How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Location: India

Friday, October 28, 2005

Talk by Mr. Raman Roy

As part of an event called 'Nirvaan', we had the 'father of the Indian BPO industry', Mr. Raman Roy, speak to us on 'Entrepreneurial opportunities in the BPO/KPO sector' today. It was a great opportunity to listen to the man who is on to his next venture in this sector called Access Intellect.

Mr. Roy chose to talk, not of specific emerging opportunities in the BPO/KPO sector, but of his own experience as an entrepreneur who not only created a company (Spectramind), but founded an industry when he was with American Express; and also of the immense & continuing potential of the BPO sector, as well as some of its challenges. His passion and wit were both great to watch and listen to. After outlining certain characteristics of an 'entrepreneur' (self-belief and belief in the business idea, execution capability, risk appetite, customer-centricity, 'creating a workable environment for delivering what the customer wants'), he defined the three main things that an entrepreneur in the BPO industry had to manage: infrastructure; technology; people.

On infrastructure, he commented on India's groaning infrastructure and how international customers feel the software & BPO firms have created an 'oasis in a desert' in their campuses. Over the years, they have had to struggle with infrastructure, creating their own wherever possible. Technology had to be adequate, but not necessarily the best or the latest. People management is the real tough problem. This is where an entrepreneur has to 'make everyone else believe in his dream, and together with them, make the dream bigger'. He said he was proud of an employee who, on being asked in a one-on-one with a customer representative on a due-diligence visit about what made Spectramind different, said: 'yahaan par gadhe se bhii ghoDe kii tarah kaam karavaayaa jaataa hai'!

He dwelled on India's minuscule share (1.6%) in the global BPO market, and that this itself showed the vast opportunities still inherent in the case, even though the media has started trashing the BPO sector as essentially dead. Add to this the fact that the definitions of an enterprise's core and non-core business activities are changing (what is core today becomes non-core and outsource-able tomorrow). But, he said, in moving from a simple cost-arbitrage business model to a model where the quality and skill content of work became order winners, 'this industry needs professional help'. So, roles for management professionals are becoming clearer in the industry.

The talk was delivered with style and self-belief, and it was certainly an excellent opportunity to listen to him. In the end, the correspondents of a couple of warring newspapers were brushed off disdainfully (perhaps because of the same old questions on handling attrition, etc.). He did answer the question on attrition by saying that the attrition rate from the industry was 20%, which is fine. At the company level, it may be 3 or 4 times that, and that just reflected a supply shortage situation, where a higher salary would definitely wean employees away from one firm to another. As demand and supply of workforce become more equal, this attrition rate will come down. Till then, firms just had to manage.


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