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 the 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 that is contracted outside a company's country is called offshore outsourcing. BPO that is contracted to a company's neighboring (or nearby) country is called nearshore 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
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 thus 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 pharma, 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
An advantage of BPO is the way in which it helps to increase a company’s flexibility. However, several sources[which?] 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 can help a company becoming more flexible by transforming fixed into variable costs.A variable cost structure helps a company responding 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[who?]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 maintain growth goals while avoiding 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 issues, which work against these advantages. Among problems, which arise in practice are: A 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.
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, a changing 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 setup. 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, identified as AHP, is explained.
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.