This case study shows how Ecat, a UK-based software company successfully outsourced software development and built long-term relationship with its .
Ecat is a tool that helps organisations monitor, review, improve and embed their processes.
Before, technology wasn’t enabling companies to easily and quickly create, edit, roll out and manage their own audits. Doing an audit meant relying heavily on internal and external IT help.
This took much time and energy.
Since they couldn’t find a tool that was able to do it, the co-founders, Francis and Colm, started working on a solution to overcome this challenge and ended up creating a tool that focused on the healthcare industry (the first industry where the problem arose).
Later, they recognised they couldn’t audit for just one type of marketplace. It was far too narrow and did not create a big enough market opportunity.
They broadened the scope to develop a system focusing not only on health and hygiene but on any kind of process of any kind of business.
Once they had the model in their heads, they found some people to do the programming. They hunted all around Ireland and the UK, but they were too expensive and slow.
In the end, they ended up working with a software development partner outside of the UK and Ireland and they have been working together for more than 6 years.
How did they make software outsourcing work for them? What made this cooperation successful?
Enter Francis Lyons.
Why have you decided to outsource app development?
The biggest thing was timescale. Software development companies in Ireland and in the UK were talking about 12 or 18 months to get the first system up and running. When we spoke with our offshore software development partner, they said they could do it within 6-9 months and they did it for half the price. The main reasons we decided to outsource were time and money.
What criteria did you have in mind to select a software development company?
At the start, we knew we didn’t want some company there that was just going to look at a set of documents and send us back a code.
That's not what we were after. We really wanted somebody who would engage with us, and would become a genuine partner with us. Not just in the pure computer program writing but also in understanding what the program was about and who we were trying to sell it to. This was our main standpoint we kept in mind when we started searching online for a potential software development partner.
Interestingly, when we suggested a face-to-face meeting, many of the selected companies said it’s not an option for them. But there were several who were open to meet up.
So, we met in person to get to know better each other. What we liked the most about them is they were insisting to meet with end clients. They were interested in the whole concept. They wanted to meet the clients and interview them. Client level engagement was a big plus for us.
This helped us deliver a far more accurate product our clients needed as opposed to something we guessed our clients needed.
What were the advantages of software outsourcing for you?
Our partner company is relatively big but not that huge (200-300 ppl). We have a core programming team (6-9 developers, depending on the stage of the project).
Some clients requested some extra software development on the product and it was quite easy for us to scale up the developer team (blocking 2-3 developers from their pool), work with them for a few months and switch them off once the project ended.
This allowed us some flexibility; hiring someone and firing them after a few months is not fair. This gave us the ability to take on custom software development requests fast.
Did you encounter any challenges during the projects? What were those?
At the start, there was a dialect barrier. But we got to understand each other’s accent. From a cultural perspective, we had to learn how they worked and thought; likewise, they had to do the same with us.
How did you communicate during the project (tools, methods)?
We scheduled calls around deployment and product updates; 99% of the time we used Skype to do these calls. When working with some clients, we used WebEx platform to communicate.
What are the crucial factors that made the project successful?
Flexibility and trust. They had to understand that we were not computer people. We would more often come up with demands that were somewhat unreasonable.
However, we also recognised that as we grew and took on bigger clients, we needed to adapt our system to accommodate their needs. It caused a lot of frustrations and time because it changed the path of how the product evolved. We had problems with less flexible software development companies.
Commercial flexibility. There were times when we were an early stage startup without lot of money to spend, but also there were times when we had much more money, so we paid them in advance.
Having the right people is a huge factor. We have a good relationship with the team. We know their first names and family to some degree. We have a kind of personal relationship with them. We certainly consider many of them as friends.
What advice would you give to companies that are considering software outsourcing?
You have to try as much as possible to understand the capabilities of the company. You have to do a lot of research and referencing to find what the potential companies can and could deliver.
You need to meet them face to face get to know them, have some food with them. If it’s a big project, you definitely need to do that.
Openness and transparency is needed for both sides.
Key takeaways for successful software development outsourcing
- Before you start searching for a software development company, clarify the most important aspects for you to evaluate them by.
- Always do extensive research on the companies and pay extra attention to their earlier projects.
- Software outsourcing isn’t just about cost-saving but it is also about reducing development time and giving you flexibility to easily scale your project up or down.
- Frequent communication is key to keeping the project on the right track.
- Working with a remote software development company requires flexibility from both sides. Flexibility and trust are the crucial elements that make software outsourcing work.