Genpact Acquires Headstrong – End of Pure-Play BPOs? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On April 6, 2011

Earlier today, Genpact (a global BPO-centric service provider) announced a definitive agreement to acquire Headstrong (an IT services player with a focus on capital markets) for US$550 million. Genpact has scaled ITO capabilities, but more than 85% of its US$1.2 billion+ revenues is still driven by BPO. Moreover, Genpact’s ITO revenues have been flat over the last few years. So I think it is only fair to call them a pure-play BPO – that was until today! With the acquisition of Headstrong, the split between BPO and ITO for Genpact will be closer to 70:30.

Genpact’s topline growth has fallen from 25-35% in 2007-2008 to 7.5-12.5% in 2009-2010. Not bad considering a growing denominator; stable to increasing margins; and a bad economy. But growth is slowing, and I believe this acquisition will be important for Genpact to ensure scalability in the medium to long term. Here is why:

  • BPO-only services have a strong value proposition for the first 3-5 years of an engagement driven by arbitrage and operational efficiencies and effectiveness – and Genpact has been successful in riding this wave. However, it is often difficult to drive the next wave of value from pure BPO and often this requires integrated IT-BPO capabilities. With a majority of Genpact’s BPO client base entering this end-of-term phase, Headstrong’s capabilities will allow Genpact to present an integrated value proposition. Genpact’s proprietary add-on tools for BPO (remember the acquisitions of Creditek, Avolent and Symphony) and process capabilities (from Six Sigma and Lean expertise to SEP) with Headstrong’s IT capabilities will be a strong combination.
  • This acquisition will also help Genpact ride the potentially disruptive trends in the areas of cloud, SaaS and BPaaS. Their partnership with NetSuite last year was another step in this direction.
  • Headstrong’s acquisition is also interesting from an industry expertise perspective. BPO is fast morphing from being a horizontal service to a more industry-specific offering. Even in traditional BPO services like F&A, more and more industry-flavors are being included – be it around revenue cycle management for healthcare providers or meter-to-cash for utilities. Within financial services (one of the largest recipients of global services), our research shows that capital markets BPO is the fastest-growing segment. This is where most of Headstrong’s capabilities reside. Healthcare (another strong area for Headstrong) is another industry poised for strong global services growth in the near term.

There are potential challenges (as with all acquisitions) essentially around the integration of the two organizations. Genpact has been running successful sales and marketing engine focused around BPO. With a significant IT component – will it get distracted from its focus? Its differentiation in the market is around process excellence, and it remains to be seen how successful the go-to-market for an integrated ITO+BPO offering will be. Headstrong’s existing clients will also have questions on Genpact’s vision and strategy for them.

Look around the BPO industry and you’ll not find any major pure-play BPOs left. Consider the leaders on Everest’s PEAK matrix for FAO – Accenture, IBM, Capgemini, Genpact, HP, and Infosys. No pure-play BPO except Genpact (until this morning). What will happen to others in the same bucket (WNS, EXL and the likes)? For the moment WNS will probably take the tag of becoming the largest pure-play BPO – but for how long? Will it acquire or get acquired?

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