Six Hidden Costs of Offshoring

The hidden costs of IT offshoring are prompting many IT leaders to bring software development of core applications back home. This white paper offers advice to justify agile onshore development to overcome:

1. Communication gaps that compromise agile development and inhibit collaboration

Foreign developers, like some US based technical types, do not like to expose their struggles. Communication is also often lacking among foreigners even more than US developers as they strive to hide their struggles and mistakes when transparency would establish trust.

2. Lengthy and costly ramp up times due to communication gaps and getting the offshore worker to understand needs.

Besides the language barrier, there are some perceptions and ways of doing business that are different with foreigners. Many Indians are very driven and seem determined to run roughshod over your control. They often dictate the process, methodology and even the results in a rapid-fire pace that seems to steamroll you and your desires. Many developers have their own ideas of what looks and works best and they almost dictate it to the client. A sign of experience and maturity is the ability to LISTEN to the client and value their needs and desires. One other thing – foreigners often ant to work time & materials allowing them to pile up hours, even if it is while they are learning how to solve a challenge. Most refuse to work for a set price.

3. High rates of development “rework” back onshore due to misunderstood needs and\or developer building their way, often not the way the client wanted it.

Again, the perceptions and misunderstandings due to language and developer arrogance cause results to not meet expectations. Yet most developers refuse to fix their work without additional pay (the time & materials method is more important than customer satisfaction). Foreigners often seem to lack an understanding of the concept of “customer comes first.” And redoing work at no charge is part of doing business, especially if they misunderstood the client in the first place.

4. 40% turnover rates among offshore teams.

Foreign companies often have a high turnover rate. Most employers brag of rates as low as $11\hour, but it is at the cost of their employee’s loyalty. It is difficult for some foreigners to understand that low cost does not always get priority over quality. In fact, they often seem oblivious to quality as just getting it done is all that matters.

5. Inability to keep pace with the rapid demands of an agile business (foreigners often work at a slower pace and are slow to respond.

American businesses, like some Asian firms, move at a rapid pace. Many other cultures move at a much slower, more deliberate pace. One of the great qualities of Indian professionals is their attention to detail, often taking time to ponder issues (and expecting to get paid for that time spent thinking about it).

6. No Liability Insurance.

Most foreign firms do not carry liability insurance and the concept of being held responsible for a dissatisfied client is often abhorrent to them as they do not want to be vulnerable to a client whose expectations were not met. Deliverables are sometimes open to perception.

This is not to say foreign resources cannot provide value. There are MANY good foreign companies and consulting resources out there who strive to do a good job and assure satisfaction with their work. But I have found the best practice is to closely monitor and interact with offshore resources. Daily SCRUM meetings where transparency is encouraged without immediate repercussions. It is important to emphasize that getting the job done with the highest quality possible AND assure client buy-in, is of the upmost importance in any project.

I wish you luck in your projects. If I can help in you in finding\evaluating resources and how to engage them, let me know. I have 6 years’ experience with good and not-so-good resources in my own company where we do most development work remotely. I currently use 3 resources who have proven themselves mostly reliable as long as we clearly document expectations. They have become close friends and learned how much I value frequent, transparent communication. They have become assets and friends. You can find the same long term resources through persistence ….or you could just hire us!🙂

Rob Moses owns and operates a consulting firm based in Virginia where he and his remote resources design and build CMS solutions in SharePoint, Office 365 and WordPress. They also provide remote administration, often at lower cost than keeping FTE on staff. You can contact him at:

Planning Your Library Reaps Immense Benefits

I recently had yet another client who had used SharePoint like a filing cabinet.  They wanted me to migrate everything to their new Office 365 site.  The mess I found was disheartening.  Almost 100 subsites were created as the client created one for each little thing, client site, department, project, library, etc.  There were also over 150 libraries!  Needless to say, the migration and cleanup would be significant.  The resulting cost, of course, was dismaying to the client.

I cannot imagine administering a site like this as the plethora of libraries, redundant metadata (46 columns to change for office locations!), navigation challenges, etc. was mind boggling.  Nowhere was a single site column used, nor any hint of Enterprise metadata. No Document sets, no views, no grouping, not even sorting was being employed!  No wonder the staff was intimidated by the site! It was a maze that no one wanted to enter!

I cannot stress the importance of investing the time and effort in planning your site.  A site hierarchy map (even a simple bullet list of sites, subsites and content (libraries, web parts, etc), can be immensely helpful to an architect and make building the site much easier for all involved.  With proper identification of metadata in each library, site columns and Enterprise metadata can be set up to consolidate changes in multiple libraries to a single task.  Lists and Libraries are among the most powerful tools SharePoint offers in a collaborative environment making sharing and administration light years easier for all involved.

SharePoint and Office 365 are not create and forget tools.  Just like any system, it requires constant administration.  In an ideal world, each subsite and list\library would have an administrator assigned to them.  Unfortunately, one person usually gets assigned the entire kit & kaboodle as site admin.  This can be a lot of work in a large site.

When creating a library or list, please understand the following concepts in your design (and PLEASE minimize folders!):

  1. Use Site Columns for commonly used metadata like Office Locations
  2. Use Enterprise keywords where people use multiple related terms for an item
  3. Use Grouping and filtering instead of folders to present items of a certain category or date range or by people or department
  4. Use Views in other ways to present your data instead of a myriad of folders.
  5. Use Document Sets to present related items from different libraries as if they are one library (do not duplicate items in multiple libraries!)
  6. Administer your library and it’s workflows

These few steps can save you all kinds of headaches down the road, especially when you hire a consultant to migrate to a newer site.  It will save you money and the consultant a lot of time.

How Democracies Collapse

How Democracies Collapse

While Donald Trump is a good example of American voter dissatisfaction with the political system, his brand of authoritarianism is a dangerous direction for this country.  We are heading in the direction of authoritarian leadership similar to that experienced in Latin American democracies and even here in America in the 1860s when President Lincoln firmly shut down his opposition and steered this country through and beyond a distructive civil war. Or when Teddy Roosevelt tried to suppress opposition by machine gunning coal miners and jailing journalists and opposition politicians.

William Falk said it well when he wrote the following opinion piece in The Week on Facebook:

Juan Linz told us this might happen. The late Yale political scientist spent his life studying political systems around the world, and in a celebrated 1990 essay warned that presidential democracies like ours are inherently unstable and prone to paralysis and collapse. In parliamentary systems, Linz explained in “The Perils of Presidentialism,” the legislature and the prime minister, are of the same party and govern jointly. If they lose popular support, they can be ousted in early elections. But in presidential systems, the president and the legislature (Congress) are elected separately; when they’re controlled by opposing parties with acute differences, Linz said, both branches insist they represent the will of the people, and “there is no democratic principle on the basis of which [the power struggle] can be resolved.” Presidents then often abuse their powers. The legislature responds with abuses of its own. A coup or civil war can ensue, with democracy giving way to Latin American authoritarianism.

We are not yet Argentina or Chile (or America in 1860), but our democracy is headed toward a dangerous place. Linz always said the U.S. presidential system had been an exception to his rule only because of its “moderate consensus” — a middle ground on which both major parties met in civil compromise. That middle ground is gone. As Jonathan Chait points out this week in New York magazine, the “social norms” that once kept a divided government functioning are disintegrating; for the first time in history, the Senate is refusing to consider anyone the president might nominate to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat. Elections sometimes end stalemates like this one — but after November, the crisis could get much worse. Just imagine what a President Trump might do if “total losers” in Congress block his appointments, or try to stop him from deporting millions of people or bombing the hell out of a nation that has insulted him. Do cry for us, Argentina.

Cloud Storage options

Due to the frequent issues I keep hearing about and experiencing with Microsoft’s OneDrive, I am recommending Dropbox or Soonr as cloud alternatives.  This is great for keeping files synced to your desktop where the files appear in a folder called DropBox or Soonr.  When you update a file in your local folder, it syncs with the cloud version and updates the file to reflect the changes.  Dropbox does not keep previous versions though Soonr can be configured to keep past versions of files.

Dropbox is free if all you need is a meager 3GB.  $99\year (or $9.99 per month) for 1TB. Soonr is $9.95 per user or $19.99 per user (Enterprise version) depending on the features you need. Soonr has far more powerful features than Dropbox including more secure file management including for mobile access, policies, projects, and more. Whereas Dropbox is just a storage facility that appears just like Windows Explorer (including on your desktop local version of the synced files), Soonr is more like SharePoint in configuring groups, users and even devices permission levels. Soonr also integrates with your Active Directory for user access control.  Soonr has Detailed Reports and Audit Trails on Users, Groups, Devices, Projects, and Files.  You can also markup documents with notes and annotations.

So why do I use Dropbox?  Partly because it is just one charge for all users, $99\year.  Whereas I have to buy licenses for each user for Soonr.  And why do I need to replicate SharePoint’s governance if all I am doing is linking to a cloud storage device?  Besides, it’s what I started with and all my clients and employees know how to use it.  Dropbox fits the KISS goal.  Also, there is something to be said for avoiding another change. Remember the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Seems very apropos for my users.

For about the same cost as Microsoft’s Office 365 Enterprise, Soonr offers more reliable cloud shared file storage.  Granted SharePoint is the way to go if you need anything more than simple file sharing (like project management, forms management, sales\project tracking, workflows, etc.), but if all you want to do is share files between distant locations or field personnel, Soonr is worth a look. You don’t get Office (Word, Excel, etc.) for your $10 or $20 per month like you do with the higher levels of Microsoft’s Office 365, but you do get solid, reliable file sharing right on your desktop.   Microsoft has a ways to go with that technology before they are termed reliable.  There are tools that do specific parts of SharePoint\Office 365 better, but for an all-in-one collaboration system, the Microsoft offerings are hard to beat. And love ’em or hate ’em, everyone knows Microsoft products.  So familiarity and shot ramp-up time is a plus with their products.

If you find OneDrive is driving you or your users crazy with sync failures, give Dropbox and Soonr a try. Yes, it adds another cost, but headache-free productivity is worth it, right?

Your thoughts?

Remote teams cheaper than FT employees

Are you searching for a SharePoint expert for your team?  again?  Do you find this a never-ending cycle of hire someone only to have them leave for greener pastures at some point down the road?  Do they demand 6 weeks vacation like the Europeans have?   Do you wonder if there is a better way to fill your need for SharePoint maintenance and growth?  I am here to say there is indeed!

The average FT employee costs 30% over and above their salary AND they take vacations plus they frequently leave for “greener pastures”.  Rates are high, from 70\hour in the south and midwest to 175 in large cities for developers, designers, administrators and architects.  To try to get a wide scope of ALL the skills sets often means compromising one skillset for another.  Why not hire a remote service who has much closer to the ideal set os skills you need rather than one or two  people who are limited in their availability and can and often do leave for greener pastures.

A reliable remote service has a stable of resources available to respond immediately to issues, new build requests, changes and administration of your site. Plus they have a wider scope of skills compared to a single FT individual as they are a stable of resources. While using offshore resources can be tricky, there are many with US based firms including Project Managers (PMs)who handle the client and the technical resources providing an English speaking knowledgeable point of contact for the client to deal with.

Often response time is less than 30 minutes (1/2 business hour) and often the PM him\herself can provide troubleshooting guidance or resolve the issue without bringing in offshore resources. I have found our reputation for response time and a low-priced solution draws rave reviews from clients who return frequently with questions and more work. An east coast based team like mine is available from 7am to 7pm EST. West coast based PMs provide the same availability. Offshore resources are often available from 7am to 3 or 5pm (3:30am in India) for emergency crash repairs, or that immediate change requirement.

Have you thought there must be a better, cheaper way to maintain a high level of service without worrying about the availability of your internal IT Resource? Find a good service and give them a tryout. You might be very pleasantly surprised!

SharePoint for Everyone

SharePoint for Everyone

SharePoint for Everyone! Yes, Even for Your Family!

I have been working with Microsoft (MSFT) SharePoint for 6 years and have become a strong evangelist for it’s use. I have seen many other website platforms like Joomla and 1&1 and found them weak compared to SharePoint.  They run $40-60 per month and are limited in capability and clunky to use.  For SharePoint online, I have found the E1 level (Enterprise 1) to be the most cost effective for the power and capabilities it brings. In this “article”, I’m going to cover a lot of ground and be kind of  abrupt plus I am not a great writer. So hang on and try to keep up😉.

Yes, I build sites for businesses.  Still, I see so much potential for SharePoint.  Whether you call it Office 365, SharePoint Online, or just SharePoint, it is a powerful collaboration tool.  It gets you a public (and\or private) website to share your thoughts (blogs like this one), documents, forms, pictures (slideshows), videos, favorite links, etc.  It also has social capabilities like discussion boards, likes, etc. It is like having your own Facebook for your family\organization\group.  For those of you familiar with My Yahoo and Google+, you can also create your own news feed page(s).  Imagine being free of the whims of My Yahoo, etc. who change offerings and layouts forcing you to change.

So what is SharePoint?  It is a “collaboration website”.  That means you can share content – documents, pictures, videos, etc. and assign who can see\edit\download that content by assigning rights (even to groups).  There is a lot to SharePoint and I won’t attempt it here.  I suggest you Google SharePoint and learn more.  But consider getting yourself a site for $8 per month, get the Plain & Simple SharePoint book at Amazon to learn about it.  I guarantee you’ll be impressed.

Let’s go over the plans MSFT offers. There are around 9 offerings from Microsoft (it changes often) and like everything they do, it is a complicated and tangled mess to sort through.  Prices and plans change and are charged per user, per month. You can compare them in detail here, but here is an overview:

  • Kiosk 1 & 2 are for viewing information or ordering products, say in a mall.
  • Plans 1 & 2 offer cheap collaboration sites but limited multimedia.
  • P site, a “Personal” site with limited capabilities but a good basic collaboration site that includes email. This level may no longer be offered and is kind of hard to find.
  • E1-E4 – supposedly for “Enterprises”. These offer everything, including multimedia, online meetings, email, office apps, strong customization and more. E3-4 offer other server tools like SQL and Exchange.

As I mentioned, I build sites, mostly using my offshore developers but sometimes just me (when no .Net is involved). But you really do not need me if you are patient, adventurous and willing to do a little research.  With SharePoint online, you can build a basic site using WYSIWYG menus (though a knowledge of HTML helps).  You get a nice public (and/or private) webpage. You can control who sees what, who can download, contribute, edit content.  You can get really complicated with customization with JQuery, .Net, SQL, and other really complicated components. But it is not necessary.

If you need help, someone like me can add branding (think logos and custom design) and other custom components for anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars, depending on your need.  There are also a ton of third party apps out there, many free.  Most sites do not need such complexity.  We also offer training for less than $250.  The best place to start is a book I recommend: SharePoint Plain and Simple (see it at Amazon, $20 paperback, $11 Kindle)

Here are most of the feature highlights:

  • Slideshows
  • Document sharing
  • Videos
  • Links to external sites
  • Social features
  • Powerful custom pages
  • Blogs (like this one)
  • Alerts (when something changes)
  • Email
  • and much more!

If you share a license among groups, you can have a powerful yet low cost site.  Here is an example E1 site I built for our church:

  • 4 licenses for total $32\month (plus your annual domain cost, about $20)
  • Admin (me) controls everything
  • Pastors can access everything and have a private library
  • Elders\Officers can share everything the members see AND sensitive documents like financial spreadsheet\database, documents, reports, etc.
  • Members can share church documents like the member directory plus they can collaborate and meet among themselves like Facebook & Skype combined.
  • Visitors (general public) can view limited documents and videos (sermons, messages, etc). submit queries, request prayer, contact me request.
  • Online video meetings, IM, shared docs (see Skydrive), share desktops, post sermons, shared discussion board, announcements, email lists, and much, much more!

I have just barely skimmed the surface of Office 365 (also called SharePoint online).  It is not just for businesses or organizations.  I can see families using it to share family information, photos and videos, kind of like their own family Facebook.

I hope Microsoft does not ruin this with price increases or major changes.  This is a gold mine waiting to be discovered!  You can try it free for 30 days.

Everyone I’ve talked to that has had a support issue and was on an Enterprise Office 365 plan had nothing but rave reviews for the Microsoft support staff. They were able to pick up the phone and get their issues resolved immediately. While there are cheaper plans, the E1 plan is only $8 a month (per licensed user. You don’t need to license all your users!). Not too mention you also get full blown Office 365 including Exchange and Lync. You do get a TON more for a few more dollars a month.  

Just think, a family site to share albums, chats, files, video meetings, etc.  Or perhaps a site for you programmers to test your code.  How about a site for your church, club, other organization?  Do you have a small business that you would like available on the web?  Consider trying out SharePoint online (Office 365).  I will bet you will be pleasantly surprised.

Using Document Sets instead of Folders

Folders have issues in SharePoint.  Not only do they require clicks to drill down, but they make migration to new versions of SharePoint difficult and expensive in hours required to migrate them.  Plus they make Administration & reporting ​more difficult.  Not only do you have to extend your reach in admin or for reports, search into those lower subfolders by specifically naming them or aiming at them, but you have to make sure they are somehow accommodated to identify them and the source.

Far better is to use Document Sets and make those folders into metadata that can be used to categorize and organize your data.  Keeping it in flat files makes administration far easier too.  And then there is the migration of that list or library.  Too many times I have spent many extra billable hours migrating subfolders or creating reports on those subfolders that would have been unnecessary in a Document Set.

So what is a Document Set?  It is a method of relating files together, making them appear as a set even if they are coming from different libraries.  They share metadata, can be edited and managed in one screen.  They even appear similar to folders but without the folder icon.

It is at least as easy to create a document set as it is a folder.  Merely click on New item and the drop down menu includes Document Set as an option (see apps as additional options below). If you need sub folders though, you may be forced to use the dreaded folders anyway and just pay a consultant the extra hours to migrate them or create reports around them.

Unfortunately, you cannot create document sets inside a document set.  But with planning and organization you can keep everything in document sets.  You just have to figure out the name of the set and add metadata (column names) instead of folder names.  Then use Group By to categorize it.  Of course you can then have sub groups, so it would appear as names with plus signs next to them to open them. With Group By, you can have multiple levels of sub groups.  This is built in the view.

Document Sets are easy to use and very easy to administrer.  They are not that different formf olders so their is not a great paradyme shift to confuse users. The fact that they can span libraries is immensely useful.

Opening a new document in Excel or PowerPoint instead of Word

Have you noted when you click on Add new document, you get a Word doc?  What if you want Excel, or PowerPoint or something else?  They can be added with a couple steps.

To make the app available w/a blank file, go to Site Settings and click on Site Content Types.  See if the app is already listed under Custom Content Types or Document Sets. If not, click on Create New Content Type.  Give it a name (something original like “Excel” for Excel). Check that the parent type is set to Document Content Types.  Change Parent Content Type to Document. Check that Existing group is set to Custom Content Type.  Go to Advanced Settings. Upload new document template.  Click on Choose File button on the right side (read only and update all should be selected).

Go to the targeted library that needs the content type. Go into Library – Library Settings on the ribbon. Make sure Content Management is allowed (turn on in Advanced Settings).  Under Content Types, click on Add from existing site content types.  Select from the list and click on Add.  Click Ok to create the content type.  It should now appear in the Files – New Document pull down. Do this for each app like Excel & PowerPoint.

For Document sets, merely add it under Document Set Content Types – Document Sets in Site Content Types and it will automatically appear in all Document Sets as an option to create a new document..

Make it visible on the New Document button: Go to the library where you need the different app type and go into Library Settings.  Under the Content Type section (make this available in Advanced Settings, set to Yes).  Select Add from existing content types.  Select the Content Type and click Ok.

You should now see the new apps in the pull down when you click “Create new document”. No need to add them to each library or document set.

Voila!  No need for stinking folders!  Of course, if you require sub-folders, well, bite the bullet and add a folder by drag & drop or “Create Folder”.  Sometimes life is just full of lemons.  Some things are just unavoidable and folders still have their uses. Hope there is lots of sugar for that lemonade.