Communication and Culture in Global Software Development: The Case of Mauritius and South Africa

By Tanner, Maureen | Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Communication and Culture in Global Software Development: The Case of Mauritius and South Africa


Tanner, Maureen, Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations


Introduction

Global Software Development (GSD) involves the development of application software through interactions of people, organizations, and technology across nations with different backgrounds, languages, and working styles (Herbsleb & Mockus, 2003). GSD is enacted through virtual teams whose members transcend time, space, and culture and communicate through computer-mediated technologies (Jarvenpaa, & Leidner, 1998). As Mohagheghi (2004) notes, IT outsourcing is one of the approaches to GSD. Organisations choose to outsource in order, inter alia, to take advantage of cost reduction, improve performance, and gain access to wider labour markets (Casey & Richardson, 2006). Due to low labour costs in developing countries, more and more organisations are opting to contract with organisations from these regions. However, as Herbsleb and Moitra (2001) note, GSD is not easy to orchestrate, due mostly to cultural disparities and complex communication requirements of virtual teams.

The growth of outsourcing has been phenomenal. Indeed India is and is expected to remain the primary delivery location for IT outsourcing. However, recent trends have shown that new geographical locations are emerging as delivery time zones (Burton, 2009). Examples of emerging IT Outsourcing destinations in Africa include Mauritius (Burton, 2009) and South Africa (IT Match Online, 2008). Both countries are recognised as IT hubs in the Southern African region (Burton, 2009; Knight, 2006). The attraction of the two countries is that they offer cheap and highly skilled labour, as well good IT infrastructures (Burton, 2009; Knight, 2006). The increasing investment rate in the two countries necessitates the need for further research as a means to better inform the project planning and management decisions of international investors in the region. It is also interesting to note that Mauritius and South Africa are known to have diverse cultural heritage, as will be later discussed (Mauritius.Net, n.d.; "South African languages and culture," n.d.).

In spite of these developments, no GSD studies focusing on Mauritius and South Africa could be identified. It might thus be useful to explore how these cultural disparities and the resulting communication requirements are being handled in the two countries. Such knowledge might be useful to potential investors when establishing their plan of action for GSD projects as existing practices devised from more developed countries might not be entirely applicable to the Mauritian and South African contexts.

This study has been undertaken in an attempt to explore the intricacies of communication and cultural practices embraced within these two countries in the context of GSD. Both the offshore and the onshore perspective have been considered. The Mauritian case study offered the viewpoint for a culturally diverse offshore site as the main company, located in France, outsourced some of its software development to a company on the island. The South African case study offered the viewpoint for a culturally diverse onshore site as the local company outsourced some of its software development to a company in India. Data for the study was gathered through semi-structured interviews with different stakeholders. The data was analysed using Grounded Theory analysis techniques. The results are part of a bigger study which covered several other aspects of GSD in South Africa and Mauritius. However, this article shall focus only on communication and culture aspects.

The paper is structured as follows. The next section describes the social context in which the study was undertaken. This is followed by an overview of the role of communication and culture in GSD. A synopsis of the research methodology is then provided followed by a description of the cases. The analysis of the results is then detailed in the data analysis section. A discussion of the key findings specific to the Mauritian and South African contexts is next provided. …

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