Outsourcing: Is India Calling?

The emerging trend of practices outsourcing architectural work to offices in India is a threat to UK jobs. Anyone struggling with the new directory enquiry services knows that workers from Bangalore and Mumbai have replaced those in Basingstoke and Milton Keynes. Won’t the same happen with architecture? So far, the effect on UK architects is proving more complex.

Compared to major engineers, UK architects have been slow to outsource detailing and production drawings to cheaper specialists in India.

Few firms have offices or links in Asia, nor much awareness of how to outsource the complex role of production information provision. Just a few practices specialise in concept work and team up with technology and production-oriented practices in the UK. Among the exceptions are those who work for Canary Wharf, which pairs almost all its architects with Adamson Associates in Toronto.

But as more firms consider approaches from Indian specialists, will that reticence fade away?

Economic studies suggest that the UK economy benefits from the lower cost of goods and services secured by outsourcing and the subsequent increased spending power of Indians to buy UK products. But the fact is that the architectural technologists who might lose their jobs in the UK are not likely to benefit from these fillips. The export benefits will particularly come to high-end exportable service providers and the increased profits to the financial services, retail and telecoms companies.

To soften the blow, there are good reasons why the effect on architectural jobs in the UK might not be dramatic, and I don’t believe the trend will wipe out our back-office troops.

Outsourcing is a difficult thing to set up and maintain as it involves deep understanding of UK processes, constant communication and flexibility. The advantages of low-cost and “overnight” working cannot be realised without excellent management and training. The lack of job-to-job continuity in UK construction teams will sap energy from relationships between UK consultants and their Indian back-up. UK firms have realised this and are wary.

India and its Asian neighbours will become more involved in our industry in a different way. The centre of gravity in world construction is moving to these rapidly growing economies.

Their contractors and suppliers will be globally competitive and we shall buy their construction products and services as they now buy ours. Thus an Indian designer will lie behind many of the attractively priced components you will be selecting from the 3D web catalogue to import into your project. And just as the call centre user cannot tell that they are being answered from Bangalore, neither will UK architects know the source of their supply. The benefit of this intercontinental trade is that UK construction costs will fall, boosting demand for our services. Some jobs may go, but the UK industry should benefit.

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