Delve into Knowledge and Business Process Outsourcing

Knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) is a form of outsourcing, in which knowledge-related and information-related work are carried out by workers in a different company or by a subsidiary of the same organization, which may be in the same country or in an offshore location to save cost. Unlike the outsourcing of manufacturing, this typically involves high-value work carried out by highly skilled staffs. KPO firms, in addition to providing expertise in the processes themselves, often make many low level business decisions—typically those that are easily undone if they conflict with higher-level business plans.

Process transparency is a major barrier to using KPO services. Many organizations do not carefully track which decisions are made by whom, and rely so much on informal social processes (and “soft skills”) that it is unclear how much the use of KPO would disrupt existing operations. However, requirements like Sarbanes-Oxley and radical transparency movements like full cost accounting, shareholder activism and eco-labels and moral purchasing require organizations to be more explicit about when and by whom decisions are made. These trends make it easier for outsourcing non-critical jobs to be considered by qualifying the impact of decisions in advance.

Furthermore, it becomes easier to evaluate and compare success. A fully developed service economy enables KPO by treating all functions as services. So do more technical trends such as service oriented architecture, enterprise application integration and telework; it is easier to outsource a job if it is already being performed outside the head office. Organizations adopting ISO 9000 and ISO 19011 should also find it much easier to integrate externally provided KPO into their operations and audit them on a fair basis.

As of 2007, most US organizations began hiring foreign professionals under H-1 visas to do jobs in the USA for several years, after which they would return to their home countries as managers to train and supervise others, continuing to report to their former business units.

The following is an extract from chapter two of the British Computer Society book ‘Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field’ by Mark Kobayashi-Hillary and Dr Richard Sykes attempts to define KPO:

“KPO is merely a continuation of BPO, though with rather more business complexity. The defining difference is that KPO is usually focused on knowledge-intensive business processes that require significant domain expertise (application professionalism in the language of Chapter 1). The offshore team servicing a KPO contract cannot be easily hired overnight, as they must be highly educated and trained, and trusted to take decisions on behalf of the client.

IT outsourcing is strongly focused around technical professionalism, and the migration to business process outsourcing that introduces extra dimensions of application professionalism. Ever more complex services, as implied by KPO, demonstrate this very well. The profile of people being hired to serve within KPO service companies are more diverse than just being drawn from technical IT services – these are people with MBAs, and medical, engineering, design or other specialist business skills. KPO delivers higher value to organizations that offshore their domain-based processes, thereby enhancing the traditional cost– quality paradigm of BPO. The central theme of KPO is to create value for the client by providing business expertise rather than process expertise. So KPO involves a shift from standardized processes to advanced analytical thinking, technical skills and decisive judgment based on experience.”

In addition to the challenges faced by clients, KPO companies themselves have challenges:

  • High staff turnover, especially where work is not challenging to the employee’s skills;
  • High cost of training and tendency to lose the most experienced employees to the clients and;
  • Ensuring the security and confidentiality of information, especially when privacy laws vary from one country to another

Business process outsourcing (BPO) is a form of outsourcing that involves the contracting of the operations and responsibilities of a specific business functions (or processes) to a third-party service provider. Originally, this was associated with manufacturing firms, such as Coca Cola that outsourced large segments of its supply chain.. In contemporary context, it is primarily used to refer to the outsourcing of services.

BPO is typically categorized into back office outsourcing – which includes internal business functions such as human resources or finance and accounting, and front office outsourcing – which includes customer-related services such as contact center services.

BPO contracted outside a company’s country is called offshore outsourcing. BPO that is contracted to a company’s neighboring (or nearby) country is called near shore outsourcing.

Given the proximity of BPO to the information technology industry, it is also categorized as an Information Technology enabled service or ITES. Knowledge process outsourcing(KPO) and legal process outsourcing (LPO) are some of the sub-segments of business process outsourcing industry.

Industry

India has revenues of 10.9 billion USD from offshore BPO and 30 billion USD from IT and total BPO (expected in FY 2008). India has some 5-6% share of the total BPO Industry, but a commanding 63% share of the offshore component. This 63% is a drop from the 70% offshore share that India enjoyed last year, despite the industry growing 38% in India last year, other locations like Eastern Europe, Philippines, Morocco, Egypt and South Africa have emerged to take a share of the market. China is also trying to grow from a very small base in this industry.

However, while the BPO industry is expected to continue to grow in India, its market share of the offshore piece is expected to decline. Important centers in India are Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai and New Delhi.

The top five Indian BPO exporters for 2006-2007 according to NASSCOM are Genpact, WNS Global Services, Transworks Information Services, IBM Daksh, and TCS BPO.

According to McKinsey, the global “addressable” BPO market is worth $122 – $154 billion, of which: 35-40 retail banking, 25-35 insurance, 10-12 travel/hospitality, 10-12 auto, 8-10 telecoms, 8 pharmaceutical, 10-15 others and 20-25 is finance, accounting and HR. Moreover, they estimate that 8% of that capacity was utilized as of 2006

BPO Benefits and Limitations

One of the most important advantages of BPO is the way in which it helps to increase a company’s flexibility. However, several sources have different ways in which they perceive organizational flexibility. Therefore business process outsourcing enhances the flexibility of an organization in different ways.

Most services provided by BPO vendors are offered on a fee-for-service basis. This helps a company become more flexible by transforming fixed into variable costs. A variable cost structure helps a company respond to changes in required capacity and does not require a company to invest in assets, thereby making the company more flexible. Outsourcing may provide a firm with increased flexibility in its resource management and may reduce response times to major environmental changes.

Another way in which BPO contributes to a company’s flexibility is that a company is able to focus on its core competencies, without being burdened by the demands of bureaucratic restraints. Key employees are herewith released from performing non-core or administrative processes and can invest more time and energy in building the firm’s core businesses. The key lies in knowing which of the main value drivers to focus on – customer intimacy, product leadership, or operational excellence. Focusing more on one of these drivers may help a company create a competitive edge.

A third way in which BPO increases organizational flexibility is by increasing the speed of business processes. Using techniques such as linear programming can reduce cycle time and inventory levels, which can increase efficiency and cut costs. Supply chain management with the effective use of supply chain partners and business process outsourcing increases the speed of several business processes, such as the throughput in the case of a manufacturing company.

Finally, flexibility is seen as a stage in the organizational life cycle. BPO helped to transform Nortel from a bureaucratic organization into a very agile competitor. A company can gain the advantage of maintaining ambitious growth goals while sidestepping standard business bottlenecks. BPO therefore allows firms to retain their entrepreneurial speed and agility, which they would otherwise sacrifice in order to become efficient as they expanded. It avoids a premature internal transition from its informal entrepreneurial phase to a more bureaucratic mode of operation.

A company may be able to grow at a faster pace as it will be less constrained by large capital expenditures for people or equipment that may take years to amortize, may become outdated or turn out to be a poor match for the company over time.

Although the above-mentioned arguments favor the view that BPO increases the flexibility of organizations, management needs to be careful with the implementation of it as there are a few stumbling blocks, which could counter these advantages. Among problems, which arise in practice are failure to meet service levels, unclear contractual issues, changing requirements and unforeseen charges, and a dependence on the BPO which reduces flexibility. Consequently, these challenges need to be considered before a company decides to engage in business process outsourcing

A further issue is that in many cases there is little that differentiates the BPO providers other than size. They often provide similar services, have similar geographic footprints, leverage similar technology stacks, and have similar Quality Improvement approaches.

Threats

Risk is the major drawback with Business Process Outsourcing. Outsourcing of an Information System, for example, can cause security risks both from a communication and from a privacy perspective. For example, security of North American or European company data is more difficult to maintain when accessed or controlled in the Sub-Continent.

From a knowledge perspective, change of attitude in employees, underestimation of running costs and the major risk of losing independence, outsourcing leads to a different relationship between an organization and its contractor.

Risks and threats of outsourcing must therefore be managed, to achieve any benefits. In order to manage outsourcing in a structured way, maximizing positive outcome, and minimizing risks and avoiding any threats, a Business Continuity Management (BCM) model is required. BCM consists of a set of steps, to successfully identify, manage and control the business processes that are, or can be outsourced.

Another framework, more focused on the identification process of potential outsourceable Information Systems, L. Willcocks, M. Lacity and G. Fitzgerald identify several contracting problems companies face, ranging from unclear contract formatting, to a lack of understanding of technical IT- processes.

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