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IBM to Export Highly Paid Jobs to India and China


Ohanian Comment: This is an education story. Remember how now-retired IBM chief and Achieve chief (and Clinton Goals 2000 pal) Lou Gerstner castigated schools for not producing enough high tech workers? Note the terminology: Global Sourcing. U. S. schools are urged to educate workers for the global economy--so their jobs can be global sourced.

In one of the largest moves to "offshore" highly paid U.S. software jobs, International Business Machines Corp. has told its managers to plan on moving the work of as many as 4,730 programmers to India, China and elsewhere.

The unannounced plan, outlined in company documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal, would replace thousands of workers at IBM facilities in Southbury, Conn., Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Raleigh, N.C., Dallas, Boulder, Colo., and elsewhere in the U.S. Already, the managers have been told, IBM has hired 500 engineers in India to take on some of the work that will be moved.

IBM calls its plan, first presented internally to some midlevel managers in October, "Global Sourcing." It involves people in its Application Management Services group, a part of IBM's giant global-services operations, which comprise more than half IBM's 315,000 employees.

IBM's plan, still under development, will take place over a number of months in stages. About 947 people are scheduled to be notified during the first half of the coming year that their work will be handled overseas in the future. It isn't yet clear how many of the other 3,700 jobs identified as "potential to move offshore" in the IBM documents will move next year or some time later.

However, the fate of some of the targeted jobs isn't certain: IBM managers still haven't figured out whether all of the work the jobs represent can be performed just as well abroad. The jobs involve updating and improving software for IBM's own business operations.

Some workers are scheduled to be informed of the plan for their jobs by the end of January. After that they will be expected to train an overseas replacement worker in the U.S. for several weeks. The IBM workers marked for replacement have 60 days to find another job inside the company, likely to be a difficult task at a time when IBM is holding down hiring.

IBM declined to comment on what it called "internal presentations." It said that most of its growth in developing countries "will result from winning new contracts," and that U.S. hiring next year will equal or exceed 2003 levels.

The plan shows how even as the information-technology industry starts to recover from a two-year slump, relentless pressure to cut costs is pushing more operations offshore. The trend looms as one of the most serious long-term threats to U.S. employment and labor. Countries with lower-paid workers are no longer siphoning just unskilled or blue-collar jobs from U.S. workers; they now are scooping up skilled work from U.S. companies on a large scale.

By the end of the coming year, one out of every 10 jobs within U.S.-based computer-services companies will move to emerging markets, as will one of every 20 technology jobs in other corporations, according to tech-industry researcher Gartner Inc. Another research firm, International Data Corp., recently estimated that by 2007, 23% of all information-technology services jobs will be offshore, up from 5% this year. Recently, computer-services titan Accenture said that based on current trends it expects to more than double its current work force in India during the coming 12 months to 10,000 from 4,300.

Unlike low-wage manufacturing, the U.S. computer-services jobs to be moved overseas by IBM typically pay $75,000 to $100,000 or more a year, according to one person familiar with the operations. In contrast, hiring a software engineer with a bachelors or even a masters degree from a top technical university in India may cost $10,000 to $20,000 annually, analysts say.

While most companies with software-maintenance and development businesses have been expanding their operations in India, many have maintained that the operations largely represent increases in technology employment rather than replacements for their U.S. workers. For example, Google Inc., the online search leader, said recently it plans to open an engineering center in India early next year as part of an expansion. (See article1.)

IBM has been a multinational since the 1920s, with operations in India for 50 years. But until recently most of its software has been designed in the U.S. and exported to other countries. Doug Elix, senior vice president in charge of IBM's global-services operation, recently said that more than half of IBM's workers are overseas and "we've been leveraging skills globally for as long as we've been in business." IBM says this year it has added more workers in the U.S. than it has overseas, but Mr. Elix says doing some work overseas "in many cases is required to be competitive."

Despite the technology slump IBM has been consistently profitable and has been gaining market share. What's more, the Armonk, N.Y., company is still widely regarded as one of the best places to work in the U.S.

Still, IBM is sensitive to political and employee criticism of its overseas moves. Last summer, union activists obtained a tape of a conference call led by Tom Lynch, IBM's director for global-employee relations, to discuss the delicate issue of offshoring. In that call Mr. Lynch warned other human-resources managers that offshoring "is going to raise a lot of tensions," and is likely to foster union activity at historically non-union IBM. In particular, he predicted "to train someone to do a job that you know will no longer be yours" raises issues of "dignity and fairness" that unions might exploit.

Lee Conrad, organizer of Alliance at IBM, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America union that is trying to organize IBM workers, says "we know it's going on, but getting workers to talk about it is hard," in part because IBM workers worry about being fired. He said IBM "keeps it very close. They don't give any numbers."

Neither the U.S. nor individual states have prohibited the use of outsourced foreign workers for any government contracts. However, union activists say they are making efforts to persuade state lawmakers to take action.

But Ned May, an analyst with IDC who studies outsourcing, says political moves aren't likely to have much effect. He predicts that services companies will keep many jobs in the U.S. but he says it's clear that most of the job growth in the industry will come offshore. He says there is a race among services firms to move jobs abroad "to capture the extra margin sooner. There's a competitive spiral."

A former IBM executive in India, Pawan Kumar, now chairman of closely held vMoksha Technologies PLC, an outsourcing firm there, says IBM has 9,000 people in India and plans to increase that to 20,000 by the end of 2005. Mr. Kumar says the cost advantages of hiring Indian programmers aren't as large as the salary differentials imply, because building in India requires more investment in infrastructure and more spending on supervision to smooth communications between U.S. customers and workers in India. He says the true costs amount to about $100,000 in the U.S. and $50,000 in India for people to do the same work.



— William M. Bulkeley
Wall Street Journal
IBM to Export Highly Paid Jobs to India and China

2003-12-15

http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB107145780218004900,00.html

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