Market Research Outsourcing: Where is it going?

By Phil Hearn, MRDC (Thailand) Ltd, Thailand.

I can’t remember for sure when the first email from India dropped into my inbox, inviting me in eloquent English to send all my data processing to India.

I was working in the UK at the time and, besides the fact that the email was poorly directed, it made an impact. The sender hadn’t appreciated that I ran a company in the UK, which specialised in high end, complex data analysis and data management services and that their claim that ‘we can make every DP task easy’ was misplaced.

The next shock came two days later. Inspired, presumably by the news of their competitor’s email blast, another invitation arrived, offering many years of experience – I think it offered 450 combined years of experience. If this is six people, I cynically thought, they will be far too old to help me.

Nonetheless, the day of outsourcing had arrived – and, things would always be different. The US market was not surprisingly the first to be tapped, as Western Europe waited to see whether it would work. I am no position to say whether it was a success in the earlier days. There were comments of horror stories, but, I suspect much went well, as both client and supplier learnt how to have a distance romance.

For my own amusement, I have googled “When did outsourcing to India start” and used the “I’m feeling lucky” button. It took me to a blog, which pointed me to www.totalcostoferrors.com. It made a great point. Outsourcing is not about doing it more cheaply, it is about improving quality and saving money.

Of course, since the early move to India, things have changed. Whilst India and, more latterly, China have become the outsourcing capitals of the world, other nations are jumping on the bandwagon. India has suffered from increasing costs – as much as 25% in one year reportedly, as staff retention and operation costs have caused some problems. Other countries have staked their claim with the argument that they can speak English just as well.

For my part, my company, MRDC, has set up a outsource centre in Thailand to enter and manage data. Why Thailand? Why not? I have found the staff highly motivated and work together as an incredibly cohesive team – something that does not always come easily in most parts of the world. And, now I have joined the ranks of those outsourcing, albeit in a small way, as we have tapped into the programming skills, which have been grown rapidly in Vietnam.

To me, I concur with my Google friend at www.totalcostoferrors.com – it’s not just cost. Sometimes, getting a project out of the door to a company whose sole business is doing that task, means the job will get done. It means no delays, no waiting for resource, no day-to-day concerns – and, it comes at a reasonable price.

Several countries are starting to move into the outsourcing business – Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia can offer much, even though India and China are seemingly still the big players. It widens the possibilities and means that the company with just the right skills and business organisation can become available – and, not at a premium price.

The market research industry has been reticent to discuss the pros and cons of outsourcing. It is difficult for honesty to prevail. Major research agencies that have set up their own outsource centres in many cases are unlikely to admit they have made mistakes. Those who have outsourced large amounts of work are unlikely to be quick to reveal their secrets. And, the companies, which are receiving the work in India and around the region, are obviously going to “talk up” their business. Is it time for an intelligent debate? I, for one, would like to know what works and what doesn’t work and how it can improve – and share my experiences.

I suppose it won’t be long before an email arrives from India telling me that even better prices can offered now that the Indian company is outsourcing to somewhere cheaper? But, that is not the point. Is it?