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BPOs lessen worry of unemployment

india Updated: Jul 31, 2007 10:39 IST
Narayanan Madhavan

If there is any industry in India that has lessened the worry of unemployment in the minds of urban graduates, it is business process outsourcing (BPO). Life would have been tougher 10 years ago if you were jobless and had no professional degree. Today you can fall back on call centre and other BPO jobs.

But make no mistake. This industry, contrary to what some might say, is no pushover. It is demanding, it is rewarding, and with the right kind of attitude and learning, can also offer attractive long-term prospects.

<b1>BPO is a broad word that’s often used as a substitute for ITES – or information technology enabled services. IT-enabled services also cover KPO (knowledge process outsourcing), which involves the use of high-skilled workers, and other skilled services like creative design, animation and architecture drawings.

India’s ITES-BPO exports grew by about 33.5 per cent in 2006-07 to post revenues of $8.4 billion. The exports are expected to reach $10.5-11 billion at the end of the current financial year. That supposes a growth rate of 25 per cent. In 2006-07, the ITES-BPO industry hired 1.38 lakh employees, taking its total to about 5.53 lakh.

What exactly does a BPO operation involve? Saying BPO is like saying “typing” — what’s being done under the name has huge variety.

A lot of people use BPO as a short-hand for call centres that involve people selling credit cards, collecting payments or booking hotels, cars or sales of other goods through telephones — or handling customer queries or complaints.

An Indian agent can process salary slips for an employee in Atlanta, book hotels for a traveller in Germany, remind a spare part supplier in Romania to ship goods to France, or process an insurance claim from a housewife in Australia. Industries can vary, processes can vary, languages can vary, and even work timings can vary. The only thing common between these is the fact that BPO involves a ‘process’ — a repeatable task that can be done on the basis of quick learning. The learning can go on, processes can be expanded and methods can be devised by the BPO companies to increase their own revenues by generating more business or cutting costs for customers.

<b2>BPO services can be divided into two categories: back office and front office processes. Back office work includes internal business functions such as billing or purchasing etc. These processes are directly dependent on the industry concerned, referred to in management-speak as a “vertical”. For example, a BPO unit serving a healthcare provider has to handle processes such as medical coding, billing, and collections.

Front office outsourcing, on the other hand, includes customer-related services such as marketing or technical support (for buyers of computers, software etc). Customer service or telemarketing is something many B2C (business-to-consumer) companies carry out. These are processes that are common across verticals.

Of late, the BPO industry is facing many problems that come with growth. Employees switch jobs to boost their salaries and prospects, get tired of night-shifts or find their jobs boring after a point. Employers do a lot to retain them. Fat salary hikes, parties and pizzas, employer-sponsored MBA courses, and quick-promotion opportunities are among the benefits doled out. There is a lot of hard work, but there is also a lot of pampering.

“The rapid growth of Indian ITES-BPO in the last 18 months has contributed to a mismatch between the demand and supply of experienced resources in the industry. Consequently, employment generation and attrition levels remain high,” says Aruna Sharma, vice-president (recruitment solutions) at Adecco India, a human resource company. She adds that BPO Offers extra benefits beyond the obvious. “People in the industry develop good domain expertise and get exposure to global markets, which very few industries offer. Also, BPO companies have world-class training processes,” Sharma says.

If odd hours, demanding clients, and a dynamic environment are things you can handle, BPO companies offer solid prospects. At the very least, the industry can be used as a springboard.