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KPO — the big BPO opportunity

Knowledge-driven processes are growing in stature.

Beyond voice-based services: A career in KPO calls for a mix of communication skills, analytical abilities and domain knowledge.

Madan Padaki

While discussing emerging careers in the IT sector in my last article, I had commented on how traditional IT careers are paving the way for emerging ones such as tech-support.

Changes of a similar kind are also happening in the IT-enabled services (ITeS)/Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry that until recently was perceived as the business of “call centres” only.

For the ITeS/BPO industry, this perception has been the biggest challenge in talent engagement.

A couple of months ago, MeritTrac conducted a pilot National Level Employability Test for the ITeS/BPO sectors.

During visits to graduate campuses across the country, the reluctance to take up a career in the so-called “call centre” jobs was evident amongst final and pre-final year students.

At some of the campuses, even the Placement Officers and Principals seemed to subscribe to such views, to an extent. However, in most of the cases we found the students as well as their teachers had limited knowledge and awareness of careers in the ITeS/BPO industry.

In this article, I would like to talk about the fast-changing face of the BPO industry in India, specifically on careers in the Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) space.

Advantage India

KPO, as the name suggests, refers to outsourcing of knowledge-driven processes such as equity research, financial research, legal processes, marketing analytics, clinical research and so on.

A Nasscom report predicts that the KPO market would grow to $17 billion by 2010, of which $12 billion (~70 per cent) would be outsourced to India.

Like other IT-enabled services, India offers the unique advantages of a well-educated, English-speaking talent pool and scale advantages in addition to cost-effectiveness.

This talent pool is the main driver for large global organisations outsourcing more than just voice-based customer interaction processes to India.

Over the last year, MeritTrac has been engaged with a “premier global financial services firm” for conducting assessments on..guess what? Equity research!

This firm generates quite a few research reports on the global equities market out of India, for their trading desks spread across the world — from Tokyo, to London and New York.

The folks who work here are Commerce Graduates, Chartered Accountants and MBA (Finance) professionals.

And the number of people who do similar kind of “BPO” work in India runs into the thousands – a number that is growing rapidly.

Over the last couple of years, we have developed tests in areas such as Financial Analysis, Clinical Trials, Marketing Analytics and for authoring Aircraft Engine Maintenance manuals!!

A recent report indicates that outsourcing of legal processes alone benefits about 700 Indian law firms working in high-end areas such as patent application drafting or writing software license agreements.

With such a buoyant market for KPOs, leading firms are looking forward to engaging the right talent. A UK-based research firm predicts that by 2010, around 2.5 lakh people would be required to handle the projected $12-billion worth of KPO businesses. That opens up a large canvas for our educated talent pool.

KPOs provide opportunities to graduates in engineering, management, law, statistics, economics, accounting and biological sciences to name a few; apart from opening its doors to Arts, Science, and Commerce graduates.

Taking the example of financial analytics and equity research roles — a job description for such a role would include the following:

Analytical, conceptual and interdisciplinary thinking

Fundamentals of Finance, Accounting and Financial Analysis

Experienced in interpreting research reports

Good knowledge of Microsoft Office and the Internet

Command over the English language

Some of the critical personality traits would be:

Pro-active with an intrinsic drive for service excellence and efficiency

Emotionally robust and used to working under pressure

Strong team player

Though there are abundant opportunities, it is imperative that our graduates equip themselves with the right skills to become employable in this sector. Unlike voice-based processes where communication skills are of importance, KPO requires a higher order of analytical and problem solving skills and excellence in domain knowledge.

The essential skills for a successful career in KPO would be a good mix of communication skills, analytical abilities and domain knowledge.

Whereas communication skills are an essential pre-requisite for any job today, depth of subject knowledge ensures one’s ability to perform. At the same time, one needs to be adaptable and open to continuous learning.

For example, handling equity research assignments for the US stock markets not only needs command over subjects such as Finance and Economics, but an understanding of the changing face of business realities like the US sub-prime crisis.

So for all of you who only thought of call centres or voice-based processes whenever you heard the term BPO, think again of the world of KPO that is growing rapidly, opening up a plethora of opportunities! While voice-based processes for customer service, tech-support and so on will continue to exist and thrive, there is a fast-emerging world beyond the call centre.

I am reminded of the all-time classic song by Bob Dylan - “The times, they are a changin’” It would seem Bob Dylan had the BPO industry in mind when he penned this song!!

(The writer is co-founder and CEO, MeritTrac Services.)

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