Keshav Murugesh, Chief Executive Officer, WNS Group

"With the changing economic paradigm, risk and regulatory requirements, outsourcing partners are key to client organisations in managing and mitigating risk"

NASSCOM spoke to Keshav Murugesh about the state of the Indian BPO industry, the challenges facing the sector and the steps it needs to take, under the leadership of NASSCOM, to sustain its competitive edge and growth momentum.

Q: India is positioned as Number 1 in the global BPO market. Can we sustain this advantage, considering the competitive environment and the emergence of alternative sourcing destinations?

I am very optimistic that India can maintain this edge for the years to come. As the CEO of a global company, I have seen strengths across destinations we work out of.

  • I see the quality and supply of resources always being high in India. Thousands of graduates and post graduates, and around 180,000 engineers are added each year into the economy. The English speaking population is very high, thanks to the educational system.
  • Tier 2 and 3 cities are coming up in a big way in terms of infrastructure and resources that can be trained. India is well-positioned to offer a broad array of services from data entry, transactional to high-end voice, to well-rounded contact centers, analytics, research, and technology-enabled outcome-based services.
  • With client expectations evolving over a period of time to industry-specific solutions apart from horizontal solutions like finance and accounting or contact center, India has an edge in terms of a specialised talent pool. Currently, on an average, the BPO workforce includes 15-20 percent of specialised professionals like doctors, engineers, lawyers, among others.
  • From a macroeconomic perspective, India’s democratic system and a business friendly climate will ensure a steady stream of investments coming to India, which will generate more employment in the overall economy as well as bring more opportunities for the outsourcing industry.

Overall, I think there is an edge that the country will be able to maintain over the years.

Q: What do today’s demanding customers expect from their outsourcing partners? Based on these, what are the key priorities for the Indian BPO industry?

Reducing costs and increasing operational efficiencies will always be key drivers. However, clients today look at six focus areas:

  • Innovation in their processes/solutions
  • Disruptive new ideas that can create new revenue streams
  • Analytics and the power to draw insights from the data deluge
  • Cost-effective solutions in the Cloud (For instance, Business Process as a Service)
  • Superior domain knowledge
  • Models beyond FTE (full-time equivalent) to include non-linear models

One of the most important things that has changed over time is the manner in which we are perceived by client organisations today. We are ‘partners’ in their journey─partners that can offer end-to-end services resulting in a competitive edge, sustainable growth and profitability.

Today, the focus is on margins, but with a balance on value creation. Partners like us drive best practices so that clients have seamless processes running in the background, helping them build the much-needed competitive advantage

With the changing economic paradigm, risk and regulatory requirements, outsourcing partners are key to client organisations in managing and mitigating risk, and thus allowing them to focus on their core while outsourcing partners can work on what is core to them!

Q: Is there a requirement for the Indian BPO industry to re-position itself–reiterating its successes, widespread impact on the economy, employment generation capabilities and strong value proposition?

Perceptions about the BPO industry have not changed as much as they should have.

We still hear terms like ‘call center’, ‘contact center’ being synonymous with the industry. While the contact center business is key to outsourcing, it is but one part of the industry.

While the industry has moved on from the time it took root to what it is today–employing high-quality, specialised resources, the perception about it has not changed accordingly! It is known less as an industry driving excellence across various global brands.

Internationally, we need to be known for the innovations we enable and the thousands of patents we have created as an industry in the past decade. We need to be recognised as enablers to every brand that exists and ones in the making. Towards that, NASSCOM and the industry are setting out on a re-branding mission that everyone should hear of shortly.

In the India market, the pride to take up a job in a BPO has to go up. It is not ‘just a job’, but a ‘great career option’ as I see it. Unfortunately, it is known for long hours and stressful work, which are synonymous with any industry today. Economic realities have driven most industries on the brink. In a BPO, careers can be shaped across different domains with a great emphasis on learning and development. There are also targeted initiatives to spur innovation, ensure fun at work and promote healthy living, which I find missing in many other industries. As Co-Chairman of the NASSCOM BPO Forum, WNS and other organisations from the industry are working on a high-voltage campaign to send clear and powerful messages to the Indian population. We are looking at message dissemination from the student-faculty connect, to workshops, events and various other targeted initiatives.

The message that BPO jobs are secure; working in a BPO company is as safe as any other and BPOs offer a high-growth career needs to go down to the masses.

Another important message we need to convey is about the opportunities that this industry offers--opportunities to every kind of professional, be it a chartered accountant, doctor, lawyer or journalist. It is an industry driven by high-caliber and specialised talent, which most often as a message, gets pushed to the background.

Q: Going forward, the BPO sector will need more practitioners and domain specialists to fuel its growth. What is the industry doing to build this expertise?

One is to open its doors to professionals with high-growth opportunities. Second is to increase the focus on learning and development within the organisations. For instance, at WNS, we recently began the concept of ‘Domain-based Universities’ to create specialists within the organisation. The efforts have worked very well for us and we are looking to drive this further within the organisation.

From an industry perspective, efforts are on to develop the talent pool with various training interventions and the Sector Skills council.

Q: What is the role that NASSCOM can play to help take the BPO industry to its next level of growth?

NASSCOM has, over the years, successfully established the brand ‘Made in India’ in the international outsourcing market. It can now play a key role as a ‘leveller’ in the industry–create common examinations for hiring talent in the industry at an entry-level; create task forces to prevent fraud within the industry; and help the industry with the right branding. It can also help forge international partnerships and affiliations, and play a role in policy advocacy.

NASSCOM can also drive best practice sharing within the industry, which will be key to the next level of maturity. Nasscom can also help in making this the agenda of the senior-most officials in the Indian Government–give it the government steer that it needs. With the sizeable contribution we make to the GDP as an industry, it would be good to have the government take up the mandate to popularise the industry and also build infrastructure in a manner in which we can leverage it.