Make Way For Specialised BPO

Updated: Mar 5 2004, 05:30am hrs
India is supposed to enjoy the lions share of global business process outsourcing. It has even become controversial, thanks to the election fever in the US. For many people, BPO is synonymous with call centres. Most think of outsourcing in terms of low value services such as tele-marketing, insurance claims processing, customer complaints processing, and credit card requests processing. The availability of younger people with English language skills and enthusiasm to do routine office jobs, is a big advantage for India.

What is not widely known, however, are the niche areas where India is emerging as a leader. These include high-end technical IT support for companies like Dell, Microsoft and HP, design engineering services, healthcare, accounting services, content creation and a range of specialised, domain-specific services where India is emerging as the preferred destination.Print process outsourcing (PPO) is one such.

Globally, the printing industry is growing inspite of the growth of the electronic medium. In India too, newspapers like The Financial Express and Times of India have grown in the post-Internet era, which began in 1995. With extensive digitisation of content, the actual printing has become very IT-savvy, except for the final printing on paper. This has led to growth in the entire print ecosystem. It is indeed interesting to watch the developments in this arena in India.

Some of the high-end tools (from companies such as Adobe, Macromedia and Quark) are developed out of Indian development centres. Many of the scientific content creators (John Wiley, Addison Wesley, Harcourt, Random House, Harper Collins, and Blackwell Science) are reportedly outsourcing their key print processes (in some cases, even the final printing) to Indian companies. Microsoft Press, Cisco Press and Oracle Press titles are produced in large numbers just to meet the local needs of the larger developer community in India. There is even the printing of more than three million copies of the Bible in India; it was the hottest item being sold at last months World Book Fair in Delhi! It is rumoured that Time is planning an Asia Edition out of India.

There are other dimensions too; with multiple language and script skills and the widespread availability of PCs, it is likely that many of the scientific typesetting including multiple scripts processing will be outsourced to India. Legal, textbook, map, statistical, and picture books print processing would be another area. The very large number of journals, magazines and in-house corporate communications magazines are the next set of print outsourcing opportunities for India.

The key reasons for India to emerge as the preferred destination for outsourcing such print-related activities are not very different from the reasons why India enjoys unique advantages in the case of software development and BPO. These include the abundance of reasonably high quality manpower, access to English language, work culture, the youngsters preference for indoor work (in clean, cool environments as opposed to the dusty, hot outdoors) and, of course, the low cost of manpower employed and their higher productivity.

What are the avenues for growing this business Its important that the powers-that-be recognise the opportunity and quickly extend to it taxation benefits that the software industry enjoys. The PPO industry too needs access to low cost, high quality electrical power and high-speed communication links. STPI extending communications facilities, single window processing, and extending duty exemption for equipment, are possible areas for governmental support. More important of course, are the promotion, brand-building and value creation opportunities, market information, market access, business development etc, that Nasscom, STPI and MAIT have offered over the years to the IT industry. They must be extended to the PPO industry also. Venture funds and financial institutions should recognise this sunrise industry for focussed funding.

Last, but not the least, the PPO industry should look into the advantages that the software industry has gained through continuous process improvement (such as SEI CMM Level Certification) towards growth in this upcoming global opportunity.

The author is Director of Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore. These are his personal views. He can be reached at askss@iiitb.ac.in