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Challenges to Managing Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)

Info: 5463 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 11th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Outsourcing

One of the major challenges facing Human Resource Management is the introduction and management of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). In dyads or tryads produce a group briefing paper for either; Directors of a company or a specific trade union, of your choice, regarding the changes taking place in the UK labourmarket and economy regarding the impact of outsourcing and/or offshoring.


The current economic climate is forcing organizations to explore tactics to remain competitive. According to the traditional ‘make or buy’ decision framework, the fundamental value proposition behind BPO is cost reduction. The recent economic downturn forced HR departments to do more with less. Many HR organisations were asked to increase the scope of their capabilities without increasing overall headcount. As a result, some organisations viewed outsourcing as a way of combating current economic situation and achieving competitive advantage.

In spite of the recent economic slowdown, Gartner Group stated that, the worldwide business process outsourcing (BPO) market, is continuing to grow by approximately 9.5. Organisations are increasingly seeking standardization as part of a re-emphasis on strategic business initiatives. They realise that they need to standardize HR processes and policies as a first step in their HR transformation. Business process outsourcing of certain functions is becoming an increasingly popular way to improve basic services while allowing HR professionals time to focus on issues vital to the business’s strategic initiatives, instead of being burdened with HR administration.

Chaffey (2003) defines BPO as “the contracting out of specified services to a third party with a controlled, flexible relationship”. Lee (2002) refers to BPO as the ‘outsourcing of different managerial and operational functions. Specifically in HR, BPO is designed to ensure that a company’s HR system is supported by the latest management information systems, with self-access and HR data warehousing options’. The Business Issues (1995) further views BPO as ‘the delegation of one or more business processes to an external provider, who then owns, manages and administers the selected processes based on defined and measurable performance metric’.

The CIPD defines off-shore as ‘the process of outsourcing business activities or services overseas, as a direct or indirect employer’. Off-shore does not always involve the services of an external provider . According to the Oxford Dictionary it means: ‘made, registered or situated abroad’.

The concept of outsourcing centres on David Ricardo’s theory of Comparative Advantage (cited in Mullins 2001) which states that even if a country could produce everything more efficiently than another country, it would still reap gains from specialising in what it was best at producing and trading with other nations.


The aim of this briefing is to brief the Directors of Name of our company the effect of outsourcing the HRM function and will encompass its influence on organisational performance and culture; and concurrently its impact on the UK Labour market and economy. The team will carry out a case-study on BT and will critically evaluate, analyse and highlight the advantages and disadvantages of HR outsourcing with the intention of reviewing the outcomes and where necessary suggest solutions where likely problems can be encountered. An analytical review will be carried out of the major HRM problems which can arise from organizational change and where required recommendations made. The team will use British Telecommunications as a case study to establish the impact of BPO. This briefing aims to provide a reasoned critique of existing literature based on surveys, textbooks, journals and official trade data.


British Telecommunications (BT) is a wholly owned subsidiary of BT Group Plc, a public limited company registered in England and Wales and listed on the London and New York Stock Exchanges . BT is one of the world’s leading providers of communications solutions and services operating in 170 countries. It principal activities include networked IT services, local, national and international telecommunications services, and higher-value broadband and internet products and services.Its main activities are web hosting, IT solutions, Internet services, telecommunications and broadband networks. In the fiscal year ended 31 March 2007 BT had a net turnover of £9,499 billion. In the UK alone it has pool of 87,000 employees and 180,000 pensioners, whilst on a global scale it has 10,000 employees spread over the countries it operates within.

For years, British Telecom ruled the UK market as a monopoly. It was the British Telecommunications Act of 1981 that brought this to an end and put in its place a duopoly, where BT competed with Mercury. The company was formed in 1981 as a subsidiary of Cable & Wireless, mainly to challenge the monopoly of British Telecom.

The privatisation of British Telecom in 1984 opened the industry to full competition and in 1991, this effectively brought the duopoly share by BT and Mercury to an end. With the liberalisation and opening up of the phone market to global competition came renewed pressure on BT from the telecoms watchdog Oftel to open up more of its network to competitors and cut its prices.

The pressures on BT became greater than ever. The stiff competition in the telecoms market, the huge cost of paying for third-generation (3G) mobile phone licences, pressure from the industry regulator Oftel to lower its prices and informed, discerning customers meant BT had to deliver even higher levels of quality and service, at competitive prices in order to stay afloat. All these pressures necessitated mindset change and BT was forced to review its business processes. In order to meet up with the arrival of new competitors and the quickening pace of technological change in the industry, speed of action and reaction became critical success factors.

With the competition that flooded the UK market in the 1990s, BT started considering cost reduction that will maximise efficiency without compromising quality. One of the major steps taken was to outsource the transactional side of its human resources operation to Accenture HR Services, which in turn off-shored to its India branch. BT believed that the competitive edge for any global communications provider is human capital and to survive and thrive, it requires world-class human resource (HR) competencies and the processes for managing them. Youndt et al. (1996) highlights that a HR system focused on human capabilities is directly related to multiple dimensions of operational performance. Huselid and Becker (1997) describe that a firm’s effectiveness is associated
with HR capabilities and its attributes.


Outsourcing enables an organisation to improve its focus on its core values allowing it to remain competitive on the market (Morello, 2003) . Prahalad and Hamel 1990 state that firms must concentrate on core competencies to gain competitive advantage. Through outsourcing specialist skills can be drawn out from a pool of expertise when and where needed whilst opportunities for enriched career development exist for the remaining staff. Organisations are able to turn over certain classes of risks to their suppliers, such as demand variability and capital investments. Unlike the buyer, the outsourcing buyer can spread these risks over multiple clients.

Profitability can be achieved as outsourcing increases a business’s cashflow by creating cost reductions through cheap labour and reduced operational expenses i.e. office space, utility. Funds which would have been used for large capital investments can be released for other uses. Contracting out operational functions reduces the competition on capital as the outsourcing company provides the capital investment as part of its overheads. Companies can create an integrated market as it is a cost effective way of globalisation particularly when it selects the best available resources and labour. Figure [rumbi insert appendix] reflects the changes to operational costs which BT experienced when it outsourced. According to Som Mittal, former Managing Director of Compaq India has claimed that payroll processing to countries like India companies can achieve a 20-25% gain in productivity.

Outsourcing can increase the service level given to clients. With offshoring an organisation has the ability to have a 24-hour a day workforce resulting in a more timely service which would not be possible if the organisation operated in once country. BT gained flexibility through outsourcing to Accenture as agility or quick response to business demands was made.

Competitive advantage can be attained through cheaper prices. When the product prices cannot come down further operating in a highly skilled, low-wage labour area will be advantageous. (Frubel, Heinrichs and Kreye 1980) . As the product price falls consumers are willing to demand a larger amount of goods. The off-shored countries receive economical benefits. Nasscom Chairman Som Mittal remarked ‘It’s a win win situation for countries which allow outsourcing and the countries which receive outsourcing’ (Ahmed 2004) .


When outsourcing to a third party resentment can occur between permanent and contracted staff. Contract/temporary staff may fail to have a sense of belonging whilst permanent staff can remain aloof in order to protect their works hindering teamwork. Offshoring particularly on the outsourcing of work to India as the UK labour force believes that they are losing out on career opportunities. However the McKinsey Global Institute Report states that there are actually too many jobs and not enough people in the UK to fulfil them. Therefore fears of a widespread unemployment are unlikely and thus this resentment could be seen as unnecessary (Lander 2006) .

The lack of direct communication between the organisation and the client can hinder the development of solid relationships and can result in the main organisation lacking control of the outsourced project. One of the key aspects of motivation is social interaction and self actualisation (Maslow cited in Mullins, 2001).

Another perceived drawback of off-shoring is the decrease in levels of communication. When English is not the native language of the source area, poor command of the English Language leads to prominent resentment of offshored services (Ahmed,2004). Results of a survey carried out by the Nationwide building in 2005 reflected that 91% of UK adults would prefer their calls to be handled by UK-based call centres (Lander (2006). A major drawback is the expense of regaining a customer once lost, because it could cost up to 6 times more in marketing costs to gain a replacement.

Cultural differences can be a disadvantage of offshoring i.e. Ryan Kinzy of K3 Group a large outsourcing company states that there are 3 months which are viewed as the most auspicious time for weddings in India, for example half the staff are out of the office. Ryan highlights that building up teamwork is a difficult challenge as employees may lack intuition due to their culture, Indian workers require a lot of direction. Their relationships are hierarchal, family and caste dependent and they have an educational system that emphasises routine learning over independent research.

Outsourcing can prove expensive as payment of redundancy packages for the laid off staff can be a major drawback.

As the number of companies offshoring to India rises, employee retention becomes a challenge due to the fact that as market competition increases, salaries are required to be competitive. Organisations will have to decide whether the cost-savings outweigh the revenue generated.

Risks can be encountered due to the socio-economic conditions which can hinder the progression of operations i.e. maintaining trade risks. The chance of off-shore fraud also exist as the use of funds can be diverted. There is also the risk or data loss. BT faces the risk of fraud emanating from HR outsourcing as off-shore workers have full access to personnel details ranging from bank account numbers, home addresses and other personal details. Non-automated transactions and processing responsibilities enable off-shore workers to have access to highly confidential information. There is an increase in foreign organised crime groups who have targeted foreign off-shore enterprises to gain access data which they process. Organisiations can face compliance risks and their reputation being damaged due to negative publicity resulting from the third party being inconsistent in meeting ethical standards and internal policies. The organisation needs to carryout thorough audits to ensure control. Expertise levels need to be measured to ensure that required service levels of service are met. {Figure xxRumbi to appendix 2} reflects results of problems faced by several companies which have off-shored. The main problem met appears to be low control of performance and data. Offshoring has the limited disadvantage in that the core function of an organisation cannot be accomplished if passed onto an external source . A business which outsources a department still requires in-house technical experts to monitor activities (Greco 1997)

Political infrastructure such as changes in government can affect can impact the outsourcing company. Shortly after the election of Sonia Ghandi stock markets plummeted on fears that her leftist allies would roll back fundamental economic reforms. Erratic power grids inexperienced officials and unmotivated employees can also prove to be a disadvantage.


BT’s management believes organisational culture is innovative with teams that are strategically aligned to BTs operations. Advances in technologies have been applied to benefit BT and its customers to improve processes.

Culture can be an object which is manipulated to achieve productivity and organisational improvements, and change over time (Tran, 2008) . In this context, culture is the character of an organisation. However if culture is accepted as being “….the basic, taken- for- granted assumptions and deep patterns of meaning shared by organisational participation and manifestations of these assumptions…” ( Johnson, 2007) then in this respect culture can be difficult to change.
In order to explain the content of cultural context in BT after HR outsourcing, the cultural web will be used. The table below shows the content of the organisational culture with HR outsourcing.

Rumbi to appendix 1]

According to the above table the organisational culture hinders collective learning in the organisation. Individuals see each other as rivals, rather than a partners. This paradigm creates various obstacles for learning within the organisation, that usually arise due to rivalry, power conflicts and absence of network communication channels (Mullins, 2001). The disadvantage of this power structure is explained by Mullins (2001) who claims that such approach decrease the effectiveness and efficiency of operations management, as participants are detached from the decision-making.

BTs new organisational structure is bureaucratic, with the emphasis on standard procedures and operational routines. It might slow down the communication process, with the absence of feedback channels and unnecessary layers that might increase obstructions and cause various distortions in the communication process( Graham & Bennet, 1998) .

BT has placed its employees after revenues. The management has failed to take into account individual needs of each employee hence developing a coercive rather than participative approach. Within this approach people are being treated as liabilities rather than the core elements of the operations management process, where people become the primary determinant of the outcome quality (Armstrong, 2003) .

The organisational culture implies for traditional type of performance appraisal system, which utilises various types of monetary techniques. Wright (2007) argued that the utilisation of monetary tools does not provide the development of a higher level of effective commitment or higher degree of intrinsic motivation and provides a blurred understanding of the relationship between their performance and corresponding appraisal.

The communication component forms an important of the above mentioned changes. According to McGregor (1960, cited in Mullins, 2001) in order to get people to direct their efforts towards organisational objectives, management must tell them what to do, judge how well they are doing and reward or punish accordingly. There is also an informative and a motivational purpose. He claims that a clear and thorough description of individual duties and rights within the framework of the organisation may prevent the rise of unmet expectations.

As it shows on the table, the communication in the company is of a top-down nature, without proper feedback. This type of communication scheme is good for conveyer-type organisations and not ideal for innovative market-led companies.


The new requirements for adaptation made it necessary for the company to undertake the reengineering of the whole business process, including both “hard “and “soft” elements. According to Senior (1997) “hard system” change implies “ an attempt to use the benefits of a scientific method whilst recognising that in the real world of business where thing are happening fast, there may not be time to be as scientific as one would like”. In BT’s case, “hard system” change referred to the introduction of new operations management systems, equipment and business facilities, designed to speed up existing operations and reduce the cost per a single transaction. It was designed to maximise the efficiency of every single operation within the business process.

Senior (1997) indicates that “Soft System” changes imply for the change of the organisational culture. The main idea of this approach is listening to the organisation, good communication, developing a shared, vision, gaining real commitment to the change and the vision, education and training, and understanding the tools and techniques for the process.

William et al.(1993) indicates that to facilitate effective adaptation of the employees to new working conditions, managers shall reduce restraining forces and reinforces driving forces. However, it shall be considered, that not all measures are equally effective. As Hetzberg’s maintainance theory ( cited in Mullins, 2001) shows , the presence of certain factors may act as a powerful motivating factors, while the absence of other elements may produce slight dissatisfaction. At the same time strategic priorities shall reflect the current organisational aims.

Under such conditions in order to improve the situation and meet objectives (create a better customer focus) the high involvement of senior managers, who acts as a link between operational and business levels of the organisation, is required. Senior managers shall act as major change agents. Taking the role of change agents, it is important for senior managers not to ignore employees’ natural resistance to new systems, but to create appropriate incentives to fasten the transactional process from resistance to commitment (Graham and Bennet, 1998). The ignorance of or resistance to changes will introduce different open conflicts, which will significantly worsen the organisation environment affecting its performance level and flexibility. This could result to failure to raise performance and attract or retain customers, which may lead to significant costs and even reduce the company’s chances to survive and succeed in changing market conditions.

According to Mintzberg Quinn and Ghoshall (1995) the overall rationale for any outsourcing activity is that outsourcing provides, greater economies of scale, flexibility, increase in levels of expertise, cost effectiveness, reduced costs and added value to any organisation. The rationale of BT outsourcing its HRM functions were to increase shareholder value, sustain progress and cope with the pace of change.

Outsourcing of parts of the HR function has become more common. Lonsdale and Cox (1998) argue that outsourcing decisions can be classified under the following three headings:

1 outsourcing for short-term cost and headcount reductions;
2 core-competence-based outsourcing, where peripheral activities are passed to third parties and core activities are retained in-house;
3 iterative and entrepreneurial outsourcing, where periodic reviews of critical market activities are undertaken, with subsequent decision to retain or outsource.


Human capital is emphasized as the most valuable asset of the 21st century business. The primary effects of outsourcing/offshoring on HR and Labour Relations are related to managing transition in HRM such as personnel changes, managing layoff, downsizing issues, and the costs/dynamics of actually managing an off-shore contract.

The laying off of UK employees as a result of restructuring to effect the outsourcing contracts can have a negative impact on employees. Layoffs cause major morale problems among in-house ‘survivors’ and may lead to dissatisfaction and reduced delivery speed. Some UK companies experienced productivity dips and potential legal action from laid off employees resulting in costs of severance, retention bonuses and retraining being encountered.

According to a survey by Deloitte and YouGov (2006) revealed that fear of job losses was prevalent in the UK with 82% of public perceiving offshoring as a threat . 1 in 3 people stated that UK companies should be forced to bring back jobs to the UK. Chief economist of the Work Foundation, Ian Brinkley commented ‘Fears have been stoked by claims that the Chinese and Indians are coming to get your lunch’ to describe the insecurity that offshoring has caused.

With regards to knowledge transfer there is concern that some of the job experience is being exported. If low-level skill tasks are sent off-shore then so is the experience gained from performing those tasks. When the time comes to perform higher-level tasks where previous experience is mandatory, there is no alternative than to go off-shore because that is where the experience will available. In some instances company plans imply that higher-level tasks will remain performed on-shore, the lower-level tasks are performed miles away. The knowledge and experience of those ‘low-level’ jobs will be gone forever, and may impact the proper development of the ‘higher-level jobs’.

Forrester a US research group released a study that by 2015 Europe will have lost a collective number of 1.2 million jobs to off-shore locations increasing its reliance. Alan Blinder a US economist and former advisor to Bill Clinton has supported this thesis by stating that offshoring will lead to a ‘third Industrial Revolution’. He views that off-shore is now a man-made comparative advantage and that workers will be forced to seek employment in personal services which remain non-tradable.

There is a long-term impact on the types of jobs that people are training for, as well as the ‘transfer of knowledge’ relating to many job structures in the workplace such that there is a ‘domino effect’. Steve Loy feels that these ‘outgoing tide’ of jobs could threaten fundamental technology research as well as jobs. The astute students will recognise the rapidly dwindling job opportunities in HRM and will choose other programs of study thus loss will be encountered in HR leading to a labour-force that has inadequate HRM knowledge to compete in a high knowledge based economy.

The evaluation of the impact of off-shore is mainly based on estimations of collective data. Jobs most at risk are non-client facing and low knowledge content jobs those which use a lot of Information technology, creating outputs that can be transmitted via IT. An analysis by the CPRP concluded that 20% of non-client facing jobs are likely to be moved abroad. The potential is apportioned as a function of international trade and investment, the industrial structure of the economy, human capital, employment indicator, product market regulations indicator. Not all jobs created off-shore by UK companies automatically translates to job losses in the UK labour market. Employees are increasingly demanding services hence time difference plays a role in off-shore, offering them extended services. The lower price makes it possible for instance to offer services which would not be available otherwise i.e. 24 hr call centres. The information collated by the European Restructuring Monitor (ERM) shows that job loss due to offshoring is in fact very small. During the first quarter of 2007 ERM recorded 420 restructuring cases in Europe. They announced 137,762 job losses and 184,511 job gains. Only 5.5% of all jobs lost were due to offshoring activities. For the year 2005 the percentage of job losses due to offshoring was only 3.4% of the total job losses.

To measure the extent of job loss due to restructuring we can use redundancy notification, the effects of offshoring does however vary with the country. In France, national Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies estimates in its 2007 report on the French economy that offshoring has been responsible for the destruction of 15,000 jobs per year between 2000 and 2003. This is to contrast with a job creation in the private sector of 200,000 per year .
In the UK there is no significant decline as per the results of the LFS Redundancy Tables ‘Employment growth in the occupations considered susceptible to offshoring has been very strong. The redundancy levels for these occupations, although high relative to the whole economy, have been falling in the last four years. The overall employment rate for these occupations has also shown an increase showing the cost of moving low-skilled jobs abroad is either falling or positive job creation is highly prevalent in the IT enabled occupations’. This does not mean that jobs are not being off-shored, and it is entirely possible that in the absence of offshoring, employment in these areas might have been higher. The adverse impact is entirely triggered by much larger changes in domestic demand for such services, the UK in particular has been extremely successful in developing as a world leader in knowledge based international trade. Jobs created through the expansion of exports of services are likely to outweigh the contraction of jobs caused by import of services.
According to a report by Amiti and Jin Wei (2005) job growth at divisional levels has not been negatively related to service outsourcing but has had a negative impact on the demand for unskilled labour.

In the UK outsourcing has had no reflected effect on the labourforce. The Deloitte and Recruitment Employment Confederation Report states that both permanent and temporary staff billings continue to rise. National press recruitment advertising in the UK went down by 11.3% in July 2005 in both public and private sectors reflecting a positive direction in the labour market and no relevant changes in the economy.
Outsourcing is increasing consultancy work in the United Kingdom hence is beneficial as it offers flexible working hours / days for UK employees. This is particularly favorable for women who are raising children as is allows them to earn a salary whilst at the same time having adequate time with their children. There is also the flexibility of home-working.
Structural changes can occur in the economies of both the outsourced/sourcing companies and due to the debate on who is benefiting/losing racism can be allowed to rear its head.

A report prepared for the Department of Trade Industry by Ovum (2006) concludes that even though the actual impacts of an increase in trade and the expansion of global sourcing have been quite modest to date, offshoring can change the skills structure of labour demand, increasing the vulnerability of low-skilled workers in particular.


“Concern over off-shoring has become a surrogate for wider issues about economic insecurity,” said Work Foundation chief economist Ian Brinkley. An interesting corollary benefit of outsourcing is the benefit to the economy. India’s National Association of Software and Services Companies commissioned a report by Evaluserve that stated that for every $100 worth of work sent abroad by US companies, $130 to $145 will be reinvested in the US economy. Cost savings are said to create value in the UK economy.

Ahead of monetary capital, knowledge economy has become a focal point in the policy of outsourcing and off-shore. Strategies have been devised i.e. the Lisbon Strategy centres to promote, research, innovation in the development of human capital. In the future, human capital is the only way that Europe can remain prosperous. The main beneficiaries in the UK are the educated high skilled workers and the losers will be semi/low skilled workers. The UK government needs to investment more in education to continue pushing towards a leading knowledge based economy to avoid vulnerability. It needs to investment in human capital and focus on domestic policy choices for the losers of rapid structural changes within the UK.

As a result of off-shoring the UK government is losing funds which could possibly be raised by corporate and income tax. However, it has stated that it does not have plans in place as yet to prevent outsourcing. The Department of Trade Industry has stated ‘it is a commercial decision for companies to decide where to locate their business operations such as call centres.’

The absence of official statistics on off-shore outsourcing leads to speculation and there is also misinterpretation of indirect measures/evidence. The experience of an individual company may or may not select a trend in a specific sector but does not allow conclusions to be made on the economy as a whole. It is possible that the rise in rice prices caused by lower production could be a result of a shift by the working population in India from working in the agriculture moving to the services sector.

A great deal of knowledge is tacit and therefore difficult to transfer. Its reproduction can be extremely costly and requires an environment in which it can be harnessed effectively. According to a recent World Bank publication India is at the bottom end ranking 98 out of 128 countries of an index that measures the ability to create, absorb and diffuse knowledge therefore its threat is minimal to the UK economy. The economy-wide measures such as a country’s balance of payments can assist us in understanding the patterns of cross border trade and establish the impact of offshoring. If the outsourcing of tasks by UK based companies to off-shore locations i.e. India is soaring then the UK should be importing more of these services from India.

The CBI has stated that the UK companies have benefited from off-shore as they are now receiving improved work-force skills at a low rate making their enterprises more profitable. According to results obtained from the Office for National Statistics the redundancy rate for the three months to January 2008 was 4.4 per 1,000 employees, down 0.9 over the quarter and down 1.1 over the year. These figures on the redundancy rate reflect that though a large number of organizational services have been off-shored services this has not had a significant impact on the UK economy.

The UK has emerged as a world leader in ‘knowledge services’ and between 1995 – 2005 exports of its services grew by over 100% compared to its exports of traditional service exports such as transport. India is ranked 6th for global ‘insourcing’ behind the US, UK, German France and the Netherlands who appear to be the top rec

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