This is an extraordinary time for the BPO space, with huge leaps in business technology, process and theory taking place against the backdrop of tumultuous economic conditions, the ongoing evolution of globalization, and the social and mobile revolutions playing out across the world. But where will all this change take us?
As glaciers begin to melt more rapidly on polar ice-caps, awareness about the environment and the dangers it faces will permeate every human being on the planet. The corporate sector will start doing much more than collect brownie carbon miles. I see the green in BPO branching out in several directions.
For one, processes that don’t currently include the green factor will have to be introduced by a social conscience if not by law. This might disrupt a slew of already established processes that the old BPO may not be able to handle. Enter the new green BPO, equipped like an eco-warrior to set right decades of wrongs, unless of course, the old outsourcing partner has seen the writing on the wall and got its act together in time.
Another branch growing is an all-green BPO, wherein the offices and staffers swear by anything that’s eco-friendly. Imagine a winning BPO that uses nothing but renewable energy to power its computers, recycles all its garbage and water, grows its own organic foodstuff on the terrace garden, has a little free-range chicken coop on the grounds surrounding the building, and so on. All other things being equal—technology, knowledge, work-ethic, efficiency—such BPOs will be in big demand by other green companies or large corporations needing those greenie points.
Micro or village BPO
Perhaps as an offshoot of the Green BPO but in any case a fall-out of caring for the earth, micro or village BPOs will grow in number. The telecom revolution has already put mobile phones in the hands of villagers in hinterlands; soon it will also be computers and smart phones that have internet capabilities. Already prices of handsets have fallen dramatically and I don’t expect this trend to change.
This will lead to the formation of BPOs in smaller towns or villages, bringing down the cost for operators. Highly-educated people are yearning to return to a more natural life than that afforded by large cities. Before the decade is out, many of them will have started their own micro-enterprises, employing trained local staff to service customers that could be anywhere in the world.
This will be the other side of the coin of micro and diametrically opposite in terms of expertise and price points. These BPOs will offer services for areas so specialized that they will be able to charge premium fees. They will seek the services of highly-educated individuals from across the world. There may be a BPO specializing in drug discovery, cancer treatment or gene therapy—whose back-end processes and accounts will be unintelligible to the vanilla BPO that caters to companies manufacturing washing machines or providing housing finance for example.
Robots are already vacuuming homes and offices in Europe. They are companions to lonely kids in Japan. They are helping, indeed enabling, surgeons perform complicated, never-before attempted surgeries. Imagine robots in the image of human beings actually sitting in front of computers and answering queries from callers. However, the robots in BPOs will likely be digital bots not visible to the human eye but that can perform routine, predictable tasks. And who knows, maybe not so routine tasks as well, given the rate at which robotics and digitization are evolving.
M2M or Machine speak
The internet-of-things is a hot topic of discussion these days. Giants of the software world are now committed to making this happen. Suppose that the robots mentioned above are also employed at this BPO. Imagine that there’s an accounting error in the books of a pharmaceutical company where a batch of pills is unaccounted for. A human search may have taken days of looking into records and chasing the movement of pills from factory to warehouse to wherever it was shipped. With M2M communication between the company and the BPO—where the error was detected in the first place—a series of beeps and squeaks and silent readings and messages ensues, and the answer flashes back in a matter of minutes. What the bots and machines found: the entire batch of tablets was missing a key ingredient, rendering them as good as a placebo, and hence the lot was rejected by the testing lab. The cartons are now lying unattended in a corner.
Machines and embedded devices will detect just about anything in the next ten years. Automated BPOs will ensure we have enough free time to watch True Detectives featuring human beings and their foibles on cable TV.