Globalization, engineering, and conspiracy theories

Back in March of 2008, I wrote a little piece on engineering outsourcing to places like India and China. I basically proposed that American companies slashing in-house engineering expertise were killing their futures to make the bottom line look better in the short term.

I may have to rethink that position. I got a great book for Christmas this year, The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman. Friedman rips the covers off the existing trend towards globalization. It’s not about Indian call centers or unskilled Chinese slave labor. And it’s not coming a few years from now.

It is now. I bet most all goods and services you consume have a global component. You just don’t know it.

I grew up Henryville, Indiana, a rural town near Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve baled more hay, dug more post-holes, and cut more firewood than I care to remember! Henryville was a typically isolated, apple pie, conservative, “buy American” place. I’m sure some of that colors my attitudes to this day. And, that explains my initial, knee-jerk reaction to engineering outsourcing.

On the other hand, a teenage summer in Holland and 2 college summers in Russia did help break through some of my natural, nationalistic prejudice. I’m also a capitalist at heart. So, when I see people getting ahead based on merit and determination, it makes me smile. And, that goes for people in both India and Indiana!

So, here’s the deal. It’s useless to cry about engineering jobs going overseas. They aren’t going overseas. They’re going online. In just the last few years, the technologies enabling remote work-teams have gelled. Just a few years ago, it was all about manufacturing moving to China. Now it’s about leveraging skilled, online workers in low cost locations to outsource any repetitive, structured piece of your business.

For Engineering processes, the next big wave will be a massive shift to the outsourcing of CAD detailing and documentation. You see that quite often today when an American company opens an Indian design office. I predict the trend will grow to complete outsourced solutions. We’ll be hiring Indian companies to handle all the mundane documentation pieces as a service. No different than hiring UPS to take over massive pieces of your product distribution.

As online collaboration (wow, that sounds so buzz-wordy) becomes a transparent reality, it will increasingly not matter where the members of your team are located. As R&D responsibilities leak out into this virtual workplace, we’ll see a shift in attitudes toward 3D geometry. Increasingly, it will be intolerable for 3D IP to be locked away in proprietary formats. The speed of business will not allow for it.

In 8 years, an Indian design expert will be video conferencing with his German project manager and Ukrainian FEA analyst. They’ll all laugh about about the days when you could only open and edit 3D geometry in the CAD system where it was originally authored.

It will sound a lot like later this year- when we’ll all say, “Ha! Remember when only iPods were compatible with iTunes?”

I’m excited to see where all this is headed. My brother-in-law is a conspiracy theorist. He’s always telling me about the Bilderberg Group and the one-world conspiracy. That’s all a bunch of hogwash, but I have to chuckle when I envision a totally flat business earth in my lifetime. We’ll have some form of global governance, though it won’t be in the nefarious way he predicts. I can’t help but smile at the thought of truly capitalistic forces working to level the global standard of life. I can see Lenin now…
rolling in his glass coffin!

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  • http://www.derrekcooper.com/ derrek cooper

    dude, great post. With a risk of sounding “unAmerican”, I think globalization is here and ain’t going away. I see globalization and outsourcing as being a bit different.

    American companies should be embracing globalization and spending time on collaboration, communication tools as well as the infrastructure required to maximize the luxury of globalization.

  • http://www.derrekcooper.com derrek cooper

    dude, great post. With a risk of sounding “unAmerican”, I think globalization is here and ain’t going away. I see globalization and outsourcing as being a bit different.

    American companies should be embracing globalization and spending time on collaboration, communication tools as well as the infrastructure required to maximize the luxury of globalization.

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