Business process outsourcing (BPO) is a subset of outsourcing that involves the contracting of the operations and responsibilities of a specific business process to a third-party service provider. Originally, this was associated with manufacturing firms, such as Coca-Cola that outsourced large segments of its supply chain.
BPO is typically categorized into back office outsourcing, which includes internal business functions such as human resources or finance and accounting, and front office outsourcing, which includes customer-related services such as contact centre services.
Often the business processes are information technology-based, and are referred to as ITES-BPO, where ITES stands for Information Technology Enabled Service. Knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) and legal process outsourcing (LPO) are some of the sub-segments of business process outsourcing industry.
The main advantage of any BPO is the way in which it helps increase a company’s flexibility. However, several sources[which?] have different ways in which they perceive organizational flexibility. In early 2000s BPO was all about cost efficiency, which allowed a certain level of flexibility at the time. Due to technological advances and changes in the industry (specifically the move to more service-based rather than product-based contracts), companies who choose to outsource their back-office increasingly look for time flexibility and direct quality control. Business process outsourcing enhances the flexibility of an organization in different ways:
Most services provided by BPO vendors are offered on a fee-for-service basis, using business models such as Remote In-Sourcing or similar software development and outsourcing models. This can help a company to become more flexible by transforming fixed into variable costs. A variable cost structure helps a company responding to changes in required capacity and does not require a company to invest in assets, thereby making the company more flexible.
Another way in which BPO contributes to a company’s flexibility is that a company is able to focus on its core competencies, without being burdened by the demands of bureaucratic restraints. Key employees are herewith released from performing non-core or administrative processes and can invest more time and energy in building the firm’s core businesses. The key lies in knowing which of the main value drivers to focus on – customer intimacy, product leadership, or operational excellence. Focusing more on one of these drivers may help a company create a competitive edge.
A third way in which BPO increases organizational flexibility is by increasing the speed of business processes. Supply chain management with the effective use of supply chain partners and business process outsourcing increases the speed of several business processes, such as the throughput in the case of a manufacturing company.
Finally, flexibility is seen as a stage in the organizational life cycle: A company can maintain growth goals while avoiding standard business bottlenecks. BPO therefore allows firms to retain their entrepreneurial speed and agility, which they would otherwise sacrifice in order to become efficient as they expanded. It avoids a premature internal transition from its informal entrepreneurial phase to a more bureaucratic mode of operation.
A company may be able to grow at a faster pace as it will be less constrained by large capital expenditures for people or equipment that may take years to amortize, may become outdated or turn out to be a poor match for the company over time.
Although the above-mentioned arguments favour the view that BPO increases the flexibility of organizations, management needs to be careful with the implementation of it as there are issues, which work against these advantages. Among problems, which arise in practice are: A failure to meet service levels, unclear contractual issues, changing requirements and unforeseen charges, and a dependence on the BPO which reduces flexibility. Consequently, these challenges need to be considered before a company decides to engage in business process outsourcing.
A further issue is that in many cases there is little that differentiates the BPO providers other than size. They often provide similar services, have similar geographic footprints, leverage similar technology stacks, and have similar Quality Improvement approaches.