Saturday, October 06, 2007

Technology Enablers for BPO Providers - I

posted by ShyK at 23:34

Mature customers today expect way more than cost arbitrage in a Business Process Outsourcing. While (commitments to) increased productivity, innovation and transformation seem to be attracting more and more attention as a part of service provider evaluation – its equally important to ensure that the providers can assure and effective & efficient transition & subsequent delivery.

Considerable attention has been paid to the transition phase with individuals specializing in just that task. Most providers have defined methodologies, use standard or custom project planning & scheduling toolsets and demonstrate means & mechanisms to effectively capture the process through utilities. However, lesser attention is perhaps paid to some of the technology enablers for ongoing effective delivery and continuous improvements.

Workflow Management tools, Business Activity Monitoring (BAM), Business Process Management (BPM), Document Management Systems (DMS) and Knowledge Management (KM) tools have moved from the realm of being buzzwords and/or cutting edge technologies to being widely accepted and sometimes implemented technologies in the customer world. However, in the BPO environment not only are the BPM / BAM / KM toolsets not fully leveraged but also, whenever these are used – they are typically provided for by the customer.

Barring some industry leaders – most BPO providers have not adapted to BPM / BAM / DMS / KM with

  • SOA based implementation allowing for integration with customer / third-party systems easily
  • Third-Party, Industry proven scalable systems rather than home-grown systems
  • Multi-tenant / Shared Service implementation.

BPO providers across the spectrum have other implemented or need to start implementing the following services (or engage partners who do so) in a shared service model thus providing the customers with greater assurance on an ability to provide ongoing improvements.

Let’s start looking at something as simple as Document Digitization & Management Systems. Given that most of BPO (non-voice) essentially either simple or rule-based data entry from (digital images of) paper to the data capture systems - one would think that every service provider would have seamless systems to do so.

Think again – How many service providers have a system (people, process & technology) which allows for

  • Regional / Local centers present Globally - or at least in US, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia, Japan – to collate documents and scan / digitize them within stringent SLAs. No doubt, most providers provide such service in one country or other – in the primary geographies their address but as the global contracts are on rise – ability to provide such service globally is essential.
  • Upload & Storage of scanned documents in a system from which they can be retrieved for further processing. While providers perhaps upload documents from their scanning centers to their DMS – the challenge more often than not occurs in scenarios such as HRO where the provider might be required to provide wide-spread access to customer employees (to perhaps upload some supporting documents).
  • Ability to index documents, route them through an appropriate workflow, archive and retrieve them. Well obviously – even the home-grown DMS have an ability to do all that. The challenge though is to integrate all this with the ERP / Transaction system being used by the customer so that the customer can access the digital images, and address any workflow participation requirements through their existing systems. Most providers either depend on the customer to provide for the well integrated DMS or require the customer to log-in to the provider’s system to get digital images.
  • A lot of provider home-grown systems also lack flexible & ad-hoc reporting as against canned standard or specific pre-developed customer specific reporting for the customer management.
  • Finally there is the ability to extract the images and associated meta-data – if the customer decides to move on. The obvious challenge is identifying a standard form of providing this meta-data across providers so as to minimize cost of data migration.

In a subsequent write-up, I intend to look at other technology enablers that BPO providers might be able to improve on. The fact remains that there is always a scope for improvement

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