Brazil: IT's next India?

Brazil's IT workforce offers the business savvy and technical skills to make offshoring there a worthwhile option for IT's outsourcing needs

Whereas India, China, Eastern Europe, and Russia get the most attention when it comes to outsourcing IT work, Brazil is fast becoming a competitive destination, offering top-quality IT talent in an intriguing location, business-wise.

Of course, every location and workforce, including here in the States, has pluses and minuses -- be it wage scale, time zone, professionalism, or understanding of business requirements. With that in mind, Brazil offers a workforce of IT professionals worth considering for your next outsourcing endeavor.

[ For tips on landing an IT job in Brazil and beyond, see InfoWorld's guide to offshoring yourself. ]

I spoke with Antonio Moreira, CEO of Stefanini IT Solutions' North American operations. Stefanini is a Brazilian IT service provider with 7,000 employees specializing in IT consulting, software development, and integration.

Brazil: an alternative to India and China

First off, Moreira doesn't believe that choosing between, say, India and Brazil as your outsourcing location necessarily has to be an either/or proposition. Rather, he believes companies may want to mitigate risk by using alternative sites.

That said, Moreira does promote Brazil as a place with a lower turnover rate than India, and as a place where IT professionals have a high degree of technical skills and business savvy. Stefanini, for example, experiences an average of 15 percent employee turnover, Moreira says.

As for technical skills, São Paulo has the second-largest community of Java programmers outside of the United States.

Brazil also has what Moreira calls a "western" business culture, including a large financial and banking industry footprint. This means the Brazil IT workforce includes a great many mainframe programmers as well.

"Brazil has a fabulous infrastructure to support the banking industry, and it is leveraged for other industries," Moreira says.

Moreira also says that if you have a Brazilian team on a project and there is a problem that would jeopardize the delivery deadline, Brazilian IT culture is such that Brazilians will share that information with the team back in the United States immediately.

"Brazilians are more proactive," Moreria says. "If they see they are not able to meet the deadline, they do something. They won't wait until the last minute and then say they can't meet the deadline."

I spoke with two U.S. companies about their experiences working with the Brazilian outsourcer.

HNI Corp., in Muscatine, Iowa, and Idera, based in Houston, turned south to Stefanini rather than east to augment their IT staffs.

HNI, a large office furniture manufacturer, and Idera, a software company that creates tools for managing and securing Microsoft Windows Server, first turned to outsourcing because the available local talent pool in their respective areas was tight.

Rural Iowa isn't the easiest place to find IT talent or attract young, upwardly mobile IT professionals, says Mike Roelf, applications manager at HNI. Moreover, Roelf adds, HNI competes for the available talent pool with local giants such as Monsanto and John Deere.

Competition is what keeps Idera from finding sufficient IT talent in local Houston, as it draws from the same pool as do the giant oil and gas companies.

"We compete with the energy industry here, so anyone that can write code, even poorly, is hired by those companies," says Rick Pleczko, Idera's CEO.

Those are the companies' rationales for outsourcing. But why Brazil, I asked Pleczko and Roelf?

Brazil's advantage No. 1: Synchronized business hours

Time-zone overlap proved key to both HNI's and Idera's decisions to outsource to Brazil.

Idera's Plezco says that trying to manage an outsource development team across an 18- to 24-hour time difference would be a daunting task that would have to change the way Idera's teams work.

"If we had a time-zone difference, we would have to write amazingly detailed specs and hand them over and wait for a period of time for feedback and agreement before we let them build. That's not the way we work," says Plezco. Idera's development teams work iteratively. The teams are "exploring and learning as they go."

"What we needed was an outsource team that could provide us with remote people but who could embed themselves in our teams rather than having a separate team," Plezco says.

São Paulo is never more than three hours ahead of the Eastern time zone in the United States, giving Stefanini the ability to adjust hours locally to suit the customer.

For HNI's Roelf, the biggest internal barrier to a successful outsourcing partnership is developing the kind of documents, aka "artifacts," that work well with the outsourcer's environment.

With a decade's work with outsourcers in India, and having traveled to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Roelf has come to realize that outsourcing venues such as Brazil offer much fewer hurdles to collaboration in terms of the culture of IT here and abroad.

Brazil's advantage No. 2: Cultural alignment of IT

Plezco adds yet another plus to working with a near-shore country that shares many of the same cultural values.

"We didn't want the culture of 'You tell me what to build, and I will build it, even if I think it is the wrong thing to build,'" says Plezco.

Working with IT staff in Brazil has provided a different experience for Plezco. In Plezco's experience, a Brazilian team will say something like, "We understand what you are trying to do, but we think you will be better off to do this another way."

"This approach is prevalent in the Brazilian workforce," Plezco says.

Cost savings over U.S.-based talent is about two to one, says Plezco.

Both companies believe they could not have developed the number of applications they have completed if they didn't outsource.

"Brazilians embrace the opportunity to work long hours without saying a word, and the next day they are right back first thing in the morning," Plezco says.

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