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April 02, 2005

The appeal of value-added BPO services

Businessworld examines the opportunity in outsourcing of services like data analytics, patent examination, tax return preparation and market research. That is, stuff that can fetch billing rates of above the $10 per hour (or less) that call center services fetch.

The Opportunities:



The Players:
These niche players include MarketRx (pharma marketing research), Ugam Solutions, Copal Partners (research and analytics in areas like e-commerce), Scope e-Knowledge Centre (market information), Take Solutions (supply chain management), Inductis (equity research and analytics), Lexadigm, Intellevate (both into legal services) and TechBooks (publishing). Joining them are larger, 'blended service' players like WNS, Wipro Spectramind, EXL Service, ICICI OneSource, 24x7 Customer and Msource.

The Challenges:
But as these companies are getting into these new services, they are facing new concerns, too. For one, getting professionals who can do the complex tasks can be a problem. For the sort of job Bisht is doing, companies want PhDs. With India producing just about 5,000 PhDs a year, there could soon be a shortage of such professionals.

...Adds Dhritiman Bhattacharyya, partner, Fox Mandal, solicitors and advocates: "You won't find too many senior lawyers eager to get into legal BPO work, despite the attractive billing rates. The money might be good but the nature of the work is not appealing or satisfying." It's the same with PhDs. The better among them might prefer to work at research institutes.

And even when they do get the staff, there's no surety of success. This niche has already had its own failures. The Escorts group targeted the legal services niche with services like drafting, research and doing memos and opinions for firms in the US. It hired law graduates at Rs 35,000-40,000 a month. But it simply failed to sign up clients and had to keep up with the high training costs. Ergo, it shut shop.

The Upside:



Higher-end work also means lower attrition...

Call centre work is mostly done by the night, but the new service areas can be worked at during the day, too...

...MarketRx, for example, is provided with data on prescription habits of doctors across the US and is supposed to prepare marketing models for new drugs. For such tasks, professionals in the US get $40,000-100,000 (Rs 18 lakh-45 lakh) a year, while in India it would cost Rs 3 lakh-10 lakh.

Says Pavan Bagai, vice-president and head (strategic business), EXL: "Professionals involved in new kind of tasks like analytics find the work enriching and see a clear career path. Labour cost arbitrage is bigger in high-end services, so clients also benefit more."

Arun Natarajan is the Editor of TSJ Media, which tracks venture capital activity in India and Indian-founded companies worldwide. View sample issues of TSJ Media's Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.