Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Smart Skills
KPO opens new doors
Usha Albuquerque

Imagine sitting in an office in Gurgaon, designing a computer game for a client in Texas. Or you could be in Chandigarh providing legal services to a corporate firm in Birmingham. Whether it is building new malls in Philadelphia, or recruiting staff in Seattle, Indian companies are doing high-end knowledge-intensive work for organisations around the world. The call centre industry has evolved so fast that it is no longer just the Harish-turned-Harry answering phone calls with a heavily accented American drawl, it now also requires doctors, lawyers, engineers, CAs, architects, software specialists and many others. KPO, or knowledge process outsourcing, is the big buzz of the day.

Over the last two-three years, the outsourcing industry has been throwing up jobs for a variety of professionals who are handling services that require knowledge and expertise, not just communication skills. Unlike these initial call centers, which were involved in entering data and answering calls, KPOs are offering a range of services which can be accessed through the communication network. So, employees in India can edit academic articles for universities, doctors can dispense medicines, and radiologists can study brain scans and return a diagnosis to anywhere in the world.

Knowledge experts sought

KPO units in India are organisations that provide services which can be made available through high-speed Internet lines to companies around the world. With the huge talent pool in India of trained professionals in almost all spheres and technology experts, available at a relatively affordable price, it is not surprising that there has been such a flow of jobs to India.

The world is tapping into this pool of talent for a variety of services. High-end engineering solutions are being outsourced to India. Many of these engineering companies handle design and project management jobs to managing procurement for US-based companies in areas such as chemicals and construction, and even oil and gas industries. Such offshore engineering services organisations need engineers from various disciplines, whether civil, chemical and structural to oil and gas specialists.

Medical services is another area being increasingly outsourced to India, particularly in the area of diagnostics. The time difference between the US and India has also helped such companies provide immediate and efficient services for nighttime casualties. Dr Kalyanpur, a Bangalore-based, Yale-trained radiologist and his team handle cases from almost 40 US hospitals.

Dial-in diagnostics

A team of radiologists and technicians diagnose emergency cases wheeled into hospitals in the US, from the brain scans and x-rays emailed to India, advising on treatment for heart attacks, broken bones or internal bleeding from reports sent by the doctors in the hospitals there. As many hospitals in the US suffer a shortage of radiologists, particularly those who can work at nights, farming out scans to India saves the day for both doctors and patients. Outsourcing not only gives the hospitals a cost advantage, but also ensures accuracy of diagnosis, as day reports done in India are better than night reports in the US.

Offshored HR work

Student applications made to American universities or even job applications also do a detour via Bangalore or Mumbai. Teams of HR consultants sitting in these cities sift through piles of job applications sent to British and American companies. They analyze the information and profile of candidates and even conduct preliminary interviews, so as to generate the necessary information on which the companies then base their decisions. Student applications to several of the American universities are also handled in this manner.

Laws of change

Legal briefs have for some time been generated in India. US attorneys send piles of documents to Indian lawyers who work on draft agreements, negotiate deals and also frame the brief. Legal firms offering such a service hire the necessary expertise to enable them to handle any kind of case emanating from the US. Lawyers working in such outfits are well versed in the US laws and international protocols to deliver services across geographical boundaries and time zones. Moreover, while law firms in the US charge an average of $400-500 an hour, in India the same work can be done for $ 75-100 an hour.

Avenues for architects

Like lawyers, architects in India also cross time zones drawing up blueprints for a skyscraper in China, an office block in the US, or a hotel in the UK. In fact, with the high-tech software available today, architects can simultaneously work on a project with inputs from both sides, no longer needing to consult colleagues sitting in their office, they can as well sort out a design problem with their counterpart in India.

Enter EPO

Even education today is being outsourced. Teachers of subjects like science and maths are tutoring school kids in the US. Sitting in small cubicles fitted with headsets and a pen mouse, these tutors teach students in the US and some other countries subjects like maths. It is estimated that 40 per cent of students in the US fail in maths and the country needs about one million teachers over the next 10 years. At present, there are two platforms for imparting tuitions through the Net. Direct interaction with the student, or providing online tuitions and tutoring as backhand support. Companies like Career Launcher and Educomp are already tutoring thousands of American students.

While Hollywood has for long tapped the Indian talent for film animation, now even the work-intensive game design industry seems to be turning to India. Computer games and online games are big business globally, requiring specialised inputs to develop and design games, whose shelf life may be short. Costs, therefore, are important and India provides not just the creative talent but also reduced expenses.

Whether an engineer or a doctor, a lawyer or a banker, or even a designer, there is a job for you in the knowledge outsourcing industry.

The writer is a noted, career expert