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China's Cheaper Cities Prime for IT Outsourcers

More than 20 cities in China offer viable IT service delivery, according to a recent report by outsourcing consulting firm Everest Group, each with its pros and cons. And with each municipality offering a different value proposition--from language proficiency, technical skills and scalability to various government incentives, operating costs and regulatory requirements--deciding on the right location can be difficult, says H. Karthik, vice president of global sourcing for Everest.

Beijing boasts a great degree of scalability for regional work, due to its proximity to Japan and Korea and resulting language advantage, while Shanghai has the English skills that make it more suited as a global delivery hub.

But today, some IT leaders are looking beyond the big metropolitan areas, sending work to the country's second-tier cities such as Chengdu, Guangzhou and Dalian. "There is definitely a lot of activity in tier-two cities in China," Karthik says.

Buoyed by the China's long-term plan for development and strong incentives--often negotiable--from local government, such locations account for 42 percent of the delivery centers established in China today. Unlike the second-tier cities emerging in other offshore countries, China's second string has well-developed infrastructure, including existing IT office parks and reliable telecom service.

But while these relatively smaller cities can deliver operating costs as much as 20 percent lower than Shanghai or Beijing, there are a number of trade-offs for IT leaders outsourcing or setting up captive IT centers there, particularly in the areas of language proficiency, specific technical skills and talent pool size.

The Everest report highlights five up-and-coming IT outsourcing cities in China, along with the benefits and drawbacks of each for customers of IT services.

Chengdu This city in Western China does not offer a distinct regional value proposition, but is emerging as a back-office and data center hub for the financial services industry.

Number of global service providers: 10-plus Typical delivery center size: 600-800 full-time employees (FTEs) Operation cost per FTE: $24,000-$26,000 Major players: Wipro, IBM, Maersk Group, Amazon, DHL, GE, Siemens Language capabilities: Mandarin (Sichuanese dialect) is the primary spoken language; limited scope for other regional languages and English Annual IT graduates: 52,000-54,000 Dalian This seaport can stand up large IT and BPO delivery centers to support Japanese and Korean operations. Number of global service providers: 10-plus Typical delivery center size: 1,000-plus FTEs Operation cost per FTE: $30,000-$32,000 Major players: IBM, HP, Accenture, Genpact, SAP Language capabilities: Moderate English skills; significant native Korean and Japanese communities; more than 100,000 Japanese speakers Annual IT graduates: 19,000-21,000 Guangzhou This southern city has a few large-scale IT and business process centers supporting Hong Kong operations, due its proximity and Cantonese speakers.

Number of global service providers: 5 to 7 Typical delivery center size: 800-1,000 Operation cost per FTE: $32,000-$34,000 Major players: CapGemini, Accenture, Citi, HSBC, Marriot, Bank of America Language capabilities: Cantonese is the primary spoken language; limited scope for Japanese and Korean; low English skills Annual IT graduates: 62,000-64,000

Hangzhou The capital and industrial heart of is a low-cost alternative for medium to small-scale global delivery, but does not offer any distinct regional advantage.

Number of global service providers: 3 to 4 Typical delivery center size: 300-400 Operation cost per FTE: $29,000-$31,000 Major players: Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, CapGemini Language capabilities: Small pool for regional languages; low to moderate English skills Annual IT graduates: 38,000-40,000

Suzhou This relatively new entrant in the services space offers some advantages due to its proximity to Shanghai (and its labor pool), but currently has no large scale IT or BPO operations.

Number of global service providers: 3 to 4 Typical delivery center size: 250-300 Operation cost per FTE: $29,000-$31,000 Major players: CapGemini, Genpact, Black and Decker Language capabilities: Mandarin is the primary spoken language; Japanese skills available for small to medium scale non-voice work; low to moderate English skills Annual IT graduates: 19,000-21,000

Read more about outsourcing in CIO's Outsourcing Drilldown.


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