Honey, I outsourced the kids!


Outsourcing in the 21st century

YOU come home after a long, hard day at work. You have a truck-load of paperwork saved to disk to attend to and find bills in the post. To top it all you find that your offspring have broken a window and realise that tomorrow is your wife’s birthday. You manage to write up a quick to-do list before passing out from exhaustion.

Today is your day off – thank God! You crawl out of bed at 11am and check your email in the hopes that you’ve won the lottery or a free vacation to Mauritius (one that isn’t a scam). Instead you find an email displaying the list of tasks you typed out the night before – all marked as “done.”

Before you can pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming, your wife enters the room, embraces you passionately, and thanks you for the e-card and the wonderful birthday gift that arrived that morning. “This also arrived today”, she says as she hands you a copy of The World is Flat – a book you’ve always wanted, that you so happened to include in your to-do list. There are people fixing the window in the living room and in the post are confirmation of payment letters from the municipality.

Then you remember: in your dazed state last night you still managed to send off your to-do list to your new remote executive assistant living in Bangalore.

Operation Outsource
Operation Outsource

Outsourcing, which is fast becoming a popular trend in the US, is the equivalent of having a personal assistant, only these are more of a virtual breed.

Online companies such as GetFriday and Brickworks offer to carry out your routine and mundane tasks – giving you the freedom to pursue the more important things in your life. Based in countries such as India and China, these companies have young graduates in cubicles – backed by a network of professional talent, who will perform just about any task you ask of them (provided that it can be performed online). An excerpt from GetFriday reads:

“At GetFriday, we can handle almost any task, business or personal, that doesn’t require our physical presence. If it can be carried out over the internet, via email, fax or telephone, we can handle it.”

There seems to be no limit to these tasks that can be done online. Booking holidays, secretarial work, paying bills and taxes, online shopping, creation of legal documents, making appointments, finding you a parking spot in another city before you arrive, employing the services of electricians or plumbers in your area, website maintenance, weather reports, chartering diet plans, ordering groceries, sending apology emails and flowers to your husband or wife, and even updating your blog, are all on the list of options.

One American outsourcer, A. Jacobs, describes how he “outsourced his child” by getting one of his virtual assistants to read his 7 year old a bedtime story over the phone. He describes a close bond between his top Indian assistant named Honey, which did away with his worry of trusting his personal affairs to someone he had never even met.

Outsourcing has become known as an online concierge service and is poised to transform every industry in America, from law to banking to accounting. However, work-driven individuals have started employing such services to perform all their personal errands, which all get done while they sleep.

The idea is that if someone else is busy plugging away on the lower-end tasks it frees Americans to work on more higher-end, creative projects. It’s a case of the rich getting richer and the poor…getting a little richer too.

The cost of outsourcing varies according to the company, yet it seems to be fixed at around $1000 (R8000) a month, which is a bargain for wealthy Americans who have are cash-rich and time-starved. The US currently has a $20 billion overseas outsourcing industry, yet management consultants and economists say it’s likely to evolve into an even larger niche.

To put the cost-effectiveness of outsourcing into perspective it helps to look at maths tutoring as one particular service. In the U.S., tutoring services charge $40 to $60 an hour for tutoring whereas some skilled tutors in India are paid $2 to $3 an hour. Furthermore, $20 in India is enough to buy a week’s groceries for two people.

The idea of outsourcing does beg the question of corporate responsibility in terms of working conditions and fair wages and there is obviously much room for large corporations to abuse the system. Yet do you think anyone really cares? I think not.

Wealthy Americans may have the financial ability to outsource their responsibilities to so called developing countries, yet cases of outsourcing are perhaps illustrating their lack of efficiency. It’s just a shame that the efficiency of countries like India and China is been used to serve the power elite rather than their own economies.

Now I’m not one to stereotype and label people, yet from this little insight into efficiency, I say we should have an Indian woman as president! Perhaps Honey would be interested in a promotion (if becoming president of South Africa is in any way a promotion).

Useful links:
My Outsourced Life by A.J. Jacobs
Outsourcing Your Life in the Wall Street Journal

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