The knowledge processors

Updated: Aug 1 2005, 05:30am hrs
With India all set to become the hub for Knowledge Process Outsourcing, professionals from diverse fields are finding interesting career options in this sector, writes Kusum Makhija.

India is set to become the most preferred destination for Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) as it grows to touch the $17 billion mark by 2010, says the Confederation of Indian Industry. In its recent study-'India in the new knowledge economy'-the CII had said that the services sector would grow at a more than eight percent and its contribution to GDP would be above 51 percent. The study affirmed that India's transition from being a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) destination to a KPO destination was imminent. Areas with significant potential for KPO include pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, technology, legal services, intellectual property, research and design, and development of automotive and aerospace industries. According to the study, India could emerge as a global KPO hub as the business requires specialised knowledge in respective verticals and the country's engineering and technical institutes are geared to address the manpower demand.

Diverse backgrounds

The transition from BPO to KPO is also bringing along with it a sea of opportunities for people with diverse academic backgrounds. These KPOs or Knowledge Process Outsourcing firms are recruiting employees from diverse academic backgrounds right from management to life sciences. For instance, Scope e-Knowledge Center currently has 380 employees, out of which close to 95 percent are engineers, MBAs, professionals with financial background and journalists. "We have engineers both freshers and experienced from various disciplines of engineering, including pharma and life sciences," says Vijayalakshmi Rao, Director, Scope e-Knowledge Center. Scope is focused on the scientific, technical and medical domains.

Unlike BPO companies where being fluent in English is your entry ticket, KPOs lay a lot of emphasis on educational qualification. The work in a KPO is very academic oriented wherein employees have to be fluent in processes with sound academic base of the related field. "We do a lot of database related work for the engineering, chemical, pharma and life science sectors which require people with in-depth domain knowledge and a good understanding of products and processes in these areas," says Rao.

The kind of work employees have to do includes abstraction of technical patents, extraction of legacy technical data, cataloguing and indexing, taxonomy building and database creation and updating. All this requires a basic interest and knowledge in specific domains besides an aptitude for working with data and information.

Companies recruit candidates from diverse academic backgrounds as it gives them an edge to leverage their professional competencies. Says Sanjay Shenoy, VP, HR, Ugam solutions, "We do recruit candidates from different fields due to their functional competencies. Such diversity helps us in getting different perspectives for delivering quality work to our clients."

But are these highly qualified employees, getting their due working in a 24x7 environment Says G Sindhu, Research Analyst-Engineer and MBA at Scope, "I find my academic qualification very apt for projects involving moderate to high levels of analysis, especially those related to industrial sectors. Other management principles help in planning, organising, scheduling, coordination, team management, project management etc." Unlike traditional BPO sectors where tele-calling processing skills are more important than knowledge, KPO requires specific domain expertise. Says S Suresh Kumar, Assistant Manager (Projects), Scope, "I feel my academic qualifications along with my experience in R&D has been of immense value to my job in Scope. In-depth knowledge in the subject/domain is a prerequisite for the kind of job I am doing since my job involves supervising a large team of chemical engineers who are doing data extraction, indexing and other value added database work for a US based client.

Adds Sanjay Shenoy of Ugam, "The educational qualification is very relevant for the work they handle. We prefer candidates with science background as they tend to perform better in tasks which require data analysis as well as programming. The primary role of an employee is to understand client requirements for programming Online questionnaires and surveys, analysis and tabulation of market research data and coding of open-ended responses." This is the right place for professionals who want to explore their own field. "I joined the KPO industry after completing my BE and was involved in an engineering database creation assignment. I joined MBA. (HR) course, the area of interest changed and when I approached the management about an opening in the HR department, they willingly offered me the job. I am now closely involved in recruitment and development of entry level engineers for the company," says Mabel, Personnel Executive, Scope, e- Knowledge.

Challenges while recruiting

Attrition continues to be an issue in the KPO sector as well. It is not easy for companies to attract and retain the right kind of employees. Most qualified professionals perceive it to be a low grade kind of job. Besides popular perceptions about BPOs and pressures of 24x7 environment also refrain professionals from opting KPO companies as a career. "It is quite tough at times to attract professionals who have such a degree of specialisation owing to the lack of institutes catering to such specialised training. However, we believe this to be a goldmine for PhDs in India who have nothing else to look at but teaching jobs at universities which are only a handful in number," says Ranjit Singh, President and CEO, Techbooks.

Rao of Scope adds, "We usually have a cut-off for the percentage marks obtained in engineering, depending on the depth of domain knowledge required for the particular project for which we are recruiting. We also check on the aptitude for doing database related and research oriented work. Most importantly we believe in recruiting for attitude since skills enhancement can always done through training."

The factors vary from level to level and across service-lines. Companies have to face a major challenge when it comes to selecting people with right the attitude and aptitude. "We keep in mind that the candidate should have relevant academic background and work experience required for the job. The candidate should possess good communications skills, should have an aptitude towards programming, and should be able to work in a team, under pressure and night shift wherever applicable," explains Shenoy.

Training focus

Training like every other technical industry forms the core of the KPO sector as well. Even qualified employees have to be trained on processes and coping up with the environment. Says Shenoy of Ugam Solutions, "Being a KPO there is a high degree of functional expertise required as well as domain expertise i.e. understanding of market research objectives and methodologies, thus we have well structured training programmes for our employees. We provide general understanding of the market research industry and methodologies, technical and client specific tools and soft skills training which can last from 2 days to 90 days and is provided by local and international trainers in India and abroad. "

Informs Rao, "At the entry level we take engineers fresh out of college and provide them with project specific training. They are also imparted training on soft skills and behavioural issues to help them become more productive and for their holistic development. At the supervisory and managerial levels we take candidates with relevant experience in service functions such as R&D, QC, project management, etc. They are given need-based functional or subject-specific training."

If a person has a positive attitude towards work, is committed to quality and has the willingness to learn, he can definitely succeed in a knowledge oriented work environment which a KPO offers.

Career prospects

Although it is difficult to attract experts from traditional fields, much depends on the package and incentives extended to such professionals. Further, information about the work environment and well-defined policies in the organisation becomes a positive factor to induce such professionals to join the organisation and contribute towards its growth

"Professionals from other industries have varied perceptions about the BPO/ KPO industries. There are certain perceptions mental blocks (for e.g. night shifts) which makes it difficult to attract professionals from these fields. However, now the scenario has changed and people are releasing that there is tremendous growth opportunities in this field," points out Shenoy. Knowledge process outsourcing is widely predicted to be the buzzword of the future. The high-end KPO opportunities are immense for Indian firms. More and higher end work is being outsourced to India and outsourcing domain has expanded to areas like pharma, aerospace, automotive, engineering, biotechnology, finance, etc.