A Little Love for BPO

Bpo_girlSometimes this column neglects BPO. It's not because it's not important. It's a global market that will be worth between $300B to $900B (depending on what you read) within a few years. It's really because, for me anyway, it's not always the most exciting subject. It's just that, compared to the rock-and-roll world of software development and website design and massive infrastructure projects, BPO can seem kind of like, well, like the musty, predictable, old-timey music that plays from dusty 8-track tapes found in a decrepit barn.

But that's a stupid reaction. There's a lot going on in BPO, and some of it is what the analysts like to call transformative. For those readers who don't have a chance to keep up with BPO developments, here's a brief recap of some of what has been going on.

First of all, BPO is not stuck in the past. As Dan Berthiaume has reported at BPO Outcomes, pioneering companies are maximizing the revenue potential of social media by applying BPO to key social media functions." Here's how one BPO exec explains: "The three major business requirements of social media are listening to conversations, deep customer analytics and responding to conversation, all of which can be provided as a service. BPO can provide clients these capabilities without the clients having to worry about hiring new resources or investing in new technology and infrastructure to get traction in social media.”

Social media BPO is evolving, the executive says, "but it is clearly becoming another channel for customer contact and engagement."

BPO apparently is also not missing the trend of crowdsourcing – in this sense, outsourcing tasks or processes using an "open call" approach over the Internet. The idea here is that you attract the greatest number of people qualified to do the task or help solve the problem. According to a new white paper from Everest Group, big corporations are using crowdsourcing for everything from SEO projects to engineering and design. They're replacing traditional BPO models and finding savings of up to 70%, Everest says.

"Given the “on-demand” nature of crowdsourcing and the ability to access qualified, globally distributed talent more quickly, employers enjoy compelling wage cost advantages, higher utilization and lower total costs of recruitment, training, supervision and turnover," according to the Everest researchers.

The downside? Less accountability, sharing intellectual property with basically total strangers, and the question of how many qualified professionals would go this route to find work.

People who really live BPO know that it's in for some major changes, or what this good summary calls "Shock Waves." Many of those waves will be powered by demands from customers, who are going to be expecting more productivity from their BPO providers, more flexible contracts, more transparent processes, and more innovation. As global economic nerves get shakier, customers are going to want more bottom-line benefits from their BPO partner.

And they're going to want complete solutions, end-to-end services, so that BPO providers are going to have to become more like ITO providers. As the global head of one large Indian BPO company explains it: Clients want “IT/BPO synergy.” They want a vendor that can “look at the processes end-to-end and then work hand-in-hand with them through process transformation.” The notion is that weaving together process, technology, and analytics will produce not just savings but also that mystical thing known as "synergy."

These kinds of changes – in how BPO is used, the technology beneath it, and the expectations businesses have for it – will bring BPO further out of the enterprise equivalent of the old barn where you find the box of 8-track tapes. For people who live and breathe BPO, no slight intended. I'm sure the daily challenges of BPO are exciting. It's just that some of us don't always appreciate that fact and every once in a while you need to remind us. After all, if it weren't for BPO, most of us wouldn't get our paychecks.