Catalyzing a Turnaround

DQI Bureau
New Update

With the claws of recession sprouting across the globe, the BPO companies are

making every possible endeavor to optimize their costs and increase

productivity. Also, considering the present situation, where most of the

developed economies are lurching because of the financial crisis, India needs to

bank upon well-built composition and alternatives to take the growth to the next



The department of telecom (DoT) has recently come out with the memorandum to

introduce the concept of work-from-home agents in India. The concept has been

introduced for companies registered under Other Service Providers (OSPs), which

include some call centers, network operation centers, tele-marketing, tele-education,

tele-medicine and tele-trading.

It could act as a catalyst to reduce the overall cost and to bridge the

rural-urban divide in the country. However, the cost effectiveness of home

networking depends upon various factors such as impact of home working on

freeing up office space, cost of equipment including telephony implications, the

level of technical support, training and assistance facilities, clear government

guidelines and appropriate HR policies to maintain the professional growth of

the employee.

According to a Nasscom-Everest India BPO Survey, BPO is the fastest growing

segment of the overall offshore market and is currently estimated at $26-29 bn.

Also, it further predicted a total export BPO market opportunity of $220-280 bn

by 2012. However to leverage these opportunities, the country needs to focus on

tier-2/3 cities to maintain the low cost of operations.


As there are a number of offshore BPO destinations like the Philippines,

China, Eastern Europe, etc, which are catching up fast as a feasible

alternatives to India, the country needs to rely on new technologies and

innovative business models to ensure that these opportunities are not lost to

mentioned destinations.

The concept of home agents may sound new to the India market, but it has

already gained a foothold in most of the advanced countries like USA, Australia,

New Zealand, UK and Japan.


Globally, the factor responsible for the growth of home agents is not costs,

but more to do with hiring and retaining highly qualified agents.

At present there are over 150,000 agents working from home in the US. As per

estimates, this number can go up to 325,000 in the next three years. Further,

according to projections in the US, home agents can save around 30% of fully

loaded costs, largely contributed by saving on brick and mortar facilities.

We see this option being explored by most BPOs as they bring strong value to

operations. We expect Indian BPOs which are currently in the evaluation phase to

get into deployment in the next 6-12 months, says Ketan Shah, BU head, contact

centers, Avaya Global Connect.


Although, the home agent concept is a great thought to narrow the rural-urban

divide, non-availability of unfaltering connectivity, security concerns and poor

infrastructure can deter BPO organizations to invest in far-flung areas.

The concept of home agent is completely new to India. There is hardly any

structured service delivery that currently operates on this model. It will take

time to gain acceptance, says Raju Bhatnagar VP, BPO and Government Relations,


Different Strokes

Though the concept of home agents has gained huge recognition in Western

countries, there are various issues that need to be resolved to match the same

amount of popularity in the Indian context. Firstly, the country lacks when it

comes to robust infrastructure and all-purpose facilities in rural and far-flung

areas. It is grappling with issues such as poor infrastructure, connectivity,

availability of PCs, security, etc.


Whilst Europe and the US embrace the concept of tele-commuting, working from

home, etc, India is typically more comfortable with a traditional office with

structured hours. There is a strong need for a mindset shift in employees, their

parents and society, says Patrick David, executive vice president, global human

resources and corporate communication, HTMT Global Solutions.

Apart from the human aspect, the other key thing which would be of major

consideration is network security. The IT operations need to be monitored at

multiple levels in order to enhance the business objectives and to safeguard the

interests of the consumer. According to experts, things like digital rights

management (DRM) can work to secure the operations when it comes to things like

copying or taking printouts of any data. The technology primarily focuses on

protecting the Web content and its products are available from various vendors.

Broadband is a prerequisite for agents to be able to work from home. This is

a big challenge, which needs to be overcome. Also in todays complex business

environment clients are really concerned about security issues, and therefore it

is imperative to consider various technology options to safeguard their

interests, says SV Ramana, CTO, Genpact.


Also, all the processes cannot be shifted to home. For instance, while

processes related to telemarketing can be shifted to home agents, companies find

it difficult to shift stringent applications or technology-based processes. A

proper evaluation is therefore required to ascertain the processes that can be

accessed from home.

Further, building out a sample work-at-home set-up in the corporate office

using a cable modem or DSL set-up can make it easier for the IT department to

understand and resolve connectivity issues at the later stage.

From a technology perspective, its important to determine if the company

will use PSTN or VoIP for connectivity. For the most part, contact centers are

mainly using VoIP for at home and remote agent set-ups. It provides greater

flexibility and potentially some additional cost savings, says Rajeev Soni,

general manager, South Asia and Middle East, Aspect Software.


Also, if the contact center uses VoIP, its important to work with carriers

to deliver service level agreements for the delivery of voice packets.

In addition, the contact center should have a proper backup plan, if there is

a partial or complete outage at the agents place.

Another area which requires adequate planning is to manage and support the IT

assets of home agents. Mostly, it is the company which needs to provide the PC,

and telecom-related gear for home agents, as well as pay for the Internet access

or phone lines. Further, the manager and the staff member would also need to

establish mutually accepted targets in order to have proper clarity on the

issues and expectations from the agent working from home.

Benefits Aplenty

There is no dearth of talent in India; the only thing which creates

obstacles at times is the poor infrastructure and lack of support from the

responsible authorities. Movement of some of the BPO organizations to tier-2

cities has already helped them to make substantial profits and generate myriad

employment opportunities for the youth and retired people. Also, considering the

untapped potential of Indian housewives, the concept of home agent has a lot

more potential to succeed in the market as compared to any other country.

Commenting on the relevance of home agents in the Indian context, Manpreet

Singh, senior vice president, solutions and technology, Vertex (India) says,

Home-working in India is not something which has really come to fruition.

However, if there were options to be more flexible in certain circumstances, the

staff would have to perform an assessment in line with our global home-working


The home-working concept is not a new initiative for Vertex, with a number of

employees in Vertex UK already exercising this option. Vertex UK is witnessing

huge demand from many clients recently and as a result, over the coming months,

we will be engaging additional operational staff as home agents, added Singh.

Further, the concept allows agents to dedicate more time toward their

families to maintain the right balance between professional and personal lives.

This reduces the exertion from recruitment and training, leading to a positive

impact on the bottomline. These benefits coupled with cost savings in terms of

time to commute can lead to higher employee satisfaction and therefore a low

attrition rate. According to various studies, adaptation of this model for a

longer period can lower the attrition rate upto 50%.

This concept is already catching up with the Indian youth. A large number of

students pursuing technical education are providing technical support for a

variety of leading brands, all from the comfort of their homes or hostel rooms,

says Navin Joshua, executive director, vCustomer India. At present, over 10% of

the companys total employees are working from home. It also claims to provide

continuous online support and training to ensure quality.

The Road Ahead

In the long run, the home agent concept can prove to be the next revolution

for the Indian BPO industry. However, to set the game field, proper evaluation

and support is required from the government and the industry. Issues such as

power backup, poor roads, connectivity, etc, need to be resolved to popularize

the concept among BPOs.

Further, effective mechanisms should be developed to keep players in the game

for longer durations.

In the US there have been standards that have been drawn by the National

Institute of Standards and Technology for security for telecommuting and

broadband communications. Similar standards need to be developed in India as

well, says Raju Bhatnagar of Nasscom.

In addition, in order to maintain the quality preposition, companies need to

consider security and protection of customer data and information.

Despite these concerns, the concept is heading to gain substantial toehold

from companies interested in lowering their overall costs, while maintaining

their customer-services. Though the concept may take some time it can certainly

address the basic challenge of providing opportunities in rural and semi-urban

areas. And also help the Indian BPO industry to continue its growth story in the

global market.

Jatinder Singh