How Automation is Enabling BPOs Overcome Challenges
In the third decade of the twenty-first century, the debate is no longer whether business process outsourcing (BPO) can save money and reduce turnaround time for client businesses or not. The debate is, by how much, so entrenched has the industry become and so widely accepted its offerings. Some functional areas, of course, lend themselves more easily to being outsourced, such as document processing, than others.
Document Processing and Invoice Processing
Invoice processing could be taken as an example of work entailed by document processing. The e-invoicing journey published by Bruno Koch Billentis estimated that in 2019, 550 billion invoices were generated. That is a serious amount of invoice issuance. Considering there are 7 billion people in the world, 80 invoices were issued by every individual.
Once issued, invoices would also need to be processed towards eventual payment and settlement. That is where the challenge starts.
Invoice issuance is usually the tail end of a sales or operational process and if often a part of an automated process. It then becomes the starting point of the invoice processing journey for the company receiving it, that has purchased some goods or services from the company raising the invoice. This company is likely to be using technology that is different from the issuer, and hence at least the initial part of the journey is often manual and error-prone. The same report referred above estimates that the delays and errors in this form of invoice processing is costing $60 billion annually, apart from impacting the customer life-cycle and decision-making.
Invoice processing is one of the specializations of oWorkers, a new-age BPO with eight years of experience in the field of data-based BPO services. It is recognized as one of the top three providers in its chosen space, across the world, no mean achievement.
BPO emerges as a solution
Business process outsourcing (BPO) has emerged as a savior for many companies that struggle with the manual processes that a document processing requirement entails. It is known and understood that BPOs specialize in breaking down manual processes into simpler tasks, accessing pools of talent that are available at much lower prices than available to clients, putting the two together and getting the job done efficiently while maintaining quality.
However, if a BPO partner simply copies and pastes the client process, they will most likely produce similar, if not identical, results. Hence, a simple lift and shift is not the best solution unless the BPO can add value to it through some form of transformation.
The desired solution is clearly a digital solution that is able to overcome the limitations of manual processing. BPOs have an advantage over their clients as they are better placed to invest in technology and processes as they can aggregate volumes of multiple clients. Individual clients, on the other hand, may not find it a compelling enough ROI to invest in digitalization of invoice processing, as it is not a revenue generator for them.
oWorkers has access to rich talent pools thanks to its pre-eminent position as an employer in local communities that form the catchment area for its delivery centers. This triggers a steady stream of walk-in job applicants. Combined with its training teams, they become a potent force to hire, train and release people to work in their various client processes.
Getting used to a new normal
The Covid-19 pandemic has upended many established business models. Work from home, which was a forced model, to begin with, on account of the inability to congregate or travel, has caught on as a model. In the foreseeable future, even assuming the world is fully cleansed of the pandemic, work from home, or, rather, work from anywhere is expected to continue to be a part of the options available to companies and their staff.
That, to be possible, would mean a substantial digitalization of existing manual processes. If an invoice has to be processed, the manual invoice received from the vendor cannot be physically moved from one location to another, but an image or digital information can be. It can be accessed and processed anywhere the internet can be accessed. The location of the processor ceases to be relevant.
oWorkers has been a leader in the transition to work from anywhere for BPO providers. It is armed with access to the latest technology thanks to its deep relationship with various technology creators and providers. Based on this access, and with its history of BPO delivery and development of processes, oWorkers has equipped its employees to operate from anywhere. oWorkers has managed to retain some of its differentiators such as support in over 20 languages, despite people working from home.
The challenges of Work From Home
Not that the shift is easy or natural. It requires effort. Moreover, the way many of us have lived makes it difficult to work from home. Assuming much of the processing is done by entry-level or junior operators, it can also be expected that they are likely to be living in more modest accommodation as compared to more senior people, making it difficult to segregate the working space from the living space. And, what if there is more than one person working from home and both have a conference call at the same time?
With BPO workers, who typically are drawn from less expensive talent pools, the issue is likely to be exacerbated. Even the required bandwidth could be a challenge, though telecom companies are rapidly expanding the reach and speed of broadband connectivity, including the last mile and even employers are willing to pay for the upgrade of home networks for ease of access. Questions have also been raised about the company’s ability to protect sensitive information when people are working from home.
These are teething challenges. No doubt solutions will emerge. oWorkers is well-positioned for ensuring data security with its secure facilities and ISO (27001:2013 & 9001:2015) certifications. The fact that it is GDPR compliant is an added plus point.
Automation yes, but not at any cost. The need of the hour is intelligent automation.
What does that mean?
Technologies will keep emerging and evolving. We have recently gone through a huge evolution in telecommunication services riding on the expanding internet. Social media and connection platforms have significantly influenced how people interact with each other. Today there is a huge buzz around the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain technologies and the many applications they can be put to.
Whatever the technology, it needs to have a clear business or real-life application. Till then, it should be considered as an academic construct.
In case of document processing, especially processing of invoices, data entry will remain a critical step. This is because the invoice is issued from a ‘foreign’ system and needs to be ‘uploaded’ or ‘manifested’ onto the system where the document will be processed. Based on the business requirement the technology should be selected. For the case in hand, OCR technologies may have greater application than AI which may become more relevant as the lack of structure in the information increases, like, for instance, on handwritten forms.
Intelligent automation also requires intelligent humans to handle. With an employed workforce, as opposed to the freelancer and contractor workforce of many BPOs, oWorkers is able to train and grow its staff members to supervisory positions. They are rated 4.6 or higher on a scale of 5 on independent platforms such as Glassdoor. Both present and past employees contribute to these ratings.
BPO and Technology
Inherently, a BPO partner is well placed to provide quality and service that is over and above what clients can achieve themselves. The reasons are not difficult to see:
For a BPO provider, this is the business that generates revenue for them. Hence, their best minds and resources are employed in this area. For a client, this is a processing cost and often secondary to their main line of business, whatever it might be.
BPO providers can aggregate volumes across clients and, with the help of those volumes, invest in the best technologies and achieve acceptable ROIs. For clients, especially those that are not large corporations, such an investment is often difficult to justify.
Of course, for all investment decisions, an evaluation is of utmost importance. Investing in a document processing solution is no different. Care needs to be taken that the system is not dated and is able to ‘talk’ to other systems for seamless transitions and processing. Data security is always a big concern and should be looked out for. And, of course, ease of use. Technology needs to be used by humans in many cases. Making it easy for humans to understand and operate is important. A wrong selection can set a BPO back by several years, apart from creating financial pressure.
With a large pool of technology companies as clients, including unicorn marketplaces, oWorkers is always on its toes with regard to technology. This awareness and alacrity eventually helps them deliver better on all client assignments.
As organizations seek to recover and find their own new normal after being bruised during the pandemic, the next few months will be important. They are expected to help employees and organizations settle down into a routine once again where they can stop worrying about what will happen tomorrow and instead focus their energies once again on their work.
Intelligent automation promises to be a savior for many, with its promise of enabling work to happen from anywhere, seamlessly. However, the business or real-life relevance will always be an important consideration in the choice of a technology solution, and will need to be taken with care.
For a world that now works 24×7, oWorkers is ready, with each of its global centers set up to handle client timing requirements, any part of day or night. With the able leadership and steadying hand of a management team that brings over 20 years of hands-on industry experience with them, oWorkers looks ahead to the future with confidence.