Outsourcing Mobile App Development to India: I Didn’t Know What to Do, So I Went to India Myself and Figured This Out!

Photo is original, from my travels to India.

To begin this piece, please note that my company, Array Web Development, does all of its own web site design and web site development work. It’s what we do, and we like it that way.

Still, from time to time, clients ask us about outsourcing things like mobile app development. To date, I never had great success with that because it’s tough to know who you’re dealing with in outsourcing situations.

While the cost savings associated with outsourcing always seem attractive to U.S. businesses, there’s often a downside to these things as well (lackluster development, communication issues, time-lag issues, etc.). In order to alleviate these problems, I did what any rational business person would do: I actually went to India myself to solve outsourcing!

This article should be of interest to any U.S. business owner interested in outsourcing IT projects to India. I’m primarily writing this for my audience on LinkedIn.com, as that’s where all of my business colleagues hang out, and for my own colleagues.

I got to thinking about outsourcing a while back, instead of simply turning down business. But, to be honest, I didn’t know where to begin. I mean, these days, anyone with a computer and Internet connection could pose as a large development firm. There would be no way I could *truly* know for sure who I was partnering with for such things, which made the prospect of outsourcing a bit of a gamble. That always made me way too nervous to proceed with outsourced projects, as client satisfaction is absolutely paramount and I won’t risk having a project fail.

I’ve long felt like this, actually, having visited India in the past and not feeling confident about outsourcing upon returning home. But, fortunately, technology keeps advancing, both domestically and abroad.

I knew that would be the case in India as well, so I flew back there, this time in search of an IT partner that could meet my company’s potential needs in some key areas that we do not specialize in (e.g., mobile app development and also other platforms that we do not actively support, such as Magento).

Setting out, my top ten criteria (not necessarily in order of importance) for a partner firm included the following:

  • They had to be a well-established business, with a solid history (excellent project examples, and a well-defined / amenable approach toward projects and client service);
  • They had to reflect a critical-mass size-wise, not just a few developers — and they had to be well organized;
  • They had to have wide-ranging capabilities;
  • They needed to have lightning-fast, broadband-type connectivity;
  • They would preferably be located in a larger city, accessible for me, in case I needed to get there;
  • They (optimally) would have the ability to have someone travel to the U.S., if needed;
  • They would have employees and staff with advanced or fluent / near-fluent English;
  • The staff and management would need to be friendly and personable, and a cultural fit with my company;
  • Their rates would be in-line with other Indian development firms, although likely just a bit higher to justify all of the other criteria listed here;
  • Additional value-added service capabilities would be a bonus, but not 100% necessary.

As this isn’t a travelogue, I’ll skip over the adventures — actually, you can read a bit of that in a previous business / sales article about buying saris! — and just get to the end result: I identified such a partner as a result of these travels, and I’ll now tell you a bit about that.

But first… You know, I got to thinking while writing this: Should I actually publish the “winning” company’s name here? I mean… I invested thousands of dollars and a couple *months* of my time into the process — and you, gentle reader, are likely a business owner or colleague looking for some highly-desired level of assurance on a coming project. There’s *considerable value* in such a recommendation, no? That’s the business-owner side of me coming out here… I can’t just give that away, not after all it took for me to establish it in the first place! So, yeah, this is a bit of a tease, I admit.

The key points here, though, are:

  • My company did the homework like few other smaller American companies have done. I personally *went* to India and met with IT companies based there. Almost universally, they were great people. A few firms didn’t meet all of my desired qualifications, and many simply weren’t quite the size I’d had in mind. A few turned out to be too close to my company’s specialties to make much sense as a partner firm. Basic things like that are mostly what knocked firms out of the running for my quest for a partner firm.
  • Based on that research, I identified a partner company that has a 10+ year history of project success. They employ more than 125 IT and project-management professionals (many of whom I personally met with) across a handful of strategic departments including PHP development, .Net development, great CMS platform specialties, iOS app development, Android development, and even a dedicated SEO team that I wasn’t expecting to see, but that was quite impressive.

One thing that surprised me a lot was the amount of white-label work being done across India. That is to say, *many* large American agencies (way, way more than most readers imagine) are outsourcing work to India under arrangements where the western agency has the development contract, but they sub out the work to India. Quite often, the work goes to India without the end client’s knowledge! (I had to swear secrecy about a few projects I was shown or told about, but a few items were *mind-blowingly* well-known American web presences, and basically no one in America knows.)

For my company, Array Web Development, it’s different. I doubt I’d be in the running for doing some Fortune 500 web site, so I can’t imagine landing a job that size, and then secretly farming it out to India. Instead, as noted, my motivation is / was because many of my clients are businesses in the $10 — $50 million range or thereabouts, and they have expanding needs beyond their initial web presence. Many would like to get into apps and feel they would like to leverage the economic benefits of outsourcing such things, if only they had a solid, trusted connection.

So, now they do. Companies can hire my company as a go-between. You get an American professional, based in Portland, with a personally-vetted team of 125 IT professionals in India, across all of the service capabilities mentioned herein. My own project management rates are basically U.S.-standard, of course, and the U.S. dollar (and Euro) still goes a *long* way in India. So, even if you’re paying larger-firm Indian rates, such as I discussed, the cost of a full-time development team in India is still shockingly low for western companies. In the end, you can enjoy a world-class end product with a significantly lower budget than would be otherwise available.

Ergo, if you’re with an American (or European) company, and this sounds like an outsourcing plan you’re more comfortable with (versus simply Googling “India IT outsourcing” and then rolling the dice on your project), then contact Array Web Development to discuss your needs!

Photo: Hanging out w/ some of developers in one of their app departments.
Photo: A little birthday-gathering in the PHP department.

Jim Dee heads up Array Web Development, LLC in Portland, OR. He’s the editor of “Web Designer | Web Developer” magazine and a contributor to many online publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com.