During a recent meeting, I was going through our site capacity and labor cost and turnover figures, forecasting the impacts of further automation on our sites and teams, when I drifted off into one of those “remember when” moments. I began to recall the strategies that, long ago, drove our vision of how we could centrally manage work across all our global locations.

Our business process outsourcing (BPO) offerings started as an extension of our IT services, and many of our clients transitioned not only IT but support functions and even facilities contract obligations. We had, over the years, grown into 180+ locations and a formidable scale.

Looking back – BPO to BPS

At the time – this was back in 2001-2002 – our standard delivery model had on-premise equipment supporting these BPO processing centers. The challenge was how to leverage time zones, labor markets and capital expenses by centralizing the on-premise platforms to enable the work to be processed by any site.

This allowed us to standardize processes and use business rules to route the work to any location or person around the globe. In essence, the platform didn’t care where the person was – only that they met a profile for the work that needed to be done and would be available in time to complete the work as required.

Ultimately, if we needed to add capacity, we could add new locations and people, then quickly configure these centralized systems for the new location to increase our capacity. The reverse was also true – if we wanted to exit a site or geography, we had the flexibility to simply re-route the work to those with skills in other locations. Our version of “Agile BPO” was primarily driven by a small IT footprint at our processing locations and a much larger, centralized set of services that would manage the work across a global view of the teams available to do it.

By about 2008, we completed consolidating and migrating all our centers to this model and decided to rename our business from Business Process Outsourcing to Business Process Services to highlight the fact we offered clients a true service that extended well beyond facilities and people. We had transitioned to a technology-enabled work and operating model in what was also becoming a much more integral element of our client’s business processes. The BPO terminology didn’t adequately convey this new approach, so it was time to shift the delivery model to BPS!

Looking forward – BPS to BPA?

Fast-forward to today and it’s clear we’re ready for the next phase of service automation. The centralization of systems that enabled process standardization, redesign and efficiency across the locations, and productivity gains of workflow automation, are now ingrained in our work standards. Now our ability to support volume with minimal variance will drive the economics of the next wave of investment in automation technologies.

These include:

  • Digital techniques that enable a transaction to be processed in an automated way are growing more pervasive. IoT, chat, cognitive and AI approaches to data extraction and interpretation, and speech to text tools, are practical examples of mainstream adoption and broader affordability.
  • Process orchestration and advances in real-time monitoring systems create an environment where task automation libraries can be configured into a cohesive whole, and where exception handling can also be automated via self-healing services integrated with fewer but more highly skilled people.
  • Task automation capabilities that go beyond the basic robotic process automation approaches to include AI and continuous learning engines, along with a broad wealth of assistive data that is readily available/accessible and can be used to supplement and improve the decision engines.
  • Cloud technologies, including serverless and virtual infrastructure approaches, that improve the efficiency of the automation, for example through the ability to scale up or down on business demand as opposed to having fixed capacity cost of systems and labor.

As the market embraces and makes the shift to deploy more automation across these back- and front-office processes, I suspect we’ll soon see the day where the industry once called BPO, and now BPS, becomes the BPA industry – Business Process Automation.

In this service model, it’s not hard to imagine that the actual labor element becomes a small percent of the overall cost and we complete the transition from a labor-centric service to an IT service that focuses solely on the business outcomes that matter.