IBM has filed a patent application for an offshore outsourcing methodology that's intended to help companies minimise the financial risks associated with sending work overseas.

The patent application describes a computer-driven approach for putting values on both the quantitative and qualitative attributes of a "global resource sourcing strategy."

For instance, the methodology takes into account the language skills and morale of offshore workers, as well as a list of the hard numbers involved in setting up an offshore operation, including labour rates and currency valuations.

In short, IBM is attempting to reduce offshoring considerations to a mathematical model - or, in the words of the application, "a robust and reusable sourcing template" for identifying and analysing "global resource pools."

For IBM itself, the patent filing couldn't be better timed. The company submitted the application to the US Patent & Trademark Office last Thursday, the same day it confirmed that it was cutting more jobs in its North American operations.

IBM didn't disclose any details about the planned cutbacks, but [email protected], a union local that isn't recognised as an official bargaining unit, has said it expects between 4,000 and 5,000 workers to be let go.

The union thinks the cuts are part of a plan by IBM to send more jobs overseas, following an earlier round of reductions in January.

In the patent application, IBM said the described methodology "allows decision makers to conveniently trade-off one or more qualitatively defined levels between one or more factors in terms of quantifiable, direct, costs."

The methodology also looks at some assumptions as part of its mathematical models. In a hypothetical assessment, the application sets up an example that includes a company having "50% of resources in China by 2010."

The patent application explains why IBM thinks it's important to look at a broad range of variables when making global sourcing decisions. By simply looking at wages and material costs, "the organisation may indirectly increase other costs such as those associated with poorer quality workers and/or materials," IBM said.

That could include loss of customers, lower productivity, increased product returns and higher worker attrition, the company said, adding that a company "needs to consider both direct and indirect costs associated with its resources."

This isn't the first time that IBM has filed for a patent related to an offshoring methodology. An application filed in 2007 described a software-driven approach "for identifying at least a portion of a human-resource within an organisation for outsourcing."