Body shopping is the practice of consultancy firms recruiting information technology workers in order to contract their services out on a short-term basis. Regarded as legitimate consultancy by both the companies that practice it and by the people employed, body shopping is disparaged by those IT service companies that assert that they provide real services (such as software development) rather than the "sham" of merely farming out professionals to overseas companies.
History and origin
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Body shopping in IT originated during the period of 1993-1999 when there was huge demand for people with mainframe, COBOL and related technology skills to prevent systems being affected by the Y2K bug.
Most specialist Y2K consulting companies operating in the US, Europe, the Middle East, Japan and Australia outsourced their manpower requirements to technology companies operating in India, which are now global forerunners in off-shoring and outsourcing.
During the period of 1996-97, these companies responded to the heavy demand by recruiting and training local graduates in India specifically for Y2K. Their consultants either worked on-shore or off-shore at high utilization rates generating huge profit margins. The high profit margin during this period resulted in fast growth and sufficient assets to expand operations to other IT related business segments post-Y2K.
In the modern era of IT off-shoring, outsourcing, and cloud computing, it is widely accepted that IT service companies' strategy (especially for those operating with a huge manpower base in India) still continue to focus on similar lines. Researchers point out that large Indian companies focus heavily on developing a manpower base with technical skills creating a marketplace to 'buy' technical skills on an hourly or daily basis.
This led to significant market developments in two areas in the early 2000s:
- Fierce competition amongst IT service companies from India competing on a global level to win 'time and material and labor tenders' from multinational giants for their IT needs. Such a strategy, though heavily linked to procurement needs of the end-customer, enables IT companies operating from offshore (in particular India) to forecast demand for technical and managerial competency based on market trends in order to position themselves competitively.
- Technology and consulting companies operating mainly in western markets during the 1990s (e.g. Accenture, IBM, Hewlett-Packard) were forced to open offices in southeast Asia and move their manpower base there to compete with traditional manpower providers operated from India (e.g. Infosys, Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services) on large global-level IT bids.
According to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services report to Congress, for fiscal year 2012, 59 percent of H-1B visas went to computer-related occupations. The same report also cited that 64 percent of the H-1B visa petitions granted were given to workers originating from India.
Body shopping companies mainly recruit off-shore and provide training to their employees using their off-shore facilities.
Employment costs (both short-term and permanent) are generally offset by the highly profitable billing ratio, especially for on-site assignments abroad. Most companies boast a utilization rate of 80%, which also takes into account the potentially long 'bench period', where an employee is not billable or when his skills are not in demand.
Indian body shopping networks
In India, traditional body shopping has evolved in its due course post-Y2K era to create strong networking and collaboration between competing Indian body shops working abroad. All body shops claim to have the ability to place Indian workers in almost any country using the resources and services of other Indian body shops operating in the target country.
In one documented case study deemed as a typical example, a body shop in Hyderabad was able to win a 360 man-month deal with a U.S. company that urgently needed 40 IT workers with a very "specific" skill on a 9-month project. Although the Indian body shop company could easily find lower paid workers in India for the job, the H-1B visa process would take too long to bring them into the United States to work. Thus, the Indian firm forwarded a request to its associate network to locate 40 Indian temporary workers in the United States. A search was undertaken by the network for available Indian H-1B workers, resulting in a list of recently laid-off Indian H-1B workers in the US. Sponsorship for the laid-off Indian H-1B workers was reassigned to a body shop and a portion of the newly employed workers salary was given as commission to the peer body shop that helped to locate the laid off H-1B workers in their associated peer network of Indian body shops. This process of quickly recruiting available H-1B holders is what is referred to as "body shopping".
- Aneesh Aneesh (2006). "Body Shopping". Virtual Migration. Duke University Press. pp. 39–40. ISBN 9780822336693.
- Brenda S. Yeoh and Katie Willis, editors, 'State/Nation/Transnation: Perspectives on Transnationalism in the Asia-Pacific', Routledge, 2004, ISBN 978-0-415-30279-1, pp. 166-167.
- Stock, Stephen; Putnam, Julie; Pham, Scott; Carroll, Jeremy. "Silicon Valley's "Body Shop" Secret: Highly Educated Foreign Workers Treated Like Indentured Servants". NBC Bay Area. The Investigate Unit. Retrieved 2015-03-28.
- de Vallance, Brian. "Characteristics of H1B Specialty Occupation Workers". Document Cloud. US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Retrieved 2015-03-28.
- Xiang Biao (2004). "Indian information technology professionals' world system: the nation and the transnation in individuals' migration strategies". In Brenda S. Yeoh; Katie Willis. State/Nation/Transnation: Perspectives on Transnationalism in the Asia-Pacific. Routledge. pp. 166–167. ISBN 978-0-415-30279-1.
- A. Aneesh (2006). Virtual Migration: the Programming of Globalization. Durham: Duke University Press.
- R. Heeks (1996). India's Software Industry: State Policy, Liberalisation and Industrial Development. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
- Xiang Biao (2006). Global "body Shopping": An Indian Labor System in the Information Technology Industry. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691118529.
- Nagesh Kumar (2005). "Moving Away from Body-Shopping". In Ashwani Saith; M. Vijayabaskar. ICTS and Indian Economic Development. SAGE. p. 96. ISBN 9780761933397.