Thu Jan 24, 2013, 12:00 PM
Ghost Dog (15,377 posts)
Companies are rethinking their offshoring strategies; now "reshoring" or "onshoring".
Here, there and everywhere: After decades of sending work across the world, companies are rethinking their offshoring strategies, says Tamzin Booth
Jan 19th 2013 | From the print edition: Special report http://www.economist.com/printedition/2013-01-19
... The original idea behind offshoring was that Western firms with high labour costs could make huge savings by sending work to countries where wages were much lower (see article). Offshoring means moving work and jobs outside the country where a company is based. It can also involve outsourcing, which means sending work to outside contractors. These can be either in the home country or abroad, but in offshoring they are based overseas. For several decades that strategy worked, often brilliantly. But now companies are rethinking their global footprints.
The first and most important reason is that the global labour “arbitrage” that sent companies rushing overseas is running out. Wages in China and India have been going up by 10-20% a year for the past decade, whereas manufacturing pay in America and Europe has barely budged... Second, many American firms now realise that they went too far in sending work abroad and need to bring some of it home again, a process inelegantly termed “reshoring”... Choosing the right location for producing a good or a service is an inexact science, and many companies got it wrong. Michael Porter, Harvard Business School’s guru on competitive strategy, says that just as companies pursued many unpromising mergers and acquisitions until painful experience brought greater discipline to the field, a lot of chief executives offshored too quickly and too much. In Europe there was never as much enthusiasm for offshoring as in America in the first place, and the small number of companies that did it are in no rush to return...
... Third, firms are rapidly moving away from the model of manufacturing everything in one low-cost place to supply the rest of the world. China is no longer seen as a cheap manufacturing base but as a huge new market. Increasingly, the main reason for multinationals to move production is to be close to customers in big new markets. This is not offshoring in the sense the word has been used for the past three decades; instead, it is being “onshore” in new places... Companies now want to be in, or close to, each of their biggest markets, making customised products and responding quickly to changing local demand...
...Under this logic, America and Europe, with their big domestic markets, should be able to attract plenty of new investment as companies look for a bigger local presence in places around the world. It is not just Western firms bringing some of their production home; there is also a wave of emerging-market champions such as Lenovo, or the Tata Group, which is making Range Rover cars near Liverpool, that are coming to invest in brands, capacity and workers in the West... As in manufacturing, the labour-cost arbitrage in services is rapidly eroding, leaving firms with all the drawbacks of distance and ever fewer cost savings to make up for them. There has been widespread disappointment with outsourcing information technology and the routine back-office tasks that used to be done in-house. Some activities that used to be considered peripheral to a company’s profits, such as data management, are now seen as essential, so they are less likely to be entrusted to a third-party supplier thousands of miles away...
... That offers a huge opportunity for rich countries and their workers to win back some of the industries and activities they have lost over the past few decades. Paradoxically, the narrowing wage gap increases the pressure on politicians. With labour-cost differentials narrowing rapidly, it is no longer possible to point at rock-bottom wages in emerging markets as the reason why the rich world is losing out. Developed countries will have to compete hard on factors beyond labour costs. The most important of these are world-class skills and training, along with flexibility and motivation of workers, extensive clusters of suppliers and sensible regulation...
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