Good Morning Vietnam !

As Robin Williams said and I’m sure we’ve all seen our share of other films depicting Vietnam from years ago.

With these images in my mind and news stories of a

eTown HCMC
eTown Ho Chi Minh City

vibrant emerging economy I was intrigued to be invited by Harvey Nash (HN) and NashTech (NT) to visit their Offshore Development Centre (ODC) based in e Town in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Truth be told many years ago, as a development manager, I had the opportunity to jump on the outsourcing bandwagon. However, whilst there were considerable savings in daily rates to be made five key concerns led me to decide not to follow suit:-

  • As a commercial off the shelf software company concerns over IPR protection;
  • Cultural and domain expertise concerns – WYSILWYG – What You Specify Is Literally What You Get (without any thought or suggestions from the offshore developers);
  • Outsourcing developer and business IPR never seemed a good idea to me. The development team’s strength is its business and domain knowledge as well as its technical skills;
  • Rotation of offshore staff across multiple clients potentially limited the ability to build up basic knowledge of my business which was important in terms of efficiency and quality deliverables;
  • How to effectively manage the offshore organisation potentially 1,000’s of miles away in a different time zone.

However, NT offer an intriguing model combining offshore NT and onshore client resources. Given Altuity’s specialised focus on cloud and mobile based site records and asset management software such a model was worth considering.

With nothing to lose, but with potentially lots to gain, I and several other organisations went to visit the ODC. And to be honest having heard so much about Vietnam it was a perfect opportunity to satisfy an innate curiosity about the country and its people.

First impression upon leaving Ho Chi Minh City airport was one of surprise – not the under-developed, chaotic environment I’ve experienced elsewhere in some Asian countries and imagined to be the case in Vietnam. It was well developed; the main city infrastructure was properly maintained with lots of investment in evidence.

Opportunity for interactive discussions

Over several days we had presentations from UK clients on their experiences (all positive – even under after hours questioning at the bar away from HN / NT staff !).

HN UK and NT Vietnamese staff explained the offshore model, their approach, skills, culture and company ethos. We were given the opportunity to tour the project team offices and meet the teams within e Town.

This was no sweat shop operation (apart from when the Brits stepped outside).

It was good to appreciate that Vietnamese staff have all the benefits you’d expect from a responsible employer.

The Vietnamese are professional, open, friendly and technically skilled although frustratingly look remarkably young. I was reminded of the expression regarding policemen getting younger every year – the same is true of developers. However, did you know Vietnam has 10,000 IT graduates every year so maybe it’s not just me getting older…

The ODC is arranged in client focused teams with team members staying together on projects for clients over several years where needed.

It was interesting to see the teams developing a loyalty to their clients wearing for example branded T shirts and the clients often arranging and contributing towards work and social events for ‘their’ developers. These teams work in close collaboration and communication with their UK counterparts depending upon how the NT client wishes to operate. Sometimes, for example, testing was top covered in the UK. Larger clients might have their own staff on site whereas other clients worked completely remotely. To my mind core business knowledge is not lost and UK staff play a vital on going role in development.

NT, in the UK, manage the relationship with the client helping with technical and commercial communications. Importantly for Altuity, as a UK company, this means there’s a local ‘go to’ account manager and contracts are under UK law.

On a short tour of the city we learned about the American War (we were informed it wasn’t the Vietnam War); how re-education camps helped citizens to adjust and saw some of the iconic sites such as the buildings where the final US helicopters departed Saigon (as it was then). An evening river tour enabled us to see and experience more Vietnamese culture and food as well as understand how quickly the city is developing – particularly as part of the river tour through the city was similar to sightseeing in Tilbury docks.

Has my view of outsourcing changed ? Absolutely – if you want an on-going offshore capability that you can easily ramp up (or down) the ODC model is worth considering and Vietnam as a business and technical environment is a strong contender. I’m considering its use in Altuity as we expand our spatial site records and asset maintenance and asset management capabilities over the cloud and on mobile devices. We’ll be able to invest in UK developers and offshore staff.

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