Wojick Final

BPO: THE NUMBERS BEHIND THE NUMBERS
DAN WOJICK
BRADLEY UNIVERSITY

Abstract
Business process outsourcing is very commonly practiced by many fortune 500 companies. The process generally creates a very positive end result but yet contains much controversy. It is a high risk, high reward activity that requires a good deal of planning and understanding. The media often targets outsourcing as way to stir up public emotions. Business process outsourcing has proven to be successful for many firms across many industries but it also contains many challenges and pitfalls along the way.

When the letters BPO are mentioned in a conversation, it usually causes one of two reactions. Most people either cringe at the thought or their complete look of confusion speaks for itself. BPO stands for Business Process Outsourcing, commonly referred to as outsourcing for short. In 2009, one can hardly open a business periodical without finding countless columns, opinions and references to recent outsourcing. Outsourcing is not a new trend in business, but the media has a way of choosing when to bring it to light or when to save the story for a rainy day, a really rainy day. BPO is a topic that can touch a nerve very quickly for many people. It’s a topic that seems to be discussed in public only when necessary, yet if asked for their opinion on outsourcing jobs overseas, many individuals have a fairly strong opinion. There is no right or wrong answer to the three decade long issue of business outsourcing. Facts are facts, and many opinions are based on emotion or without full knowledge of the facts. Outsourcing after all is nothing more than an example of a comparative advantage in business. On even broader terms outsourcing is simply an example of the separation and division of labor that Adam Smith spoke of in the late 1700’s.
The last time business process outsourcing made news headlines was in 2003. The idea of outsourcing was not born in the early 2000s, but has been around since the early 80s and became really popular in the 90s. US companies were seeing the value in processing work overseas, where it could be completed at a fraction of the cost. In the 1990’s outsourcing specialty companies like Infosys and The Sutherland Group were growing at incredible rates, completely under the radar. In 2001 the internet dot com boom was taking off and Americans were increasing their standard of living almost daily. There were water-cooler jokes floating around that were along the lines of: “Hey Bill I heard you got a new company laptop this morning, too bad it’s already out of date!” Companies that had 150 to 1 price to earnings ratios were soaring over 300 dollars a share in the technology sector. Efficiency was a useless topic of conversation in board meetings. Everyone felt they could hit it big with one good idea thanks to the internet revolution. Unemployment was low and nobody wanted to be bothered by doing “busy work”. People were lining up to try to get in on the ground floor of the next big technology IPO so they could triple their stock portfolios in a number of hours. Cash was being made hand over fist in America, so nobody really concerned themselves with much else.
Then everything stopped. Economic growth rates of 20 plus percent never had long term sustainably at any point in history. The internet boom like many of its similar economic predecessors succumbed to a collapse. It was now damage control time. Everyone had overspent, overbuilt, and overestimated. Stocks plummeted as reality set back in and investors wanted answers. Many of the fly-by-night dot com companies had no answers and declared bankruptcy. For the more established companies, they needed a solution for their shareholders and they needed it quickly. There are many factors to turning a profit in business. In its simplest form, a company’s annual profit is simply its revenues minus its expenses. During times of recession and pullback, revenue growth can be very difficult to achieve. In order to maintain or increase profitability, firms must instead evaluate their expenses. It was time for these corporations to take a serious look at the relatively unknown industry of moving business processes and operations halfway across the globe.
Business outsourcing was started in the early 1980s. Blue Collar and manufacturing jobs had been sent overseas before but never had white collar, advanced degree work been done in a foreign country. Some forward thinking individuals realized that while countries like India and China were still considered third world emerging markets, they possessed great human resources that could be utilized for increased profits for companies in the western world. These resources became available largely because of communications advances and the internet. As the internet increased in efficiency and decreased in cost, the ability to move data grew as well. One of the early pioneers of outsourcing, Dilip R. Vellodi, CEO and founder of Sutherland Global Services, saw his opportunity. Around the same time Vellodi was starting Sutherland another company named Infosys was being formed. Today Infosys is one of India’s most well known outsourcing companies. It was founded in 1981 and went public in 1993. It has received numerous awards and recognition for its incredible growth and quality business practice. These companies and a few others saw the comparative advantage that could be achieved by doing business processes thousands of miles away (McCue).
In the 1990s there were many players offering outsourcing services. Some were based solely on the internet and some had actual infrastructure in the United States, India, or both. Many of the outsourcing companies have done extremely well since the 1990s but a few have risen to be elite. The Sutherland Group and Infosys are great examples of companies that have risen to the top of their industry. Nandan Nilekani, CEO of Infosys, first realized he could sell the cost aspect of outsourcing as a way to gain business. He then discovered to really grow his business he would need to differentiate his company from the hundreds that were popping up on the internet. These companies were also promising to supply low cost labor overseas. Nilekani shifted his focus from pure cost savings to also include quality. “Our selling pitch so far was, ‘We have a 100 Java engineers, and we can deliver for you from offshore, now tell us what you want us to do.’ Today that is being replaced with ‘We can give you a technical solution which can cut your inventory expenses by $100 million’”, said Nilekani (Outsource2india.com). Dilip Vellodi, in an interview, proclaimed his importance on delivering “measurable results” (Aron 2009). His company, The Sutherland Group based in upstate New York, sells outsourcing capacities based on these measurable results. According to Vellodi, the classic way of evaluating service expenses included either manpower-based expenses, or time-based expenses. He revolutionized the market’s mindset much like Nilekani did. Instead of the traditional way of measuring expenses, Vellodi provided solutions that were event-based expenses, transaction based expenses, and overall solution based expenses. These measureable numbers provided much more information to customers. Providing detailed information was a major key to the success of The Sutherland Group (Aron 2009).
Cost benefits are the primary reason for company outsourcing. Seldom is there ever a business decision that does not in some way factor cost into the equation. Numbers vary by industry, but according to a publication from the internet outsourcing company Outsource2India.com, some businesses are saving up to 60% on their total costs. Companies are able to do this by utilizing India’s chief resource, their labor force. India adds nearly 200,000 engineers from its universities to its workforce each year. Every graduate from an Indian university is fluent in English. Companies use outsourcing to their advantage by moving non-core competencies offshore. Examples include services like data entry, call centers, software services, financial services, healthcare services, digital editing, internet and web based services, as well as different engineering services. Outsourcing companies can provide this work at a fraction of the cost, saving companies huge percentages in their overall costs.
Pie Chart 1: Global BPO Market by Industry
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Source: PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2005
Outsourcing in India has major advantages that go beyond cost effective services. Labor arbitrage is a great advantage, but it’s not a sustainable advantage (Aron 2009). In order to ensure success in India, outsourcing companies had to look much deeper into the environment. They evaluated the labor pool, the infrastructure, and the economic and political states of the country. The Indian government is relatively stable. It’s growing on over 60 years of sustained democracy. Today it is actually the world’s largest democracy. Historians who’ve studied democracies in history have come across a noticeable pattern. They’ve concluded the average democracy lasts about 200 years and in each instance the nation underwent a pattern of very similar stages. The nation begins in bondage, and usually through violence or wars earn freedom and liberty. This is usually followed by a long period of great growth, motivation, innovation and abundance. Because democracy is based on people voting in elected officials, people naturally began to vote more and more on elected officials that promised them with the lion’s share of treasury funds. This in turn causes the democracy to gradually revert back to a state of dependence. Democracy officially ends then as free markets need to be regulated once again. It is still unknown who was the first person to theorize democracy in these stages. It is also important to remember that while historical events usually are good measures to predicting the future, they are not necessarily guaranteed.
Timeline 1: Democratic Stages Over 200 Years
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Given India’s current economic and political state they could be categorized somewhere in the early middle stages of this lifecycle. They arguably fall somewhere right before the abundance stage. The abundance period is similar to a country’s golden age, or time of great prosperity. India is currently heavily investing in technology and infrastructure. The country has taken many steps towards increasing its Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). They even allow 100% foreign equity in certain situations. FDI is very important to a country’s early growth. The number one issue the Indian government faces is how to provide its citizens with working wages. FDI greatly helps economies that are in periods of high unemployment or high growth rates.
A major barrier to globalized economies in the past has been the most obvious one, location. India has turned that barrier into a distinct advantage for companies in the United States. The flow of data has become almost instantaneous through the internet and communication advancements in the last 30 years. But as information moved at the speed of light, the actual speed of light remained the same. This means the earth’s rotational pattern around the sun obviously did not change because the human race found an instantaneous way to move information. India is located about 12 time zones away, which gives them a time zone advantage in business. A time zone advantage results from normal business hours differing in globalized markets. US companies that require data processing from India can submit their documentation and data before heading out to happy hour. By the time the coffee starts brewing the next morning, Indian organizations will have had an entire workday to prepare the deliverables to the United States. If the service required in India is a call center or help line service, Indian companies work night shifts at many locations to handle calls from across the globe. Most users don’t even realize the person on the other end is located in India. Almost all people don’t care whether or not the call center attendant is Indian or American. The customer just wants their question answered as quickly and painless as possible (Stokes 2004).
Specialization is also a benefit of outsourcing. In addition to cheaper labor, companies that outsource are also getting superior business competency. Just like the companies that outsource have core competencies that they rely on to be profitable, the outsourcing companies have their own core competencies. Their core competencies are in the processes being outsourced and in executing efficient procedures. Fields like data processing or call centers are run with far greater efficiency and quality than can be provided by a small in-house branch. For example Unisoft Datatech, based in India, is an expert company in back office and medical record processing. They provide hospitals and medical centers with expert medical record processing at lower costs. This allows doctors to focus more resources on patient care. Any additional savings are passed along to the patient in reduced cost medical visits. (CNET News, 2002)
In the world of accounting, US wages and overhead costs are exceptionally high when compared to foreign counterparts. Outsourcing a staff accountant can save the firm up to $50,000 per person. By sending the bulk of the accounting processing overseas it allows CPAs to attend to their top 10 - 20% of clients. These clients generally account for 80-90% of the firms revenues. The firm gets the increased efficiency of having a specialized outsourcing firm in India handling their secondary business processes. Being multi-national also gives the CPA the ability to better manage peak season rushes. They also benefit from having the overseas firm do the necessary research into process improvements. Since the CPA no longer needs to invest to stay current with accounting techniques, it can focus more on marketing. With the additional help overseas the firm can also take on more clients. The bottom line for accounting is the same as health care and service industries. It allows firms to be more productive and more efficient. Most of these cost savings are then passed on to the customer, benefiting everyone involved (Strategic Application of Outsourcing in a CPA Practice).
As much as US companies can benefit from outsourcing the same holds true for India. India’s primary resource is their population, which is growing at a very fast rate. The foreign direct investment helps create the immediate positions needed for the outsourcing process. In addition it also creates five more supporting positions for every job created by outsourcing. Jobs in transportation, security, catering, and housekeeping sectors are some examples (Verghese, 2009). Almost 40% of India’s population lives off less than two dollars a day. Employees of outsourcing firms can earn between $5,200 and $36,000 a year. These salaries bring much needed paychecks to India’s middle class, allowing them to purchase homes and cars that were once out of reach (Thottam, 2003).
There is clear evidence that outsourcing can decrease a company’s costs, but as with any business venture it’s not without its share of risk and problems. For many businesses perception and image means everything for the company. This is especially true in today’s digital world where a negative event for a company can reach millions of people in a matter of minutes. Companies spend millions of dollars on athletes and celebrities to endorse their products and promote their brand name and recognition. The perceived problem with outsourcing is that it destroys jobs. The media, whom rarely misses any opportunity to broadcast a negative story, frequently publishes decisions by companies to send thousands of jobs to India. This can pose a problem for companies that need to keep a good standing image in the United States to stay in business.
In the US, from an economic standpoint outsourcing has many advantages. The cost of goods is decreased due to a lower cost of production. This in turn is passed on to consumers in the form of highly competitive prices. It’s especially beneficial to fixed lower income persons who can now afford a higher standard of living. It allows the country to best allocate resources from less productive to more productive. The more skilled and educated workforce can now focus on improving their business, instead of being forced to accomplish tasks that they would normally be unwilling or overqualified to do.
However from a political standpoint outsourcing to India is seen as a negative concept. Few politicians want to appear as un-American, or supportive of domestic job losses. Just as the foreign direct investment helps India’s population make living wages, that investment can potentially hurt the United States in lost wages. Most politicians understand how outsourcing actually improves the quality of life for the United States but due to political pressures are forced into protectionism. Protectionism is an enormous threat to outsourcing. If a company invests heavily into globalizing its operations, only to have the government limit trade or impose large tariffs, the company can incur big losses. There are also big risks due to political policies in India as well. India can use tactics like paying employees in non-convertible rupees in order to keep all the money in their country (Stokes 2004). India still has many memories of the British colonial rule. If the foreign investment in India gets too great, it will also resort to protectionism.
India’s government abolished the traditional caste system that existed prior to the democracy. The traditional system did not allow individuals to move social classes regardless of their intelligence level. Democracy was started in 1947. In many areas however the caste system is still very prevalent. One of the theories behind why an increasing percentage of the population lives below the poverty level is the pressure from western countries. Sixty percent of Indians traditionally made their living wages working in agriculture. The United States pushed agricultural goods on to India at cheap prices causing the rural population to fall into poverty. In response to this, many are teaching their youth about American culture and the English language. The youth are moving into cities and becoming educated. This in turn is provides a large labor force that can meet the outsourcing needs of these western companies. But care must be taken as the transition from the traditional caste system to modernized cities is very difficult. It increases exposure and risk to investment. Ninety percent of outsourcing infrastructure is located in the seven largest cities in India. Nasscom, the industry’s forum, has recently started urging companies to expand to an identified forty-three secondary cities. This would greatly help the poor whom can’t afford to move to one of India’s premier cities (Lakshmi 2008).
Dilip Vellodi stated that there were many things he considered before deciding on India for his outsourcing business. The political, economic and social states of the foreign country are just as big of roadblocks for a multi-national corporation. The economists tend to think in terms of utilitarian ethics. Meaning they look at free international trade as positive because it’s a positive-sum equation. If a situation produces more positives than negatives its acceptable. They usually neglect the ethical issues that may arise from this free trade. For example, a call center in the United States in 2005 cost a company on average $19,000 a year. In India the average call center costs $7,500 annually (PriceWaterhouseCoopers 2005). However because the labor laws in India are not the same as in the United States, the labor provided is questionable. Say the call center employee in America was being paid $8.50 an hour, while the Indian equivalent is making 50 cents an hour. Does a company have moral obligations to everyone that works to produce a product weather they are directly or indirectly employed by that company? This is still a very gray area of ethical business. Some will argue that 50 cents an hour is 50 cents more than that individual was making before they had this job opportunity and is more than willing to work for that rate. Therefore if both parties are happy, and no laws are being broken, then it passes the ethical test. The other side is that labor is being exploited by the company. Either way it is not an easy decision for any company to make.

Table 1: The Average Cost for Call Center Employee
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Source: PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2005
A typical outsourcing operation consists of sending secondary business processes overseas to be done. The core competencies of the business remain within the company. However to accomplish these secondary tasks, often a certain amount of classified or important data must be transmitted. This data is vulnerable to piracy and other forms of theft. Copyright and patent laws may be violated in a lesser regulated market. The stolen material could then be used in the form of competition on black markets or even re-bundled and sold legally. Computer software is an excellent example of this. India is working very hard to create an image of safety and security for the foreign investments. This image and reputation weighs heavily on the decisions of corporations before deciding to invest. In the 1960s and 70s Las Vegas became a booming tourist attraction. It has been well documented that organized crime was largely influential in the operations there. Even still, Las Vegas had one of the country’s lowest murder rates. The criminal outfits that ran Las Vegas understood that people needed to feel safe if they were going to visit and spend money at the casinos. So they made sure the city’s image was one of safety, security and excitement. Indian outsourcing parallels this fundamental concept. If a few individuals abuse and take advantage of the trust being given by foreign investment, then the whole system will collapse and everyone loses. India has done an excellent job of maintaining a relatively safe and secure business model. Ultimately each individual company will have to decide if it’s worth the risk to send sensitive data to be processed at a discount, or to pay a little more and have the added security of keeping the data in house. Managers must be confident in giving up a certain amount of control, yet they must maintain strong relationships (Foryzewski).
With all of the risks involved over two thirds of fortune 500 companies still outsource a portion of their business overseas. So how does the CIO decipher which company to use in an outsourcing decision? The largest companies have dedicated departments that oversee the foreign investments. They own buildings and infrastructure overseas. They install their own management and security on location. Other companies use specialty outsourcing companies, like The Sutherland Group or Infosys to handle the operations for a fee. Finally, some companies opt to go directly to the source, and hire a small vendor to run the process. This carries the highest level of risk, but in many cases needs the smallest amount of initial investment. There are sites that operate similar to EBAY, where vendors can bid on projects and post reviews from prior work. Effective CIOs have been known to be quite ruthless when it comes to outsourcing evaluation and selection. Many of the vendors are too underdeveloped or ill-equipped to handle the projects assigned. Some outsourcing firms fly to the United States only to have their bids rejected within minutes of meeting with a CIO. It’s up to the CIO to investigate every aspect of the process and the outsourcing firm before investing large sums of capital investment. The old saying, measure twice cut once, is very relevant to a company contemplating outsourcing. To obtain the maximum benefit from outsourcing with minimal issues requires a company to think ahead, and then think ahead again (Overby, 2003).
It is estimated that BPO industry has grown nearly 30 percent, compounded annually since the mid 90’s. A majority of the articles and headlines on outsourcing have come in the years 2003 and 2009. Nobody seems to mind sending work overseas during times of great prosperity. However during recessionary periods it becomes a heavily debated topic. Nobody likes to let someone go because their work is now being done overseas. In 2002 the Dow Jones Industrials Average lost just over 16% of its value. Consequently 2003 was a big year for outsourcing, as firms looked to lower costs. In an article from TIME Magazine in 2003, a man named Sab Maglione was highlighted. He worked as a manager for a large insurance firm in New Jersey. In 2001 he was introduced to Tata Consultancy Services, based in India. Within 2 years he managed a team of 5 Tata employees. One year later a Tata employee that was trained by Maglione was named manager. Seventy percent of the project was moved to India, and Sab Maglione was unemployed. Stories like this one are very common practice. Experienced managers are literally training their replacements. For this reason outsourcing is kept very hush-hush in retail industries. Even when stories like this are published in mainstream media it is still very unlikely to detour a board of directors in their decision. In a survey of 1,000 firms by Gartner Research, 80% of the firms said the backlash from public opinion was not going to affect their outsourcing plans.
Dick Taggart has resorted to the age old philosophy, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. He used to work for JP Morgan in the financial industry. JP Morgan currently outsources nearly $300 million in back office work overseas. They work with companies like Cognizant, TCS, and Accenture. JP Morgan even has its own captive centre in Mumbai (Mishra 2009). Before JP Morgan could move his position overseas, Taggart quit and took a job with Progeon, an affiliate of India’s Infosys outsourcing company. He currently works with security firms on Wall Street, showing them outsourcing solutions in India. When he was asked about the feelings of the workers who will be removed from industry as a result of his consulting he responded, “It was the same thing when we moved from Wall Street to New Jersey and then to Dallas. Guess what? This is next.” (Thottam 2003). The bottom line is outsourcing helps companies reduce costs, increase profits, and helps the overall economy. The comparative advantage results in an increased standard of living.
Stock Chart 1: Dow Jones Industrials Average Years 2002-03
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Stock Chart 2: Dow Jones Industrials Average Years 2008-09
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The Dow Jones Industrials Average took a heavy hit in 2002 after the dot com boom losing nearly 16%. It would recover in 2003 as companies scaled back expenses and increased efficiency. 2008 showed a tremendous loss in the Dow’s value due to the housing bust. Just as in 2003, 2009 puts firms business practices under the microscope again. Highs and lows in the economy are naturally occurring. History shows they are virtually unpreventable. The comparative advantage that outsourcing provides was one of the reasons the US economy pulled out of the recession in 2003. Politicians like to use anti-outsourcing campaigns to get elected in the promise of protectionism for the people who elected them into office. Companies delicately practice outsourcing to lower costs and appease the shareholders. They do this while being very mindful of the image they portray by laying off these loyal employees. Economists encourage the nation to look beyond the immediate impact of outsourcing and look towards the overall long term health and wellbeing of the nation. Whose opinion or stance is correct? These issues are being heavily debated in the economic housing crisis of 2009.
In the political and economic maneuvering in the media and Washington, one thing seems to be certain. Outsourcing is here to stay and so is its growth. Companies are outsourcing to grow, not merely to increase profits (Venkatesan 2008). The role of outsourcing is so prevalent now that most companies that use outsourcing would not be profitable without it. An industry with over a 30% annual growth rate cannot be ignored (Research and Markets, 2006).
Bar Graph 1: Size and Growth of BPO in India
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Source: PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2005
Following the 2002 recession, outsourcing had nearly a sustained 50% growth rate for 3 years. The dollars spent on business process outsourcing nearly doubled from 2002 to 2005. In 2006 America’s top companies had growth plans that included:
- IBM moving from 39,000 Indian employees to 55,000 within 2 years.
- Dell adding 10,000 additional Indian professionals by 2009, effectively doubling their workers there.
- Accenture adding 30,000 professions with the majority in India
- JP Morgan doubling their overseas workforce in 1 year
- Capgemini and Kanbay, an Indian IT company, planning to add 23,000 jobs in 4 years.
Source: ValueNotes Database
In 2009 IBM laid off another 5,000 US jobs. They now have over 71% of their 400,000 employees overseas (Bulkeley 2009). WNS Global Services is a BPO company located in Mumbai, India. They were established to service British Airways in 1996. Between 2002 and 2008 they had grown from having revenues of $15 million dollars a year to almost half a billion. Their employee base has grown from 1,300 people in 2002 to almost 23,000 in 2008. These numbers are absolutely staggering. Currently they not only outsource for British Airways but they also serve over 190 organizations worldwide (Beachey).
The future remains very bright for business process outsourcing. It has opened the door to new options like Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO). KPO is considered by many to be the next frontier for business outsourcing. It focuses on primarily solving business needs versus moving business processes to lower cost locations. This allows companies to achieve lean business processes without downsizing or moving jobs overseas. The company eClerx is a specialist in KPO. Their primary focus is on business processes that require constant refinement and research. Rather than just focusing on people, they also work with technology, business processes and how they interact with people. They aim to engineer solutions rather than just to provide fundamental services at low cost (Hobbs).
The Indian government still plays a major role in its education system. If that were to change in the future and allow private investment the sky could be the limit for the Indian economy. Conversely if the education system isn’t reformed it could lead to some issues for India. If India gets on a path of mass producing degrees without providing the necessary skills it will make India a less attractive investment option. The wealthy citizens in India can afford to send their best and brightest students overseas to be educated. Many of which do not return. Political stability is another key issue. India needs to stay stable in order to keep their appeal. The backlash from job losses in the United States should be minimal. As long as there is qualified talent at marginally lower costs, United States companies will continue to benefit from and demand overseas labor. In the next decade it is likely one of these potential four outcomes will happen in India. The education system worsens and the government has a low stability. The education system worsens but the government becomes highly stable. The education system improves but government stability is low, or the ideal situation, the education system improves and the government is highly stable (ValueNotes Database).
If the education system is able to improve, the concept of study abroad will also benefit the United States. United States students will have the opportunity to save $30,000 to $150,000 on higher education costs by getting a degree overseas. The annual rate of tuition fee increase for universities located in the United States is far greater than the inflation rate. The savings would help Americans begin their careers in far less debt than a typical domestic education (Nounou 2003). It will also create an education that will have more experience in global economies and multinational corporations. This next decade will be a very important one for the future of India. Global outsourcing will be a major factor in all economies as global business is likely to continue to grow. Businesses will continue to try to achieve economies of scale in order to continue growth. The next decade will also bring about many changes in the United States. The growth of developing nations will have a huge impact on the United States economy. People in India currently joke, “When America sneezes we catch a cold.” In the future this saying may very well be the exact opposite.

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