Operation Optimization: Optimize Your Business Operations With These 5 Strategies

Operation Optimization: Optimize Your Business Operations With These 5 Strategies

Operation Optimization: Optimize Your Business Operations With These 5 Strategies

When Bob Beamon of the US jumped over 29 feet in Mexico City in 1968, not only did he set a new world record but shattered the earlier record jointly held by Igor Ter-Ovanesyan and Ralph Boston by almost 2 feet. Till then, long jump records were broken by a few inches at a time. Though dissenting voices have been there, considering the high altitude of Mexico City, the record was recognized and looked like one that would never be broken.

By the early eighties, the record already looked like being under threat, with Carl Lewis repeatedly jumping close to 29 feet. However, he never beat Beamon’s record. But, in 1991, Mike Powell did, by jumping almost 2 inches beyond Beamon’s once considered unbeatable record.

There are numerous instances in competitive sport, which is considered the pinnacle of human physical endeavor, where this story gets repeated. The once unattainable mark gets attained. Once unthinkable happens.

Like the 100 meter sprint. Again, the 9.95 seconds set by Jim Hines in Mexico City once looked unassailable. And for many years it was. Till Calvin Smith broke it in 1983. Followed by a raft of others like Carl Lewis, Donovan Bailey, Maurice Green, Leroy Burrell, Asafa Powell and several more. Then came Usain Bolt. The record is now an astonishing 9.58 seconds. Any bets if it will be bettered some day? You bet it will be.

The human story is one of constant endeavor. Trying to do it better today than it was done yesterday. Trying to do more for less. Trying to squeeze more out of less.

That is what business in a competitive, free world is all about. Continuous striving. Staying ahead of the pack. Fending off competition snapping at your heels.

And why should it not be like this? Nobody has an entitlement. We are long past the days of hereditary monarchs. You get what you deserve and what you are willing to work for.

For a business, it is the same.

An early entrant may have an early mover advantage but perhaps took higher risks at a time when others were not willing to. So, their early success might be a justified reward for that risk and initiative. A later entrant might have found it tougher to get clients initially, but perhaps had the benefit of learning from the example of the early movers, resulting in fewer mistakes.

Whoever you are, early entrant or latecomer, successful business or a struggling one, part of a conglomerate or a standalone, the future is open. All actions taken by the business are designed to usher them into a future that is better than the present.

Each business needs to keep tinkering with the many moving parts to discover better ways of working. In order to give it a chance to stay ahead of the curve. Exploring, changing, adjusting, reducing, increasing, starting, closing, launching. This is known as doing operation optimization and needs to be a continuous activity where the business is alive to opportunities at all times.

Of course, there are no guarantees. Many times, these efforts may also not be enough to avert failure. Since the future cannot be foretold, efforts need to be made.

Of course, easier said than done.

A business is a complex animal, dependent on a complex interplay of numerous variables, many of them completely out of control of the business. As an example, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic was not foreseen by anyone.

How does one go about doing it?

Clearly, there is no rule-book or SOP that is available that could be implemented for everlasting success. Such a process, in any case, would militate against the concept of competition which would be eliminated if there was everlasting success for everyone. Hence, it is a fallacy, ab initio.

Having said that, over the course of recorded history and the emergence of the joint stock corporation and the establishment of the free market, many practices have emerged as best practices and are relied upon by companies for at least basic hygiene, if not everlasting success. We will discuss some of these practices here.

 

Defining clear goals – why are you in business

While there may be no doubt about the reason for the existence of a business, that of making a profit for its owners, the methods vary widely. One could run a business writing software code or assembling cars, repairing bicycles or cooking food, constructing a building or growing food. And that is only at the top level. Within each industry there are millions of different opportunities and positions one could seize on. You could cook Thai food or Italian food. You could be making office buildings or bridges. And so on.

The main idea is that the business, through its leadership, sees an opportunity where they could make a difference and, by serving that need, get paid by their clients which would, ideally, lead to them making a profit. It could be while starting a new business or it could be at any point during the life of a running business. Each moment is a decisive moment. If at any point of time the assessment is that the business will lose more money than earn, there would be no logical reason to keep it running.

However, for operation optimization, till such a point is reached, and the business is running, effort needs to be made to define clearly its goals, along with a vision. This ensures that the people working for it are all pulling in the same direction and not against each other.

Having chosen our area of work, data based BPO services, oWorkers has strived to excel at it. We have been identified as one of the top three data services providers in the world. We are GDPR compliant and ISO (27001:2013 & 9001:2015) certified.

 

Customer focus is essential for operation optimization

In the last couple of decades, some large organizations have attempted to go beyond the ordinary and evolve taglines away from the customary client focus. ‘Employee First, Customer Second’ is one that comes to mind.

It is a great way to bring focus onto precious resources and allow them their moment in the Sun. However, make no mistake, the reason the company exists is for the customer. If there is no Revenue to be earned by selling products and services to clients for which they are willing to pay good money, what would be the reason for the company to keep working? To pay salaries to its employees? Honestly. No company has taken ownership for the everlasting prosperity of its employees. Fair and reasonable terms, yes. But no more.

For a business to make money, which is established as an inalienable truth, it needs to earn revenue. Where is the revenue going to come from? From customers. Hence, for any business, before anything else there is a customer, whose interest needs to be protected. Everyone in the company needs to understand who the customer is, as well as that part of her needs that are met by the products and services of your company. This needs to be constantly reiterated.

Having implemented over a hundred projects for clients from around the world, we are a trusted partner for most and are even given the responsibility of directly initiating new processes. We have built trusted relationships with several technology providers so that we can leverage the best technologies for client work. Our capability extends to over 22 languages which means our customers do not need to go hunting for new partners when they expand to new geographies.

 

Operation optimization needs transparent and fair employment practices

Since the dawn of the industrial age, many resources have emerged that seek to multiply power in order to either produce more, or consume less manpower, or both. In the present day, Artificial Intelligence (AI) threatens to make humans redundant by taking over all.

Despite all efforts, human beings continue to drive organizations and remain the most critical resource. Even for operating automated tools and programs, human beings are required.

It is important for a company to offer employment practices that are both fair and transparent. And they should be followed. There is no point in having a policy that says salary will be paid on the last working day of the month but in practice only paid out in the first week of the following month. While you may offer explanations for the same, nobody really cares for them. You have to keep up your end of the bargain.

Just like the company has choices, so do employees. They can choose to vote with their feet and walk out of the company and into the waiting arms of another. In a competitive world, there are many takers for good resources.

It is important to periodically refresh policies and procedures and ensure they reflect current times and expectations. As an example, paternity leave, unheard of perhaps just twenty years back, is now a common facility offered by many.

oWorkers has stayed away from the temptation of freelance and contract resources for client work and chosen the path of employment. While this places greater responsibility upon us, of compliance as well as employee development, it also provides greater satisfaction and flexibility. For example, if a client has a need for a short-term ramp, driven by seasonality or a new launch, we are able to cater to it. Being a preferred employer in the region, we also receive a steady flow of job applications through the year, keeping our hiring cost and effort low. Our employees have consistently rated us above 4.6 on a 5-point scale on Glassdoor.

 

Ear to the ground

The world keeps changing every moment and nobody is sure about the future. But all of us have educated guesses. Some of us might believe that AI will make humans redundant in the next 50 years while others may believe humans cannot be overtaken by AI. Some of us believe that jet-propelled solo flying will be the most common method of getting from one place to another while others may believe the pull of gravity will keep humans tethered to the Earth for the most part.

Whichever camp you are in, what is undisputed is that the future will arrive and that it will not be identical to today. Besides, except for the occasional ‘big bang’ event like an earthquake shaking up things or a volcano erupting, or, as we now know, a pandemic casting its shadow, most change is gradual. Almost glacial, though in hindsight it may appear otherwise. We may or may not have the ability to influence its direction, but, if we keep our ear to the ground, we will certainly be able to know well in advance which way it is headed and take suitable action as may be required.

While it is required to protect one’s Intellectual Property (IP), Copyrights, proprietary tools and technologies which give us advantage, for operation optimization we must also be open to participation at various levels so that we can both contribute to the change that is coming as well as understand it better by seeking out views of others who are in similar positions as us.

Most industries have associations that seek to promote the interest of the industry, there are cross-industry groupings for specific objectives, there are forums created by the government, all of them for the purpose of sharing and receiving information that might be relevant in navigating the path of our little business.

Services provided by oWorkers are at the cutting edge of technology. Much of the work we do is in data annotation and data labelling, that supports the development of AI models, as well as moderation of content on social media networks. A few years back these services did not even exist, but are the fastest growing today.

 

Leverage outsourcing for operation optimization

Outsourcing has emerged as a potential source for releasing significant locked value for a business. If not leveraging the outsourcing opportunity today, your company could become irrelevant soon.

No person or company can do all required tasks and activities all by themselves. We live in an interconnected world and the same is borne out in our business and personal dealings.

A car manufacturer does not manufacture many of the parts that go inside a car. It sources them from suppliers who are provided the specifications for the parts.

A software developer does not produce the computers its employees work on. It sources them for companies that make computers of suitable specifications.

At a personal level, we don’t grow the food we eat. We buy it from supermarkets that source it from farmers and agricultural communities. The beds and mattresses we sleep on are purchased from companies that make them. We don’t make them ourselves.

Hence, interdependence is a given. Outsourcing of activities that are not your company’s core competence, or which can be done better by another company, is the accepted method today. Thousands of startups are using outsourcing solutions to stay lean which enables them to invest in their core business.

Our leadership team comes with over 20 years of hands-on experience in the industry and are well placed to navigate the company through good and bad times. Our clients often talk about saving upto 80% of the pre-outsourcing cost when they outsource to oWorkers. With the help of a dedicated Quality team, you can expect operation optimization as an add-on service.

Top Business Process Outsourcing Trends in 2021

Top Business Process Outsourcing Trends in 2021

Top Business Process Outsourcing Trends in 2021

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

These words, attributed to John F Kennedy’s father Joseph, as well as American coach K. Rockne, and also made popular by a Billy Ocean song with these words as lyrics, could apply to the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry based on how they have handled the global meltdown in the face of the Covid-19 epidemic sweeping across the world.

The BPO industry has played a stellar role in ensuring that insurance claims are honored, ecommerce online stores are updated, community discussions on social media are moderated, new phone connections are activated, bank interest charges are explained and overdue car loans are recovered. While the world was locked down.

Used to working from a physical location, after lockdowns were implemented, it became impossible for people to commute to work as well as collect in any meaningful strength in an office space. The industry went into hyper action and quickly worked out protocols that would permit people to work from home, or wherever they were, and continued to support clients in the many different ways that it does.

But business and the environment around it are fickle. What was true yesterday may not be true today. Common BPO activities today, like ecommerce data entry and social media moderation, were not even words in the lexicon twenty years back. What is true today may not be so tomorrow. Millions of smart people and businesses are perhaps working on solutions right now that could dramatically change today’s certainties.

Occasionally events like the pandemic and natural (or manmade) calamities happen which have the power to alter the trajectory of humankind. Otherwise, business, like life, evolves. It rarely changes overnight, though sometimes it feels like it did. It is usually a strengthening or weakening or continuation of trends one may have already noticed.

So, let us look into the crystal ball and try to see business process outsourcing trends in 2021.

Virtual Workplace is here to stay

Shibboleths of the past came crashing down within a few weeks of the Covid-19 induced lockdowns having set in. On grounds of control, data security, supervision and perhaps other reasons as well, BPO work was ‘grounded’ to physical office spaces of providers from where it had to be performed. All other options were considered too risky to be even experimented with.

Faced with a decline in revenues and clients whose businesses would crumble if certain processes were not handled, BPOs did a remarkable makeover in the matter of a few weeks and set themselves up to enable their employees to work from home, or anywhere else, since office became inaccessible and collection of people in large numbers, which is how offices typically operate, was prohibited.

Amongst all trends, this is the one which we can perhaps be certain is going to continue and gain strength and acceptance, what with newer, more virulent strains of the virus apparently running amuck now even as industry leaders push for reform to make it easier.

oWorkers positioned itself for virtual work immediately after the lockdowns came into existence. Even today, our staff can choose to work from home, depending on the guidelines in place in each of the locations. We are fully equipped to work from the office, from home as well as a hybrid model.

Social Media related requirements will drive adoption

Social Media has been a success story in business process outsourcing trends in the last decade. The growth in social media usage has led to enhanced work volumes emanating from social media for BPOs. This is the result of increased adoption of social media by businesses, which is the result of their customers’ preference for social media for communication of various kinds.

Increased usage of social media has not only resulted in serving customer needs, since there is so much data generated on social media as a result of frequent usage, it has also become an important source for mining information as well as influencing behavior.

Social Media related services will be an important offering for BPO outfits. One part of the offering will be traditional BPO services that are rule-based, like community monitoring or responding to customer queries. The other part where BPOs are going to increase their footprint is in the realm of discretionary services, like supporting clients in developing a presence, or creating and running campaigns as well as on-page and off-page SEO work. For businesses that do not either have inhouse talent or a vendor for supporting social media initiatives, will rely on BPO partners will social media skillsets to go beyond traditional BPO services into content creation and distribution.

Content moderation services, that form the bedrock of vibrant interaction on social media, and presents it from descending into bedlam, are part of the core strength of oWorkers. We are committed to making the internet a safer place for everyone with our content moderation services in multiple languages.

Omnichannel Communication will gain traction among business process outsourcing trends

With customers driving the agenda with their choices, omnichannel communication will continue to gain ground. The customer who sent an email yesterday, left a remark on a social media post of the company today and might call in tomorrow, expects the business to know that it was he who made all the three interactions as well as know what these were about.

Omnichannel communication technology adoption that facilitates such communication across channels will gain ground. Different from the multi-channel experience of the past where multiple channels were available, but were often standalone channels, not connected to each other.

Omnichannel is a strategy of improving user experience through connecting a customer’s experience across channels of interaction. It helps customers continue their experience, one channel to another, picking up where they left off. As consumers engage and shift from one platform to another, unified communication across channels is essential for a seamless experience.

oWorkers is a leading player in its chosen area of work, data related BPO services, which includes customer interface over channels like social media that today constitute a core part of customer communication.

Startup Companies: The New BPO Client

BPO adoption has long been led by large corporations, as scale was seen as an essential ingredient of the outsourcing decision. After all, an initiative like outsourcing requires management bandwidth, which costs money. Unless it can be justified by a ‘significant’ change, the transaction cost will be too high. This has been the general train of thought. Which also meant that functions with large volumes, like Call Centers, were among the earlier activities to be outsourced.

As the business world continues to change, and numerous small players try to make a difference, startups and SMEs driving adoption of BPO is part of the emerging business process outsourcing trends. They are focused on their core business and do not wish to be distracted by the peripherals, like paying salaries or filing annual tax returns or moderating their social media footprint or managing the office facilities. They are happy to outsource many of these support functions to BPOs that specialize in them, even though some of them may cost more, and focus on their core business in an effort to make a success out of it. BPOs also give startups the benefit of paying on the basis of usage rather than investing in technology and tools and people.

oWorkers remains committed to supporting clients in our chosen areas of expertise in data entry, content moderation and data annotation. Our clients include a mix of large corporations, SMEs and startups, among them unicorn marketplaces.

Business process outsourcing trends will continue to witness a rise in anywhere to anywhere outsourcing

The backbone of technology that took outsourcing offshore is now taking it ‘anyshore.’ We live in a digitally connected world, which has been borne out by the connectedness provided by the internet during the lockdown when physical interactions were limited. Also, as seen earlier, we are no longer limited by scale for outsourcing. Locations which have a business environment favorable for requirements of BPO work, but failed to make a deep impression earlier, are now prospering. There are new locations coming into the limelight every day, be it Bulgaria and Romania in East Europe, Mexico and Colombia in the Americas and Egypt in Africa. Unless you have a need for a vendor who can provide hundreds of people for a particular service, which might limit the options to India and the Philippines and a few others, you could go to a vendor anywhere.

With its presence in multiple economies in varied environments, from Bulgaria to Egypt to Madagascar, oWorkers not only provides multilingual services in over 22 languages, it can also provide business continuity by leveraging its multiple centers as backups for each other, if required.

Investment in Robotic Process Automation and related technologies will gather speed

Technology is the enabler for BPO business to have taken birth, survived, thrived and spread its tentacles around the world. It is natural that BPO will keep pushing the boundaries of technology for the next innovation.

As it is core business for them, providers are inclined to make investment in technology for the next leap for the process, that an outsourcer may not be willing to, especially for a process viewed as non-core. In addition, with aggregated volumes across multiple clients, providers also develop the scale that justifies such investments which, again, a client, with their own volumes, may never have been able to.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is emerging as a technology of choice for BPOs, as it enables them to carry out repetitive tasks accurately and speedily. In addition, this helps overcome the challenges in the same work being done by humans who often face burnout as a result when doing repetitive tasks.

With its partnerships with technology companies, oWorkers has gained access to the latest technologies in a flexible manner, not limited to one particular suite, which it is able to deploy for the benefit of client transaction processing.

India and the Philippines will continue their leadership

India and the Philippines are not going anywhere in a hurry. The conditions that made them BPO hotspots to begin with, English proficiency, educational qualifications and large talent pools, continue to flourish. There has been and will continue to be, periodic resetting of the type of work handled. At this point, Philippines takes the lead in voice-based BPO services like Contact Centers, while India continues to be the biggest delivery center for all other services.

Supported by home-grown technologies in a fertile entrepreneurial environment, BPO outfits in both these locations will continue to innovate and implement technology solutions in a bid to create more distance between themselves and all the others trying to catch-up, in one of the fastest growing industries on earth.

In a dynamic business environment, oWorkers has established its presence in three geographies considered key for the industry. We continue to evaluate options as we grow and will take decisions in the interest of our business and clients, when the need arises.

Business process outsourcing trends will witness increase in investing in building skills

With many employees working remotely, providers have needed to face up to the reality of having to let go. Accustomed to micro management of frontline agents, with a Team Leader hovering in the shadows and a Quality Analyst plugged in to identify errors so that coaching could be provided, in a remote environment, perhaps out of the absence of options, they have had to trust the frontline staff to do the right thing, especially in processes where she was interacting with customers. To their credit, staff members have stepped up magnificently. Stepping out of the shadows of the image of a BPO employee as one who plugs away at repetitive tasks, BPO staffers have demonstrated that given the right opportunity, they can create value for the organization.

Organizations are now stepping up and making efforts to train employees so that they can create value. More significantly, individuals are shedding their reluctance to invest in themselves and wait for their employer to do so, and are taking up skilling by themselves, helped by the explosion of online courses.

Having adopted the philosophy of working with employed staff instead of freelancers, oWorkers monitors the performance of each individual and charts out growth paths in consultation with them. We also invest in training our employees to take up roles with greater responsibility. Of course, employees are welcome to take up further skilling programs on their own initiative.

Possibility of political overhang on business process outsourcing trends

The recent experience of politics getting involved in decisions that should ideally be taken by businesses on the basis of economics, in the largest outsourcing nation, casts a shadow of doubt on the possibility of such events occurring again in the future, though it does seem that 2021 should be free of such pressure, at least in the US.

Of course, similar threats, or opportunities, emerging in other parts of the world cannot be ruled out. It is a normal business decision, of getting a part of your work done by providers or third parties who can do it better. A construction company might buy cement from a cement manufacturer and not make it themselves. NASA may build a spacecraft with parts sourced from hundreds of vendors instead of building all themselves. But when it comes to Business Process Outsourcing, by raising the spectre of job losses as a result, hiring a vendor to handle customer calls or monitor social media is converted into an emotive issue.

On the provider side, BPO is seen as a driver of employment in underserved economies and hence can become a pawn in the hands of political parties and leaders trying to score brownie points with the populace.

oWorkers operates as a locally incorporated entity in all the locations it provides services from. We are a contributing member of local communities and well integrated. We remain committed to abiding by all applicable rules and regulations and will continue to put forward a case for a free market and a level playing field so that the BPO business can prosper.

What Is Data Entry? Your Questions Answered

What Is Data Entry? Your Questions Answered

What Is Data Entry? Your Questions Answered

 

Data entry could be considered as the bedrock on which the edifice of the digital world stands. Of course, the assumption here is that digitization or virtualization is a beneficial, desirable activity for humankind. At the present moment, with the mad race for digitization and everything virtual being touted as man’s saviour, we don’t have a reason to believe otherwise.

Data entry definition, as provided by Dictionary.com, is “the job of entering text or other data into a computer, as by typing on a keyboard or scanning a document.”

Techopedia offers data entry definition as “the process of transcribing information into an electronic medium such as a computer or other electronic device. It can either be performed manually or automatically by using a machine or computer.”

Though most data entry tasks are time consuming in nature, however data entry is considered a basic, necessary task for most organizations.

The data entry definition may vary from person to person, but the key constituents are similar.

While in the modern world data entry is almost exclusively seen in the context of machines and computers, data entry perhaps precedes the introduction of computers and machines into widespread usage.

Possibly, when the Pyramids were being built several thousand years back, there was someone keeping track of the number of stone blocks that were transported by each team during the day, which he would record as a tally mark on another block of stone. This would help him arrive at the total at the end of the day and work out the payment to be given to each team. In his own way, without computers and machines, that gentleman was doing data entry in his own little accounting system instead of trusting his memory to remember the information or the team to come and own up to the right number at the end of the day.

At the most basic level, what is data entry doing for us? It is helping us collect or organize information. Not just randomly collect and organize information, but do it in a manner that it becomes useful for the purpose it is being collected.

Through his version of a data entry process, the onsite manager/ accountant of the organization building the Pyramids had created a method for collecting information that was helping him manage his business and deliverables.

Data entry, thus, becomes a tool in the pursuit of management of goals and deliverables. The information our Pyramids onsite manager/ accountant was entering on a stone block, might be keyed into a tablet or a handheld device at the construction site of, say, a bridge over the Yellow River in China.

What is data entry could possibly be difficult for some people to understand. What cannot be difficult to understand is that oWorkers has been consistently ranked in the Top 3 providers in the world for our chosen area of expertise, date entry services. oWorkers delivers over 99% accuracy on client projects across a wide cross-section of measurement systems.

 

Data entry process in the modern world

We will limit ourselves to data entry in the present times where the purpose of data entry remains the same, to collect relevant information together in a manner that it becomes actionable and amenable for further processing. However, almost exclusively, data entry refers to a process through which it is taken through a computing device and eventually becomes available to the digitized world for further processing.

There are many ways in which this process can be dissected for a better understanding.

It could be divided into online and offline data entry. Online data entry directly interfaces with a database on the internet and updates the main database directly without going through intermediary processes. Offline data entry refers to a step where data that needs to be entered is keyed into a system that is not connected to the main database and then subsequently uploaded into the main database. This could be used in cases where there are security concerns about operators directly accessing the primary database, accuracy of data, etc. In this case too, the data entered is in a format that is compatible with the main database and does not need further manual inputs.

It could be divided into manual and automated data entry. Though as a default the term data entry is used in context of manual data entry, data entry can be automated as well. For example, the organizers of a conference would like to maintain a transcribed copy of the discussions at the conference. There are Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools now available that would convert the discussions into text for future reference. Of course, the accuracy of these tools is suspect and it may need a once-over by a human being. Manual data entry, hopefully, does not need explanation. It is the default meaning of the term data entry.

It could be divided based on the type of data which needs to be data entered. For example, raw data could be in the form of an audio file which is the recording of a seminar and needs to be manifested in textual format for storage and analysis and retrieval. It could be a handwritten file in the form of an image that cannot be read by a computer and needs to be converted into a textual file for all further processing. Or, it could be manual data records maintained over many locations by different people which now need to be consolidated into a common database. It could even be an image on which annotations need to be done.

Types of data entry systems could also be another way of understanding what is data entry. The target system could be a standard application software like an MS Excel or MS Access which can handle a wide variety of uses, or it could be a function-specific application that are for specific functions; an applicant’s job application may need to be keyed into the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) while an Invoice received from a supplier will need to be entered into the Accounting system of the company.

Like the data entry definition itself, which is expansive, classification of data entry is also open-ended and cannot be defined by a fixed set. There could be many more ways in which we could look at the data entry process in an effort to understand it.

Whichever way you look at data entry, oWorkers has a ready solution for it. With three centers in some of the most desirable BPO locations in the world, we are able to provide data entry services in over 22 global languages. Other than GDPR, which is a requirement, oWorkers is also ISO (27001:2013 & 9001:2015) certified and operates with facilities & protocols that are secure. We also ask that each member of our staff sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before access to client data is provided.

 

Types of Data Entry?

Looking at various types of data entry can also help in understanding what is data entry.

The remit of data entry is vast. Limitless. It can be contained within a finite set of activities. The list below is meant to be illustrative, and not comprehensive. And the requirement could arise in any industry or business or organization.

Guest comments and ratings – Shared by guests at checkout from a hotel need to be captured to track client satisfaction levels as well as employee performance

Insurance claim forms – Filled by a policyholder for filing a claim needs o be captured to facilitate processing and recording

School admission form – Completed by parents needs to be captured so that student data is available and can be actioned as per profile and preferences

Discussions in a meeting – Needs to be captured in text format to facilitate retrieval and keyword related searches

Participant list at an industry event – Needs to be captured as it constitutes a potential client list for the business

Golf scorecards – Need to be captured to track golfer’s performance and his accurate handicap

Medical prescriptions – Need to be captured for ease of retrieval, sharing as well as search by keyword

Invoices received – Need to be captured as a record of payments issued by the business

Though types of data entry may be infinite, they are brought together by the same drivers; the need for capturing information in a usable format that will facilitate future processing on a suitable software and lend itself to process improvements as and when the need might arise.

With oWorkers, clients get a partner well versed in the science of data entry, having executed hundreds of projects for global clients. Data entry for Ecommerce products, Invoices, Customer orders, Civil Records, Books. Legal notices, Forms for Healthcare, Banking, Insurance and many other industries constitutes our body of work and experience.  

 

To outsource or not to outsource the data entry process

Though this debate has been held on numerous occasions in meetings in many businesses, the outcome is increasingly becoming obvious with more and more organizations opting to outsource data entry to a provider.

While each organization has its own unique perspective on the subject, given below are some of the salient advantages and disadvantages of the decision to outsource, so that future decisions may be better informed:

Advantages

Focus on core business – The need for data entry can arise in any industry, in any type of organization. Companies can be engaged in a bewildering array of businesses, specializing in their area of work and trying to excel in it. Data entry is perhaps not one of the skills that makes them stand out from the crowd. Moreover, the need to excel in an additional skill, and even understanding what is data entry, may take attention away from their core business, resulting in losing ground to competition. By outsourcing data entry, the business stays true to its objectives and mission.

Lower cost – In most cases, data entry requires limited prior experience and no advanced educational qualifications. This results in resources available to do data entry being relatively less expensive than specialists in other businesses that often require experience as well as educational qualifications. Outsourcing providers have access to talent pools that will readily do data entry and enable the work to be handled at a lower price.  

Benefits of scale – By aggregating similar processes, vendors create an environment where innovation becomes possible as a result of scale. With their individual small volumes, each outsourcer may not have adequate interest in investing for technology enhancement, but a provider, with aggregated volumes, does. If he can create enhancements to technology or processes, the gain is substantial because of the volumes.

With a pricing model that is transparent, oWorkers provides a choice between rate per unit of output and rate per unit of capacity and is able to share the benefits of scale with its clients. It also leverages developments in technology through its partnerships with a number of technology providers.

Disadvantages

Quality and accuracy – With BPO being a global business, the search for the best arrangement could take a business away from its cultural and geographical roots. This could result in the vendor and their staff not being in a position to appreciate and understand the cultural underpinnings of the business which could lead to taking wrong decisions impacting on quality. Addressing this will perhaps require greater investment in training as well as a tighter monitoring regimen.

Processor boredom and burnout – One of the factors that makes it possible to outsource business processes is that they can be broken down to a level of detail where it can be performed repeatedly, almost mindlessly, without the need for any significant knowledge or prior experience. The factor for success also becomes a disadvantage on many occasions. Being blessed with a mind, operators can become disillusioned and burned out as a result of doing the same thing over and over again.

Lack of control – Whether labor practices followed by a vendor are in line with global best practices or not, whether there is adequate data security that keeps our content safe and Intellectual Property (IP) uncompromised, are there likely disruptions that could arise as a result of local politics, are just some of the ways in which an outsourcer could have a feeling of being not fully in control of his business.

The requirements and rhythm of data entry often being different from the business for which it needs to be done, outsourcing of data entry is the accepted norm, to BPO companies specializing in the task.

Unlike many competitors, oWorkers operates with employed staff, and not freelancers or contractors. This places upon us the responsibility for managing the growth and aspirations of our staff. Each staff is appraised on performance and has a personalized development plan. Staff are also provided opportunities to switch between projects for growth as well as keeping them fresh.

Moreover, many of our clients being in Western Europe, we are culturally closely aligned with them, reducing the gap for errors to creep in.

 

The oWorkers Advantage

oWorkers is trusted by clients from around the world in different industries, including unicorn marketplaces, web aggregators and tech start-ups.

We operate as a locally registered company in all our delivery locations. We are active, contributing members of our communities and a preferred employer. Our hiring costs are low as we attract a steady stream of interested jobseekers. We are also able to ramp up by almost a hundred people in 48 hours to meet short-term client requirements.

The data entry work you outsource to oWorkers will enable a few more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to understand what is data entry, find jobs and become a part of the digital revolution sweeping across the world.

What Is Data Annotation And What Are Its Advantages?

What Is Data Annotation And What Are Its Advantages

What Is Data Annotation And What Are Its Advantages?

 

In order to understand data annotation, it is essential to take a step back and first understand: what is the need for data annotation?

In 1889, Charles H. Duell who was the Commissioner of the US patent office, is reported to have said that “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” This was in the context of saying that the patents office may soon need to downsize, or even close as a result.

Did that happen?

Developments have been quite to the contrary and we have been witness to technological innovations rapidly gathering pace and affecting almost all aspects of our lives. Whether it is controlled flight or nuclear power or antibiotics or television or computers or the internet, all these have been developed or invented after Mr. Duell’s assertion.

Does the pace of development look like slowing down?

Quite to the contrary, the pace has never been hotter. It seems mankind is always on the cusp of breakthrough inventions destined to change our way of life.

In its identified niche of data services, oWorkers provides data annotation services and other data-services support needs. We have been identified as one of the top 3 data entry services providers in the world.

 

Artificial Intelligence

One of the developments that has been gradually gathering steam in the background and is now entering mainstream usage in daily lives is that of Artificial Intelligence, or AI.

The road to understanding ‘what is data annotation’ passes through the center of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

AI is the term used for technologies, or software programs, that have the ability to mimic human behavior.

We know human beings are the most intelligent life form. At the same time, we also know human beings are irrational. We know human beings have good days and bad days. We know human beings have mood swings. We know human beings have prejudices and personal preferences.

What if we could harness human intelligence but deploy it in a manner that takes the human frailties out of the equation? Would that not be the perfect world?

That is the premise AI is based on. And that is the effort people have been making; develop AI algorithms or AI engines that can mimic human behavior in an impartial, objective, consistent, efficient manner.

But, of course, it is not simple. Human intelligence is the handiwork of millions of years of evolution. Expecting it to be replaced by a machine merely by snapping your fingers or flicking a switch is not possible. It is a slow, tedious, painstaking process also known as Machine Learning, or ML.

Human beings have known for many decades how to create a software program using formatted text, or software coding. Formatted text, or coding, and the subsequent interpretation of software code by a computer, drives computers, in a very layman-esque definition. If human beings had not developed coding and its interpretation, computers would not have done anything.

We are, in a way, going through a similar climb with AI. The additional challenge with AI is that the computer needs to interpret not just coded language which it has been doing so far, but raw data that it takes in without any formatting or coding. Hence, it needs to be taught how to recognize and understand the raw data that it is expected to encounter and respond to it in a manner befitting a human mind.

Let us take the most commonly quoted example of AI application these days, that of self-driving cars. The AI that controls the car, unfortunately, does not have innate intelligence like a human being. If a person is crossing the road, a human driver will slow down or stop or swerve to avoid hitting the person. For the AI that gets the image/ video of the road ahead, it is just raw data, without any attached meaning. It has to be taught that if in its ‘vision’ it encounters a shape that has certain dimensions, it means that it belongs to a human being and since we don’t drive cars over human beings on the road, it should stop or slow down or swerve to avoid that object. By doing this, say, a million times, the AI engine builds up a database that allows it to identify a certain shape or set of shapes with human beings who cannot be run over. This is what ML does. The million instances of raw data fed into the machine are known as training data sets that build the machine’s knowledge.

The end goal is that once training is over, and the AI is driving the car, it will recognize a human being if one comes into its range of vision and operate the car as required according to its programming.

The foregoing equips us to address the ‘what is data annotation’ question in the ensuing section.

As a leading provider of data annotation services, oWorkers has been supporting global clients in developing and shaping their AI models with the help of its experienced and trained workforce. Led by a management team with over 20 years of hands-on experience.

 

What is data annotation?

But what about data annotation, which is what we were trying to understand?

The process of enriching ‘raw’ data in order to create ‘intelligent data’ that can be understood by an AI engine, and that constitutes training data sets, is known as annotation.

It is actually pretty close to the English meaning of the word annotation which, according to collinsdictionary.com, is ‘a note that is added to a text or diagram, often in order to explain it.’

Data annotation, as defined by  Techslang, is ‘the process of labeling information so that machines can use it. It is especially useful for supervised machine learning (ML), where the system relies on labeled datasets to process, understand, and learn from input patterns to arrive at desired outputs.’

In the example of the self-driving car, the process of identifying and marking the human on the road in a manner that makes it through to the AI engine, is the answer to ‘what is data annotation.’

 

Advantages of Data Annotation

Data annotation being a facilitator in the journey of building reliable AI, and not the final output, its advantages can be linked to making the AI engine effective and reliable. That is both its purpose as well as key advantage. Its advantages are inextricably linked to the advantages of AI

Data output often suffers from the GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out) principle. The quality of output one can expect from a machine or a computer can only be as good or as bad as the input data it received and processed. While good input data might still be spoiled by a software program or human intervention, bad data can never lead to good outcomes. Hence the biggest benefit of data annotation is that, when done well, it leads to the creation of a reliable and smart AI engine.

A related benefit could be articulated as that of customer experience that will result from a reliable and smart AI engine as opposed to an AI engine that behaves like a bumbling idiot. In fact, in the right application, customer experience resulting from an AI engine could be far better than that from a human interaction. As a simple example, in case of a request for retrieval of information, an AI engine will probably do it much faster than a human.

It is a task of great responsibility as the future depends on it. oWorkers operates from secure facilities in three geographies and multiple centers across Egypt, Bulgaria and Madagascar and is not only GDPR compliant but also ISO (27001:2013 & 9001:2015) certified. Our partnerships with technology providers ensures that we have access to the latest technologies for data annotation and other work.

A good way to appreciate the benefits of data annotation would be to review a few ‘use cases’ or applications of AI that emerge after the model has been trained and implemented. Understanding the benefits delivered by a process often leads to a better understanding of the process, as should be the case as we try to unravel the layers of ‘what is data annotation.’

Enhancing Social Media Content Relevance

Have you ever noticed that if you look for flight tickets from, say, Miami to Detroit, for some time after that, you might start receiving pop-ups and advertisements with promotional fares for the sector. This is AI at work, based on the algorithm that the engine has been taught. A bad engine might just note the sector and start feeding you with promotions for the sector. A better engine might even note whether you managed to book or not, and send promotions your way only if you failed to book in that attempt.

Social media thrives on feeding customized content to users based on their profile and the footprints they leave behind on the platform while engaging with it. With the aid of data annotation, owners of the platform will strive to feed content that is relevant and personalized.

Security Monitoring

Streetside cameras, hundreds of them, have been installed in a particularly sensitive part of town where incidents of theft and mugging have been on the rise. The footage is beamed to a control room where the policemen on duty are expected to look at the feed coming in from the hundred plus cameras and identify potential flashpoints and alert the cops on patrol. It is a cumbersome exercise to constantly switch from one to the other and so on. It causes fatigue and several people have to be deployed simultaneously.

An AI engine was developed and taught to analyse the feed coming from the cameras and warn the cops on duty of potential danger. For example, if the AI engine has been taught to identify a weapon being carried by a passer-by and raise an alert, it can do so almost instantly. Not only that, it can monitor the hundred plus feeds all by itself, releasing the cops doing this to do the real work of patrolling the street and adding to the force available there.

Autonomous Vehicles

This being the current favorite example of AI application, does not need much explaining. It has also been covered in an earlier part of this post.

Search Engines

Operating in a manner somewhat similar to social media, the objective of AI engines used by search engines is to make the information contextual and relevant.  

For example, if the query is about the weather, at the simplest level, knowing where it has been asked from will make a difference to the results. If the engine knows that the person asking the question is an avid skier, returning results relevant to the person’s passion might be an absolute delight for the user. All it needs is the training data to be annotated in a manner that enables it to recognize this fact about the user.

 

The oWorkers advantage

oWorkers has strategically adopted the ‘employee’ model as opposed to the ‘freelancer’ model for its operations. While it brings upon us greater responsibility with regard to our staff, it enables us to exercise greater flexibility in terms of client requirements. As contributing members of local communities we are established as employers where many would wish to work, which gives us a steady stream of incoming jobseeker applications, substantially reducing our cost and effort in recruitment and training, while reducing our attrition. It also gives us the room to cater to short-term spikes in client requirements.

Being located in cultural melting pots, our teams are multilingual and offer services in 22 of the most popular global languages. All our centers are equipped to operate 24×7 if client operations need it.

Our pricing is transparent. Usually we offer a choice between cost per unit of time and cost per unit of output to clients. We have been a steady profitable enterprise, with efficient operations allowing us to share benefits with clients, and operate as locally registered entities. Our staff regularly rate us above 4.6 on a scale of 5 on sites like Glassdoor on satisfaction.

Along with the ‘what is data annotation’ question, this should address the ‘who to partner with for data annotation’ question as well.

What Is Data Labeling? Everything You Need To Know

What Is Data Labeling? Everything You Need To Know

What Is Data Labeling? Everything You Need To Know

Let us begin with a definition of data labelling by Amazon which defines it as “the process of identifying raw data (images, text files, videos, etc.) and adding one or more meaningful and informative labels to provide context so that a machine learning model can learn from it. For example, labels might indicate whether a photo contains a bird or car, which words were uttered in an audio recording, or if an x-ray contains a tumor. Data labeling is required for a variety of use cases including computer vision, natural language processing, and speech recognition.”

Like most definitions, it says a lot but perhaps leaves room for more explanation.

The labelling of data highlights properties in the data that can be understood by a computer and used to establish patterns that enable it to predict what is known as the ‘target.’ In a data set for training autonomous vehicles, for example, these ‘targets’ could be traffic lights, pedestrians or lanes on the road. It allows the software program to assign meaning to raw data and establish patterns.

For example, an AI model being trained for identifying facial expressions and emotions may need to be trained by enabling it to first identify a human face and thereafter connect it with human emotions through the complex interplay of facial features. For example, drooping lips could be an identifier of sadness.

Context is important. Labeling varies based on the requirement and objective of the AI model which it is being created for.

oWorkers has been providing data entry and labelling services to power the AI ambitions of its clients. Its partnership with leading technology providers provides it access to the latest technologies for the task. The fact that 75% of its clients are technology companies, while a challenge in terms of high technology expectations, also ensures it stays ahead of the curve in leveraging technology solutions for its work.

 

The need for data labelling

An understanding of ‘what is data labeling’ cannot be complete without an understanding of the need for data labelling.

While data labelling and data annotation are sometimes used interchangeably, data annotation is also usually referred to as the process through which data labeling is achieved, or we produce labeled data.

A research by Global Market Insights put the market for data annotation at $700 million in 2019, and projected to grow to $5.5 billion by 2026.

What is driving this growth?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).

Is it surprising?

Perhaps no. Analysts say that almost every piece of technology now has an element of AI embedded in it. In your pocket. In your car. In your home. The search engine recommendations that are tailored to our preferences, the expected time you will take to reach a particular place, the chatbot response to your query, the identification of a weapon in a video grab, there is AI everywhere, though we may not recognize it at the point of our interface.

And Machine Learning (ML) is the handmaiden of AI, working in the background to produce training data sets that will make the AI models smarter and smarter.

Training data sets produced for training AI models use labelled data, that make raw data understandable to a computer. It is estimated that 80% of the time spent on AI projects is in the process of creation of training data-sets and labelling them.

An AI model being only as good as the training data, it is a task of great responsibility. After all, we don’t want an autonomous vehicle not running over pedestrians 8 out of 10 times. The model needs to ensure that it does so 10 out of 10 times. There is no scope for error. 8 in 10 is just not good enough.

Operating as locally registered units in the three geographies it has centers located in, oWorkers leverages its position as an aspirational employer for local jobseekers to access deep talent pools to handle all kinds of labelling requirements. It also has the flexibility of seasonal or other ramps to the tune of a hundred people in 48 hours. With its preference for employed staff over freelancers for working on client projects and stable, transparent employment policies, oWorkers experiences best in class attrition and provides stable solutions to clients for all data labelling needs.

 

What is data labeling – Key Concepts

Label

A label is the tag or additional information added in the process of annotation to trigger the development of associations with identified features of the data. It is the basic unit of information on which training models are built. It needs to be remembered that labelling is contextual. Labels added to an image of a roadside for building AI for an autonomous vehicle may be very different from labels that need to be added to build AI to detect depletion of greenery in a particular location, even though the image may be the same.

For an image, a label might identify buildings or shops. In case of an audio, a label might associate the noise/ sound with some part of the language, like words or phrases. Understanding a ‘label’ also provides a good understanding of ‘what is data labeling.’

Computer vision

Visual data is much richer than textual data. Unfortunately, software coding has no place for visual cues to be given or received. Through AI, we are keen to teach computers to see and understand visual data in the same manner that humans do.

Computer vision is a broad term used to refer to the ingestion of visual data by a computer and its interpretation.

Training data

Typically, a large number of labels put together will constitute training data. The collected information that enables a software program or computer to make sense out of raw or unstructured data.

Humans in the loop

This is a term used to refer to the process through which human beings are allowed to add inputs into the model and provide insights that purely statistical data may not have been able to provide.

While one could argue that the training data used should have been of adequate quality and quantity that such feedback loops should not have been needed, in reality building training data is a tedious and expensive task. Therefore, for some applications that may not present a risk of injury or death, limited data-sets with a human-in-the-loop feedback cycle are used to refine models.

Ground truth

Ground truth refers to the reality check. The point where ‘the rubber meets the road.’ Often used at the initial stages after the AI model has been trained and unleashed on an unsuspecting world. At the initial stages it is important to keep track of its results and ensure that the results delivered are in line with human expectations.

With hands-on experience of over 20 years, the leadership team of oWorkers is well aware of the answer to the ‘what is data labeling’ question and well placed to provide guidance on data labelling projects to all its projects and team members. With support for 22 languages, a GDPR compliant business and operating from ISO certified facilities, oWorkers offers  a compelling proposition for data labelling services.

 

Labeling common data types

Text

Creating structured text and having a computer interpret it and act on the interpretation is a science mastered by humans and computers many decades back. That is called software programming.

When we talk about text in the context of AI, the reference is to unstructured text. How do we get a computer to understand and interpret text that was not created for the specific purpose of being interpreted by the computer. A computer would need training to even comprehend the phrase ‘what is data labeling.’

There are concerns these days about the destructive force that some of the social media platforms can be when they propagate falsehoods and hatefulness. A small, tiny, pathetic human being might enjoy his moment in the sun through such a message, but the cost and implication for society could be high. AI models trained to read and interpret text can be used to head off the potential damage by suppressing or deleting such messages and identifying and apprehending the perpetrators. 

Labeling textual data is also useful in applications that use Natural Language Processing (NLP) like Voice Assistants and Speech Recognition. Audio converted to text through speech recognition technologies and used as training data-sets can also provide a variety of applications. Chatbots that are increasingly becoming popular for responding to customer queries have been trained with labeled textual data.

Images

Making sense of unstructured data being the key objective of AO models, working with images has become an increasingly important requirement. Videos are also often handled as a sequence of images in rapid succession.

What is an image for a computer? It is an image. That is all. At best, in the digital world, a computer may be able to identify an image as a collection of pixels.

Labeling an image is the process of making the image, or certain parts of it, meaningful to a computer, so that it can create associations and patterns out of it.

A hundred years back estimating the level of summer ice on the North Pole may have been a manual exercise done by accessing each floe and measuring it. Today, it can be done with the help of AI models. By training the model to recognize sea ice by feeding it millions of images where the ‘target’ is made distinguishable to the computer by its features being called out, it becomes capable of identifying sea ice on an image where it has not been marked, thus doing in an instant what it took probably hundreds of mandays to achieve earlier.

Some common techniques for labelling images:

Semantic Segmentation – Pixel level labelling, used for more precise recognition of objects in a single class to differentiate them from each other.

2D Bounding Box – To facilitate the detection of certain objects, rectangular, close-fitting boxes are drawn around the target objects.

Polygonal Annotation – Similar to a 2D Bounding Box, but the figure drawn around the object to be identified is not rectangular, but polygonal instead.

Cuboid Annotation – Also called 3D cuboid annotation, cuboidal annotation is used where the third dimension of depth is relevant for the AI model. A case in point could be autonomous vehicles here the model needs to know how long it might take for a truck to pass

Audio

Software programming has developed along textual pathways, with programs coded in textual formats being read and understood by machines. Audio remained a ‘bridge too far’ for computers. But that is changing with AI. With the creation of training data sets created to train AI models, this field is developing rapidly along with developments in what is known as NLP or Natural Language Processing.

The most obvious use of audio capability in AI appears to be to convert speech to text. Being the most precise method of communication, with a finite set of characters and words and symbols in each language, text is the preferred language of communication for computer systems. Therefore, the path to any operation on an audio file lies through text. If one needs to search for a certain string in an audio file, it would be searched as a text string and not as an audio string. If it is searched as an audio string, the computer, with the use of AI, will perhaps convert it to a text string and match it with the original audio file which it is searching against, which presumably is also stored as a text file. Development of AI models has greatly speeded up the growth of NLP.

Examples of audio capability application:

  • Conversion of speech to text, automating transcription
  • Voice response units for customer service
  • Emotion and sentiment identification and management of potential danger signals

Video

With its combination of visual and audio content, video remains the richest and densest media that is handled by AI models. As discussed elsewhere, videos are generally handled as a sequence of images, with the additional element of changes taking place in the identified variables from one frame to the next further enriching the information contained.

Autonomous vehicles, security surveillance and virtual examination proctoring are some of the applications of AI that is trained through video labelling.

In Conclusion

oWorkers excels in its chosen area of specialization, having consistently been identified as one of the top three providers of data services in the world. Its rankings on Glassdoor have always been above 4.6 out of a possible 5. Though not specific to data labelling, our spread of centers also provides clients the capability of contingency planning, with capacity being made available in more than one location for the same service. Your work enables us to bring a few more people from disadvantaged backgrounds into the digital economy and change not only their own, but lives of their families as well.

We know the answer to ‘what is data labeling’ as well as ‘how it can be done efficiently,’ ‘what are the right tools to be used’ and ‘how to create value for client AI models.’

Business Process Optimization: How to Improve Workflows

Business Process Optimization: How to Improve Workflows

Business Process Optimization: How to Improve Workflows

A transformation is afoot in the world of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).

A formalized BPO industry took shape many decades back with the primary objectives of saving labour cost while performing repetitive tasks, locating larger labor pools for outsourced tasks, creating efficiency and controls for the outsourced, mostly repetitive tasks.

As we probably know, in a competitive world, which is where businesses function, a business is never satisfied. It needs to keep doing more and more and more. It needs to find ways of enhancing revenues. It needs to find ways of reducing cost. It needs to keep finding competitive advantages to keep at bay pretenders snapping at its heels. It needs to find value propositions that enable it to stay relevant in the eyes of its client segment.

Business is littered with the corpses of corporations once considered unassailable in their chosen areas of operation but fell by the wayside as they were unable to effectively negotiate the changes demanded by the sheer passage of time, emerging technologies and customer preferences. Kodak and Nokia readily come to mind though no doubt there are many others.

BPO is no different. Like any business, it needs to stay relevant and competitive. It has had its share of challenges and has been reinventing itself over and over again. It has also brought into common consciousness processes and technologies that were either considered relevant only for manufacturing, or too academic for business applications.

One of the most significant contributions of BPOs has been towards business process optimization. With consistent performance leading to greater trust, and with the growth of consumer franchises greater and greater volumes being processed by BPO partners, they are now taking the lead in defining how business processes should be run for best outcomes.

The tail seems to be wagging the dog but the dog is happy.

So much so that NASSCOM, the industry association for IT and BPO in India, has even been suggesting that the industry should be referred to as Business Process Management (BPM) as it now goes beyond merely providing a data outsourcing solution and actively provides solutions for better management of business processes.

oWorkers has been supporting clients in its chosen areas of data services for over eight years. We have helped clients define, stabilize processes and even implement updated ones to better achieve business goals. We are GDPR compliant and ISO (27001:2013 & 9001:2015) certified.

 

What is business process optimization?

In layperson terms, it can be used to refer to any activity that leads to an improvement in one or more business processes.

Businesses being entities driven by the profit motive, everything inside them gets measured in monetary terms. Eventually, all improvement has to trickle down to the bottomline.

Revenue and Cost being the two main components of the bottomline, or profit, improvement should result either in doing the same thing at a lower cost or doing the same thing and realizing higher revenues. In general, though, improvement and optimization focus on the cost side by working on the various processes through which delivery of the company’s products and services is effected. On the revenue side, while optimization could have applications everywhere, in general, marketing and promotion strategies are leveraged to yield better, or different, results from what have hitherto been experienced.

The above notwithstanding, as the trickle-down to the bottomline effect of many changes might not be possible to isolate, businesses attempt to find surrogate variables through which improvement can be implemented and the impact measured. Some examples of areas which might be suitable for improvements and where it might be possible to measure the outcome, could be:

  • Customer satisfaction score
  • Customer response time
  • Transaction wait time in queue
  • Training duration

There is really no end to possible improvement areas. It depends to a great extent on the nature of the business. Also, it does not necessarily have to be a customer impacting area like transaction wait time in queue, which impacts the customer directly. Even internal processes like training, if we are able to enhance, will eventually, at a holistic level, impact all areas, including customers. For example, if the provider is able to reduce its training duration, it could lead to a cost saving with the possibility of the savings being shared with clients.

oWorkers has consistently been ranked among the top three providers of data based BPO services in the world. Our hands-on leadership team, with over twenty years of experience in the industry, leads our projects and improvement initiatives designed to add value to clients as well as our internal processes, using the latest techniques and processes.

 

The need for business process optimization

Let us look at a few examples of human endeavor from sport, often considered to be the pinnacle of physical human striving.

Sir Roger Bannister ran the mile, a distance of 1600 metres, in a time of under 4 minutes in May, 1954. The first human to do so. Many had tried earlier and failed. It was, then, considered the ultimate athletic achievement, one that could not be repeated.

By the eighties, just one generation later, Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe were already running the mile in under 3 minutes 50 seconds.

Do you know the current record? It is 3 minutes 43 seconds or thereabouts. 17 seconds shaved off a time once considered impossible. In just two generations.

Take tennis.

According to data collected over the years from Grand Slam events, the average first service speed was under 170 kilometres per hour in the early nineties. Measured in 2008, the first serve speed had increased to over 180 kilometres per hour. Armed with better physical training, and improved equipment, youngsters are serving faster and faster. Of the twenty fastest serves recorded, apparently only one belongs to the period before 2000.

Wherever you look, swimming, mountain climbing, marathon running, sprinting, continuous improvement is evident.

Business is not immune to this facet of human endeavour.

Man’s effort at continuous improvement is as applicable to business as any other facet of life.

And it makes sense too.

After all, in a competitive world, everyone is striving. To do more. Faster. Higher. Better.

If you don’t make the same effort, your business will run the risk of obsolescence and fading away as clients keep looking for creating value for their own businesses.

Hence, continuous improvement is not a choice. It is a survival strategy.

With three centers across the most favored BPO destinations in the world, oWorkers provides services in over 22 languages commonly spoken across the world. With us as a partner, clients can focus on their core business and seek to bring about transformational change with the support of our teams who are trained on continuous improvement methodologies.

 

The Process

There is no standard template for doing something better. Change can come from anywhere. In the context of a business, any business process optimization is likely to follow the broad sequence of steps outlined below:

Identification of need

Well begun is half done, they say. No different for business. However, this is also the most difficult stage. How does one glance across the shopfloor and identify the one process that is most likely in need of some betterment? After all, the business has been using the same processes for some time. One cannot randomly pick up one for special treatment. The right start is important in getting the right results. Here are some methods companies have used for this identification:

Competitor benchmarking – This is a common activity for many businesses, at least businesses with scale. Periodically it makes an effort at comparing itself with its closest competitors in an effort to do just this, identifying areas where the competitor is performing better with the aim of understanding the reason so that it can play catch-up.

Are they employing fewer people for the same output?

Are they able to fulfil orders two days faster than your business?

Such variances, once identified, become the starting point of your efforts at business process optimization.

Trend analysis – Businesses, again, at least ones with scale, also make a periodic effort at establishing trends in their own performance over several periods of measurement.

Transport cost has gone from 6% of Direct Cost to 10%. Is there a problem?

We recruited twice the number of people we hired last year. But our revenue is the same. What is the issue?

Such variances, again, provide leads into the areas which could benefit with some deep dives and detailed analysis.

Common sense – By virtue of being in a business for long, leadership and management teams develop a sixth sense about it. They may not be able to always back it up with data at the start, but they can be trusted to have an inkling about the trouble spots in their processing facility. Very often these provide a quick start to an investigation which often leads to some change being implemented.

Initial study

At the point where the initial ideas are being put together, the amount of information is limited and may only be available at a reasonably high level. The discussion at that stage is based on estimates, guesswork, hunches and possibilities.

That is as good a start as one can get, as it is impossible to have all information available upfront.

Based on the considered opinion of people involved in the discussion, the area needing work is identified which is the starting point of the next phase, that of initial information collection and study. This will serve to validate the initial hypotheses and will determine whether to go deeper into this particular area or drop it and look at other possibilities. The team may need to go through this phase a couple of time before the area is identified and agreed by all stakeholders.

Creating a project plan

From this point onwards there is no looking back. Quite often the initiative is launched in the form of a project with defined ownership and participation and in a format the success of failure of which could be measured.

This phase serves to define critical parameters like:

  • What is the objective; what is the initiative trying to achieve
  • Process or processes in scope and, by exclusion, the ones not in scope
  • Resources available to the project team, including senior level sponsors
  • Measurement method, including an external to the project resource for doing the measurement

Measure

As organizations seek to conduct their activities in a professional and transparent manner, measurement becomes important. This avoids later conflicts when credit for improvements is being sought and either rewarded or refuted. With clear measurements, the organization is better placed to know the real results.

Analyse

Once data becomes available, the process of analysing it begins. It is quite possible that while analyzing we find that data is deficient in some aspects and hence a few cycles of data collection, or measurement, may be interspersed with the analysis phase. It is also possible that additional data is required to reach meaningful conclusions. Either ways, the Measure and Analyze phases are likely to run in parallel for a bit.

The Analyze phase should result in bringing out areas which are likely to benefit based on which the project team will agree on specific actions that are likely to result in business process optimization In the identified areas. Again, no clear process for arriving at the actions is available. A lot of t is based on discussions. There are some tools that are available that some teams find useful, like Fishbone Analysis, Pareto Analysis and old-fashioned Brainstorming.

Improve

The I for Improve is sometimes also used to denote Implementation.

The rubber now hits the road. The theoretical work that was being done by collecting data, analyzing it and making recommendations, now needs to be introduced into the ‘live’ system. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

This can also be seen as a ‘test’ run that is supported by the might of the implementation team that is available to step in if things don’t go as planned.

Control

One of the criticisms improvement initiatives in BPOs have faced is that while a project is in progress and the project team in place, progress is good. In most cases the project results in successful implementation of change. However, once the implementation in a Business As Usual (BAU) manner is done and it becomes a part of normal work, improvements achieved often slide back.

The other criticism is that while improving one parameter that was the goal of the project, some other parameters that were not being monitored, suffer.

The Control phase is meant to ensure that business process optimization achieved is for good and the situation does not revert back to where it had started from. In addition, all other relevant parameters stay either where they were or improve. In other words, the business does not lose on the roundabouts what it gained on the swings.

Note: From the third step onwards, this methodology merges with a methodology known as DMAIC, that stands for Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control.  DMAIC is a popular methodology commonly used either as a standalone or as a part of other methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma, to achieve lasting change.

The Quality team of oWorkers is conversant with a variety of quality systems that not only include Six Sigma, Lean and DMAIC, but also with ISO, Kaizen, COPC and TQM (Total Quality Management). They are constantly looking at possibilities of adding value through business process improvement, releasing value for oWorkers as well as clients.

 

In Conclusion

With oWorkers, you get a partner who is an extended part of your organization, looking to bring about positive change both for you as well as for oWorkers.

Having strategically decided to work with employed staff and not freelancers, we take responsibility for their development and training, including training on quality systems to select staff. We are a preferred employer in all the locations we operate from, which gives us the flexibility of offering peaks in staffing to cater to seasonal or other volume spikes, of upto a hundred people in 48 hours.  

We stay committed to bringing about positive change in all communities we work with. The work you outsource to oWorkers will enable us to introduce a few more people to the digital work, hopefully bringing about fundamental change to them and their families.