They are Coming...

This was published in June 2007 in "IT Now", issue 49. The article deals with the possible (fictional?) side- effects of extensive outsourcing for "cheaper" labour.

Article reprint on IT Now Website

The world of outsourcing has won. When, just before the turn of the century, the Chinese government, under the leadership of Chairman Hu decided it was time to change the view of the world about Chinese products, they created a competitive, quality-based market that was to change life as we know it. The move towards quality, quality that was rewarded by both national and local governments was unstoppable.

At first, things did not quite go to plan. The idea was that the Chinese software houses were going to deliver high-quality products while continuing to pay Chinese wages. But they soon realized that it was necessary to pay people according to what they delivered. As the software engineers' wages started to rise, bringing them into the Chinese middle-class, there was concern that soon they would be just as expensive as the Western developers and everything would collapse. But it was more subtle. They had started by encouraging firms to adopt and be measured according to international standards, such as ISO and CMMI, giving significant tax- related rewards to the companies that succeeded. As a consequence, many of the new entrepreneurs discovered that it did not have to be difficult or expensive to create quality products. By an understanding of the objectives and purposes of the models used, they implemented a continuous improvement, quality focused development strategy, which included continuous verification and validation, reviews and inspections throughout the whole development lifecycle.

The long standing willingness of the Chinese to obey rules and focus on what they were told was key to the success of the approach. They were willing to measure the number of defects created, the details of the time and size of the work as it was performed. They shared their best practices and appropriately documented their activities and results in order for the common good: they were able to learn from each other's mistakes and successes and rapidly identify more efficient ways of doing things. The biggest hurdle had been to persuade the management that they did not know best and should allow the engineers to make recommendations on improvements and progress, rather than continuing to force what they believed was a good work practice on those who actually did the work. This was facilitated with the advent of the Chinese Democratic Revolution of 2012, when the Communist government was overturned and the freedom of information was instilled.

The quality of their approach and the relative cheapness of the labour, used in conjunction with the communication facilities that allowed an integrated team of professionals to work around the world as if they were in the same room was the winning factor. The Chinese revolution had conquered the world. The Chinese completed the software revolution that India had started.

The first to suffer from this new onslaught of quality were the richer nations. Using their focus on the bottom-line, all software engineering was rapidly outsourced to this new nation and the number of people who understood the fundamentals and practicalities of software engineering in Japan, Europe or North America started to dwindle. As there was no work left for them, the knowledge that went with it started to disappear. Like an old folklore, a cottage industry that was not longer relevant, the manner of doing it right started to be the preserve of the Middle Kingdom's software empire.

For ages, people had believed that China was on its way to becoming one of the great commercial centres of the world, but they did not realize that this would be achieved through such a complete overhaul of the ways of the world. The knowledge moved to China, the Chinese focused on improving their strength. They rapidly lost interest in the industrial revolution; they could create wealth with virtually no investment. They accepted that other countries made better cars, but they knew that they were driving the cars. They imported the manufactured goods from around the world, confident that they were the ones running the manufacturing lines. The dependence on their skills allowed them to increase prices and wages, they were running tax authorities around the world, they were flying the planes and managing the factories.

But we are 2007, this is only a scare-mongering story, isn't it? There is still time to improve the quality of our own practices; maybe it is up to me to make it happen...

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