By Nick Hargreaves, Founder, Cloud Employee

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK’s IT sector find themselves in an unprecedented business climate today due not only to globalisation, but also due to our now permanently interconnected world.

The rise of cost-effective labour, coupled with an ever accelerating level of technological advancement, means IT SMEs in Britain must be agile, innovative and able to scale up very quickly to meet UK plc’s new, rigorous demands. Those businesses unable to keep up will fail, with an RBS report suggesting that more than half of new business will shut up shop inside five years.

It’s no secret that - in many sectors - the UK has been suffering from a serious skills shortage for some time. While the government has introduced a number of initiatives to boost IT skills levels - such as introducing coding to the school curriculum - UK companies need a reliable and skilled workforce right now. The current situation is so bad that almost three quarters (74%) of firms based in the UK - and hiring in the technology space - say they are being adversely affected by these severe shortages, according to a City & Guilds Survey.

The figures are stark - by 2017, companies will likely require 750,000 skilled digital workers, yet there are only 56,000 IT graduates coming out of British universities.

This skills gap needs to be filled and British businesses are very resourceful when faced with a such challenge; growing number of UK technology businesses have already opted to look abroad and outsource part of their IT.

What of the other half of British companies who have yet to dip their toe in the outsourcing pool? Well, there are four key issues to assess before proceeding:

Language: An obvious issue is communication. Having an outsourced workforce fully proficient in English is, of course, critical to success. Fortunately, English is now accepted as the global language of business, yet it is advisable that you are working with a totally fluent workforce, who understand the nuances of the language and especially the technical terms surrounding IT issues. A number of hotspots, especially in The Philippines, are ideal destinations for this language requirement.

Time zones: While business is now truly global, working across time zones can still disruptive. This has been addressed by many outsourcing firms who have created an environment where remote workers are available during UK office hours, ensuring communication is rapid but that projects can be completed on time.

Education Level: As IT is a technical, ever-changing discipline, ensuring your staff are fully up to date and accredited is essential. A number of countries are known for having a very highly-educated workforce in this field and it would be wise to fully research your intended outsourcing country before committing. While a graduate may appear to have relevant education level and experience, this may not always be the case. Inquiring with an outsourcing firm about existing clients and case studies is a really effective way of getting a feel for how professional and skilled a remote workforce will be for your business.

Management: The whole success of outsourcing staff will be based upon your relationship with the management of this workforce. They will oversee projects and, most importantly, completed on time. Ideally a provider will have a mix of local and western managers, giving you an honest appraisal of the work being undertaken and ensuring the smooth running of the project.

Outsourcing is usually a cost effective and simple way to ensure IT projects are completed on time. It also opens up a pool of ‘on tap’ talent for SMEs, putting them on the level of a larger firm. Growing a business is hard work, but careful outsourcing makes it a little bit easier.