Cost factor and flexibility attract companies to this model

Suparna Goswami Bhattacharya

July 1, 2016: The beginning of the new century saw the emergence of a new industry in India and other developing nation — the back office industry, or the BPO as it is popularly known. In early 2000s, BPOs were all about cost efficiency, which allowed a certain level of flexibility.

Cut to 2016, a new industry — distributed on-demand workforce model — is disrupting the BPO industry. An on-demand mobile workforce means a distributed workforce operating using their smartphones and who are available on a need basis.

Apurv Agrawal, founder, SquadRun, a mobile marketplace for crowdsourced work, says,  “We target back office work like data clean-up and enrichment, lead generation and qualification, etc. The idea basically is to disrupt the back office industry.”

“Most ecommerce platforms either have an in-house team or outsource the above-mentioned work to a BPO. Current outsourcing options such as BPOs / BPMs, are broken. They have a high initial and recurring fixed costs, are operationally intensive, inflexible, and the best ones are inaccessible for the mass market. Today’s businesses need a quick setup and instant turnaround times because operations move quickly. This is where we come in” says Agrawal.

For instance, any ecommerce marketplace gets several listings every day. These need to be curated, tagged along with the right caption and then placed in the relevant category. Companies like SquadRun tie up with housewives, students and part-time workers to do the job wherein they can earn on an hourly basis depending on expertise.  “People who sign up with us have complete flexibility to work when and as much as they want”.

Additionally, if a company needs to create an urgent outbound calling campaign to understand the market of a particular product, they can sign up with SquadRun and provide them with a script. SquadRun will outsource the work to people who have signed up for jobs on their app and whose profile matches the skill set required for completion of the work.

So far, the best option for a company was to hire a few interns and train them in these calls. But the process is time consuming and costly.

Pawan Gulani, director, operations & projects, Indifi Technologies, says, “The fixed cost of working with a traditional BPO is gone. We can calibrate according to our needs. It takes care of spikes and troughs in the incoming leads and gives us a platform to base our sales efforts on. The leads have become more qualified and we don’t have to put resources on sorting out the hot leads.”

Indifi Technologies is a startup that enables the country’s micro and small enterprises to gain greater access to debt financing.

A spokesperson from Shopo, a Snapdeal company, says although India has a low-cost workforce, it takes a lot of time for companies to define processes and set up internal tools to get this workforce to act productively. “Combination of trained workforce along with API based integration makes the on-demand workforce option attractive,” says the spokesperson.

Though the trend is still very niche in India, it has caught the fancy of many companies across the world.

Gigwalk, US-based mobile platform that helps find the right worker, believes the industry will gain traction in future. “I believe that the impact of mobile technology over the next 10 years will be significantly greater than that of desktop technology over the past 30 years. Workers are quick to adopt these new technologies. Smartphones have only been around for 10 years, but they are now being used by over a billion people. As mobile technology continues to be adopted in the workplace and society, this trend will only continue to grow,” says David Hale, CEO, Gigwalk.

He adds that mobile technology simplifies managing a distributed workforce and makes execution of complex field assignments more efficient. So building tools for a mobile workforce is an obvious transition for companies. Many industries are starting to use mobile applications to manage distributed teams just to remain competitive.

The trend

# Eight out of 10 respondents in Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015 survey indicated a trend toward greater use of hourly, contingent, and contract workers

# Online talent platforms have the potential to increase global GDP by $2.7 trillion and employment by 72 million full-time equivalents by 2025 — McKinsey: Connecting talent with opportunity in the digital age 2015