Offshore Outsourcing as a Source of Innovation

Offshore outsourcing is a great idea if you want quick and cost-effective solutions. But there is also another perk to hiring worldwide help: it's a way to foster creativity.
January 3, 2022
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Outsourcing is a powerful cost-saving strategy that can help you save time, money, and effort. By outsourcing our processes we are putting them in the hands of experts instead of having to create a team from scratch.

There are many benefits to offshore outsourcing: it tends to require a lower investment, the market pool is bigger, and the quality is outstanding. Having said that, there is something that barely gets mentioned. Offshore Outsourcing is also the perfect way to promote innovation.

Offshore developers have different views and ideas, and when we embrace those alternatives we open ourselves to change and promote growth, both personally and professionally. Why is that?

Semantic Fields

What do we mean by semantic field? That’s a concept that was popularized by two sociologists, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman in their book The Social Construction of Reality. 

According to their theory, a semantic field is a body of knowledge that’s shared by a society, including but not limited to, beliefs, behaviors, values, and expectations. To paraphrase, my work and understanding of a technical field are very rich and specific, while I only have very limited knowledge of other fields, like say, law. 

In other words, knowledge is socially distributed, segregated by these semantic fields. That’s common sense, no one knows everything. But the concept of semantic fields goes beyond the frontiers of occupational knowledge.

Two software developers can share knowledge about their occupation but vastly different semantic fields. Why? because of their context and culture. The customs of the place where we grow carry a profound impact on who we are and what we do.

Some forms of knowledge are universal, a linear regression model or a print(‘hello world’) script in python will yield the same results regardless of culture or context. But, the hows and the whys of using them can change dramatically depending on who we ask.

Different semantic fields have different perspectives on the world. Take for example one of the biggest blunders in PR history. During a mobile game announcement, one of the developers for Blizzard Entertainment jokingly said “Do you guys not have phones?”, in response to their audience’s disapproval of a mobile game.

Let’s take a look at the numbers: currently, there are over 6 billion smartphone users across the globe, and at least one-third of those phones aren’t powerful enough to run a high-end mobile game.

A question like that is perfectly reasonable in a semantic field where high-end smartphones are common, but once you take into account that smartphone performance varies greatly, well, things get a bit more complicated. 

The point here is that another person, from another semantic field, could have had a very different reaction. If you come from a country where smartphone prices are prohibitive for the majority of the population, you wouldn’t think in terms of having a smartphone or not. 

Shifts in Perspective

Stagnation often comes from a lack of diversity, when we share a common semantic field it’s very unlikely that someone will think outside of that field. That way, assumptions remain unchallenged and carry on consciously or subconsciously throughout our process. 

Diversity breeds creativity. Put five people from different semantic fields in a safe place and give them an openness to different worldviews and I can guarantee you will get something extraordinary.

It’s not that our semantic field is wrong, but it is incomplete (remember, no one knows everything). So, when someone challenges our worldview we are forced to explain it, to chew on it, to digest it, and that might reveal that we’ve been doing things out of habit and not because it’s the best way to approach a problem. 

It’s similar to what happens when we work with teammates that started their careers in different fields. For example, a data scientist that used to be a biologist or a designer ended up working as a front-end developer

They may indeed lack in certain key areas of computer science, like a deep understanding of algorithms or memory management. But they make up for it by bringing fresh ideas into the field. 

For example, psychologists have very detailed training on how to measure human behavior, and they have tools to validate those methods, which provide an extra layer of depth to applications that measure what people do, for example, an app to track KPIs.

In cultural terms, developers from other areas of the world have a different take on user experience, client relationships, and market intelligence. When we open our doors to offshore consulting or development we are broadening our horizons. 

Face Recognition: A Case Study

Once, I was asked by a colleague to grade an undergraduate project based on face recognition. The undergraduate female students created an artificial intelligence that was capable of recognizing people’s emotions and if they were paying attention to videos.

The idea was to build an application that companies could use to measure people’s responses to watching their commercials. A perfect idea, and very ambitious work for such young students.

What surprised me was that they only used the backend of the application to save information to a server. Everything from the face recognition algorithm, to the classification system, was being handled by the client. 

This is the kind of thing you would usually want to avoid since each client can have vastly different hardware, which in turn leads to unpredictability. Why not just use services like AWS to deal with all the calculations and just use the frontend to capture data from the camera?

When I raised my concerns the students explained that their country had an extremely unreliable internet infrastructure. With slow speeds and constant interruptions, it’s not stable enough to stream data to the backend. As such, they decided to keep most of the logic offline.

In that context that was a great decision. They understood the limitations of their environment and worked around them, limitations that we might not be aware of in other areas of the world. 

Reaching Other Markets

As we expand, it’s clear that our area of influence is not limited to our communities. Globalization and the internet have created bridges between countries and cultures, many of them with vastly different dynamics than our own. 

To access those markets, we need perspective, and a view from the inside is precious in that regard. Developers from across the globe can give us ideas and alternatives that might have never been imagined otherwise. 

If you are looking to reach a global market you need to have global sensibilities, and diversity is key in creating that kind of framework.

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