Setting up the Engagement Properly and Constantly Rotating Freeborders Personnel, Help Travel Company Compete | Article
When you are outsourcing a huge application development and maintenance (ADM) project to another geography, how do you create teamwork and maintain momentum? Interval International and Freeborders believe there are two factors: constantly rotating the key offshore people onshore and taking the time to prepare in advance.
In 2008 Interval International, a vacation exchange company based in Miami, Florida, realized it was time to replace its core applications that were now over 20 years old. The IT team developed a strategic plan calling for a rewrite using service-oriented architecture (SOA).
Why Interval outsourced
According to Marie Lee, Interval’s CIO, the vacation exchange company has “a highly skilled IT team” in place. Nonetheless, Interval decided to outsource pieces of this mammoth project for several reasons. One was to decrease overall development cost. Another was to augment staff. ”We needed specific technical skills for this project,” specifically Java Web services, she explains. Another reason to outsource was to quickly ramp up a development team.
Interval selected Freeborders primarily because it had experience successfully completing large projects. “We wanted to leverage their experience, especially in Agile development,” adds Lee.
In addition, a related company had used Freeborders’s ADM skills previously, so the service provider made the short list. “We chose them after they won a bake-off at a sister company,” recalls Lee.
How the partners structured the offshored relationship
Currently, Freeborders has three employees on site in Miami. A development team of 20 others work in China. Another five handle quality assurance in China.
At the outset, Interval spent three weeks working with members of the Freeborders leadership team to “familiarize them with our methodologies, tools, and systems and the way we work,” says Lee. Thereafter, the two partners created a road map around both people and standards.
Lee says the three on-site resources are “critical” because “they work with us to develop and ensure the right processes, structure, and tools are in place to effectively communicate and work with the team in China.”
Interval took the three Freeborders employees to Miami at the beginning of the engagement to participate in developing the architecture road map and standards. “During that time they became a key part of our technical team,” she notes.
At the same time Interval gave the trio extensive training in their business and the vacation ownership industry.
After the training, one of the on-site resources returned to China to train the Freeborders team there. Then he returned to Miami to spearhead the relationship.
Lee says the in-house team was “open to making changes to the way we work.” She says it didn’t take long for key members of her team and the Freeborders employees “to jointly work together to fix problems.”
The Miami staff was flexible. Lee says some of the IT staff rearranged their schedules so they were at the office at night allowing them to work directly with the Freeborders team in China.
To foster the feeling of teamwork deeper into the ranks, Freeborders routinely sends two or three of its team members to Miami for 90 days. Rotating people through the Interval offices “removes the cultural gaps, improves communication, and creates teamwork,” Lee reports.
Jim Reesing, Executive Vice President, Global Accounts and Operations, Freeborders, says this relationship works because “there is a joint spirit of involvement.”
He also praises Interval. “We both invested in getting ready. Many buyers don’t want to take the time to map the processes or set up a governance process because they don’t see anyone writing code. And they certainly don’t want to pay for travel to China,” he explains. He appreciates that Interval “invested up front in getting the engagement off to the right start.”
Replacing the application in phases
The buyer chose to replace the applications in phases. The first phase included two pieces: rearchitecting its membership system, which keeps track of two million member families, and replacing a service desk application that its own call center staff as well as the resort developer staff worldwide uses.
“The Freeborders staff has a high level of commitment to the project,” says Lee. “When my staff works nights or weekends, Freeborders employees work right along with them.”
Lee says the key benefit has been reduction in development costs. “They are one-third less than what our staff costs,” she calculates. She appreciates the “agility in resource planning.” Freeborders is quick to ramp up when necessary.
The service provider is also able to find the special skills Interval needs. “We are able to tap into the right talent at the right price to support our buyers,” says Reesing. “This is critical when you have a project as large as ours,” the CIO adds.
The fact that they are 10 times zones away is also a benefit. “We now have a 24-hour IT development shop,” she reports. Interval staff routinely gives the Chinese assignments before they leave at night and expects to find the challenges resolved when they log onto their computers in the morning.
Outsourcing this portion of the project has made the company more “nimble” and accelerated the development time. Lee says Interval is equipped to bring new products and services to the market quicker, an advantage in the uber-competitive travel market. The CIO believes these new programs will enrich the vacation ownership experience and allow Interval to share services with other third parties such as its resort developer clients. “That should improve the overall user experience,” she says.