Utilising the world-class software developers and companies in South Africa offers several benefits over other offshore destinations or to organisations looking to offshore from the US, Europe and Australia—the main one of which is financial gain.
Typically, offshore locations such as South Africa, India and the Philippines have a lower cost of living than the US, European and Australian markets, and therefore development resources are often cheaper in those countries.
Obviously, cost saving at the expense of quality is not recommended—and that is the critical point. Whether an organisation outsources software development to a local provider or an offshore provider, it still has to ensure those with whom it deals are capable of the task. Offshoring to a highly competent, professional software development company with a proven track record of delivery, and a team of developers who are highly qualified and experienced, is the only way that an organisation can achieve the financial benefit associated with offshoring without sacrificing quality.
In most cases, to be successful the software development process needs to be iterative with high levels of communication, trust and collaboration between a client and the provider. Thus, the two major areas of concern when offshoring are communication and trust.
Although tools such as Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts have made global communication much easier, there can still be barriers around language and culture that hinder the success of a project. Working across different time zones, and perhaps even to different working hours, can exacerbate these problems.
If a company can physically see its outsourced development team and can work directly with them, trust is built up quicker and collaboration becomes easier. Obviously, this is more difficult in an offshore model, but there are measures an organisation can take to mitigate this and develop trust. These include talking to the development team members regularly and meeting with them in person before the project starts. Starting small is a good tactic; if the software company uses an agile approach, the engagement can be ended relatively quickly if that becomes necessary. Exploring references around how a company’s software teams operate is also critical to building trust.
On any project, cost is important—and although South Africa’s development resources are generally at a lower cost than others, this cost saving does not result in a lower level of service and output quality. While South African software development may be more expensive than that from India and other parts of Asia, there are a number of factors that still make it a stronger proposition in terms of the ability to deliver quality.
The business language in South Africa is English, and thus communication problems associated with offshoring software development elsewhere do not apply. While in some countries companies often have to shield their developers from clients because of the language barrier, many South African software companies can have integrated technical and account management teams, where the whole team has strong enough business communications skills to deal with the client personally and obtain project information directly.
The South African business culture is similar to that found in the US, the UK or Australia. South Africans are resourceful and entrepreneurial, and the country’s developers generally thrive on solving business problems rather than producing code for the sake of it. They are usually willing to give input and challenge thinking, and do not need detailed instructions to complete simple tasks. Generally, they are capable of communicating, showing initiative and taking responsibility. These are common issues associated with outsourcing to India (the most common offshore software development destination).
A quick Google search on the topic indicates there are some fundamental cultural differences that impede quality of service in Indian offshoring, primarily around developers there not showing initiative as a result of the country’s more hierarchical and instructional culture. A by-product of this is lower attrition rates and better retention of knowledge.
South Africa has a relatively central time zone (GMT+2) and therefore has some, if not most, of the workday overlapping with foreign markets. It also directly shares a working day with western Europe. This means communication delays are less impactful.
The country also has a solid legal system that respects privacy and intellectual property rights.
With all these advantages, one would assume offshoring to South African software development companies is common practice. However, South Africa is not currently seen as the preferred software development destination. This may largely be because people outside of the country do not know there is a great deal of software engineering talent here. An assumption is also made that in South Africa, and Africa in general, there is poor ICT infrastructure—which is no longer true.
In certain other areas, there is a ‘tech bubble’ that has resulted in a vast number of people flooding the market who are not qualified or trained well enough to develop software. Although our country does have a small talent pool, this is not necessarily a bad thing. In this case, a small market means high levels of specialisation and dedication to the craft. South African software developers usually have to be very good at what they do in order to stay in the market.
A large part of why there is a skills shortage in South Africa is down to the country’s history and demographics. However, the number of people enrolling in software-related courses at universities here is increasing each year. There are also several local private-sector companies that are investing much time, effort and money into further widening this pipeline through bursaries, scholarships and raising awareness around the industry.
South Africans have developed a number of technological enhancements over the years, such as the CT/CAT scan, the world’s first digital laser, the full-body X-ray scanner, the speed gun used in sports such as cricket and tennis, APS therapy systems and computerised ticketing—all of which have significant software development components.
While there may be a reluctance to invest in South Africa, it should certainly not be as a result of a lack of technical ability, communication barriers or cultural differences. The success stories speak volumes in highlighting the immense talent found in the country’s software development companies.