Thought for the day: All that is solid melts into air

Offshore outsourcing should not be seen as the destroyer of IT livelihoods, but a chance for business progress into the future,...

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Offshore outsourcing should not be seen as the destroyer of IT livelihoods, but a chance for business progress into the future, says Mark Hillary.




Another week, another newspaper, another polemical reader's letter on the supposed scourge of offshore outsourcing.

Technologists from Singapore to Widnes are storming the letters page of every sympathetic publication with the passionate claim that offshore outsourcing will destroy livelihoods.

We have been here before. The English of the late 18th century witnessed immense social upheaval as the steam engine and cotton gin revolutionised textile production. This dawn of capitalism was subsequently enhanced through the 19th and 20th centuries by the railways, steam ships, steel production, electricity, cars and then computers.

Like it or not, we live in a capitalist democracy - business leaders are allowed the freedom to run their business in the best interest of the corporate stakeholders. The proliferation of a globalised knowledge economy means that skilled tasks can now be performed anywhere.

This trend towards seeking best value for shareholders and best quality resources wherever they are located is a natural function of a free market economy. Adam Smith described this phenomenon as far back as 1776 in "The wealth of nations".

Perhaps the detractors of outsourcing might explain how the protectionism they crave would help our economy in the long term.

I can see the future headlines now, as they dodge stories of major companies leaving the UK, citing a lack of competitiveness and innovation as the reasons for their departure.

Constant change and progress is the natural state of capitalism and our collective energy is better spent on anticipating and preparing for the future.

Yes, some livelihoods will be destroyed by outsourcing. They will be the livelihoods of those unprepared to accept a new world of work. There will be plenty of new opportunities for those prepared to change.

The Communist manifesto seems an unlikely source of inspiration for those thrust into a brave new outsourced world. However, Marx understood capitalism well. His words describe how progress usually requires the destruction of the old order: "All that is solid melts into air".

This expression sums up perfectly the ever changing nature of the IT industry. After all, how many jobs for webmasters were advertised in these pages a decade ago?

What do you think?

Where will offshore outsourcing lead us? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Mark Hillary is an author and independent consultant. His new book Outsourcing to India is being published by Springer Verlag in winter 2003.

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