BANGALORE, INDIA: Starting 2010, we heard a lot about rural banks. Xchanging recently opened one center in Shimoga (Karnataka), WNS in Nasik (Maharastra), despite the threat factor from Philippines, which has reportedly overtaken India as the BPO hub.
Months back, Infosys BPO announced of opening a few centers in Andhra Pradesh. The trend of rural BPOs in India, actually started in 2008, when HDFC Bank set up a BPO center at Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh.
Speaking to CIOL, Keshav R. Murugesh, Group CEO, WNS Group shared about the role of a rural BPO, the trend and the company's plans in this direction. The company opened its Rural BPO in Nasik and bagged Maharashtra state IT award for the successful operation of the center. Excerpts:
Today everyone is talking about IT going to tier 2-3 cities and villages. How do you see the trend? What functions or roles do these centers play?
There is no taking away from the fact that rural BPOs are emerging as the ‘Next Big Thing’ in the Indian market, as the tier-1 cities are indeed saturated in terms of talent and infrastructure. Rural BPOs are fast moving from the image of being ‘good-to-have’ strategies on an organization’s agenda. They are emerging as the right alternative to the saturated tier-1 city BPOs for the following reasons:
The setting of rural BPOs seems very enticing for two reasons — first, it helps to give something back to the society at large, and second from business perspective, they address a variety of pain points that the BPOs in the bigger cities face, like attrition, reliability, data security and resource crunch. Rural BPOs almost seem like a tailor-made solution towards inclusive growth.
Are there any specific locations becoming the hot spots of Rural BPO? What is WNS doing in that regard? Any idea of the number of the centers, locations, number of people hired?
There have been successful pilots of rural BPOs in lesser-known Indian destinations like NallaSamudram in Tamil Nadu, Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh and Hubli in Karnataka. We have a center in a tier two city — Nashik. We are still evaluating the possibilities of going to other destinations.
Five year down the line, what kind of business benefits would these rural BPOs provide to their respective firms?
Rural BPOs do bring in a lot of benefits to the business like benefits around scale, attrition control, better understanding of a client as attrition will be lower, and most importantly, a talented workforce that is grateful for the opportunity. It will enable companies like WNS to also engage in split-processing such that certain parts of a work stream is done in one place while higher-end, knowledge-intensive work is done in another location.
Training and infrastructure is said to be the major challenge in the setting up a rural BPO. What are the other challenges that you face? How does technology help in overcoming various challenges?
There are some key challenges in this, like buy-in from clients. How does one explain why a plane cannot fly directly to a destination? How does one assure a prospective client that five-star accommodations are not always the best, and simplistic rural settings could be a good combination of rejuvenation and work?
As mentioned, training and development are always a challenge. With transition and change management schedules being extremely tight, will BPOs have the luxury of extensive training and development exercises, is a big question.
Another big issue is of low margins. You cannot convince prospective clients to pay high margins, when the work is actually being sent to a rural BPO. How do you carry out constant reviews and assessment?
This would require the hand of experienced and qualified managers. It will be challenging to achieve, as most such managers may not be willing to move to a rural setting. With the lack of the right hand-holding, how will constant reviews and assessments be done so as to ensure timely and accurate delivery?
Technology can play a role only to a certain extent. But it cannot change the complete face of the rural BPO concept.