by George Grieve, Director and Co-founder of CastleBay Infotech
So last summer CastleBay set up shop in India!
What is this 1992? Why there and why now?
For over 20 years, we have focused on helping our P&C Insurance clients make good decisions on core system – Policy, Billing and Claims – software choices. Our deep domain knowledge and vendor expertise has helped our clients navigate the vendor software marketplace. Of course, if step 1 is making a good vendor/system decision step 2 is successfully implementing. After watching many of our long-term insurance clients struggle with their core system implementations, we brought our large project expertise to the implementation business and opened an onshore delivery center in Pensylvania. Our philosophy has always been to fit to our clients and not make them fit to us. Since every client has a different combination of business case, risk, and cost objectives, we need a flexible delivery model both in terms of roles (full systems integrator to staff augmentation) and location (onsite, onshore, offshore).
Which brings me back to India. The potential benefits of offshoring and offshoring specifically in India are of course well, including: (still significant) cost savings, IT labor availability, English speaking workforce, a strong university education system, a Western techno-commercial perspective, and follow-the-sun workdays.
And yet…I have for many years received feedback from clients and colleagues that these benefits can be elusive. And I have seen this firsthand on projects. Offshore “pain and suffering” commonly includes numerous rework cycles which add time, slow momentum and erode expected cost savings; high turnover rates necessitating extra knowledge transfer and capacity; poor communication often due to technology/bandwidth issues; juniors or “freshers” who are thrown into the work without the proper preparation; lack of insurance domain knowledge; and significant time zone differences that require unusual working hours.
So, what makes me think we can do it better?
Well like a lot of things, it’s not that secret and it’s not that complicated. Based on our collective experience here’s a summary of six guiding principles at CastleBay Infotech:
If you only throw the crap work over the (ocean) wall, expect to get crap back. Nothing demotivates an offshore team more than feeling like a second-class project citizen. So, we try to provide our offshore team with first class work assignments. And we make sure they are involved in the planning & estimating upfront and demos & retrospectives at the end.
2. Don’t throw away Agile
If you hear “we have to write it all down for offshore” you are heading in the wrong direction. True, our offshore team is not sitting next to us and yes, they are in a different time zone but that is often true of our US teammates as well. With the appropriate practices like the daily scrum and the appropriate tooling like agile planning boards and issue tracking, we don’t have to lower the bar.
We don’t skimp on communication technology including bandwidth. Technology advances continue to mitigate this issue especially 1:1 communication but nothing is more frustrating than a 10-person, 60 minute remote meeting with about 22 minutes of actual content. And don’t skimp on video; it is so much richer than audio. And bonus – it stops the crazy multi-tasking that goes on when people can’t see what you are doing.
4. Friends work better together
One of my colleagues started off every cross-ocean call with someone telling a personal story about themselves. And did it until it rotated through all the project team members on both sides of the ocean. I have worked with US colleagues who have gone to their project teammates’ weddings…in India. Maybe we can’t go grab a Kingfisher or a Samosa after work but if we make it personal, we make (and receive in return) the extra effort.
5. Know thy Customer (and Domain)
For us technology acumen is table stakes. Insurance domain expertise is our differentiator. The good news is there is a healthy supply of strong insurance technologists offshore. And if we bring on consultants and need to supplement their domain experience, we teach them. That’s not new to us – we have been teaching vendors and partners insurance since CastleBay began. The last piece to that puzzle is gaining a deep understanding of the client’s specific insurance niche and how they differentiate themselves. That’s part of our teaching as well and sometimes requires a plane ticket to the US for an extended onsite visit.
6. Allow the Customer to dial when ready
Some of our clients have initial concerns, based on past negative experiences, of interacting directly with offshore resources. So, we encourage our clients to “dial” the appropriate offshore team. If they don’t want to worry about time zones and deal only with the onsite/onshore team, that’s fine with us. But if a client wishes to lower costs with more offshore leverage over time and get comfortable with the offshore team, that’s also good with us.
We are a conservative organization. We don’t necessarily want to be first, but we are striving to be the best!