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Three ideas to change the face of BPO


* This article was originally published in Outsource Magazine. 

A lot has been covered about the future of BPO in the 32nd issue of Outsourcing Magazine, with 40 opinion leaders sharing their respective views on how BPO companies should adapt to the upcoming trends.

As an expat doing BPO business in Vietnam for the past 8 years, I can indeed feel the automation taking on all parts of our business, and the increasing demand in more advanced skills such as business intelligence or complex data analysis.

I was impressed by the depth and scope of opinions, but I also believe that a critical point was missing : the social impact of BPO.

More specifically, I believe there are 3 social aspects that each BPO firm should consider when defining their strategy, and businesses which will thrive will be the ones best able to embrace these ideas.

Understanding social impact on originating countries

With companies outsourcing processes closer and closer to their core business, the number of people feeling threatened by BPO will increase proportionally.

« What am I going to do if they take away this part of my job ? » is a very legitimate question, and it will become the providers’ role to answer it.

I believe that BPO is an opportunity for western companies not only to optimize their non-core activities, but also for their employees to move out of their comfort zone, work on more complex issues, and overall deliver more value to their company.

How to address this as a BPO provider ? They have to understand that this question will become a key element of the decision to outsource. Providers that will be able to best grasp their customer’s business and to propose new activities for the people they are replacing will definitely have an edge.

With the current faltering economy, outsourcing initiatives will not be cost-driven anymore. It is becoming a social issue for western economies.

Educating the workforce in the local market

Five years from now, most processes currently outsourced will be automated. This trend has been identified by all BPO thought leaders at the beginning of 2013.

Developing the skills of their employees to anticipate this change is surely on the tablets of most BPO providers. It is a point worth highlighting, but I won’t go into the details as to how or why it should be done, as it is quite obvious.

However, social « awareness » development will be a differentiating factor. I believe that outsourcing in general is a transition to a flatter and generally more balanced world, and that BPO providers have a big role to play in order to accelerate this transition.

They want to adopt new management & social trends, and avoid the cheap and quiet workforce path. As a provider, I often get the « Can you tell me how you treat your  employees ? » question. This may sound like a silly question, but a « Well, average salaries, vacation and year-end bonus » won’t be an acceptable answer very soon.

Developing services for the local market

“IT major Infosys […] is aiming to raise the share of revenue from domestic market to 3% by 2015” (source)

There is another critical aspect to the skills development point mentioned previously: The now BPO providers in developing countries will become the main services providers in their respective local market. At least, if they anticipate the shift. This idea also comes from the observation that BPO is only a transitory activity.

In Vietnam, the biggest Business Intelligence LinkedIn group has 31 members. Data Science? Well, no group yet. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the market opportunities.

Why are BPO providers well positioned to take on this market? They are already handling Business Intelligence, Data Analytics and ERP projects for their western customers. The “glocal” providers (locally based with international practices), more specifically, will get the best of both world: They will benefit from advanced expertise on these new topics, while leveraging on their local presence and knowledge of local practices.

Last but not least, I believe these new markets are not only a huge opportunity. It should actually be part of BPO providers’ mission to give an impulse and to accelerate the adoption of best practices locally.

Three practices, one common ground

One of the recent business ideas brought by no other that Michael Porter introduces the concept of Shared Value, or how companies can (and should) take on social issues. Some go so far as to say that with the increased transparency on corporations’ activities, it is a matter of survival to embrace this approach.

At first glance most people I meet in France see BPO as a threat to our economy and I’m having interesting discussions every time I come home. I personally see globalization as an opportunity, both a business and social one, as long as all actors involved are clear that their role goes beyond cost optimization on one side, and cheap and quiet workforce on the other.

I believe that applying Shared Value principles to BPO is not only a matter of social responsibility – it is a matter of survival.

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