Why Slalom is doing more technical work in the United States
September 18, 2014
For years, consulting firms have helped companies move technical work from the United States to other countries, such as India and the Philippines.
Now, some consultants are bringing that same type of work back—and finding plenty of eager customers.
In just two years, Slalom’s national delivery team—which does technical and strategic project work out of two U.S. locations—has grown to nearly 300 employees and come to account for nearly 13 percent of the consultancy’s total revenue.
The model is so popular that Slalom is planning to add two more U.S. locations in the next 12 months. In addition, the company is working with several Fortune 500 clients who are interested in building their own dedicated national delivery centers.
Slalom also is considering eventually adding a regional team in Europe to support its recent expansion there.
“This has so far exceeded my dreams of what’s possible,” said Mike Cowden, who was a partner with the consultancy Accenture before joining Slalom in 2011 and launching the national delivery team.
It’s a model that’s resonating with clients frustrated by years of wrangling with time zone differences and other bureaucratic headaches that come from coordinating teams who work on different continents. What’s more, Slalom says its teams are as much as five times more productive than offshore teams, because they can do things like respond in real time and participate in hands-on meetings.
For example, when a major retailer wanted Slalom's help transitioning to using iPads instead of traditional checkout stations, it helped to have a team in the room during brainstorming sessions, and talking to employees about how they who would use the product in the field.
“That’s the kind of work where you’ve got to be right there with the people,” Cowden said.
Communications, other advantages
The domestic delivery approach is a significant switch from the more common model of the past few years, in which large consulting firms were brought in to move this type of technical and strategic work overseas. Slalom executives say that model works for some projects, but it’s not one size fits all.
“There are a lot of problems that need to be solved that don’t involve 100 people 10,000 miles away,” said Ian Cook, managing director with Slalom’s national delivery team.
There has been plenty of discussion about manufacturing companies moving operations back to the United States for cost and convenience, but efforts to do the same with technology work have received less attention. Harry Moser, head of the Reshoring Initiative, which helps companies bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States, said there are fewer examples of technical jobs being relocated back to the U.S.—but it is happening.
One common scenario he hears about is companies who set up technical operations in rural U.S. locations instead of other countries. That’s cheaper than hiring workers in a high-cost place like Silicon Valley, but still close enough to big cities that clients can easily visit and communicate with the team.
Some major companies also are embracing domestic technology hubs. Last month, General Motors opened the last of four technical innovation centers that are part of an effort to do more of its information technology work in the United States, and within the company.
Cowden and Cook say there’s nothing inherently wrong with using experts in other countries on some projects, like keeping an existing system up and running, for example. In fact, Cowden said he will happily build a new technology or system for a company, and then hand it off to an overseas team for day-to-day maintenance.
“We’re not trying to replace outsourcing,” he said.
But, he said, it’s rare that clients ask them to transition work like that.
“We have far more examples where we are bringing huge chunks of work back onshore,” he said.
Recruiting—and retaining—the best workers
For Slalom, there’s another big advantage to building a large team of up-and-coming technology experts. It’s a way for Slalom to snag, and keep, early-career workers with a lot of potential to become the company’s next leaders.
Cowden said he first got the idea for the national delivery team when his own son started programming. That’s when Cowden realized he’d spent the last 10 years of his career sending overseas the very same type of entry-level jobs his son might one day be looking for.
The national delivery team looks for promising recruits who are one to three years out of college, and gives them a more senior manager who can act as a mentor.
Slalom’s model has been appealing to younger workers who have struggled to find promising, career-track jobs in the wake of the recent recession and difficult economic recovery.
After graduating from college in 2009, Jordan Charette worked as a car salesman, a bus boy, and a technical support specialist before finally getting a job in his field. When he landed a job at Slalom a year later, in 2012, he said he immediately thrived on the mentoring and interest in his career path. He’s already received his first promotion, to senior engineer.
“I feel like there’s a lot of support and a lot of respect,” he said.