Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is a subset of outsourcing that involves the contracting of the operations and responsibilities of a specific business process to a third-party service provider. Originally, this was associated with manufacturing firms, such as Coca-Cola that outsourced large segments of its supply chain.[1]

BPO is typically categorized into back office outsourcing, which includes internal business functions such as human resources or finance and accounting, and front office outsourcing, which includes customer-related services such as contact centre (customer care) services.[2]

BPO that is contracted outside a company's country is called offshore outsourcing. BPO that is contracted to a company's neighbouring (or nearby) country is called nearshore outsourcing.

Often the business processes are information technology-based, and are referred to as ITES-BPO, where ITES stands for Information Technology Enabled Service.[3] Knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) and legal process outsourcing (LPO) are some of the sub-segments of business process outsourcing industry.


The main advantage of any BPO is the way in which it helps increase a company's flexibility. In early 2000s BPO was all about cost efficiency, which allowed a certain level of flexibility at the time. Due to technological advances and changes in the industry (specifically the move to more service-based rather than product-based contracts), companies who choose to outsource their back-office increasingly look for time flexibility and direct quality control.[4] Business process outsourcing enhances the flexibility of an organization in different ways:

Although the above-mentioned arguments favour the view that BPO increases the flexibility of organizations, management needs to be careful with the implementation of it as there are issues, which work against these advantages. Among problems, which arise in practice are: A failure to meet service levels, unclear contractual issues, changing requirements and unforeseen charges, and a dependence on the BPO which reduces flexibility. Consequently, these challenges need to be considered before a company decides to engage in business process outsourcing.[15]

A further issue is that in many cases there is little that differentiates the BPO providers other than size. They often provide similar services, have similar geographic footprints, leverage similar technology stacks, and have similar Quality Improvement approaches.[16]


Risk is the major drawback with business process outsourcing. Outsourcing of an information system, for example, can cause security risks both from a communication and from a privacy perspective. For example, security of North American or European company data is more difficult to maintain when accessed or controlled in other countries. From a knowledge perspective, a changing attitude in employees, underestimation of running costs and the major risk of losing independence, outsourcing leads to a different relationship between an organization and its contractor.[17][18]

Risks and threats of outsourcing must therefore be managed, to achieve any benefits. In order to manage outsourcing in a structured way, maximising positive outcome, minimising risks and avoiding any threats, a business continuity management model is set up. This model consists of a set of steps, to successfully identify, manage and control the business processes that are, or can be outsourced.[19]

Analytic hierarchy process is a framework of BPO focused on identifying potential outsourceable information systems.[20] L. Willcocks, M. Lacity and G. Fitzgerald identify several contracting problems companies face, ranging from unclear contract formatting, to a lack of understanding of technical IT processes.[21]

Technological pressures

Industry analysts have identified robotic process automation software as a potential threat to the industry[22][23] and speculate as to the likely long term impact.[24] In the short term, however, there is likely to be little impact as existing contracts run their course: it is only reasonable to expect demand for cost efficiency and innovation to result in transformative changes at the point of contract renewals. With the average length of a BPO contract being 5 years or more[25] - and many contracts being longer - this hypothesis will take some time to play out.

On the other hand, an academic study by the London School of Economics was at pains to counter the so-called "myth" that robotic process automation will bring back many jobs from offshore.[26] One possible argument behind such an assertion is that new technology provides new opportunities for increased quality, reliability, scalability and cost control, thus enabling BPO providers to increasingly compete on an outcomes-based model rather than competing on cost alone. With the core offering potentially changing from a "lift and shift" approach based on fixed costs to a more qualitative, service-based and outcomes-based model, there is perhaps a new opportunity to grow the BPO industry with a new offering.

Financial risks

One of the primary reasons businesses choose to outsource is to reduce costs. However, this can also come with significant financial risks. If the cost of outsourcing increases due to changes in the global market or if the outsourced company increases its fees, the financial benefits can be eroded. In addition, hidden costs, such as transition and management costs, can also emerge. This can make outsourcing less financially viable than originally anticipated.[27]

Loss of control

Outsourcing also potentially leads to a loss of control over certain business operations. This can create challenges in terms of managing and coordinating these operations. Moreover, the outsourced company might not fully understand or align with the hiring company's business culture, values, and objectives, leading to potential conflicts and inefficiencies.[28]

Quality control

Quality control can become more challenging when business operations are outsourced. While third-party companies might be experts in their fields, they may not maintain the same standards as the hiring company. This can result in a decline in the quality of goods or services, potentially damaging the company's brand and customer relationships.[28]

Industry Size

Convergys call center in Baguio, the Philippines (example of a third party outsourcing firm)

One estimate of the worldwide BPO market from the BPO Services Global Industry Almanac 2017, puts the size of the industry in 2016 at about US$140 billion.[29]

India, China and the Philippines are major powerhouses in the industry. In 2017, in India the BPO industry generated US$30 billion in revenue according to the national industry association.[30] The BPO industry is a small segment of the total outsourcing industry in India. The BPO industry workforce in India is expected to shrink by 14% in 2021.[citation needed]

The BPO industry and IT services industry in combination are worth a total of US$154 billion in revenue in 2017.[31] The BPO industry in the Philippines generated $22.9 billion in revenues in 2016,[32] while around 700 thousand medium and high skill jobs would be created by 2022.[citation needed]

In 2015, official statistics put the size of the total outsourcing industry in China, including not only the BPO industry but also IT outsourcing services, at $130.9 billion.[33]

See also


  1. ^ Tas, J. & Sunder, S. 2004, Financial Services Business Process Outsourcing, Communications of the ACM, Vol 47, No. 5
  2. ^ "Getting A Piece Of Business Process Outsourcing". Forbes.
  3. ^ J. G. Nellis; David Parker (2006). Principles of Business Economics. Financial Times Prentice Hall. p. 213. ISBN 978-0-273-69306-2.
  4. ^ Sagoo, Anoop. "How IT is reinvigorating business process outsourcing" Archived 2013-04-20 at CIO. 6 Sep 2012. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  5. ^ BPM Watch. "In-Sourcing Remotely: A Closer Look at an Emerging Outsourcing Trend" "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-03-03. Retrieved 2013-03-25.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-10-25. Retrieved 2013-03-25.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Willcocks, L., Hindle, J., Feeny, D. & Lacity, M. 2004, IT and Business Process Outsourcing: The Knowledge Potential, Information Systems Management, Vol. 21, pp 7–15
  8. ^ Gilley, K.M., Rasheed, A. 2000. Making More by Doing Less: An Analysis of Outsourcing and its Effects on Firm Performance. Journal of Management, 26 (4): 763-790.
  9. ^ Kakabadse, A., Kakabadse. N. 2002. Trends in Outsourcing: Contrasting USA and Europe. European Management Journal Vol. 20, No. 2: 189–198
  10. ^ Weerakkody, Vishanth, Currie, L. Wendy and Ekanayake, Yamaya. 2003. Re-engineering business processes through application service providers – challenges, issues and complexities. Business Process Management Journal Vol. 9 No. 6: 776-794
  11. ^ Leavy, B. 2004. Outsourcing strategies: opportunities and risk. Strategy and Leadership, 32 (6) : 20-25.
  12. ^ Tas, Jeroen, Sunder, Shyam. 2004. Financial Services Business Process Outsourcing. Communications of the ACM. Vol. 47, No. 5
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-04-08. Retrieved 2008-02-19.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ (Leavy 2004, 20-25)
  15. ^ Michel, Vaughan, Fitzgerald, Guy. 1997. The IT outsourcing market place: vendors and their selection. Journal of Information Technology 12: 223-237
  16. ^ Adsit, D. (2009) Will a Toyota Emerge from the Pack of Me-Too BPO's?, In Queue "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-10. Retrieved 2009-05-06.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ Bunmi Cynthia Adeleye, Fenio Annansingh and Miguel Baptista Nunes. "Risk management practices in IS outsourcing: an investigation into commercial banks in Nigeria", International Journal of Information Management 24 (2004): 167-180.
  18. ^ K. Altinkemer, A. Chaturvedi and R. Gulati. "Information systems outsourcing: Issues and evidence", International Journal of Information Management 14- 4 (1994): 252- 268.
  19. ^ Forbes Gibb, and Steven Buchanan. "A framework for business continuity management", International Journal of Information Management 26- 2 (2006): 128- 141.
  20. ^ Chyan Yang and Jen-Bor Huang. "A decision model for IS outsourcing", International Journal of Information Management 20- 3 (2000): 225- 239.
  21. ^ L. Willcocks, M. Lacity and G. Fitzgerald. "Information technology outsourcing in Europe and the USA: Assessment issues", International Journal of Information Management 15- 5 (1995): 333- 351.
  22. ^ Robotic Automation Emerges as a Threat to Traditional Low Cost Outsourcing, HfS Research, archived from the original on 2015-09-21
  23. ^ Gartner Predicts 2014: Business and IT Services Are Facing the End of Outsourcing as We Know It, Gartner
  24. ^ Visions of the Future: The Next Decade in BPO, Outsource Magazine, archived from the original on 2015-04-13
  25. ^ Market Trends: Outsourcing Contracts, Worldwide, Gartner
  26. ^ Robotic Process Automation at Xchanging (PDF), London School of Economics
  27. ^ Engineering Services Outsourcing Market Size & Share Analysis - Growth Trends & Forecasts (2023 - 2028). Mordor Intelligence Inc. 2023.
  28. ^ a b Harland, Christine; Knight, Louise; Lamming, Richard; Walker, Helen (2005-09-01). "Outsourcing: assessing the risks and benefits for organisations, sectors and nations". International Journal of Operations & Production Management. 25 (9): 831–850. doi:10.1108/01443570510613929. ISSN 0144-3577.
  29. ^ "The battle of the BPO titans: Eastern Europe vs. India".
  30. ^ "India holds its global edge in BPM sector with $28billion revenue".
  31. ^ Pramanik, Ayan (12 October 2017). "BPM sector sees faster growth than IT services: Nasscom" – via Business Standard.
  32. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-12-08. Retrieved 2017-12-07.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  33. ^ "China's service outsourcing grows in 2015". China Daily. January 20, 2016.