Integration Can Be A Four Letter Word
First, lets define what I mean by BPO integration. For BPO providers this is simply the collection of interfaces needed to achieve their clients intended outcomes. But hold on there, if you think Im referring merely to whether a BPO provider gets your organizations customer data by FTP or tape, thats just part of the concern. I maintain theres a lot more wrapped up in BPO integration that providers need to recognize, understand and deliver.
Now, lets take a look at the problem. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I see many of todays integration issues spawned by the realities and challenges listed below:
Shifting Landscape: The expectations from, and requirements for, BPO providers have evolved rapidly in last few years. Those variables include the number and complexity of business functions, the level of integration (both to the providers clients and internally to the provider), and timing requirements to name just a few.
Ready, Fire, Aim!: BPO providers tend to leverage an existing infrastructure to provide services, but too often that infrastructure isnt suited to the new realities of the afore-mentioned shifting landscape. For example, ad-hoc data integration using custom programming might work for fewer clients or less business complexity but likely wont scale well in terms of costs or service when these dynamics increase. Additionally, many providers will integrate using approaches they already understand in scenarios that are instead better served by different methods.
You Wanna See What?: Too many BPO providers have costly mechanisms, limited scope or in some case no ability to instrument their integration and processing frameworks end-to-end. Whether its data quality, process effectiveness, information security or audit and regulatory compliance, providers will be pushed to improve in these areas more rapidly.
As a simple example, I know a business owner who tried to acquire some new computing equipment. The owner worked with a technology supplier to open a preferred business line of credit and configure a computing environment with some additional peripherals, then charged it to his new line of credit. He then paid his credit line promptly as stipulated in his no interest agreement.
Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately, it seems the additional peripherals were sourced from a different line of business internal to the supplier, somehow the business owners payment wasnt applied correctly, and he got a call from the suppliers collections department.
In short, the business owner had to spend over four hours resolving the issue, working with the suppliers preferred business contact center and their collections department. Both of these entities were outsourced to different BPO providers, and the business owner learned that neither entity was able to share data or process status with the other. The owner even contacted his dedicated account representative at the technology supplier for help, leading to the account rep becoming similarly befuddled by two departments who seemed to be able to share only the same space-time continuum.
Unfortunately, the business owner is me, and quite frankly Id have had much more fun if someone had substituted playground sand for my contact lens saline solution instead having to solve this particular BPO integration problem. The best part, after all of this, was that I received three separate surveys (one each from the technology supplier, contact center and collections department) asking about my experience with them.
Does anyone else see the irony here?
Ive no idea whether my experience was the result of one or more of the challenges I listed previously, or if indeed it was caused by other factors too insidious to fathom. Assuming these challenges had at least some influence, what should BPO providers and their clients understand about their mutual relationship in order to mitigate them?Heres a few things:
Intended Outcomes: Dont lose sight of what should happen. Lets be clear, Im relatively sure my technology provider didnt intend for me to jump through hoops and fix their integration problems, but thats what happened. An organization using BPO should look for these detached integrations. Also, consider the efficacy of testing the outsourced processes acting in various roles (first-time buyer, preferred customer, even a delinquent customer) to see if the integrations work.
Additionally, BPO providers have to understand intended outcomes, and the potential unintended consequences of integration holes, and proactively developwith their clientswhat the intended outcomes should be in those situations.
Whats In The Box?: Traditionally, many BPO providers took the stance of Tell us what you need, well worry about how. I suggest that organizations need to understand more about how their BPO providers are integrated. Achieving intended outcomes might require integration of some data, business logic, business processes or all three.
Is the provider proposing to use ad-hoc data integration when the scenario lends itself more to process integration? For providers, vigilance around their clients current requirements and a bit of foresight about what the future holds might drive them from relatively simple data exchange to a service-oriented architecture and integration model.
Instrumentation: Regardless of the integration model, instrumentation just makes sense, enabling critical areas of measurement from data quality to SLA goals to regulatory compliance. Organizations need to understand the level of instrumentation within their providers infrastructure and what level of access they have to those measures. For providers, it is imperative they engineer instrumentation into their infrastructure, service offerings and culture.
In subsequent articles, Ill explore more of the challenges of BPO integration, and posit some potential approaches that can help providers and their clients achieve their intended outcomes.
Mark Cioni, president of MV Cioni Associates, has been helping global businesses to improve their decisions, operations and performance for over 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.