Deconstructing your manual BPO activities for the As-a-Service Economy


With the increasing momentum of Robotic Process Automation and comprehensive business platforms solutions in BPO, it seems like a good time to step back and take a look at what really occurs “under the covers” of most BPO delivery.  Let’s hear what HfS’ Charles Sutherland has to say about deconstructing those “human” elements of processing work – and how they will evolve with all the technology-enablement underway…

HfS' Charles Sutherland (pictured right) and Tom Ivory deconstruct BPO in a Dallas parking lot

When you get right down to it, BPO isn’t all that complex and, regardless of whether it is a horizontal or industry vertical based process solution, there are only a few basic components that are used to construct a solution.   Understanding this will be critical to making BPO work in the new “As-a-Service Economy”.

Architecting a BPO solution is not all that different from being a writer of a comedy movie, whether that writer happens to be based in Hollywood, London, Paris or Mumbai.  If you watch closely, most comedies are based on the interweaving of a few recurring plots involving the key cast members.   These might include:

  • Mistaken identity (in all forms)
  • Boyfriend/girlfriend that got away returns to town
  • A couple works together for the first time
  • Eccentric in-laws come for a visit
  • Friends feel that someone is hiding something and decide to investigate
  • A family vacation
  • Dad gives horrible advice to son/daughter about dating/relationships
  • A protagonist suffers accidental memory loss
  • Competition for a prize
  • Unexpected arrival of a windfall of $
  • A surprise party/birthday/pregnancy
  • Accidental ingestion of a mind-altering substance

The only difference, therefore, between most generic comedies, whether they involve Kate Hudson, Peter Sellers, Jacques Tati or Priyanka Chopra, is which mix of these plots is involved.

And it’s the same with BPO – when you deconstruct the actions in a BPO process, what you will generally find is that they comprise some combination of these human elements:

  • Opening an envelope
  • Answering the phone to interact with customers/suppliers/partners
  • Keying or scanning in data
  • Repurposing content
  • Starting or closing a case
  • Comparing data fields on screen and or on paper
  • Identifying an exception to a process and flagging it for remedy
  • Making a decision based on a business rule
  • Requesting/Authorizing/Making a payment
  • Updating status field in a system

Hopefully by now you recognize the repetition of the elements, both in comedy movies and, more importantly, in your business processes.   But why does this matter, why should I even think about deconstructing a process into its human elements at this point in time?

It’s useful to do, because the way that you will need (or want) to combine those elements together in your BPO process, is going to change in the next few years, if not already for you today.

We believe that with robotic process automation, the digitization of previously “analog”, or paper-centric processes, enabled by  the advent of As-a-Service intuitive solutions, will result in many of these 10 human elements being less critical to the “plot”, if not being eradicated outright.

Therefore, if you aren’t already thinking about what you really have in your business process and what your people are really doing, you aren’t going to be as prepared for this new disruptive world as you will need to be.

In short, we believe that process automation is going to impact dramatically these human process activities over the next 5 years:

  • Keying or scanning in data
  • Repurposing content
  • Starting or closing a case
  • Comparing data fields on screen and or on paper
  • Identifying an exception to a process and flagging it for remedy
  • Making a decision based on a business rule
  • Updating status field in a system

The Bottom-line:  The roots of the As-a-Service Economy have already been planted – and BPO is taking on a very different solution form

The broad-based adoption of As-a-Service business platforms will radically impact how these 10 human process elements are transacted  tomorrow, compared to how they  they are transacted today.

This is our future for BPO, which will likely not even be called BPO for much longer as more and more processes are digitized and technology-enabled to form components of automated solutions where the outcomes of these processes are taken for granted.   For example, does anyone with half a digital brain cell even think about photocopying receipts for their expense submissions anyone when a quick scan onto your mobile in the taxi will be only “manual” component necessary?  And why will be we need to employ call center reps to prepare auto-insurance quotes once all the data points can be pulled together and a computer generated quote can be automated for the customer in seconds?

This is the future that HfS is researching to understand how it will turn out and by when.   That’s, at least, what keeps us up at night rather than watching re-runs of “Being There.”  We’ve already been here and we want to see where we all end up before long.

Posted in : Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Digital Transformation, Homepage, HR Strategy, kpo-analytics, Robotic Process Automation, SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and BPaaS, Sourcing Best Practises, The As-a-Service Economy



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  1. Charles, I love the analogy of BPO to comedy movies. Unfortunately far to many BPO deals tick the boxes on both lists. I share your view on the common and repeatable elements of process and how that will help the drive toward automation. I think a couple of other things need to considered here. Firstly, it’s important to take a holistic view of processes. End to end but also to consider the most appropriate form of delivery for each step. Setting each scene in the context of the overal movie. I fear in our eagerness to automate that we will design sub optimality into the end to end process if don’t consider the new capabilities at hand both automation and alternative human models. Just taking the “as is” human delivered process is unlikely to provide the best possible outcome. For example, in an automated world we can perform many more low level checks and measures in the process that would not be economically viable with humans. Also, the clients we advise find that RPA is not the solution to all things so integrating AI, crowd or impact sourcing in an end to end solution can be a great addition to the repertoire. The new Modern Family perhaps

  2. David,

    We’ve all learned through the school of hard BPO knocks that “lifting and shifting” processes into the new environment, then transforming them, is the only real way to make progress. Remember the painful ERP experiences where clients tried to mould the software around their dysfunctional workflows and ended up with a nightmare of spaghetti code, customized apps and poor integration? Most ERP clients are still dealing with the nightmare 20 years on… The “we can’t do anything until we get the SAP right” has become most common excuse for stagnation over this time.

    The same with BPO, where many of those clients want to get all their “processes right” before pulling the trigger are still doing nothing.

    So with RPA, doesn’t there need to be some sort of “lift and shift” into an electronic (digital) environment, even if it’s relatively crude and contains mimicry of manual tasks, in order to take companies to the next step – i.e. it’s much easier to look at incorporating crowdsourcing, AI, analytics once the environment is digitized?


  3. Phil. You raise an interesting point. In the case of BPO lift and shift was really the only remedy the BPO crowd chose to use to create value. It became second nature, virtually risk free and highly profitable. The problem is it takes 12-18 months for the average offshoring to take place. Thereafter, even if re-engineering or innovating around processes takes place at all (we have lamented this many times), there is frequently another 12-18 months before the value is generated. The difference with automation, AI etc is that businesses cases can pay back within a year if properly designed. Yes some degree of prototyping, fine tuning and iteration is inevitable and desirable but getting the design as right as possible and fully tested at the start is important. Small errors repeated very accurately and quickly by a carelessly implemented Robot will become big problems very quickly. So fundamentally I agree with your point but these are not projects to be taken lightly. I’d certainly recommend starting with a master plan so that you don’t just end up with a jumble of fragmented automated tasks but can see you may want to implement in stages as you become more familiar with these approaches.

  4. David, Phil

    Interesting discussion.
    Working with BPOs we are often faced with the challenge and a choice, do we change the human process to make it more automation friendly or automate as-is (or with minimal changes). In some human processes we find that automation can add significant value by “finding”, “matching”, “comparing” and “validating” far economically with automation than it could ever be done manually.

    We find that, for many new BPO contracts where RPA is included as part of the contract, we have opportunity to propose more automation friendly approaches. In this case goal is if it is properly designed, it can pay back within a year.

    For many existing processes, there is lot more legacy to it. Constraints around old processes are more associated with change management than technology. These have to be planned well.

    In both cases, almost always digitization is the first step.

  5. And here’s a twist: most sit-coms have been replaced today by reality TV or edgy cable series – I am looking forward to making sure HfS coverage includes the new “dramedy” areas of the digital economy where people need to interact with actual human beings when the systems fail.

    For example, over the weekend I had to call AAA (american automobile association) when my son locked my keys in my car. When I got the robo-call telling me the tow truck was there and it wasn’t, I hit operator to wait on hold to tell them indeed the truck wasn’t there. Waiting for the woman to tell me the truck was right around the corner, I missed the call from the actual towing dispatcher looking for us…

    It would have been funny if it wasn’t incredibly stupid and frustrating. The two firms’ systems didn’t talk to each other, didn’t align their processes, and can’t handle exceptions well. To move on to the next call, the subcontractor had to close out the request ticket, then I had to re-submit the request all over again, to get a robo-call… you guessed it: at the same time the driver was trying to reach me. The next call I made was to cancel my AAA service.

    I am all for exploring not just how RPA is going to impact service delivery moving forward, but more importantly how businesses are going to offer real services to real people that really are differentiated and valuable.

    The best brands today are figuring this out – we’ll be investigating not only how the business world is finding new types of versatile talent to serve demanding customers, but also where the buying audience finds their experiences more compelling and even willing to pay extra for. So stay tuned.

  6. Application of Robotics in Accounts Payable outsourcing for efficiency - Global Services Transformation says:

    […] transformation. Robotics is influencing the way traditional business is conducted. This article at Horses For Sources tries to deconstruct the process of back office processing into simplistic steps that can […]

  7. Christa,

    It was insightful to read your comment. I hope in rush for RPA we don’t forget that “how businesses are going to offer real services to real people that really are differentiated and valuable”. And that has to be the end goal of whatever we do.

  8. On our blog, we regularly recognize people (Super Heroes, we call them) who have used automation in their business to not only drive the success of their own organizations, but are also pioneering a path for the future of technology.

    Please check it out, at

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