I was recently asked to comment on a report in The Guardian which highlighted a scheme in India aimed at turning inmates at a high-security prison near Hyderabad, into ‘outsourcing providers’ for local firms - and eventually, it is hoped, international clients.
Apparently, the scheme has already seen prisoners trained in basic data entry skills with a view to staffing a call centre on the prison premises, which is being used by local firms.
It seemed to me that the scheme is intended to play a pivotal role in the rehabilitation of prisoners, allowing them to emerge from their incarceration with skills they can use to contribute to the wider world, and so on the face of it this seems a worthy cause.
But it’s also true, nonetheless, that to me, and maybe to you, it raises a number of questions and concerns.
Of course, first and foremost, the scheme raises obvious questions about security. Indian outsourcing providers handle highly sensitive information, such as credit card numbers or details of company payroll, which means it is necessary to enforce stringent recruitment procedures, including a detailed background check to ensure that this data is not shared. Does this scheme take these important factors into account? If so, what measures are in place to ensure that privacy is maintained?
Perhaps, however, the greatest concern is that it will adversely affect the reputation of service providers in the region. Indian outsourcing providers have worked hard over the years to build their reputation as providers of the highest standards of service for a range of international organisations, which rely on them to add significant value for their business.
They’ve learned that by using cheap, unskilled staff, the quality of service will suffer, and end-users will vote with their wallets and take their business elsewhere. It’s also important that other organisations do not follow this example and look to Indian service providers to provide solutions based purely on cost.
Outsourcing can offer a range of benefits to businesses from all walks of life, and it’s true that cost can be one of these. However, in order to achieve success, it is absolutely key that any organisation looking to enter a business relationship with a supplier has clearly defined business objectives in mind, as well as a firm understanding of how it can add value to them.
The danger here is that the prison in Hyderabad could confuse the reputation of Indian service providers, by setting the wrong example, and reflecting poorly on the Indian outsourcing industry as a whole. It might be better to describe this ‘outsourcing provision’ as something else - like ‘customer facing training’, for instance - with any Indian outsourcers who intend to use the people that the training produces also encouraged to use the same stringent recruitment evaluation that they use normally to make sure the staff are competent.
Indian outsourcing providers are rightly proud of their reputation as the leading providers of offshore services, but any suggestion that they use cheap, unskilled labour, could run the risk of impacting negatively on them - a particular risk if only because, at least in my experience, the complete opposite is true. What do you think?