Outsourcing professional support to India

Integreon explains why leading investment banks, corporations and law firms, such as Clifford Chance and DLA Piper, are sending their work offshore.
Chris Niccolls is senior vice president at Integreon, a knowledge process outsourcing company. He used to be a managing director at Bear Stearns in New York, and was a client of Integreon's. Here he discusses why knowledge process outsourcing is taking off in India.

Why is knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) in India growing so fast?
Chris Niccolls: India is a country with thousands of years of history as a leader in education, innovation and even genius, especially in science and mathematics. However, because of a comparatively few years when India was labelled a ôThird World Countryö, the West only saw the inadequate infrastructure and forgot about the amazing people. And there are a billion people in India.

History and politics held back the vast intellectual capital of its people, and kept it out of the global marketplace. Think about that for just a second. Einstein, Shakespeare, Mozart, DaVinci, Socrates, the people who come to mind when a Westerner hears the word ôgeniusö, came out of countries that were tiny compared to India.

How many geniuses have been born in India over the past few decades, but never made it to university? How many never found an outlet for their genius in IndiaÆs old economy?

While everyone on our staff is amazingly qualified, theyÆre not geniuses. Well, actually some of them are come to think of it. But they are all part of a talented pool of Indians ready to show the rest of the world how good they are.

Now that the world has seen this, and has had some years to digest this message, there is a tidal wave of work coming to India. ItÆs the right place, the right time and absolutely the right people.

Is KPO in India vulnerable to cannibalisation from other geographies?
The issue is commoditisation. If more or less the same task is being performed by rooms full of people, itÆs a matter of time before it moves to the lowest cost producer, or is taken over by a computer.

At Integreon, we donÆt call highly repetitive work KPO, just because an expensive person is used to do it. Answering a phone is largely the same task for someone who is paid $50,000 or $5,000,000.

We look for work that is true KPO, work that involves education, brainpower and decision-making. Still, after a while someone may come along and realise that what was thought to be complex decision-making really isnÆt.

A benefit of our method of KPO is that we analyse and measure how work is performed. There are often better ways to work and unnecessary steps that can be eliminated. We find that some tasks that used to take years to learn, take much less time in a structured environment, where we test training, measuring the impact on the quality and the quantity of work.

WeÆre not concerned that KPO work will be cannibalized by cheaper labour markets. ThatÆs not to say we wonÆt set up shop in other countries. WeÆre already doing that in the Philippines. What weÆre not doing is looking for countries that are cheaper than India. WeÆre looking for locations that have a unique value proposition, such as excellence in a specialty area, or that allow us to further expand access to the best and brightest workers.

What is your firm's area of specialisation within KPO?
Overall our area of specialisation is in the support of ôprofessionalsö - lawyers, accountants, investment bankers and other highly educated individuals who work in large corporations and are paid at the top-end of the pay scale.

We see an opportunity in freeing up domestic intellectual capital by letting people do what they were trained and hired for. Just let lawyers be lawyers, and weÆll take care of all of the minutia that they want off of their plate so that they can earn money for their firm.

What is your strategy to win business?
It all comes down to trust. We want to be the most trusted KPO in the world. When we go to see a client and ask then to turn over important and critical work to us, they need to trust us.

Of course we have to be competent and live up to our promises. If we donÆt, our clients will not recommend us to future clients. Integreon has never lost a client - IÆm pretty sure that weÆre the only KPO that can say that. So, we want to be the most trusted. ItÆs what we aspire to.

How do you ensure Integreon employees adhere to regulatory requirements?
ThereÆs no one answer to that question. Basically, itÆs hard work which never ends. ThereÆs never any ôfinish lineö for security and integrity. Integreon constantly compares ourselves to our clients and seeks the best practices for security. There are always shortcuts but you canÆt take them.

And when you create a culture of security, and enforce it constantly, one of your best safety nets becomes your people. They know how important security is and want to ensure we follow the process because they know that the future of the firm could be terribly damaged by just one small breach. It helps the overall process when youÆve got 2,000 pairs of eyes to keep everyone honest.

What kind of clients do you work for?
WeÆd love to tell you about our amazingly A-grade client list but most of our clients want to keep their names confidential. On our client list, we have some of the top law firms, investment banks and corporations in the world including Clifford Chance and DLA Piper û two of the three largest law firms in the world.

In the professional industries that we mentioned, we are the dominant KPO. We perform a variety of tasks from lower end tasks in document editing to high end task in financial modelling. We do legal review of documents and a variety of litigation support functions. We have lawyers supporting other lawyers, who are fully capable of doing all the work that 1st and 2nd year lawyers do in a law firm.

We expect to see the same trajectory in KPO as we saw earlier in business process outsourcing (BPO). Over time, the complexity of the work that clients send offshore will increase. We have the talent and the capabilities to move as deeply into the support of a clientÆs work as they wish.
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