Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Managing an Operation in India

Today over dinner I was asked a number of questions about running an operation in India. Many hear the press reports about call centers where people "fake" being an American or where getting an Indian technical support rep means incomprehensible service. What people do not hear about the success stories: large scale, successful technology projects that deliver quality deliverables on-time and on-budget or successful services delivered by American sounding customer service operators. These examples are occurring over and over with greater frequency. The media would rather focus on examples of failed implementations run by poor management teams who did not hire, train and operate based on the realities of the people and market.

If you are used to hiring US high school graduates for a call center or highly scripted technical support operation and are experiencing high turnover, what would you expect with Indian college graduates? There are cost and quality advantages with an Indian team, but if there's a labor cost advantage of 10:1, it is unlikely to translate into a 10:1 total advantage. Why? Buildings and computers cost the same. Quality management will not mirror the cost advantage. There will be training and communications costs. While 2:1 or 4:1 is certainly achievable, you have to account for other costs, especially in the beginning. As you grow, the cost advantage can be signficant.

From a quality standpoint, I have seen equal or better quality. People coming out of Indian colleges are well versed in their field. We get the best of both worlds as many on our team have advertising, marketing and business backgrounds and also have a strong comfort level with math and statistics. Moreover, they enjoy the challenge of working on an international client. There's a strong desire to prove how good they are. While many are accustomed to a hierarchical system that does not encourage thinking in the workplace, when people are "given permission" to think, quality of work and efficiency soars.

I've seen this already in my team. People really enjoy their work. They are always coming up with creative ideas. Supporting groups find ways to buttress line operations. Our senior management is so strong that I don't need to be there more than every other month or so.

This requires a lot of work, trust and calls on Skype. So don't believe everything you read. There are a lot of quiet success stories that far outweigh the failures. Failures have more to do with poor execution than anythign else. I can tell you that my Indian team can go toe to toe with anyone.

I'm going to spend a lot more time on this subject, so feel free to comment.

1 comment:

Raja Rajeshwari Prakash said...

when people are "given permission" to think, quality of work and efficiency soars

I totally agree with this. Once a person is "given permission" they become more responsible and are performance driven not just blindly following instructions..