offshoring analytics
July 31, 2014

Offshoring Analytics: my personal experience of is it worth it?

By Paul Laughlin

Planning to be offshoring analytics to meet demand? Then I suggest you read this first.

There has been much on LinkedIn and Twitter in recent months about the shortfall in analytical resource, for the USA & UK markets especially.

Several years ago I had the learning experience of attempting offshoring analytics to India, Bangalore to be precise. Here are some lessons that I learnt as a result.

The excitement of offshoring analytics

It was all very exciting at first, flying out there and working with the team whilst visiting the UK. International experience for what had been a more UK focussed leadership role.

Plus, on paper, it looked a good idea to address the peaks and troughs of demand for analysis and modelling.

The pitch successfully communicated the ease of accessing highly trained Indian graduates at a fraction of UK wages. However, as with all software demos, the experience after purchase was a little different.

I always expected the model to take a while to bed down and you expect to give any new analysts time to get up to speed with our ways of working. However, after a few months the cracks began to show.

Coping with real data & the real world

Analysts in India were failing to understand what was required unless individual pieces of work were managed like mini-projects and requirements specified in great detail. There also appeared to be little ability to improvise or deal with “dirty data”, so significant data preparation was still required by my UK team (who were beginning to question the benefit).

Once the building of propensity modelling was attempted, a few months later, it became even more apparent that lack of domain knowledge and rote learning from textbooks caused problems in the real world.

Potential remedies to fix offshoring analytics

Several remedies were tried. Further visits to the UK, upgrading the members of the team to even more qualified analysts (as we started with graduates we were now working solely with those who held Masters degrees and in some cases PhDs).

Even after this, none of my Bangalore team were as able to “think on their feet” as well as any of my less qualified analysts in the UK. There were still no signs of domain knowledge (about insurance, our business, our customer types, previous insight learned etc) being retained.

Reasons to stop offshoring analytics

After 18 months and to some extent with a heavy heart (as all those I had worked with in Bangalore sincerely wanted to do the best job they could for you), I ended this pilot and instead recruited a few more analysts in the UK. Several factors drove the final decision but they included:

  1. Erosion on labour arbitrage (the most highly skilled cost more);
  2. Inefficiency (i.e. need for prep & guidance) impacting to UK team;
  3. Cost and effort to comply with data security requirements.

Since that time I have had a few customer insight leaders suggest that it is worth trying again (nowadays with China, Eastern Europe or South Africa), but I am not convinced.

On reflection my biggest concerns are around the importance of analysts understanding their domain (business/customers) and doing their own data preparation (as so much is learned from exploratory data analysis phase). The “project-ization” of analysis requests does not suit this craft.

Offshoring analytics – what is your perspective?

So, for me, the answer is no. For all the reasons outlined above & despite the positive attitude of offshore analysts.

Do you have any experience of trying this? Does it work for you or your business? If so, please let me know, I would love to share a different perspective, especially if you can offer advice as to how you got this working.