They began about 15 years ago as call centres, and thrived on low costs, simple English language skills, sometimes with put-on American accents. Then they became business process outsourcing (BPO) centres that did stuff that many thought were clerical - such as payrolls and insurance
Think again. Now, the industry hires lawyers, engineers, statisticians, researchers, accountants and even doctors for high-skills work, using much the same mix of telecoms and software to serve global clients. Understandably, it has a whole new name: business process management (BPM).
As much as 34% of the one mllion people employed by the BPM industry are "domain specialists" and industry officials say their share is only going to rise further. These specialists function like an extension of their corporate clients based in the US, Europe or elsewhere and generate business insights by crunching numbers or showing their expertise, often saving as much as 30% of their costs.
Industry association Nasscom estimates India's BPM sector revenue to rise to $50 billion (Rs 3.1 lakh crore) by 2020 from the current $21 billion (Rs 1.3 lakh crore) - that's a compounded annual growth rate of 13%, which is double the global industry average.
Keshav Murugesh, group CEO of WNS, a New York-listed BPM giant with more than 26,000 staff, said diversification into analytics and industry expertise was a steady trend.
"This helped us offer strategic business insights for client firms which in turn helped them (clients) improve efficiency."
Industry insiders believe the BPO industry metamorphed into the BPM industry in the 2009-10 period when the Western world was grappling with a deep recession.
Indian IT firms such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, HCL Technologies and Wipro are also expanding in BPM.
"The industry is fortifying itself and is well poised to address the IT-enabled business trends for the decade ahead - be it social technologies, advanced analytics, anything as a service, digital commerce and even transforming government and healthcare sectors," said Rahul Singh, president of financial and business services at HCL Technologies.
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