For those in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) the ongoing crisis has presented the chance to prove their mettle; are they an indispensable partner who can help weather any storm, or did they present their clients more problems than they solved? Facing the biggest disruption to business-as-normal we’ve ever seen, outsourcing partners have been an integral part of clients’ business continuity plans. Whether supportive and strong or sorely lacking, BPO partners’ efforts have not gone unnoticed.
In fact, our recent joint research with NelsonHall measuring banking, insurance, and healthcare executives’ response to this crisis revealed that 65% of organisations leveraged the capacity of outsourcing partners to enhance delivery capabilities during lockdown. Now that the dust has somewhat settled, organisations have had time to reflect and the initial feedback for outsourcing partners is definitely ‘could do better’.
In the early weeks of the crisis, organisations moved quickly to shore up their businesses in the short-term often, working closely with service providers; frequently switching work from offshore to onshore and/or between onshore delivery locations. At the same time, outsourcers were frequently required to increase the number of shifts to maintain social distancing for centre-based personnel.
In the months following initial lockdown, client satisfaction with outsourcing partners was just 38% and a third viewed the readiness of outsourcing partners to respond to crises as ‘low’. Organisations were looking to their partners to help them weather the storm, but did not always find the expertise, support or solution they needed, when they needed it.
This research showed that the speed and flexibility of outsourcers was a moment of truth. Those that reacted promptly, proactively, and flexibly to maintain client service and SLAs typically strengthened their level of partnership with their clients. Those that took a more reactive or commercial stance have damaged their client relationships irreparably.
Whether strengthened or tested, client/partner relationships are at a pivotal point right now. In readiness for the next crisis, 86% of organisations say they will review their existing service providers. For clients, preparedness and resilience are top of the agenda and outsourcing partners must be able to support these priorities with robust advice and flexible, fast solutions.
The opportunity to build meaningful partnerships is ripe. Nearly half of organisations are seeking to increase outsourcing as part of their business continuity plans, but they will be seeking demonstrable returns beyond packaged solutions – they will be seeking knowledge, experience and foresight.
Where can BCP and resilience be most effectively outsourced?
Having dealt with the initial shock of lockdown, we are now entering a stage where focus is rightly on business resilience. During the first months of crisis, over 90% of organisations believed they had suffered from a lack of business continuity planning. Now, just 16% think their operations are highly resilient to another crisis.
One of the key issues facing organisations is a continued focus on localised thinking; business continuity plans are often city and centre focused rather than enterprise-wise. This is a common theme where outsourcing partners with a global outlook can add value, not just in terms of the multi-site services they can provide but in bringing global expertise to the table as part of early stage resilience planning.
Partners must be able to demonstrate their worth in the planning phase by bringing the bigger picture, not being afraid to challenge clients and being open about the learnings made during lockdown. For example, some of the challenges thrown up by the current crisis have been obvious; increases in remote working, health and safety of staff, issues with physical spaces. Others have grabbed fewer headlines but have been as impactful; a surge in demand for customer communication, shifting regulatory changes, maintaining workforce efficiency.
As we know, the ability to quickly transition to home working has been pivotal in the last months and continues to dominate much of the ongoing conversation. In the face of increased communications needs and the demands of a remote workforce there has been a worrying problem in organisations’ ability to move knowledge, data and associated operations between sites and personnel.
Over 70% of organisations reported that the ability to make this transition was hampered by a lack of remote access to data and documents. With workers unable to access the documents they needed, just 10% of executives were confident they had met SLAs, with the worst affected areas being customer communications, order fulfillment and sales support – it’s not hard to imagine the fall out of these dropped and cancelled services.
We know that flexibility in relation to home working or different service locations is vital. Many organisations have already taken steps to rid themselves of large, central offices but this has obvious implications for secure and compliant access and processing of documents. Digitising documents in a secure, compliant manner enables agile movement of processes between service centers and home environments.
In light of this, document processing of electronic and physical documents, merging structured and unstructured data is seen as vital to establishing operational resilience; 92% of organisations are looking to increase automation while 80% are looking to digitise mailrooms, with over 70% seeking to digitalise document processes.
Resilience in an environment that requires homeworking or more flexible offices is built upon the ability to access and process documents securely and in compliance with regulatory requirements. For example, in the UK Zurich rapidly accelerated its project to digitise mailroom services. An ongoing project originally scheduled to take over two years to roll out throughout the UK, in just two weeks Zurich and Swiss Post Solutions UK implemented a digital mailroom operation to digitally deliver documents from over a dozen sites to its dispersed workforce.
Digitising document workflows services – both paper based and electronic – is no longer just a stop on the way to digital transformation, it is a foundation of operational resilience.
Partners must lay the path for digital transformation
The British Standards Institution states that resilience is “…a strategic objective intended to help an organisation survive and prosper …the ability to anticipate, prepare, respond and adapt to minor everyday events to acute shocks and chronic or incremental change”. Becoming resilient is not the ability to action location-specific, tactical responses to seemingly ‘random’ shocks but about enterprise-wide planning and transformation that provides readiness for a range of events.
Right now, organisations are focused on digital transformation initiatives focused on agility and preparedness. As IDC President, Crawford Del Prete recently argued, the time is right for previously cautious, highly regulated industries to embrace digital transformation – in fact, they must.
Where partners can add real value is providing tested, secure automation solutions that can be quickly deployed for processes that deliver the lowest levels of resilience. For example, manual processing of physical documents clearly has a very low level of operational resilience whereas automated and electronic document processing enjoys higher levels of operational resilience. Increasing automation has a direct impact on the resilience of key service areas such as customer care. In fact 92% of organisations plan to increase automation of processes following this crisis.
The next year will undoubtedly prove to be an uphill battle to counter the effects of the current crisis. However, this has also afforded the opportunity for organisations to focus on building operational resilience that will not only see them through future crisis’ but will ensure a foundation for first-rate digital transformation that will ultimately deliver growth. With nine in ten seeing the readiness of outsourced partners as a key factor underpinning BCPs and operational resilience, the ability of these partners to play a key role in organisational resilience cannot be understated.