What makes a reputable channel like UK Television's Channel 4 spend over a year looking for security lapses in India's call centre industry and come up with allegations of criminal behaviour for its telecast to an unsuspecting British audience? A meticulously planned and executed "sting" operation, which led to the bribing of some unscrupulous BPO agents to agree to part with client data, seems to be an excessive effort to throw mud on one of the country's fastest-growing and youngest industry segments, but maybe that itself is the reason!
Already smarting from the flight of manufacturing to the Asian world, notably China, and the recent trend towards services moving from high-cost locations to high-quality, low-cost ones like India, the first big backlash threatened to happen during John Kerry's US Presidential campaign with the candidate even using the word "traitor" to castigate aggressive American CEOs who were keen to exploit the power of outsourcing for the benefit of their customers and shareholders. A recent incident that involved the leakage of some financial records from a leading BPO showed that like their Western counterparts, Indian youth, in their new enthusiasm for quick wealth creation, was not immune to the temptations of "cash for data". And this series of incidents is probably not the last we will see of sting operations, set up by news-hungry institutions looking for opportunities to spoil the Indian IT and BPO party.
Industry association NASSCOM has shown its usual quick ability to rise to the challenge and has pointed out that India's record of data and transaction security continues to be among the best in the world and the very fact that the channel has so far refused to cooperate with the authorities in this country casts a major doubt on their motivations. The controversy will die down as the news watching public spend other more attractive stories to capture their imagination but the rapid frequency at which such incidents are emerging does raise a need for the country and the industry to address some of the larger issues!
First, is there a suitable political response to such operations where the method of inducement seems to be more criminal that the crime it tries to highlight? Second, is there a larger campaign that the industry and the government can put together to reassure foreign governments and customers that their data and transactions are as safe here as they are in their own countries? And last but not the least, can more efforts be made to educate the million-or-so young people who make the Indian IT and BPO industry such a "happening" place and show them that monetary short cuts can have long-term repercussions for their company, their industry and indeed, their country as every act of omission or commission in this country will be magnified to suit the sensational needs of the foreign press? The road is hard but needs to be travelled to ensure that the lights continue to burn brightly for this industry.
The writer is deputy chairman & MD, Zensar Technologies Ltd