Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)
Business process outsourcing (BPO) is a form of outsourcing that involves the contracting of the operations and responsibilities of a specific business functions (or processes) to a third-party service provider. BPO that is contracted outside a company’s country is called offshore outsourcing. BPO that is contracted to a company’s neighboring (or nearby) country is called near shore outsourcing. Given the proximity of BPO to the Information Technology industry, it is also categorized as an information technology enabled service or ITES.
One of the most important advantages of BPO is the way in which it helps to increase a company’s flexibility. However, several sources have different ways in which they perceive organizational flexibility. Therefore business process outsourcing enhances the flexibility of an organization in different ways.
Most services provided by BPO vendors are offered on a fee-for-service basis. This helps a company becoming more flexible by transforming fixed into variable costs. A variable cost structure helps a company responding to changes in required capacity and does not require a company to invest in assets, thereby making the company more flexible. Outsourcing may provide a firm with increased flexibility in its resource management and may reduce response times to major environmental changes.
Another way in which BPO contributes to a company’s flexibility is that a company is able to focus on its core competencies, without being burdened by the demands of bureaucratic restraints. Key employees are herewith released from performing non-core or administrative processes and can invest more time and energy in building the firm’s core businesses. The key lies in knowing which of the main value drivers to focus on –customer intimacy, product leadership, or operational excellence. Focusing more on one of these drivers may help a company create a competitive edge.
A third way in which BPO increases organizational flexibility is by increasing the speed of business processes. Using techniques such as linear programming can reduce cycle time and inventory levels, which can increase efficiency and cut costs. Supply chain management with the effective use of supply chain partners and business process outsourcing increases the speed of several business processes, such as the throughput in the case of a manufacturing company.
Finally, flexibility is seen as a stage in the organizational life cycle. BPO helped to transform Nortel from a bureaucratic organization into a very agile competitor. A company can gain the advantage of maintaining ambitious growth goals while sidestepping standard business bottlenecks. BPO therefore allows firms to retain their entrepreneurial speed and agility, which they would otherwise sacrifice in order to become efficient as they expanded. It avoids a premature internal transition from its informal entrepreneurial phase to a more bureaucratic mode of operation.
Typically, a company is given the freedom to grow at a rapid, steady pace rather than being constrained by large capital expenditures for people or equipment that may take years to amortize, may become outdated or turn out to be a poor match for the company over time.
Although the above-mentioned arguments favor the view that BPO increases the flexibility of organizations, management needs to be careful with the implementation of it as there are a few stumbling blocks, which could counter these advantages. Among problems, which arise in practice are: A failure to meet service levels, unclear contractual issues, changing requirements and unforeseen charges, and a dependence on the BPO which reduces flexibility. Consequently, these challenges need to be considered before a company decides to engage in business process outsourcing.
A further issue is that in many cases there is little that differentiates the BPO providers other than size. They often provide similar services, have similar geographic footprints, leverage similar technology stacks, and have similar Quality Improvement approaches.
Risk is the major drawback with Business Process Outsourcing. Outsourcing of an Information System, for example, can cause security risks both from a communication and from a privacy perspective. From a knowledge perspective, a changing attitude in employees, underestimation of running costs and the major risk of losing independence, outsourcing leads to a different relationship between an organization and its contractor.