How to dip your feet into offshore custom development of medical/clinical software

November 21, 2005

If you’ve been intrigued with the offshore outsourcing movement in the software development industry (such as R&D and operations/maintenance going to Ireland, India, and China) then you’re not alone. With everyone in healthcare IT looking to cut back on costs, it’s only natural that CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs would start to entertain offshore outsourcing options.

But, where do you start? Who can you trust?

I’ve been using an auction-style service known as RentACoder. Their business model is simple: if you need software related work done you create an account, describe what you want done, and within 24 to 48 hours you will have a bunch of developers from all over the world bid on your project. You take your time to decide on what you want and RentACoder (RAC) will provide ratings, previous work history, etc. Once you’ve selected a “coder” RAC will escrow the project funds and tell the developer to initiate work; during the project you can keep contact directly with the developer and through the RAC website’s messaging system. Their website isn’t the friendliest in the world and the messaging system is a bit difficult but if you dispute anything they want you to document it through their system to ensure non-repudiation.

Once you’re happy with the work the developer does RAC will release your money from escrow — if there are any disputes, they’ll help resolve them. And, best of all, it doesn’t cost you anything other than the project work (the developers pay RAC from their fee). And your money is generally safe since RAC is Florida-based (you’ll have someone local to sue if necessary).

I’ve used RAC successfully now for many months and have completed many small projects. Although I’ve not done anything medium- or large-scale with it yet, though. Like most offshore work the communications process is critical: if you can’t fully describe what you need done and don’t stay on top of the work on a regular basis you’ll get unexpected results. The value of the output is directly proportional to your specifications and management time. The more you give, the better the results. The less you give…well you get what you pay for!

The one thing I was worried about originally was that US-based healthcare IT experience offshore is hard to come by; and, yes, people offshore don’t really understand how our US-based models work. But, with proper specifications I’ve been able to get around many of the industry knowledge issues. But many still remain. Again, it’s all about communications.

I recommend most of you at least give it a shot — it’s possible that it will save you some money (but not necessarily time). If you learn the system it can save you lots of money. Assuming you know exactly what needs to be done (nothing really innovative) RAC can probably save you 50% off your project costs but will take a little longer to finish. If you don’t spend decent time on specifications, though, it’ll end up taking more time and more money than doing it locally.

Once you give them a try (or if you’ve already tried them), let me know how it goes.

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