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ResourcesReshoringOffshoring: How It Works, Types, Limitations, and Examples
Offshoring. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Funtap

Offshoring: How It Works, Types, Limitations, and Examples

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
November 22, 2023
 11 min read
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Offshoring is a business strategy that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. It involves relocating business operations to a territory outside the country of the original organization. There are many reasons why businesses choose to offshore their operations to a foreign country. There are also many disadvantages to consider when deciding if offshoring is the way to go for your company, or if your company is trying to decide where to offshore.

This article takes a closer look at offshoring, how it works, the different types, some examples, benefits, limitations, and more.

What Is Offshoring?

Offshoring is a business practice in which a company or organization relocates some of its business processes, functions, or operations to another country, often one with lower labor or operational costs. This can include various activities such as: customer support, software development, manufacturing, data entry, and other back-office tasks. Offshoring can also involve accessing specialized skills or resources that may be more readily available in another location.

What Is the Purpose of Offshoring?

The main purpose of offshoring is to reduce business costs by moving certain business operations or functions to countries with lower labor and operational expenses. Another motivation could be accessing a pool of skilled workers that might not be available in the country of origin, or at least not for the same wage costs. 

Is Offshoring the Same as Offshore Outsourcing?

No, offshoring and offshore outsourcing are related but different concepts. The key distinction is that in offshore outsourcing, the tasks are managed by an external entity, while in offshoring, the company may handle them directly through its operations or subsidiary in the offshore location.

Offshoring involves the relocation of specific business functions or operations to another country. It can also be motivated by various factors, such as: cost savings, access to specialized skills, or strategic objectives. Offshoring activities can encompass a wide range of tasks, from manufacturing and software development to customer support. They may be managed directly by the company itself (captive offshoring) or through a subsidiary in the offshore location. 

In contrast, offshore outsourcing involves contracting out specific business processes or tasks to a third-party service provider located in a different country. These external service providers, often specialized companies, handle the execution of outsourced functions on behalf of the contracting company.

How Does Offshoring Work?

Offshoring involves a structured process in which the parent company first evaluates which functions can be moved to an offshore situation in another country. This evaluation includes detailed discussions and documentation of operational requirements such as: job roles, work hours, and key performance indicators. The company then calculates the cost savings compared to domestic operations, which is often a primary motivation for offshoring.

After these preparations, the offshore unit is set up in the chosen location, meeting infrastructure and regulatory requirements. The offshore unit takes over the offshored activities, allowing the parent company to focus on its core operations. This can lead to cost savings and may also provide access to specialized skills. In addition, the parent company potentially benefits from local tax policies and incentives. Effective management and addressing challenges like time-zone differences and cultural disparities are crucial for the success of offshoring.

How Does Offshoring Work in Manufacturing?

Offshoring in manufacturing involves a company's decision to move its production processes to lower-cost countries. The process starts with an assessment of which manufacturing activities can be offshored for cost savings and strategic benefits. The company then selects an offshore location based on factors like lower labor costs and logistical convenience. Manufacturing facilities are set up or are partnered within the offshore location. Managing the supply chain is critical for a smooth flow of materials and finished products.

Quality control is a priority to ensure consistent product quality and efficient management and oversight are crucial. Compliance with local regulations and labor laws in the offshore location is essential. Offshoring in manufacturing primarily aims to reduce production costs and enhance competitiveness in the global market.

Is It Common for Manufacturing Companies To Engage in Offshoring?

Yes, it is very common for manufacturing companies to engage in offshoring. It follows that there are a large number of companies that engage in offshore manufacturing. Several countries have emerged as offshore manufacturing “specialists” such as: China, Mexico, India, and the Philippines. These countries offer low labor costs and a skilled pool of workers, along with years of experience in outsourced manufacturing.

How Does Offshoring Differ From Other Types of Outsourcing?

Offshoring refers to outsourcing work to a foreign, third-party company, or relocating business operations to a different country. This is different from nearshoring, which specifically refers to outsourcing to a neighboring or nearby country. It is also different from onshoring, which refers to outsourcing within the borders of the same country.

Offshoring usually offers significant cost benefits, but nearshoring and onshoring can be attractive when considering communication and language, time-zone differences, and regulatory considerations.

What Are the Different Types of Offshore Outsourcing?

Offshore outsourcing includes three main types, each catering to distinct business needs and objectives. These types include:

1. Production Offshoring

Another name for production offshoring is Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). This category involves relocating physical production processes to foreign countries to leverage lower labor and material costs. Production offshoring can further be categorized into front-office and back-office solutions. Front-office solutions encompass tasks like: help desks, call centers, telemarketing, technical support, and virtual assistants. Back-office solutions include processes such as: accounting, HR and recruitment, graphic design, and web development.

2. Software and Innovation Offshoring

This type of offshore outsourcing focuses on outsourcing innovation and software development services. Many technology companies opt for this approach to access a highly skilled workforce, achieve cost savings, and reduce production cycles. For instance, innovation processes are often outsourced to countries like: South Africa, India, the Philippines, Colombia, and Mexico, which offer competitive advantages in terms of talent and cost-efficiency.

3. System Services Offshoring

System services offshoring primarily involves outsourcing information technology (IT) processes, such as: software development, infrastructure management, and technical support. India, with its abundant technically proficient and English-speaking workforce, has been a popular destination for system services offshoring. The country has attracted major IT companies like: Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and HP, due to its communication infrastructure and a vast pool of skilled professionals.

What Are the Limitations of Offshoring?

Offshoring offers various benefits, but it also comes with limitations and challenges that companies need to consider when deciding whether to offshore or not. Some of the key potential drawbacks of offshoring include:

  1. Language differences and varying time zones can create communication challenges between offshore teams and the parent company. This can lead to misunderstandings, delays in decision-making, and coordination issues.
  2. Cultural disparities can affect work dynamics, team cohesion, and understanding of business practices and expectations. Companies may need to invest in cultural sensitivity training and cross-cultural communication strategies.
  3. Maintaining consistent product or service quality can be challenging when operations are dispersed globally. Differences in quality standards and work ethics may arise, leading to variations in output quality.
  4. Navigating foreign regulatory environments and ensuring compliance with local laws can be complex. Companies must invest in legal counsel and compliance expertise to avoid legal issues.
  5. Overreliance on offshore partners can lead to a loss of control over critical processes. Companies must carefully choose and manage their offshore partners to mitigate this risk.
  6. Offshoring can sometimes lead to concerns about job loss in the parent company's home country, potentially resulting in negative public relations or government scrutiny.
  7. Time-zone disparities can make real-time collaboration and communication challenging, potentially slowing down decision-making and project progress.
  8. Depending on the company, offshoring may require a significant initial investment, including: premises, capital, employee contracts, and other relocation-related expenses.
  9. Offshoring, especially for manufacturing roles, can raise concerns about unethical practices due to poor working conditions and lower wages in the offshore location, potentially damaging a business's public image.
  10. Converting money for foreign costs can result in additional expenses due to exchange rate mark-up fees, particularly when conversions are frequent.

What Are Offshoring Examples?

Here are some common offshoring examples:

  1. Information Technology (IT) Services: Many companies offshore IT functions such as: software development, application maintenance, and help-desk support to countries like India and the Philippines.
  2. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO): Offshoring of customer support, call center services, data entry, and back-office operations is common. The Philippines and India are popular BPO destinations.
  3. Manufacturing: Companies in industries like: electronics, textiles, and automotive often offshore manufacturing operations to countries with lower labor costs, such as: China, Mexico, and Vietnam.
  4. Software Development: Offshore software development is a common practice, with companies outsourcing coding, application development, and quality assurance to offshore partners.
  5. Financial Services: Some financial institutions offshore accounting, data analysis, and financial research to countries offering cost-effective financial expertise.

What Is the Origin of Offshoring?

The history of offshoring began in the 1960s and 70s when large corporations started transferring manufacturing processes to lower-cost countries, with pioneers like General Electric leading the way. The Maquiladora system in Mexico also played a significant role, attracting US firms to set up factories there in the 1960s. Over time, manufacturing moved to other low-cost countries like: India, China, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe, with labor-cost savings outweighing associated expenses.

In the 1990s, the IT revolution and the growth of the internet and telecommunications accelerated offshoring, with companies like Dell and IBM outsourcing skilled and sophisticated work overseas. Decreasing costs of internet and communication technologies made location less critical. The key driver of IT offshoring was the wage and cost of living differences between developed and developing countries. For example, Filipino software developers earned less due to the lower cost of living. Offshoring also tapped into international talent, fostering innovation and successful start-up environments in welcoming markets.

Which Countries Do Companies Offshore to Most Often?

Companies offshore to various countries depending on their specific needs, the nature of their operations, and the industry they operate in. For example, India is a well-known destination for offshoring, particularly for IT and business process outsourcing (BPO) services. It offers a large pool of highly skilled professionals, English proficiency, and cost-effective labor. Other countries with skilled IT workforces are: Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Vietnam, and Brazil. 

The Philippines is a preferred destination for customer support, call centers, and BPO services. Filipinos are known for their strong English language skills and customer-service orientation. Other countries that attract BPO services are Costa Rica and South Africa, which both have gained prominence for customer support, BPO, and software development, offering a well-educated English-speaking workforce.

For manufacturing and supply-chain operations, China, Mexico, Bangladesh, and Malaysia are chosen due to their large labor force and manufacturing capabilities.

Is Offshoring a Good Strategy?

It depends. Offshoring can be a good business strategy for developed countries that are taking advantage of the skills, resources, and low labor costs, among others, of developing countries. However, this might come at the expense of damaging the economy in the parent company’s home country. The exact success and advantages of offshoring will vary from company to company and whether a company is looking to do offshoring outsourcing or captive outsourcing. Each of these has its considerations as well as benefits and drawbacks. However, although offshoring can benefit a company as a whole, it can simultaneously be bad for the economy and workforce of the parent country. 

Is Offshoring a Problem to a Country's Economy?

It depends. Offshoring can potentially pose challenges to a country's economy, particularly in terms of job displacement and wage suppression. However, it can also offer economic benefits, such as cost savings for companies, increased competitiveness in global markets, and economic growth in offshore destinations.

What Is the Difference Between Offshoring and Onshoring?

The main difference between offshoring and onshoring is the location or proximity to the parent (or original) company. Offshoring refers to moving business operations to an external country. This can either include a third-party service provider or it can be captive offshoring, which involves managing offshored business operations directly by the company itself or through a subsidiary in the offshore location. On the other hand, onshoring refers to moving the company operations to a different location within the same country, usually motivated by surface-level cost efficiencies. 

Summary

This article presented offshoring, explained it, and discussed how it works and its various types. To learn more about offshoring, contact a Xometry representative.

Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.

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Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.