Onshore vs. offshore: Cost vs. value

We live in a truly global age – theoretically, there’s nothing stopping you from picking up your phone and video chatting someone in Nepal, other than the fact that you probably don’t have a contact that lives in Nepal (or, if you’re reading this from Nepal, video chatting with someone in Paris, Texas).

If you’re reading this from the US, there’s a few good reasons you don’t have a contact who lives in Nepal (unless you do have a contact who lives in Nepal): time, distance, and language. It’s pretty difficult to create a relationship with someone who’s asleep when you’re awake, lives 6,000 miles away, and doesn’t speak the same language as you.

As this piece published by Medium states, offshore software development can potentially be four times cheaper than software built in the US or Europe, but for the reasons listed above – and more which we’ll cover below – when put into practice, offshore development usually ends up costing you more money.

Why? As we’ve written about before, the cost of app development (and any form of software development, in fact) comes down to the following equation: feature set + scale + hourly rate = total development cost.

Yes, hourly rate is one of the major determining factors to the cost of development, and yes, offshore development tends to be cheaper than onshore – but, so too are feature set and scale included in the equation. Development of an app’s feature set requires significant communication between developers and clients, and as distance increases, so to does your operating scale.

Distance = time

Unsurprisingly, the majority of differences between onshore and offshore development arise from distance more than anything else – even if both parties are speaking the same native language, a choppy wi-fi signal, when transmitted internationally, can cause major disruption to communication comprehension. This problem is of course compounded when accounting for language barriers.

There’s more to distance than its purely physical definition – cultural distance is a major disruptor to the time it takes to develop an app. UI design is a language unto itself, and depending on what culture your designer is from, you many not be supplied with a UI that fits the tastes of your target market.

Take, for instance, this app made for the Brazilian market. For many users in less-digitally-developed countries, smartphones are their only method of accessing the internet. Therefore, apps are designed to do as many things as possible, and utilize bright color palettes to convey feeling rather than responsiveness and tight animations that exemplify onshore UI design.

This does mean, however, that when creating an app that is to be used across multiple countries and cultures, it’s best to find designers from each region to create region-specific layouts, in order to best attract your individual niche markets.

Finally, as we previously mentioned above, there is always the logistical aspect of developing an app with someone half-a-world away. Questions about current build iterations usually come up at the beginning of the day, not the end – which when working with a team on a 12-hour time delay, can equate to a full day of work lost for that particular developer.

If a developer has a question at the start of their day for you, and your day doesn’t start for another twelve, there’s no way for that developer to progress – full-day-delays can lead to adding an entire extra week onto your development timeline over the course of a project measured in weeks; and for projects measured in months, entire extra seasons can be added onto your turn-around time.

Communication

An iOS app developed in India is written using the same language as one developed in the US. Software languages don’t change depending on the developer’s geographical location – but documentation does.

Clear documentation is absolutely necessary to a successful software handoff – if you’re a company with your own internal IT department, you might be forced to spend significant amounts of time either reading tens of thousands of lines of code, or talking to your offshore development team for clarification.

Improper documentation doesn’t just cause problems during development – it causes deployment issues during updates as well. It’s smart to estimate your time spent communicating with your offshore team will take four times as long as it would when compared to an on-shore team, when accounting for delays caused by language barriers and timezone differences.

Logistics

Working closely with an offshore developer can create nightmarish amounts of red tape. Scheduling a meeting with an offshore developer can mean paying for multiple international tickets, hotel expenses, meals, visas, and much more. It shouldn’t cost your company thousands of dollars to hold one face-to-face client meeting.

There’s a reason in-person meetings are so important – meeting with a potential business partner in real life is the best way to determine whether or not you should place your trust in them. Placing your trust in a company that has no personal connection to you can lead to some severe repercussions, especially when paired with the more lax security and privacy laws offshore developers are subjected to.

IPs are also less protected when developed offshore, and if your intellectual property is stolen, your international legal fees can add substantial bloat to your operational budget.

Everyone knows the old saying “you get what you pay for,” and in regards to offshore vs. onshore development, this adage still rings true. Domestic developers have more of a stake in maintaining their reputation with clients, as offshore developers have the ability to move from project to project without repercussion – meaning the quality of your app’s code can suffer over time as it deteriorates from lack of updates.

With a domestic developer, you’re much more likely to receive an upgradable, adaptable, and understandable codebase for your app – don’t sacrifice long-term stability for short term profits.

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