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Business process outsourcing. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Panchenko Vladimir

Business Process Outsourcing (BPO): How It Works, Types, and Services

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
December 20, 2023
 15 min read
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Business process outsourcing, or BPO, is when a company hires another company to handle certain parts of its business. For example, a company might get help with marketing, payroll, human resources, customer service, or managing its supply chain.

In this article, we'll talk about what business process outsourcing is, how it works, the good and not-so-good sides of it, and some examples illustrating its application in various business contexts.

What Is Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)?

Business process outsourcing (BPO) is a business practice in which a company contracts out certain non-core tasks or business functions to external service providers. The goal of BPO is to allow the company to focus on its core competencies and strategic functions while delegating routine, time-consuming tasks to specialized third-party service providers. Examples of business process outsourcing (BPO) include: companies outsourcing customer support to call centers, hiring external firms for payroll processing and human resources management, and contracting specialized agencies for data entry and analysis tasks.

What Is the Goal of Business Process Outsourcing?

The primary goal of business process outsourcing (BPO) is to save money, free up time, and for companies to concentrate on their core competencies by entrusting non-core, routine, or specialized tasks to external service providers. By outsourcing functions such as: customer support, data entry, finance, human resources, and IT services, businesses seek to achieve cost savings, access specialized skills, improve operational efficiency, and enhance overall flexibility. 

Why Is BPO Important to a Company?

BPO allows organizations to direct a greater share of their resources toward activities that set them apart in the market. This results in higher quality and better overall performance. BPO providers, specializing in business processes as their core business, are positioned to execute tasks with greater accuracy, efficiency, and speed.

How Does the BPO Industry Affect a Country's Economy?

The BPO industry significantly impacts a country's economy by: creating job opportunities, reducing operational costs for businesses, contributing to GDP through foreign exchange earnings, and fostering economic growth. The industry's cost-effective solutions attract global businesses, resulting in: increased employment, improved operational efficiency, and enhanced economic stability for the host country. Additionally, BPO activities, such as customer service and IT outsourcing, contribute substantially to a country's export earnings, further strengthening its economic position on the global stage.

The industry's impact is reflected in its significant growth, with a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.4% until 2030. Major players in the BPO sector, such as in India and the Philippines, contribute significantly to their countries' economies. India's BPO industry alone contributes 7.3% to the country's GDP, showcasing the industry's economic influence.

Is Business Process Outsourcing the Same as IT Outsourcing?

No. IT outsourcing (ITO) falls under the broader category of business process outsourcing, but they are not the same. BPO involves outsourcing various business functions such as: customer support, finance, and supply-chain management. In contrast, ITO specifically pertains to outsourcing information-technology-related tasks like software development and technical support.

How Does Business Process Outsourcing Work?

Businesses usually initiate the BPO process by identifying specific areas that could benefit from external expertise. After identifying these areas, the next steps involve reaching out to specialized BPO providers. The beginning of the BPO relationship is all about talking and figuring out how to tailor solutions that perfectly fit the client's unique needs. Formal agreements like master service agreements (MSA) or service-level agreements (SLA) are put in place to make things official. These agreements lay out the basic terms of the engagement. More detailed contracts, like a statement of work (SOW), come into play once a BPO provider is chosen. These documents get into the nitty-gritty details of the project, making sure everyone is on the same page for a successful collaboration. This careful and detailed approach right from the start sets the stage for a partnership that works well for both the client and the BPO provider.

How Does BPO Differ From Other Types of Outsourcing?

BPO differs from other types of outsourcing in that entire business processes or functions are outsourced to external service providers, differentiating it from task-specific outsourcing models. This distinction lies in the scope and depth of outsourcing, where BPO involves the delegation of entire departments, such as: customer service, IT support, or finance, rather than isolated tasks.

What Are the Different Types of Business Process Outsourcing?

Listed below are five different types of BPO:  

1. Front-Office BPO

Front-office BPO involves outsourcing customer-related services such as: technical assistance, customer service, and sales. Companies often engage third-party vendors, like call centers, to provide specialized support. This type of outsourcing aims to enhance customer interaction and satisfaction, allowing businesses to focus on core operations.

2. Back-Office BPO

Back-office BPO involves outsourcing essential business functions to a third-party company. These functions typically do not involve direct customer interaction. Examples of back-office BPO services include: administrative tasks, information technology (IT) support, human resources management, payroll processing, and accounting. Companies opt for back-office BPO to streamline operations, allowing them to concentrate on business development while saving time and resources associated with hiring and training for administrative roles. This approach enhances efficiency and enables organizations to allocate resources strategically to areas critical for their growth and success.

3. Nearshore BPO

Nearshore BPO involves outsourcing to neighboring countries, providing geographical benefits such as shared time zones and language. For example, an Indian company might outsource tech support to an agency in Bangladesh. 

4. Onshore BPO

Onshore BPO, or domestic BPO, refers to outsourcing within the same country. Companies may engage vendors in different cities, states, or union territories. Factors influencing onshore BPO decisions include: cost differences between regions, specialized skills, and ease of collaboration, including: training, support, and face-to-face interactions.

5. Offshore BPO

Offshore BPO occurs when a company outsources operations to a foreign country, often driven by lower labor costs. For instance, a US-based company might hire a business in India to manage payroll or IT services. Offshore BPO allows organizations to reduce expenses while leveraging the skills and expertise of international service providers, albeit with potential challenges like time-zone differences and language barriers.

What Are the Examples of BPO Services?

Listed below are a few common examples of some popular BPO services:

1. Accounting

Accounting outsourcing is a common practice in which companies hire third-party accountants or firms to manage various accounting tasks. This helps businesses ensure accurate financial management while focusing on their core activities. The outsourcing provider handles tasks such as: cost accounting, accounts receivable/accounts payable management, tax reporting, bookkeeping, financial statements, and planning. The cost of accounting outsourcing varies, with models ranging from hourly fees to monthly retainers. It's an effective strategy for businesses seeking financial expertise, cost savings, and compliance with tax regulations.

2. Human Resources Management

Human Resources (HR) outsourcing involves the delegation of human resources functions to external agencies, a practice that has become increasingly popular. This industry is expected to reach $43.8 billion by 2024. Recruiting process outsourcing (RPO) vendors—key players in this trend—assist companies throughout the entire hiring process. These dedicated recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) firms play a crucial role in simplifying the recruitment procedures for businesses by reviewing CVs, conducting interviews, and narrowing down potential candidates, guaranteeing a streamlined and successful hiring process. In addition to recruitment, HR BPO vendors offer services such as training new hires to facilitate quicker integration into the organization. 

3. Insurance

Insurance BPO is a cost-effective strategy in which insurance companies delegate key functions to external providers. With a focus on cost reduction, this approach streamlines critical activities such as: underwriting, claims processing, payroll, and policy renewals. The benefits include: reducing paperwork, efficient data management, cost-effective alternatives to hiring agents, and access to expertise. Outsourcing to specialized providers enhances insurance companies’ operational efficiency, cuts down on costs, and ensures expert handling of key processes.

4. Customer Service

Customer-service business process outsourcing involves outsourcing customer-support functions to external service providers. This ensures a seamless customer experience, with external call centers handling inquiries, complaints, and support services efficiently. Businesses streamline operations, reduce response times, and effectively manage peak service demands by outsourcing these tasks. Key activities include: call handling, email support, live chat services, and social-media engagement. 

5. Digital Marketing

Digital marketing as BPO involves outsourcing various aspects of a company's online marketing efforts to third-party service providers. In marketing outsourcing, companies, especially SaaS (software as a service) providers, often delegate services to third-party agencies such as: advertising, event management, digital marketing, and strategic management. This includes: market and competitive research, marketing strategy, content creation, design, CRM, marketing automation, social media marketing, SEO, and public relations. Some companies combine sales and marketing outsourcing, hiring specialized agencies to handle sales processes and after-sales services, particularly common among startups or smaller businesses. 

6. Payroll

Payroll BPO is a key solution for businesses aiming to streamline payroll management without in-house expertise. A payroll service provider, also known as a payroll vendor, offers services to businesses lacking the knowledge or capacity for internal payroll processing. Payroll providers offer services ranging from basic processing and tax withholding to compliance advice and paycheck processing. This approach ensures accuracy, compliance, and efficiency in managing employee payments.

Ideal for managing multi-country payrolls, outsourcing to professional payroll companies frees up resources, allowing businesses to focus on growth. According to a Global Payroll Management Institute survey, a notable 26% of businesses rely on international payroll providers for global payroll processing.

Choosing a payroll provider compensates for internal knowledge gaps, significantly reduces compliance risks, streamlines processes, and ensures accurate and timely payroll. With various service models available, businesses can select the payroll service that aligns best with their specific needs and operational preferences.

7. Procurement and Sourcing

Procurement outsourcing, a subset of BPO, has become a key strategy for companies looking to optimize their procurement processes. Businesses are increasingly entrusting external partners with their procurement functions, allowing them to focus on core competencies and strategic initiatives.

This outsourcing trend has evolved from routine transactional tasks, such as order processing and invoice management, to include more higher-end activities like: supplier selection, contract negotiation, and specification management. Companies engaging in procurement outsourcing seek to gain various advantages, including: cost savings, access to specialized expertise, and enhanced efficiency in their procurement operations.

To Which Countries Do Companies Outsource Business Process Services?

Companies outsource business process services to various countries, and the choice depends on factors like: cost, expertise, and language proficiency. Common outsourcing destinations include:

  1. India: Known for IT and customer-support outsourcing.
  2. Philippines: Often chosen for customer service and back-office tasks.
  3. China: Mainly for manufacturing and some IT services.
  4. Eastern European countries: For IT services and software development.
  5. Latin American countries (such as Mexico and Brazil): For customer support and software development.
  6. United States and Canada: Onshore outsourcing for certain functions.
  7. Western European countries: For specialized services and language proficiency.
  8. Southeast Asian countries (like Vietnam and Malaysia): For software development and customer support.

What Are the Advantages of Business Process Outsourcing?

BPO offers a lot of benefits and advantages. Some of these include:

  1. Companies can get the job done at a lower price, and the job is often done in a shorter time frame and more effectively. 
  2. Allows companies to access specialized expertise without the financial commitment of hiring full-time employees. Outsourcing on a contractual, as-needed basis typically incurs a fraction of the cost compared to managing specific business processes in-house with dedicated staff.
  3. Allows companies to dedicate their time and efforts towards their key competencies. 
  4. Provides flexibility to scale resources up or down based on business needs, allowing for agility in response to market fluctuations.
  5. Enables companies to establish a global presence and operate in different time zones, providing 24/7 service availability.
  6. When a company is thinking of expanding into a foreign market, they can hand over tasks that need knowledge about the local market, understanding of national laws, or proficiency in a foreign language to a BPO company. This move helps make things more efficient and speeds up the expansion process.

What Are the Disadvantages of Business Process Outsourcing?

Even with all the advantages, BPO still has some disadvantages that companies should consider before they pursue this business strategy:

  1. Estimating the quantity of work accurately can be challenging, potentially leading to higher-than-expected costs. Legal expenses may arise in the event of disputes, and delays in project delivery can result in indirect costs.
  2. Introduces a potential language barrier, particularly in tasks involving development or IT services with numerous stakeholders. Miscommunication can lead to errors, affecting efficiency and incurring unexpected costs.
  3. Long-term outsourcing relationships may lead to over-dependence on the BPO provider. This reliance can result in increased costs if the BPO company demands higher fees, which can impact the organization's budget.
  4. Companies that outsource can open themselves to the risk of security issues. Sharing sensitive data with a BPO company poses a risk of security breaches during processing. 

What Is the Origin of Business Process Outsourcing?

Business process outsourcing originated as a cost-cutting solution in the 1960s and 70s, initially within national borders. The shift to global outsourcing occurred in the late 1980s when Eastman Kodak outsourced its IT systems, signaling the legitimacy of outsourcing as a business strategy. The 1990s saw the rise of Asia, particularly India, China, and the Philippines, as preferred BPO destinations due to cost advantages and skilled labor availability. Technological advancements in telecommunications and the internet allowed BPOs to expand their services globally, managing everything from accounting to human resources.

By the mid-2000s, BPO enterprises had matured, prompting them to reassess their role in the global supply chain. They transitioned from handling non-core and back-office operations to becoming strategic partners for their clients. Adopting methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma, BPOs enhanced their efficiency and expanded their competencies to offer complex, high-value processes, such as financial research and cybersecurity.

How Big Is the Industry of Business Process Outsourcing?

The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is experiencing significant growth, with an estimated value of US$0.33 trillion in 2023. According to projections, the market is expected to expand further with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.4%, reaching about US$586.92 billion in 2030.  

Is Business Process Outsourcing a Good Strategy?

Yes, BPO can be a good strategy for many companies. It allows organizations to focus on core competencies, reduce costs, access specialized skills, and enhance efficiency by delegating non-core functions to external experts. However, the success of BPO depends on careful vendor selection, clear communication, and a strategic approach to outsourcing specific tasks or processes.

What Is the Future of Business Process Outsourcing?

The future of BPO is quite dynamic, and several trends are influencing its path. The BPO industry has grown significantly, hitting $261.9 billion in 2022, and is expected to expand further with a projected CAGR of 9.4% from 2023 to 2030, reaching $586.92 billion by 2030. Key factors driving this growth include: adapting to global challenges, expanding operational capabilities, prioritizing quality, and reducing operating costs.

Several trends are reshaping the landscape of BPO in 2023. Automation and AI integration are at the forefront, streamlining operations, reducing costs, and enhancing efficiency. BPO providers are moving beyond basic tasks, focusing on value-added services that require domain expertise. Trends like nearshoring, onshoring, and cloud-based outsourcing are gaining traction, reflecting changes in the global economy.

Data analytics and insights are becoming crucial for BPO providers, offering valuable information for decision-making, trend identification, and operational efficiency. Security and compliance are top priorities, with a focus on robust cybersecurity measures and adherence to data privacy regulations. Hybrid work models, emphasizing flexibility and seamless communication, are adapting to the evolving post-pandemic work dynamics.

What Is the Difference Between BPO and Outsourcing?

The difference between BPO and outsourcing is outsourcing is a broader term that involves the delegation of tasks or processes to external entities. Business process outsourcing, on the other hand, is a specific type, or subset, of outsourcing, focusing on the delegation of business-related functions. BPO specifically refers to outsourcing entire business functions, including processes like: customer service, HR, or finance.

Summary

This article presented business process outsourcing, explained it, and discussed how it works and its various types. To learn more about business process outsourcing, contact a Xometry representative.

Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.

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Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.