Earlier this week at the RIBA in London I had coffee with Ben Tellin, a trained architect and managing director of Yechte Consulting. His company, with bases in London and Bangalore, India, provides off-shore outsourcing services to architects and engineers (often adding an international dimension to the network of people already collaborating on a UK design project, for example), but I learned that Yechte had also developed some project management software to help its customers manage their project assignments (which links back to my recent look at practice management solution providers: Union Square acquires Archetype).
Globalisation and recession
Ben explained that it was often difficult to persuade small UK design firms – his target market – that they might outsource CAD, BIM or 3D visualisation work to another company, particularly if they had traditionally always managed these tasks in-house and in the UK. We talked for a while about individual mindsets, about company cultures, and about industry structures that stopped people collaborating – particularly where that collaboration required communication with workers established in another time-zone, and involved use of ICT tools. I have often stressed that successful online collaboration is 80% people and processes and only 20% technology, and Ben agreed that the main challenge was to get people to recognise some new industry realities, not to focus on the communication issues:
- “Globalisation is changing how we do things and too many SMEs don’t think about the opportunities this brings….”
- “It’s not about ‘taking our work away from us’.” Ben explained that customers often simply wanted additional resource available on tap to produce a specified set of deliverables.
- In a particularly cost-conscious marketplace, being able to outsource quality work quickly and at a competitive price can help firms win projects they might otherwise have lost.
- “You can still retain control and involvement”. Ben explained how his Bangalore team will often work UK hours so that their working days coincide with the customer’s, and how Yechte’s project management platform (a bespoke development based on an open-source application) allowed customers to see exactly what had been delivered, how much time had been used to create it, what budget remained, etc.
Managing outsourced work
After a quick look at the project management application (functionality includes document sharing, email, calendar, contacts, tasks, invoicing and reporting tools), I concluded it wasn’t competing with the sophisticated Software-as-a-Service construction collaboration technologies that are often used today by project teams. However, I did wonder if Yechte’s project control tools might be capable of integration into the dashboard of existing platforms so that design companies could manage their design processes and costs within the same system they used to collaborate with the rest of a project team. And given Bangalore’s reputation as a hub of software expertise, it is likely Yechte could quickly develop the necessary tools (Ben is also very interested in the potential of AEC applications for mobile devices, too).
Yechte’s website incorporates a blog, and has links to the company’s presences on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Groupspaces and DocStoc, plus online telephony or chat services Skype and Google Talk. These were important, Ben said, as, among other things, they provided low-cost means for customers to talk direct to colleagues at Yechte and to establish and maintain better interpersonal relationships despite the geographical distances involved.