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Hiring an RPG Programmer: Outsource or In-House?

The decision to add an RPG programmer to your team should not be taken lightly. With the seasoned expertise required to work within the IBM i ecosystem, the hunt for the right talent can be a labyrinthine process fraught with questions about whether to build in-house or outsource

In this article, we unravel the threads of this complex decision — from cost and control to long-term strategy and infrastructure — by dissecting each approach's advantages and potential drawbacks. 

The Strategic Conundrum

The strategic implications of selecting your approach to RPG programming reverberate across your technical operations. Primary considerations often center around your RPG projects’ immediate needs and long-term vision. Developing new applications or a surge in maintenance may dictate the urgency and potential benefits of swift access to RPG programming talent. 

However, such tactical demands do not exist in a vacuum. They intertwine with broader strategic goals, such as cost management, team scalability, and risk mitigation. These, in turn, influence your decision to outsource, maintain in-house talent, or opt for a hybrid model that combines both. Here, we explore each in detail to equip you with the foresight to align your hiring strategy with your business objectives.

In-House RPG Programming

Keeping RPG programming in-house significantly impacts your business's growth and sustainability. Here's why:

Advantages of In-House

  • Control and Quality Assurance: Direct oversight and the ability to integrate RPG programming with your existing IT structure can improve the quality and control of the software development and maintenance process.
  • Cultural Integration and Unity: In-house hires often align more closely with your company's values and culture, fostering a cohesive team environment that can be harder to achieve with outsourced staff.
  • Long-Term Skill and Knowledge Retention: With in-house talent, you can build a repository of institutional knowledge and practices that evolve with your business, providing long-term value that transient outsourced teams may not offer.

Challenges of In-House

  • Upfront Investment and Sustained Salaries: Hiring, retaining, and cultivating in-house RPG talent demands a significant and ongoing financial investment, including salary packages, benefits, and professional development support.
  • Resource and Overhead Costs: The ancillary costs associated with in-house RPG programming, such as workspace, hardware, and software tools, can inflate operational expenses.
  • Recruitment and Retention Challenges: The need for more RPG talent in the market means that finding and keeping skilled programmers can be competitive and challenging, prone to fluctuations and potential burnout.
  • Scalability and Flexibility Constraints: In-house teams may need help with flexibility in managing spikes in project demand, and scalability is often a slow and deliberate process, contrary to the agile nature of outsourcing models.

Outsourcing RPG Programming

Outsourcing RPG programming can be a powerful strategy for companies seeking to quickly tap into expertise, control costs, or scale operations without long-term human resource commitments.  Here's a deeper look:

Advantages of Outsourcing

  • Cost-Effective Solutions: Cost efficiency is one of the most alluring benefits of outsourcing — 57% of executives say cost reduction is their main motivation for outsourcing, according to a Deloitte survey.
  • Operational Agility: With an outsourced partner, you can quickly scale up or down your project team in response to workload fluctuations. This agility can be invaluable in meeting project deadlines and navigating market shifts.
  • Access to a Broader Talent Pool: By looking beyond your local job market, outsourcing can connect you with specialized RPG programmers and domain experts who might be hard to find or unaffordable in your immediate hiring sphere.
  • Faster Time to Market: Expertise without relying on the onboarding process, which can mean more rapid time to market for your projects. Outsourcing partners are often well-versed in their craft, minimizing the time it takes to onboard.

Challenges of Outsourcing: Facts or Myths?

Outsourcing often gets a bad rap, but many of its disadvantages are more myth than reality. Outsourcing issues often stem from poor partnership decisions rather than inherent flaws in the model itself; by choosing a reputable and aligned provider, most, if not all, of these challenges can be avoided altogether.

Here are a few potential challenges of outsourcing RPG programming and how the right strategic partnership can turn them into advantages:

  • Communication: Successful partnerships require excellent communication, which can be difficult to achieve, especially between organizations in different locations. However, you can ensure solid communication by choosing a partner with a strong track record of successful collaboration who offers 24/7 support and provides clear, concise documentation.
  • Quality Control: One of the biggest concerns companies generally have about outsourcing is that the quality of work will not be up to par. Ensuring they have robust QA processes is vital when considering potential outsourcing providers. Additionally, programmers should hold relevant certifications and have experience with any specific services you’ll need, such as API web integration or data migration.
  • Flexibility: Although flexibility concerns often arise with outsourcing — from some providers offering only rigid, one-size-fits-all service packages — this can be avoided by selecting a provider that prioritizes customizable solutions based on your business needs.

Outsourcing RPG programming doesn’t have to be daunting or ridden with pitfalls. By wisely selecting a partner that values communication, has qualified programmers, and offers flexible solutions, you can leverage outsourcing as a strategic advantage, transforming potential drawbacks into significant benefits for your business.

The Middle Path of the Hybrid Approach

A hybrid model combines the strengths of both outsourcing and in-house development. It provides the control and cohesion of an in-house team with the flexibility and skill diversity of outsourced resources. For RPG programming, a hybrid model could involve maintaining a core in-house team while supplementing with outsourced expertise when needed.

Advantages of the Hybrid Model

  • Flexible Scalability: It allows you to scale your projects according to workload. For instance, an in-house team can manage core responsibilities, while outsourcing can tackle overflow, specialized tasks, or time-sensitive projects.
  • Cost and Risk Mitigation: The hybrid model can help manage costs by mitigating the need for full-fledged in-house teams while reducing the risk of overextension that comes with a completely outsourced approach.
  • Specialized Expertise: It enables you to tap into the specialized skills of outsourcing partners without losing the context and strategic oversight that an in-house team provides.
  • Knowledge Transfer: A hybrid model facilitates knowledge transfer between an in-house team and outsourced partners, mitigating the risk of dependency on external resources and enabling internal growth.
  • Improved Time Management: Delegating non-critical work to outsourced teams can optimize timelines by allowing the in-house team to focus on core, value-added tasks.

Challenges of the Hybrid Model

  • Complex Project Management: Managing two teams with separate working structures and methods can be complex and time-consuming.
  • Cultural and Integration Challenges: A hybrid model requires significant effort to align the operations and outputs of the in-house and outsourced teams to ensure consistency and quality.
  • Logistical Hurdles: Coordinating the activities of the in-house team with an outsourced partner can pose logistical challenges, especially when managing sensitive or time-critical projects.

Making the Decision

The choice between hiring an RPG programmer in-house or outsourcing the role does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. It's essential to carefully assess your business's current needs and future goals in alignment with the strategies explored.  It is also worth noting that this is not a "forever" decision; businesses often pivot their strategies in response to different stages of their growth and market changes.

Remember, your choice in RPG programming is but one thread in the intricate tapestry of your IT operations. However, it holds the potential to significantly shape the grand design of your business's digital future.

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