When presenting “The Research Agenda for IT impact sourcing”, Heeks places Ethical outsourcing and Social outsourcing within the scope of what can be broadly referred as the use of outsourcing for development. In the BoP (Business Operation Process) outsourcing continuum he differentiates these from Exploitative Outsourcing and Commercial Outsourcing. You can read about these terms in depth on his blogs. The focus of Social Outsourcing is on contracting out goods and services into social enterprises. In their paper, Heeks & Arun (2010) highlight that social outsourcing has the potential to deliver development benefits to marginalized groups.
In the IT impact sourcing model the idea is to create sustainable jobs in communities where opportunities are low and can act as income improvements. While this is a useful and more common way to look at developmental impacts of outsourcing, there is another way to use IT for Development. And that is through the view of offshore insourcing.
Global Software Development (GSD) is a fairly common practice in large software projects. As an arbitrage in globalized markets, it is more common practice to contracting with a wholly owned subsidiary located in another country. This is offshore insourcing. While insourcing in itself might be offshore or in-country and there has been a recent push at GM towards insourcing, offshore insourcing has many advantages that are seldom described in research. This is what I’d like to add to the research agenda for IT impact sourcing.
Titlestad, Staring and Braa (2009) highlight how the design of health information in the global south has been co-ordinated in a GSD fashion. The project’s core development on what is referred to as global release happens at the Univ of Oslo, Norway, but the requirements for this comes from different local teams based in the “global south”, as can be summarized from their paper below:
Since this is an open-source project (DHIS2), the idea of wholly-owned subsidiary might be unconventional to think about, but being part of the same global research network (HISP), each of the local nodes actually act similar to what would happen in a large global software corporation. Thus, the local software requirements, design and use happens in different countries in the “global south”, but most of the global/generic software development happens in Norway. This type of offshore insourcing is done to keep “generativity” (Gizaw, 2013) of the software intact, such that it can be “ready-for-customization” and be “flexible”, which does not have the features that are specific to a country implementation. This allows new implementers or new country to use DHIS2 without any costs to software development, although only customizations to the context need to be done. Even then, the generic features are available at a much lower cost (following the principles of libre software) for the new implementations than it would, if they were to develop the features from scratch.
How the GSD model has contributed to developmental impacts in many countries in “global south” has been discussed through many research articles. Staring & Titlestad (2008) describe the global software development and commons-based peer production of DHIS2. Through practical examples of the project they discuss the software development practices that are aimed at improving public health sector in the south. Many other researchers in the HISP network over the years have shown the developmental impacts resulting from the project and its use in developing countries. This action-research approach of the HISP network has been referred to as “Networks of Action”, where the method of action research has been shown to have sustainable developmental impact in the “global south”. Combining these concepts of Insourcing for the purpose of development using the Networks of Action approach is what should become part of the IT impact sourcing research agenda.
This blog post is just to introduce the idea that instead of focusing on outsourcing alone, “IT impact sourcing” can also cover insourcing and development through insourcing. Much more detailed analysis and discussion on this will be part of an upcoming research paper.