AuxiCogent to Expand BPO operation: Mahawilachchiya a Role Model – Sunday Observer – October 28, 2007

OnTime BPO
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AuxiCogent International (Pvt) Ltd, the BPO operation under the JKH umbrella has just concluded a contract with a client based in USA for 500 seats (the BPO industry pays by the seats).

In six weeks we hope to start the operation with 40-60 persons and ramp up to 500 within 6-8 months, said Group Finance Director John Keells Holdings PLC J. Ronnie F. Peiris.

He said, “we are confident that the manpower can be found within the next 6-8 months with the support and help of our Shared Services office Infomate and CSR initiative at Mahawilachchiya, a model BPO. They have to be trained and we are happy to do that.” He said that the success of the first step gives us the impetus that this model will succeed.

Some challenges are difficult to solve on our own. Therefore we will need the support of officials in the government sector to solve these issues. From the JKH point of view this is an element of an overall strategy, the first step towards establishing a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry.

One of the reasons we chose the BPO industry was because Sri Lanka has the critical success factors for a BPO industry to flourish such as the supply of quality manpower, particularly in the finance and accounting fields. We may not have the numbers as in India but we certainly have quality in the limited numbers we have.

JKH looked at the numbers and the quality and decided to engage in areas we can optimise the return on the limited supply that is available in Sri Lanka in accounting. In Colombo there is a fair number but out of Colombo it is very low.

We then realised that the whole success of the BPO industry was not only based on having these higher level analytical people but also having more people who are good but may not have the analytical knowledge but who are able to support the analysis – people who can be entrusted with a fairly regular process be trained in that process and ultimately be good in that process.

You have the analytical people who are supported by the processes to give out the information. These are the repetitive processes, which are important for the success of outsourcing. You can do outsourcing in many forms. The most common form is to do a repetitive process where they analyse them and up the process which results in efficiency levels increasing by the day, he said.

JKH has a shared service named Infomate Ltd that employs 70 energetic people who are either following accountancy examinations or are graduates. They provide accountancy support to all our 70 companies.

This venture was started two-and-a-half years ago. Our companies were used as a guinea pig to understand the pros and cons which helped them to develop their skills. This is a parallel step towards entering the BPO industry. In BPO we talk to International competitors.

He said that “we at JKH don’t market a product unless we are confident and can satisfy the customer. Therefore, it would have been foolhardy to do it two-and-a-half years ago without having the experience in that area. But now with all the experience, we are confident that we can match to international standards”.

He said the opportunity we came across in Mahawilachchiya was glorious and in this day and age where connectivity was not a problem. If people are skilled or they have the potential to be trained then they can be trained. There is nothing magical about these skills as anybody with O/L or JSC can be trained.

The youth of Horizon Lanka Foundation from Mahavilachchiya have the yearning to succeed but lacked the opportunity. Therefore we were happy to give the opportunity for them to go forward. When we get involved we do it well, that has been the JKH policy.

We got the COO of Infomate involved and gave an incentive to the students during the training period. Now we pay them on a per transaction basis and we have got a tracking mechanism.

It is working extremely well and we are confident that we can expand it quite rapidly. It is not only a part of our business plan but also it enmeasures with our CSR objective.

We at JKH firmly believe that for CSR to succeed there should be a sustainable development. For this to be a reality it should get linked to your business otherwise it becomes philanthropy. We try to make it a part of our business so that with the growth of our business they also grow, he said.

For example we have the ginger farmers producing ginger for the CCC ginger beer. Similarly at Walkers Tours we arrange financing and all the people own the vehicles and they work for the various people we bring in. it is a sustainable development. Similarly in the BPO industry this is also fitted with the sustainable development program.

This showed that a massive potential exists in the country and if we can extend it to the East where there are well-educated English-speaking youth it will help solve a lot of problems in that area. The BPO operation is based on labour arbitrage and the cost difference between a low level accounts clerk in USA and Sri Lanka are 11:1.

He said the working ethics and culture in Sri Lanka are very high and strong, though modernism has to some extent eroded it. Therefore if we are really keen we can expand the BPO operation, he said.

We are no grumblers and we see and look for opportunities at every point, he said.

by Surekha Galagoda surekha@sundayobserver.lk