Information Technology 6.3. Outsourcing Information Technology: Marketplaces and Job Boards

While an outsource directory gives you access to IT outsource firms, your firm may only require a one-off project, such as a computer program or database. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, you may require a company or just a freelancer working out of his mother’s house. There are two alternatives open to you: a job board or an RFP marketplace.

A job board is essentially an online classified advertising service devoted mainly to jobs and gigs. Whether you’re interested in a long-term or one-off solution, a job board is about putting your ad online and then sifting through the responses. To be successful, a job board posting should have the following elements:

  • Detailed description of the job and technology involved―everything you expect the outsource vendor or freelancer to perform should be in the ad. For instance, if you need a database created, specify the technology (MySQL, SQL Server, Access, Oracle, whatever) and what you expect your vendor to do (design, develop, build a middleware interface, etc.).
  • Request a resume with references―once you hire vendors or freelancers, it’s too late to find out they don’t know how to do what you need or they’re just plain flakes who disappear when Mom kicks them out of the house. You want a resume that shows training and experience in the technology you’re outsourcing; the resume absolutely must have references related to work in that technology. An outsource company should provide you with a client list and include at least three references from that client list. The better companies will specify the work they have done for some of those clients.
  • Samples―ask for links to or descriptions of similar projects the individual has worked on. If it’s an outsource company, it should supply an online portfolio with links to most of the projects in that portfolio.
  • Rates―no vendor worth their salt can quote a job before working up detailed requirements; however, you should inquire about their rates and obtain a rough estimate.

An RFP marketplace is a Web-mediated engine that allows you to post RFPs (Requests for Proposals) and permits vendors and freelancers to respond with bids. The RFP engine tracks the bids and all the associated materials specific to the one RFP. The best RFP marketplaces also include ratings and feedback systems―in evaluating bids, you can monitor how other clients rated and commented on the work of that particular vendor. Some RFP marketplaces also include an invoicing and payment mechanism and will mediate disputes.

In general, the same rules apply to RFP marketplaces as job boards, except that RFP marketplaces make some of these rules unnecessary. For instance, many RFP marketplaces will provide profiles, client lists, and links to samples by vendor companies. Some will even provide references in the vendor’s profile.

Most RFP sites offer services not available in a job board:

  • Vendor profiles―the best RFP marketplaces allow or require vendors to post profiles including competencies, client lists, and links to sample work. You should take these profiles with a grain of salt, however. It is a simple matter to exaggerate competencies, fake a client list, and provide links to work that you had little or nothing to do with. The sites do not police these profiles, so you need to connect the dots in your communications with the prospective vendor with what is in their profiles.
  • Feedback―more useful to you are sites that allow bidders to post feedback about particular vendors. Read these very carefully. Negative feedback tends to be uncommon because many sites allow vendors to negotiate with bidders to revise negative feedback into neutral or positive feedback. In reading feedback, you want to assess competencies (bidders are either happy or unhappy with the vendor’s skills) and time-to-completion (which is often a good measure of competence).
  • Escrow and arbitration―for an extra fee, some RFP marketplaces will allow you to pay your vendor through a site-administered escrow account. Money is released to the vendor only when you’re happy with the work. If you’re not happy with the work, the site provides an arbiter who, after listening to both sides, agrees to release all, some, or none of the money to the vendor. While this service adds to your cost (and the site’s profits), it is a valuable insurance policy if you’re new to navigating the tech outsourcing waters.

However, because an RFP system is a bidding system, you must be as complete as possible in your RFP as to requirements in order to guarantee the integrity of the bid. If you are vague, uncertain, or incomplete, your project will face numerous unintended cost overruns as the project gets more defined after the bid. Only the government and big corporations are allowed to manage IT projects that way!

Be smart! Cheapest is not always best. RFP marketplaces tend to attract low-ball bidders and quality providers often steer clear of RFP marketplaces because so many low-bidders are snapping up all the business. You’re looking for quality, not price, so you should vet the proposals and the firms carefully.

You should also consider farming your project out to multiple vendors, whether services or a single project. You know, for instance, how vitally important the requirements or specifications process is for your project. You should probably outsource the requirements as a separate project; once the requirements are in order, then hire someone to do the actual development and deployment. For added security―and added expense―you can vend out the project management. The project manager knows the technology and process and is able to guide the process from that knowledge and make the best recommendations to you regarding deliverables and process.

Many of the job boards and RFP marketplaces listed below were covered in greater detail in 5.2. To that list we’ve added some RFP marketplaces specific to the tech industry to help you in your search for a good outsource provider.

Be prepared! When using an RFP marketplace―or even a job board―to find IT vendors, you will be swamped by responses from Indian companies. These are very difficult to do due diligence on; many are companies founded by a couple students or someone working out of their own home. When negotiating with an Indian company, make sure to request an organization chart relevant to your project. You want to know who is going to work on your project in detail. Otherwise you don’t know what you’re getting.

6.3.1. Guru.com

http://www.guru.com

Discussed more fully in 5.2.1., Guru.com is an RFP marketplace that connects buyers looking for outsourcing services with contractors willing to provide those services. You place an RFP for services and contractors on the Guru Network bid for those services; Guru also offers a feedback and ratings system on individual contractors. Guru also offers an escrow account service―when you agree to hire a contractor, you pay the entire bill into the escrow account. If satisfied, you release the funds. If not satisfied, Guru offers mediation and arbitration.

IT categories include:

  • Programming/software/database development
  • Programming
  • Web development
  • Database design
  • PDA’s
  • Wireless programming
  • Telephone software
  • Others
    • Networking/hardware/telephone systems
    • Computer/server
    • Wireless
    • Security
    • Others
      • ERP/CRM implementation
      • SAP
      • Oracle
      • PeopleSoft
      • J.D. Edwards
      • Siebel
      • Others
        • Engineering/CAD/architecture

6.3.2. Elance

http://www.elance.com

Elance, discussed in terms of business process outsourcing in 5.2.2., is an online RFP marketplace connecting businesses with freelancers and outsourcing firms―with a very liberal mix of Indian firms in the mix for technology outsourcing. Like Guru.com, there are many lemons in the bucket, so you need to vet responses carefully. Elance allows freelancers and outsource companies to post profiles with linked samples and feedback from Elance users. Profiles typically list the technologies the freelancer/firm specializes in, but these lists can often be a bit exaggerated. Elance also allows you to pay through an escrow account and also offers a 1099 service.

In IT, Elance offers you with the following contractor resources:

  • Application development
  • Database development
  • Scripts
  • Utilities
  • System administration
  • PDA’s and handhelds

6.3.3. Contracted Work

http://www.contractedwork.com

Contracted Work, discussed in 5.2.3 as a BPO resource, is an RFP-based freelancer marketplace similar to Guru and Elance. Unlike those two sites, however, on Contracted Work you have the choice of emailing your RFP and conducting your entire RFP process through email as well as using their RFP engine. The site includes vendor profiles, feedback from users, and an escrow account that you can use to ensure the proper work is done. You choose a contractor, pay the full bill into the escrow account, and release the funds only when you’re satisfied with the work. In the event of a problem, Contracted Work provides an arbiter to the dispute.

IT categories include:

  • IT administration
  • Application development
  • Database development
  • Engineering
  • Handheld
  • Technical support

6.3.4. VWorker.com (Formerly Rent-A-Coder)

http://vworker.com

Rent-A-Coder is an RFP marketplace specifically for software developers and programmers with over 156,000 registered freelancers, contractors, and programming outsource firms, most of whom are located offshore in places like India, Russia, or former Soviet satellite countries. The site allows you to review the contractor’s resume and provides a bidder feedback mechanism. As with other RFP marketplaces, Rent-A-Coder offers an escrow account and arbitration in disputes. The site also requires all bidders to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before they can bid on jobs, so safeguarding trade secrets is built into the system itself.

6.3.5. GetACoder

http://getacoder.com

GetACoder is an RFP marketplace of programmers, database designers, Web site programmers, and freelance writers. The site is intended to hook up freelancers and buyers, so it does not include a ratings or an escrow system.

Categories include:

  • Web site development and programming
  • Database development
  • Programming
  • Planning
  • Requirements
  • Project management
  • Computer platforms
  • Enterprise Resource Planning
  • Testing/assurance

Additional categories including marketing, writing, graphic design, training, and administrative support.

6.3.6. oDesk

http://odesk.com

oDesk is not quite an RFP site, but a centrally-managed outsource contractor site. A global network of largely outsourcing firms, oDesk allows you to post and manage projects through their site. You do no reviewing of bids or hiring―you simply put in a request and oDesk bids out the job and hires the professionals from their network. You then manage the professionals or contractors that oDesk has hired and, when they finish, you pay oDesk. So it’s not quite an RFP marketplace, but functions as one. Because the contractors are hired directly by oDesk, they thoroughly evaluate the contractor’s credentials for you, thus reducing a risk normally associated with RFP marketplaces.

6.3.7. Craig’s List

http://www.craigslist.org

Craig’s List, discussed in 5.2.4 in more detail, is the largest online classified advertising site on the Internet. Craig’s List allows you to post regular jobs or one-times gigs. The latter, like all the other classified ads on the site, are free, but a jobs ad requires an account and costs $25 if posted in the New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles Craig’s Lists.

You would post an IT or computer project in the “Computer” category of the “Gigs” section―this includes any Web design or programming work you need done. You will get a hog pile of responses, particularly if you place your ad in one of the “hot” cities, like San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles (not a bad idea if you plan to manage the project virtually). You will find a generous number of Indian offshore firms regularly troll Craig’s List for jobs―typically half or more of the responses you receive will come from India.

Because Craig’s List limits you to one city and does not allow you to repeat ads across cities, you’re better off putting the ad in the New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles Craig’s List to attract more responses from a larger pool of talented people. Craig’ List is a true crap shoot―a dizzyingly large number of magnificently unqualified and unprofessional freelancers will show up in response to your ad. In my personal experience and those in my immediate environment, there are more unhappy experiences outsourcing tech or Web jobs on Craig’s List than there are happy experiences. The most common complaints are misrepresented skills or lack of professional behavior―the job is started, but then the contractor disappears. It behooves you to rigidly qualify any vendor or you’ll be looking at time and money spent on nothing.

6.3.8. Dice

http://dice.com

Dice.com is the largest technology-focused job board. Like Monster (5.2.5), the site largely focuses on regular jobs-for-hire rather than gigs or projects. We have not included Monster because of its jobs rather than gigs focus, but you should be familiar with Dice if you’re regularly hiring for tech jobs.

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