doing. We probably need to get really serious about treating them like partners, figuring how to do a better job of integrating them more fully into our workflow, and be a good deal more realistic about what we can expect to get out of them.