Knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) is a form of outsourcing, in which knowledge-related and information-related work is carried out by workers in a different company or by a subsidiary of the same organization, which may be in the same country or in an offshore location to save cost. Unlike the outsourcing of manufacturing, this typically involves high-value work carried out by highly skilled staff. KPO firms, in addition to providing expertise in the processes themselves, often make many low level business decisions—typically those that are easily undone if they conflict with higher-level business plans.
Process transparency is a major barrier to using KPO services Many organizations do not track carefully which decisions are made by whom, and rely so much on informal social processes (and “soft skills”) that it is unclear how much the use of KPO would disrupt existing operations. However, requirements like Sarbanes-Oxley and radical transparency movements like full cost accounting, shareholder activism and eco-labels and moral purchasing require organizations to be more explicit about when and by whom decisions are made. These trends make it easier for outsourcing non-critical jobs to be considered by qualifying the impact of decisions in advance.Furthermore, it becomes easier to evaluate and compare success. A fully developed service economy enables KPO by treating all functions as services. So do more technical trends such as service oriented architecture, enterprise application integration and telework: it is easier to outsource a job if it is already being performed outside the head office. Organizations adopting ISO 9000 and ISO 19011 should also find it much easier to integrate externally provided KPO into their operations and audit them on a fair basis.
As of 2007, most US organizations were hiring foreign professionals under H-1 visas to do jobs in the USA for several years, after which they would return to their home countries as managers to train and supervise others, continuing to report to their former business units.
What is KPO?
It is being claimed that KPO is one step extension of Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) because BPO Industry is shaping into Knowledge Process Outsourcing because of its favorable advantageous and future scope. But, let us not treat it only a ‘B’ replaced by a ‘K’. In fact, Knowledge process can be defined as high added value processes chain where the achievement of objectives is highly dependent on the skills, domain knowledge and experience of the people carrying out the activity. And when this activity gets outsourced a new business activity emerges, which is generally known as Knowledge Process Outsourcing.
Knowledge Processing Outsourcing (popularly known as a KPO), calls for the application of specialized domain pertinent knowledge of a high level. The KPO typically involves a component of Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO), Research Process Outsourcing (RPO) and Analysis Proves Outsourcing (APO). KPO business entities provide typical domain-based processes, advanced analytical skills and business expertise, rather than just process expertise. KPO Industry is handling more amount of high skilled work other than the BPO Industry. While KPO derives its strength from the depth of knowledge, experience and judgment factor; BPO in contrast is more about size, volume and efficiency.
In fact, it is the evolution and maturity of the Indian BPO sector that has given rise to yet another wave in the global outsourcing scenario: KPO or Knowledge Process Outsourcing. The success achieved by many overseas companies in outsourcing business process operations to India has encouraged many of the said companies to start outsourcing their high-end knowledge work as well. Cost savings, operational efficiencies, availability of and access to a highly skilled and talented workforce and improved quality are all underlying expectations in outsourcing high-end processes to India
The future of KPO has a high potential as it is not restricted to only Information Technology (IT) or Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) sectors and includes other sectors like Legal Processes, Intellectual Property and Patent related services, Engineering Services, Web Development application, CAD/CAM Applications, Business Research and Analytics, Legal Research, Clinical Research, Publishing, Market Research (Market research KPO ) etc.
In today’s competitive environment, focus is to concentrate on core specialization and core-competency areas and outsource the rest of the activities. Many companies and organizations have come to realize that by outsourcing non core activities, not only cost are minimized and efficiencies improved but the total business improves because the focus shifts to the key growth areas of the business activity.
Scope and Future of KPO
According to a report of National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), the Indian chamber of commerce that serves as an interface to the Indian Software industry, Knowledge Process Outsourcing industry (KPO) is expected to reach USD 17 billion by 2010, of which USD 12 billion would be outsourced to India. Another report predicts that India will capture more than 70 percent of the KPO sector by 2010. Apart from India, countries such as Russia, China, the Czech Republic, Ireland, and Israel are also expected to join the KPO industry.
According to a recent study by “Evalueserve, a Gurgaon based outsourcing company having service chart for global world”, the global KPO market is expected to grow at a cumulative annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46 per cent, from $1.2 billion in 2003 to $17 billion in 2010. Compare this with the prediction for the low-end outsourcing services market. This is expected to have a CAGR of 26 per cent, from $ 7.7 billion to $39.8 billion in the same period.
Evalueserve says India provided $3.5 billion of BPO and KPO (but non-IT) services in 2003 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 36 per cent during 2004 to 2010. Hence, it is likely to earn $30 billion in 2010 by providing these services.
Says country general manager, Kelly Services, Achal Khanna “India still maintains the competitive advantage for providing, the combination of the most cost-effective and high quality manpower- this is India’s strength in the off-shoring business”.
In the future, it is envisaged that KPO has a high potential as it is not restricted only to Information Technology (IT) or Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) sectors, and includes other sectors like Intellectual Property related services, Business Research and Analytics, Legal Research, Clinical Research, Publishing, Market Research (Market research KPO), etc.
“Over the past year or two, the outsourcing industry has been throwing up jobs for Doctors, Engineers, CAs, Architects,” says Jacob William of the Bangalore-based Outsource2India, which employs 500 people and offers services in the big-buzz, big-bucks area of knowledge process outsourcing. “Unlike the first wave which was more about entering data and answering phone calls, these jobs involve skill and expertise.”
Also, of course, the talent is much more affordable. “Law firms in the US charge an average of $400-450 per hour, and we do the same work for $75 to $100 an hour” says Kamlani” who is an outsourcing provider in the same area.
In the Indian context, KPO salaries could be 25-50 per cent higher than those offered to the same domain experts such as Engineer, Doctor, CA, Lawyer, Architect, Biotechnologist, Economist, Statistician and MBAs, it said.
In its annual publication Strategic Review 2005, Nasscom has said the high-end activity of the BPO industry—the KPO or knowledge process outsourcing could be worth $15.5 billion by 2010.
According to earlier estimates, the BPO industry itself was expected to be about $20bn by 2008, hence a very significant portion of the sector—in excess of 50% is now projected to be knowledge based. This represents significant metamorphosis of call centre sector business to completely different model. Interestingly, Sunil Mehta, Nasscom vice-president research, distances himself from the estimates.
The projections are based on a white paper released by Evalueserve. The paper cites reasons for a possible KPO boom. It says higher savings by outsourcing knowledge based activities combined with the scarcity of specialized talent in developed countries could lead to growth in the KPO sector.
Billing rates for KPO are higher at $30-45 per hour compared to just $10-14 in the BPO business. However, the paper also warns of several challenges like higher quality standards, greater investments and inadequate talent.
The study estimates that while the compounded growth rate of BPO till 2010 would be just 26% KPO is expected to be grow at almost 46%.
Bottlenecks in Future Growth
A study on Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) sector shows a huge supply gap that threatens to cripple its growth. Rocsearch, a UK-based research services company, has gathered evidence suggesting that the KPO market may just about reach a size of $5 billion by 2010, manned by 100,000 people instead of projections of a $12 billion market supported by 250,000 employees.
This accentuates Nasscom’s projections of a shortfall of 500,000 workers in ITES and BPO sectors by 2010.
Assuming an average revenue per person of $55,000 over the next four years, 100,000 knowledge workers point to a $5 billion market. This size, though based on a CAGR of 32%, is still 60% less than the $12 billion potential projected by big KPOs, like Evalueserve, last year.
Rocsearch COO, Ashish Sinha says the sector is restricted by low employability despite high graduate turnout, and competing demand from other sectors as jobs grow faster than the workforce.
For example, all the 2,000-odd IIM and top 10 B-School graduates are employable, while less than half the 84,000 graduates from Tier-II B-Schools would make the grade.
The study sees only 500,000 of the over 3 million workers added to the labour pool in 2005 as employable in global firms and of these, just 2 in every 100 are likely to opt for work in knowledge space.
Regional Advantages and Domains of Expertise
Due to the availability of large numbers of skilled staff working for lower pay rates than in the developed world, a few countries like India and the Philippines are front runners in providing these services. This type of work demands advanced analysis and communication, so specific higher education and language skills are essential. MBAs, Pharmacists, PhDs, engineers, doctors, lawyers, writers, ghostwriters, designers, web designers and other specialists with formal credentials tend to be required.
In India as well as the Philippines, KPO is envisaged as having a high potential, not only in the Information Technology (IT) or Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) sectors; it could include patent and copyright related services, other legal research functions, business intelligence and analytics, clinical research, publishing and supply chain management, all of which require a large number of small decisions, and the final products of which tend to be relatively easy to evaluate for accuracy or effectiveness.
The maturity of the BPO sector in both countries gives it an obvious lead in KPO, essentially an offshoot of BPO. It is the high-end activity of the BPO industry and as of 2007 was estimated to provide substantial growth over the next few years. More complex fields of work that the Indian KPO industry focuses on include intellectual property or patent research, content development, R&D in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, market research, equity research, data research, database creation, analytical services, financial modeling, design and development in automotive and aerospace industries, animation and simulation, medical content and services, remote education and e-learning, publishing and legal support.
Some practitioners argue that one region likely to suffer extreme job loss due to KPO is the USA. Princeton economist Alan Blinder estimates 40 million white-collar jobs in the US alone could move offshore in a decade or two.
Challenges to Providers
- In addition to the challenges faced by clients, KPO companies themselves have challenges:
- High staff turnover, especially where work is not challenging to the employee’s skills
- High cost of training and tendency to lose the most experienced employees to the clients
- Ensuring the security and confidentiality of information, especially when privacy laws vary from country to country
Leaders in the market research industry are slowly seeing the benefits offered by KPO and have begun outsourcing. Comprehensive IT solutions are offered by vendors who provide solutions covering the entire life cycle of a market research project. Smaller firms can also benefit from these solutions as they are cost effective and remain within the budget of smaller organizations.
KPO is claimed to efficiently increase productivity and increase cost savings in the area of market research. Advocates claim that the trend is likely to prove increasingly popular in the global market research industry.