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Abstract

Gaining economic benefits from substantially lower labor costs has been reported as a major reason for offshoring labor-intensive information systems services to low-wage countries. However, if wage differences are so high, why is there such a high level of variation in the economic success between offshored IS projects? This study argues that offshore outsourcing involves a number of extra costs for the client organization that account for the economic failure of offshore projects. The objective is to disaggregate these extra costs into their constituent parts and to explain why they differ between offshored software projects. The focus is on software development and maintenance projects that are offshored to Indian vendors. A theoretical framework is developed a priori based on transaction cost economics (TCE) and the knowledge-based view of the firm, complemented by factors that acknowledge the specific offshore context. The framework is empirically explored using a multiple case study design including six offshored software projects in a large German financial service institution. The results of our analysis indicate that the client incurs post- contractual extra costs for four types of activities: (1) requirements specification and design, (2) knowledge transfer, (3) control, and (4) coordination. In projects that require a high level of client-specific knowledge about idiosyncratic business processes and software systems, these extra costs were found to be substantially higher than in projects where more general knowledge was needed. Notably, these costs most often arose independently from the threat of opportunistic behavior, challenging the predominant TCE logic of market failure. Rather, the client extra costs were particularly high in client-specific projects because the effort for managing the consequences of the knowledge asymmetries between client and vendor was particularly high in these projects. Prior experiences of the vendor with related client projects were found to reduce the level of extra costs but could not fully offset the increase in extra costs in highly client-specific projects. Moreover, cultural and geographic distance between client and vendor as well as personnel turnover were found to increase client extra costs. Slight evidence was found, however, that the cost-increasing impact of these factors was also leveraged in projects with a high level of required client-specific knowledge (moderator effect).

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