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Business Process Outsourcing

What is business process outsourcing (BPO)? BPO is the process of hiring another company to handle business activities for you.

BPO is distinct from information technology (IT) outsourcing, which focuses on hiring a third-party company or service provider to do IT-related activities, such as application management and application development, data center operations, or testing and quality assurance.

In the early days, BPO usually consisted of outsourcing processes such as payroll. Then it grew to include employee benefits management. Now it encompasses a number of functions that are considered "non-core" to the primary business strategy.

Now it is common for organizations to outsource financial and administration (F&A) processes, human resources (HR) functions, call center and customer service activities and accounting and payroll.

These outsourcing deals frequently involve multi-year contracts that can run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Often, the people performing the work internally for the client firm are transferred and become employees for the service provider. Dominant outsourcing service providers in the BPO fields (some of which also dominate the IT outsourcing business) include US companies IBM, Accenture, and Hewitt Associates, as well as European and Asian companies Capgemini, Genpact, TCS, Wipro and Infosys.

Many of these BPO efforts involve offshoring -- hiring a company based in another country -- to do the work. India is a popular location for BPO activities.

Frequently, BPO is also referred to as ITES -- information technology-enabled services. Since most business processes include some form of automation, IT "enables" these services to be performed.

An offshoot of BPO is KPO -- knowledge process outsourcing. Considered by some to be a subset of BPO, KPO includes those activities that require greater skill, knowledge, education and expertise to handle. For example, whereas an insurance company might outsource data entry of its claims forms as part of a BPO initiative, it may also choose to use a KPO service provider to evaluate new insurance applications based on a set of criteria or business rules; this work would require the efforts of a more knowledgeable set of workers than the data entry would. The current definition of KPO encompasses R&D, product development and legal e-discovery, as well as a number of other business functions.

Also coming into use is the term BTO -- business transformation outsourcing. This refers to the idea of having service providers contribute to the effort of transforming a business into a leaner, more dynamic, agile and flexible operation.