Last Wednesday, we hosted a webinar on the cost competitiveness of global in-house centers and were privileged to have Kush Kamra (SVP of Global Operations for MetLife) and Charlie Roberson (Head of Enterprise Expense Management and Offshoring for Wells Fargo) join us as guest panelists. The analysis presented came from a joint study between Everest Group and NASSCOM earlier in 2012.
The webinar featured extensive discussion (thanks to our wonderful panelists) and got me thinking about two points in the aftermath of the webinar.
First, as those who attended know, the term “captive” is being replaced by “global in-house center” or “GIC.” In all honestly, I have been reluctant to confidently adopt this because change is hard (is it really worth it?) and “captive” is so simple to use in our reports (a mere seven characters!).
What suprised me is that in the two days after the webinar, three different individuals (two at the FSO event in NY, one during a phone interview) proactively corrected themselves after they said “captive” and replaced it with “global in-house center.” We laughed about it, but the point is that people are open to change and the word can get around pretty quickly. And not to be underestimated, it is much easier to replace a REALLY BAD idea when something better is consistently introduced into the market.
The second point that that I wanted to share is about labor arbitrage. As those familiar with the analysis we presented will recall, we analyzed the relative cost structure of offshore delivery vs. onshore and the sustainability of it under a range of scenarios. In many ways, the analysis simply helps rigorously document what those already close to situation know in their hearts – labor arbitrage is alive and well and not in danger of going anywhere soon.
The day after the webinar, the same topic came up in conversation with a senior solution design executive from a leading service provider. The individual mentioned that entry level positions continue to join at roughly the same salary level as five years ago and wage inflation is not nearly as dramatic as it may seem. However, she pointed out that the price for leadership is going up rapidly (luckily, this is a small sub-segment of the cost structure).
This underscores an important fundamental: supply and demand and how small changes in both can have big impacts. In short, demand for offshore resources is growing at a slower rate at exactly the same time that education systems are producing increasing amounts of resources. Further, training efforts aimed at increasing employability of graduates are slowly demonstrating impact. My prediction is that with the combined impact of slowing growth in demand and increasing supply of resources, we will see very little increase in the cost structure from offshore locations over the next 5 years (and this is before considering the impact of exchange rates). Yes, leaders (scarce resources – completely different supply-demand curves) will continue to become more and more expensive, but much of the cost structure will stay roughly the same.
Looking at this another way, the entire offshore/nearshore delivery ecosystem providing export services (India, China, Philippines, Mexico, Malaysia, Poland, etc. serving the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, etc.) is only a little over 4 million people on a global basis. In the grand scheme of things, this is a really small labor pool and the ability to create excess supply from the 6 billion humans across Asia, Latin America, and Africa is tremendous – we are not in a supply constrained situation, but rather a demand-constrained scenario. SaaS, cloud, BPaaS, etc. only further suggest the potential for moderated demand for offshore resources.
I understand why people are concerned about cost increases and indeed some costs are increasing and some have increased significantly, but we are a long, long, long way from fundamental shifts in cost structures.