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Project Manager : June July 2011
Project Manager 18 THOUGHT LEADERS Microsourcing is when small projects or fractional tasks are outsourced among a fragmented global workforce of small providers. While microsourcing isn’t yet a widely adopted business practice, it is speeding forward, according to academic Dr Rudy Hirschheim. Dr Hirschheim is the Ourso Family Distinguished Professor in the Information Systems and Decision Science Department at Louisiana State University. He recently visited Melbourne, Victoria to work with Australian researchers and PhD students on microsourcing theor y. A champion of this project management approach, Dr Hirschheim predicts that microsourcing is about to “take off ”. “The market is right for microsourcing ... we’ve had a lot of experience offshoring and we’re ready to take the next step.” Dr Hirschheim went on to explain that most large organisations have been working with offshore providers for more than 10 years and can see the potential of microsourcing. “What’s happening in the project management arena is that small types of projects, like dealing with payroll, are morphing into a larger challenge. It makes sense to divide the project into manageable chunks and bring the chunks back together at the end.” The benefits The key advantage of microsourcing is the ability to draw from a large global supply of providers, stated Dr Hirschheim. Immediacy is another benefit. “ You have a global workforce that’s ready when you need them.” There are also cost benefits, he added. Managing everything from research to product development and distribution has large overheads. Hiring skilled employees abroad “lessens the burden” as many of the microsourced providers are from low-wage nations. And with a much-publicised skills shortage in Australia, “many businesses simply don’t have the skill sets to handle certain tasks – that’s why microsourcing is ideal”, Dr Hirschheim added. The pitfalls Microsourcing presents the classic project management coordination problems associated with a dispersed workforce. It also has the potential to introduce new risks to the workplace, Dr Hirschheim warned. Due to the potential threats, larger organisations are setting up a legal framework that guarantees intellectual property isn’t used by a provider. “Fears around intellectual property will become less of an issue as we see more successful projects completed in this way. However, we can’t underestimate that this is a major challenge.” Another area of concern is miscommunication between the provider and the client. “Language could be a barrier. While major microsourcing providers are English speaking, there are some of note in Argentina, Brazil and China where communication problems could arise.” Timing is everything Microsourcing is not new, reiterated Dr Hirschheim, citing Dr Thomas Malone, Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who predicted that firms would outsource non-core functions in 1987. “But the technology just wasn’t ready ... the internet has made microsourcing viable for businesses,” Dr Hirschheim added. While it is an area that most large organisations are aware of, few have taken up microsourcing, he continued. “Some are sceptical as you often don’t know who you’re dealing with, others are wary of outsourcing project critical tasks.” The IT industry is the most active in this space. Web design and maintenance code, for example, are micro-projects that are increasingly being outsourced. “But microsourcing is morphing to encompass more than IT,” said Dr Hirschheim. Outsourcing has become part of the mainstream consciousness. Microsourcing takes this work practice one step further. IN SMALL DOSES «WE’VE HAD A LOT OF EXPERIENCE OFFSHORING AND WE’RE READY TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP»
April May 2011
Project Manager Aug Sep 2011