Supahands CEO Mark Koh says to ensure business continuity, make sure you ask your third party vendors the right questions.
By Mark Koh
The world is going through a period of unprecedented chaos. Since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March, stock markets have tanked, workers have been laid off and hospitals are overwhelmed. Some industry observers are even calling it a ‘black swan‘ event.
Many companies have implemented a work-from-home policy — either due to government intervention or out of social responsibility — including companies in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry that provide specialised services.
Many of these companies are not prepared for an occurrence like a pandemic. In countries like India and the Philippines, where the BPO sector makes up a significant portion of GDP, these businesses are attempting to cope with the new working arrangements and the entire industry ‘is scrambling’ to set up a business continuity plan.
These issues have trickled down and even multinational corporations that rely on vendors who outsource workers from India are now struggling.
The BPO industry has been growing consistently by 9-10% every year since 2014 and is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Most corporations that rely on outsourced services, work with vendors who outsource to India and the Philippines.
Traditional BPO Companies Struggle with Remote Work
Most companies in the BPO industry rely heavily on infrastructure for their people to work. A call centre, for example, requires software and hardware that allow automatic call distribution, multi-channel communications, queue management and so on.
Working from home gets difficult without this infrastructure in place, especially if the company has not planned for it. Besides the necessary technology, there are also regulations and compliance requirements that employees have to meet. In most cases, the latter is a more pressing issue as there have been no cybersecurity contingencies set up for employees to work on sensitive projects outside the office.
On top of that, poor connectivity and lack of high quality wifi services at home lead to disruptions in workflow and overall business efficiency.
Businesses Affected by BPO Disruption
Any corporation that uses outsourced services, or partners with a vendor who does, could be affected by these business disruptions. And in today’s global economy, outsourcing to specialised partners is the norm.
This means that corporations from any industry — from services and manufacturing, to design and development — could potentially be affected. Even companies that outsource human resource and recruitment, as well as finance services are not exempt.
This disruption is especially problematic for businesses where revenue is directly affected by disruptions in their outsourced teams. For example, if sales calls are a main acquisition channel, or for companies that rely heavily on after-sale support.
Other industries include machine learning and artificial intelligence, where the data labelling process is outsourced, as well as any other tech service and support.
Ensuring Business Continuity
In order to ensure business continuity, it’s vital for companies to check in with their vendors and ensure that their operations have not been affected.
Besides working on managing in-house operations, it’s necessary to immediately identify all third party vendors and ask them the right questions to ascertain their competency in this time of crisis.
Key questions to consider
Are they still able to continue working now? If they’ve outsourced to countries that have been heavily affected by COVID-19, are those businesses still operating? And are they operating efficiently?
Is their workforce distributed? Or are they based in only one country? To date, movement controls have been staggered with some countries undergoing it strictly, while more lenient measures have been implemented in other countries. With a distributed workforce, operations could still continue in one country, even if there’s a lockdown in another.
What contingency plans do they have for businesses continuity? And what are their quality assurance measures in this time of unrest? How will they continue to maintain quality output with this disruption in their workforce?
In this season of uncertainty, when businesses are fighting for survival, having the right partners on board can make or break a business. This is why it’s crucial for businesses to take their third party vendors into account when taking measures to ensure business runs as usual. Vendors must be able to answer the important questions and provide assurance of continued performance.
In any case, asking these questions now will help a business ascertain if they can rest easy in the knowledge that operations will continue without disruption, or if they have to look for an alternative vendor before it’s too late.
The ideal partner in this season would be one that has had significant experience in remote work, as well as a geographically distributed workforce, so as to diversify the risk of failure.
A partner with the ability to navigate the challenges that have arisen due to COVID-19 will certainly be able to weather other crisis situations ahead. For a business to survive in this season and beyond, it’s necessary to have a partner like this on board.