Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Outsourcing.. health check..!

I am heading expenses reduction program in leading financial institution. one of very first & easy 'school-boy' decision was to outsource/migrate work to India from one of the EU countries... well, you would imagine very simple & easy solution and in just months bottom-line will be impacted ($ save). right??.. answer WRONG... not to my surprise; Data-Protection authority of that specific EU country had rejected the proposal stating India is NOT safe

The recent controversy over British tabloid Sun's purchase of confidential bank account details of some 2000 Britons from an employee of Gurgaon based BPO company Infinity E-Search has generated a lot of concern in the western countries over the data-protection issue. This comes close on the heels of the arrest of three former employees of Pune’s MphasiS BPO on allegations of siphoning off $350,000 from the Citibank accounts of four New York based account holders has sent shock waves across the Indian BPO industry. Some time ago, an Aligarh resident and employee of a Gurgaon based call centre, Arif Azim, was also taken into custody after he purchased a television set and a cordless phone using credit card data stolen from US customer Barbara Campa’s records. Although such isolated incidents are not specific to India and are not uncommon even in the US, they may just have given the dying US anti-outsourcing lobby a new lease of life.

India’s BPO success story is not entirely a fairy tale. The number of complaints received from the outsourcing western companies is growing especially with regard to the accent of Indian call centre employees, their not-so-humble attitude while dealing with customer queries and a laid-back attitude in solving their problems. The accusation that can have a far reaching impact for the stability and future of Indian BPO industry, however, is that private customer data is not safe in the hands of Indian BPO operators. This is indeed a serious development since the very foundation of the BPO industry is based on customer credibility and faith. If the bond of faith between the outsourcing companies and the service providers dwindles, it could well turn out to be the beginning of the industry’s downfall. China, Philippines and now even Pakistan would be happy enough to grab the BPO opportunity if India falters on this count. Our BPO companies are already feeling heat due to a stiff competition put up by a few aspiring IT powers and a rising attrition rate. We must, therefore, be pro-active in dealing with the new challenge before the data security issue takes a threatening dimension.

Considering the sensitive nature of the data safety issue in the west, however, the companies there leave nothing to chance in ensuring absolute protection of customer data.

In the absence of a solid legal framework, Indian companies take the standards-compliance root to assure their clients, and in turn their customers, that private data is fully safe in their hands. Many Indian companies implement international data protection standards, which ensure use of safe software, techniques such as data encryption, copy protection, intrusion detection systems, firewalls, anti-virus tools, network security, system security systems and monitoring systems and provide a well defined framework of dos and don’ts. Even then accidents do happen every now and then. Take the example of ISO 9000 certified MphasiS itself that has implemented a safety standard called SEI CMMI Level 5, hitherto considered as ‘invincible.’

It is high time that the government, Nasscom and the industry came together in taking solid, authentic steps to guarantee complete data protection to those it matters most. The sensitive issue cannot be handled by any of them in isolation. If the Indians are still not able to prove our credibility and trustworthiness to the outside world after being in such a dominant position in the BPO space for almost a decade, it would be highly unprofessional, unjustified, unfortunate and disastrous.

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