Friday, September 28, 2012

Insourcing for Development – A Networks of Action Approach to GSD

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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

NetCAT 7.2 goodies and 7.3 just got started

The Netbeans Community Acceptance Testing (NetCAT) for v7.2 concluded at the end of July 2012. It was a very productive testing process for the Netbeans community. Details about the NetCAT 7.2 are here. Beyond improving the quality of our favourite IDE, depending on how much you have contributed, Oracle also gives out goodies to the participants.


The goodies I received this time around includes a very large towel, a nice t-shirt, 2GB memory stick, notebook and pen, an acknowledgement letter detailing my contributions and points to the program and this new Oracle-branded mint!! Strong mint!! At least from the envelope, Sun is still alive… Hurray!!

If you’d like to get similar goodies or just improve the quality of Netbeans, participate in the NetCAT 7.3 which started 10 days back. Its not too late to participate. Signup to the mailing list and add yourself to this wiki page. You’ll get points for participating in discussions over email/forums, reporting bugs, participating in surveys and following a manual testing script by being part of Tribes that test specific functionality. So its not very hard… you just have to simply use the daily or beta builds and give feedback to the developers. Go for it!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Limits to growth?–waiting for the 40yr update

While dabbling around arguments on how development hasn’t reached everyone, especially looking at the cases in India and Gujarat, I’ve also been reading the book Limits to growth – the 30yr update (thanks dada!!). This post is mainly to say that I desire to read the next update of this masterpiece of work that has been updated over the years since it was first released in 1972. Hunter Lovins says “If you only read one book…make this it!”. I’d say the next one “40-yr update” will be more interesting, given the global financial crisis!!

Just last night I watched, Michael Moore’s exaggerated critique on Wall Street – “Capitalism – A Love Story” and that made me think how different would the world be today, if as the movie puts it, we had a love story with Democracy instead of Capitalism. Instead of Socialism, he suggests it should be called Democracy… I wonder though if economics can be simply governed through a set of political principles. I know Adam Smith talked about political economy some centuries ago, but was his perspective too simplistic to look at the globalized world that we live in today? Would we be able to label China as a non-democratic Capitalism or FDI in India as global capitalism and not Socialism? Its hard to argue for any of these labels; to look through Marx or Smith’s worldview. Because in my opinion, the complexities around globalized economies makes it much harder to box political economies any more. The US Wall street has much more effect on the farmer suicides in Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh than what Smith or pure Capitalists or free-enterprisers would have us believe. As Meadows said in 1972, we have “overshot”. We haven’t prepared ourselves better before globalizing. The three causes as they say for overshoot are the same, whether personal or planetary -

  • There is growth, acceleration and rapid change
  • Some limit, some barriers beyond which the system may not safely go
  • Delay or mistake in perceptions and responses that strive to keep the system in limits

Growth is believed to be necessary for employment, upward mobility and technical advancement. For places with poverty, growth is believed to provide resources out of poverty. Growth can solve some problems, but it creates others. That is primarily because of limits and the book highlights the limits very nicely. The book was written 10yrs back before sub-prime crisis, debt problems etc. that have affected nearly all of the world’s interconnected populations. Greed, overshoot, delay in perception or response, whatever you may call it… it has highlighted that there are limits to growth and how we can’t sustain this single-minded approach to achieve growth

I’m a bit sceptical on how World3 (their model) bases itself on the central assumption that population and capital are structurally capable of exponential growth. They cite examples of different countervailing pressures that they’ve added as feedback to the model, but I’m less convinced that they’ve had enough considerations on emigration, where people are moving back to growing economies as soon as things have started to slowdown in rich countries.

What is brilliantly highlighted in the book - that growth in the way in which it has happened since 1930s has created enormous disparity. A fourteenfold increase in world industrial output since 1930s has created more disparity and hasn’t ended poverty. Another fourteenfold increase (if possible with earthly limits) would not change it either if we continued in the same way… Running the system harder or faster will not change the pattern as long as the structure is not revised. And over the last 10yrs, since they wrote the book, if anything, we see increasing disparity and faster running on this non-sustainable system.

While the book and World3 model supposes many ways to collapse, it also in Chapter 7, shows a model that can lead the world to not collapse. They call this “Sustainable System”. In Chapter 8, they suggest “Tools for the Transition to Sustainability”. They mention that “Everywhere we find folks who care about the earth, about other people, about the welfare of children and grandchildren”. Not just their own, but of others. The problem is are these folks doing enough to change the model? Are we so many and doing so much as to move towards sustainability? They say the next revolution has to be Sustainability, just as the previous 2 revolutions were Agricultural and Industrial. I wonder though will all those who have not been touched by the previous 2 revolutions be able to “leap-frog” to the third revolution? What tools do we have to reach a sustainable system – Visioning, Networking, Truth-telling, Learning, Loving. Sounds like the Buddha??

Though there is no way of knowing for sure, other than to try it.