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5 May, 2019 12:27:52 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 5 May, 2019 12:29:10 AM
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Opportunities galore in BPO sector

SHARIF AHMED, DHAKA
Opportunities galore in BPO sector

Riding on robust IT infrastructure, skilled human resource management and a few government services, the income growth of the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector in Bangladesh has risen significantly, said industry insiders.

“In 2009, only some 300 people used to work in this industry. Now, after nine years, around 50,000 people are working in some 120 companies in the BPO sector,” Towhid Hossain, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Association of Call Centre and Outsourcing (BACCO), told The Independent.

He noted that in 2012, the earnings were only USD 12 million, but rose to USD 300 million in 2018. The figure has grown by more than 25 times since 2012, he added.

On an average, 20,000 to 25,000 people are employed in this sector every year. In 2017, the earnings were USD 230 million, up from USD 160 million in 2016, Hossain said.

 

Stellar performance

Describing the reasons for such a stellar performance, Hossain said this sector has four pillars: legal documents (including company registration), IT infrastructure, skilled human resource management and international business development. Bangladeshi BPO companies have done well in two of these—legal documents and IT infrastructure. “But we are still working on developing skilled human resources and international business development strategies,” he added.

“Forty thousand new employment opportunities can be created in this sector if the ‘service sector’ and the ‘financial sector’ can be included in the BPO sector. Two to three lakh opportunities can be created if we can capture the international market,” he said.

There are currently three types of BPO jobs in this sector viz. data entry, customer service and information analysis. “But if we can build our human resources to more advanced technology such as Big Data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT), then two to three lakh people can get the opportunity to work in this sector,” he added.

Explaining the challenges associated with this sector, Hossain pointed out that to communicate with international clients, proficiency in English is a must. “So we need to include mandatory English lessons along with IT courses at the vocational institutes at every level,” he said.

“Unfortunately, proficiency in the English language is still a hindrance in taking this sector forward,” he added.

Social awareness is another problem in Bangladesh. Many people do not know that BPO services can be a profession, he added.

 

Future prospects

The sector can be divided into two parts: voice and non-voice. Describing the non-voice part, he said it is a subsection in which employees sit behind a desk and fulfil duties that may not be visible to the customer.

Citing an example, he said, “Closed-circuit television monitoring can also be outsourced. A team of trained people monitor your premises and your project sites to provide top-quality surveillance you would expect from on-site personnel, but in a more cost-effective manner.”

On being asked about the future prospects of the BPO sector, he replied, “After analysing the current scenario, we can easily envisage that the sector will create employment for around 1 lakh people and generate earnings of about USD 0.5 billion by 2021.”

Muntaqim BPO Services Ltd, for instance, provides accounting services to small and medium-sized businesses and individual taxpayers.

The managing director (MD) of Muntaqim BPO Services, Mahmud Ullah, told The Independent, “We provide accounting services, such as bookkeeping, maintenance of general ledgers, accounts payable/receivable, bank reconciliation and payroll services.”

“Our local market is huge. The sector needs to grow further and we need to explore it,” said Hossain, who is also a leading entrepreneur in the sector.

Pointing out a few challenges in the sector, he said that a company’s accounting information is profoundly confidential. Therefore, both trustworthiness and confidentiality are important.

Digicon Technologies Ltd is another foremost outsourcing organisation in Bangladesh, leading in BPO and IT solutions.

The owner of Digicon, Wahidur Rahman Sharif, told The Independent, “We started our business in 2010 with only 100 employees. Now, around 1,400 employees are working for Digicon.”

“Our expertise lies in providing customer service through contact centres, telesales, HR outsourcing, payroll processing and a variety of back office and technological support services,” he said.

On being asked about the challenges, Sharif said, “There are ample opportunities in our domestic market, such as banking and government, and we should explore them first.”

“The more we gather local market experience, the easier it would be for us to get more international work,” he added. The international BPO market is worth around USD 500 billion. Hence, there are huge opportunities ahead, he said.

The government has also decided to establish more than 500 BPO centres within a short time, Towhid Hossain said.

 

What are the challenges?

Talking about the challenges confronting the BPO sector, Razib Ahmed, former president of the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-CAB), told The Independent that there is a lot of potential in the BPO sector, but there are basically two challenges—and only the government can address them.

He said first of all, the government has to ensure high-speed internet in all the villages of Bangladesh. Only then can the educated youth in the rural areas join this sector. The government should invest some funds to ensure rural internet connectivity.

“Secondly, if we want to compete with the two powerhouses in the region—India and the Philippines—we need to ensure the availability of a large pool of skilled personnel that is proficient in English. Again, only the government can solve this problem,” he added.

“When it comes to generating employment, we should look at the success story of the Philippines. Currently, around 1.15 million people are employed in the BPO sector of the country,” he noted.

“It may take some time for Bangladesh but there is huge potential for employment. We have to remember that BPO is a sector that will generate employment for highly educated persons,” he added.

The government should invest here heavily and the private universities must come forward as well as it is they who will mostly benefit, he added.                                                       

BACCO president Wahidur Rahman Sharif said Bangladesh has all the elements to make its BPO sector a success.

“If you look at both India and the Philippines, you will see that despite poor infrastructure and internet connectivity, the BPO industry is expected to continue to flourish, mainly because of abundant English-speaking labour supplies and BPO-friendly government regulations there,” he said. “In Bangladesh, youths are increasingly turning towards improving their English-speaking skills. The rates of IT and business education have also shot up many times. The government has also pledged to support this industry. All these indicate that we are in a position to take the industry to the next level,” he added.

 

Big plus

He said Bangladesh is also evaluating its competitive cost advantage over other emerging countries. “It is located in a geographically advantageous location for BPOs in terms of its time zone. It’s a big plus for us.”

Sharif said initially, qualified professionals should enter this industry. “This is because we would not be able to get contracts from foreign companies unless we can impress them with qualified professionals. Once we get the contracts, we can employ amateur youths and get them trained by the professionals.”

The problem is, he noted, that there are qualified people here but they do not want to take up the jobs because they prefer more secure day jobs, as the BPO sector feels “too temporary”.

“But in the Philippines, there are employees who leave their day jobs for higher wages in BPO jobs,” he observed.

He added that on the closing day of this year’s BPO summit which took place in the capital recently, some 40,000 curriculum vitae (CVs) were submitted by youths wanting to work or train in the sector. “These youths are very enthusiastic and eager to join the BPO industry.”

EA

 

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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