Onshore, nearshore or offshore software development: which is right for you?

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There are three main geographical options for managing the people element of software development projects, which can loosely be categorized into three approaches: onshoring, offshoring, and nearshoring. 

The decision of whether to choose onshore, nearshore or offshore software development depends on various factors, such as budget, project complexity, quality standards, communication requirements, and time zone differences. Since each has pros and cons, determining which to use involves understanding each option and assessing a variety of tradeoffs to find the best fit for your organization’s strategic goals. We examine these tradeoffs in this article.

Onshore software development

Onshoring generally refers to finding development and implementation resources within the organization’s local area. The exact definition varies; this usually means staffing within the same country as the main organization, though it could be broader (e.g., a geographic region spanning multiple countries, such as Latin America) or narrower (e.g., a particular U.S. state). 

Onshoring offers several significant advantages. Domestic professionals and firms are more likely to understand the context and needs of organizations in the local market, making it easier to produce relevant solutions. Working with local companies also typically makes data security easier for sensitive applications, and local talent is usually more familiar with how business is transacted than those from distant countries. Onshoring also enables better communication and collaboration because all stakeholders use the same language, are generally familiar with the same cultural references, and are typically working at roughly the same time of day.

Cost is both a pro and a con when onshoring. The cost of talent is generally higher; in fact, this is a primary motivator for offshoring instead. However, the picture is complex because a tightly knit local team can potentially produce software more quickly, which reduces costs, and there may also be less vendor management overhead required.

Working with an onshore development team can help to ensure compliance with local laws and regulations, which can be important for projects that involve sensitive or confidential data.

Talent is another complex situation when it comes to onshoring. While it is often possible to find the very best talent when only looking locally, there’s much more talent available to choose from when you cast a wider net by sourcing internationally. 

Organizations that need to deliver software performance optimization or enterprise system integrations quickly or launch new products into the market on tight deadlines typically require onshore services for the best results. Healthcare providers that need real-time access to patient records must adhere to stricter data security regulations and may need to onshore. Fortune 500 corporations with large user bases that require uninterrupted service may opt for onshore software development services that have a proven track record of success working on similar projects alongside the core team.

Offshore software development

Offshoring is a method of outsourcing development and other software-related tasks to remote employees or organizations in other countries. Offshore software development can be a sound strategic solution for organizations looking to maximize efficiency and reduce costs.

The primary benefits and drawbacks of offshoring are pretty much the opposite of the pros and cons of onshoring. The main advantage of offshoring is potential cost savings due to the lower labor costs in many parts of the world. This is, of course, well known and a primary motivator for many companies to look offshore for talent. However, as mentioned above, there can be hidden costs to consider here, such as potential increased administrative costs and greater complexity that can potentially slow projects down compared with onshoring. 

Offshoring also provides access to a broad talent pool far beyond the organization’s local area. Offshore development can provide organizations with the advantage of 24/7 development, where work is done around the clock thanks to time zone differences. This can help reduce the time it takes to complete a project. Offshoring allows organizations to scale up or down their development teams quickly based on project requirements. This flexibility can help organizations respond to changing business needs and remain agile.

Offshoring also brings with it numerous challenges that may detract from the cost benefits it provides. Having teams split among diverse time zones can make collaboration difficult and lead to project delays. Language can be a potential issue as well, though this is becoming less of an issue for English-speaking teams as English language instruction continues to spread and mature. Data security may be a concern, especially for organizations working with sensitive materials.

In addition to budgetary motivations, there are other scenarios where offshore software development may make sense. Organizations located where talent pools are limited may find offshoring necessary to locate talent. Companies that need specialized help with developing custom software may find it easier to locate the necessary expertise offshore.

Nearshore software development

Nearshoring is about balance: It is essentially an attempt to get the best of both the onshoring and offshoring worlds. The idea is to look beyond one’s local borders but to still try to stick relatively close to home. An example of nearshoring might be a U.S. company hiring developers in Mexico (as opposed to somewhere in East Asia) or a western European firm hiring from eastern Europe (as opposed to Brazil). 

Done right, nearshoring enables you to get most of the cost and talent pool benefits of offshoring with most of the locality and collaborative benefits of onshoring. That said, there is no free lunch: while you get some of the benefits of both onshoring and offshoring, you also get some of the drawbacks of each.

More specifically, nearshoring falls between onshoring and offshoring in most of the dimensions discussed earlier:

  • There are potential cost savings by looking at regions where costs are lower. The savings may not be as high as full offshoring, but they can still be significant.
  • The talent pool is broader but not as broad as the entire world, of course.
  • It is possible to choose nearshoring teams that are close to the local team’s time zone for easier collaboration and better communication.
  • Employees at headquarters may share more business cultural norms with nearshore teams than fully offshore ones.

Nearshoring provides an effective way to gain access to highly skilled resources when dealing with tight timeframes or short-term projects that cannot be handled with internal staff, all while avoiding some of the traditional challenges of offshoring across the globe.

Nearshoring will make the most sense for organizations trying to find the “middle way” in terms of the tradeoffs discussed above. It will be less appropriate for companies that most need the primary benefits of onshoring (such as local communication and/or high security standards) or offshoring (cost savings and the broadest pool of talent and specialized teams).

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