Category: Onshoring

Call Centers Show Bright Spot In COVID-19 Crisis | Blog

We just came out of one of the best economies in history, but we now face a recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Even if there were a V-shaped curve to the recovery, it would not change a looming huge factor going forward: cost reduction is more important than ever before. Although lower cost was not the significant driver in creating value in the digital world, COVID-19 adds a new wrinkle to transformation because it exposed the underlying support for business processes. It set the stage for what is now an overwhelming impetus for companies to take on the risks of changing the way they do business.

Read more in my blog on Forbes

Impact Of Coronavirus Threat To The IT Services Industry | Blog

Clearly, the coronavirus (COVID-19) already has an impact on the global economy and broader market. Companies are cancelling conferences and events. They are closing their campuses to outsiders. Travel is restricted. And in some instances, companies impose a work-from-home policy. In the IT and BPO services industry, decision-making is stalled, and we already see clients cancelling planned contracts.

How bad is the disruption to the services industry? It will have a negative impact on revenue growth in the next quarter (ending in June 2020) and potentially in several quarters to come. New projects will be postponed or cancelled. This is because, first, companies simply cannot buy complicated services without some form of travel. Second, any large initiatives require executive support and energy, and they won’t have time to push contracts forward during the next few months.

Read more in my blog on Forbes

Visit our COVID-19 resource center to access all our COVD-19 related insights.

Ongoing Coverage of the Service Delivery Impacts of Coronavirus | Blog

Ongoing Coverage of the Service Delivery Impacts of Coronavirus

Coronavirus, or 2019-ncOv, creates many uncertainties for organizations engaged in the delivery of business process, IT, and engineering services. While the initial focus is the delivery of services from China, geographies such as India and the Philippines (and perhaps others) may also become areas of increased concern. Global service delivery organizations are typically large and involve extensive international mobility, increasing their risk exposure; at the same time, they are also leaders in virtual interactions via phone, email, and video.

This is the first in a series of blogs that explores a range of topics related to these issues and will naturally evolve as events unfold and facts reveal themselves. The blogs are in no way intended to provide scientific or health expertise, but rather focus on the implications and options for service delivery organizations.

These insights are based on our ongoing interactions with organizations operating in impacted areas, our expertise in global service delivery, and our previous experience with clients facing challenges from the SARS, MERS, and Zika viruses, as well as other unique risk situations.

Everest Group recently published a Risk Radar update on China related to coronavirus. With this update, we increased our risk rating for service delivery in China from “low-medium” to “medium.” Members of our Locations Insider, Catalyst, and Market Vista memberships can access the report.

We recommend that business process, IT, and engineering services firms migrate their critical operations to alternate delivery locations and promote the use of teleconferencing and work-from-home policies to ensure business continuity with minimal impact to operations. Additionally, companies should implement precautionary measures in compliance with the government guidelines.

In the coming days, we will publish additional blogs covering a range of topics related to this issue. At this point, mortality rates appear low, so the main concern may continue to be basic availability of business operations in China and implications on travel, families, and in-flight initiatives.

Visit our COVID-19 resource center to access all our COVD-19 related insights.

Why Many Banks Might Have to Dump Their Delivery Location Strategy | Blog

Long gone are the days when consumers were welcomed with toasters when they opened a checking or savings accounts at their local bank. Today’s consumers don’t want toast-making capabilities from their financial institution: they want cheaper, easy-to-use Internet- or smartphone-based financial products and services, including payment applications, lending platforms, financial management tools, and digital currencies, all with hyper-personalization. Most customers are quick to make a move if their current financial institution doesn’t deliver.

So, what do banks need to do to retain their customers? Two things. First, they need to deliver the banking experience their customers are increasingly demanding. Second, they need to reconsider much of their service delivery location strategy.

What do Bank Customers Want?

Let’s first look at banking customers’ requirements for a SUPER banking experience.

Banking Requirements

Few, if any, banks have the ability to deliver on these requirements. So, they’re increasingly partnering with financial technology start-ups – popularly known as FinTechs – to meet customers’ expectations.

FinTech solutions

This brings us to the second thing that banks need to do to retain and grow their customer base: reconsider much of their service delivery location strategy.

Cracking the Service Delivery Location Strategy Code

With innovation and personalization topping customers’ list of banking requirements, banks can no longer rely on the same location strategy they’ve used to deliver traditional functions such as applications, infrastructure management, and business processes. Why? Because FinTech requires a higher proportion of onshore/nearshore delivery compared to traditional functions and co-locating all FinTech segments such as payments, lending, and capital markets in the same region may be difficult given varying maturity of locations across segments.

To help banks find locations for successful FinTech delivery, Everest Group developed a framework – presented in our recently published research report, “FinTech Services Delivery – Traditional Locations Strategies Are Not Fit For Purpose!” – to measure the innovation potential of a location.

With the framework, banks can evaluate all aspects of innovation potential, including the availability of talent with emerging skills (such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and analytics), adequate cost of delivery, and providers’ financial services industry domain knowledge.

Framework to Measure a Location’s Innovation Potential

Framework to Measure a Location’s Innovation blog image

To develop our FinTech Services Delivery/Locations report, we started with a list of 40+ global cities with leading FinTech investment and market activity. Subsequently, we shortlisted 22 locations based on multiple criteria including overall investment, technology and infrastructure, and talent. Finally, we used our innovation potential framework, coupled with other factors such as maturity of the FinTech ecosystem and cost of operations, to determine the top locations banks should consider for specific FinTech use-cases such as payments, lending, and capital markets solutions.

Here are some key findings from our location strategy research:

  • Banks may need to create a parallel portfolio of FinTech delivery locations, as they may be far different than those that are mature in delivery of traditional functions
  • A location’s innovation potential (not its cost arbitrage or delivery efficiencies) is the most important factor for successful FinTech delivery. This is because the right location will offer depth and breadth of maturity across multiple financial segments, a vibrant startup scene, agile academic institutions, tech-savvy government, ample financing options, modern technology infrastructure, and friendly regulatory environment
  • Locations that are currently regarded as nascent (e.g., West Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America) may emerge as attractive alternatives as the market evolves.

For more details, please see our report, “FinTech Services Delivery – Traditional Locations Strategies Are Not Fit For Purpose! Plus Profiles of Emerging Offshore/Nearshore FinTech Hubs” or contact Anurag Srivastava or Anish Agarwal  directly.

Commercial Options for India GIC Setups | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

There are two primary commercial options – or export-oriented schemes – available to GICs looking to export IT/ITES services from India. One is setting up a 100 percent Export Oriented Unit (EOU) under the Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) scheme. This allows operations to be carried out from any location in the country. The other is setting up a delivery center in a specified, demarcated, duty-free enclave called a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). These offer additional economic benefits (e.g., tax holiday) in lieu of positive net foreign exchange earnings from the export of IT/BP services.

Which option is best for your company? Read on to learn the differences, the trade-offs, and the variables you should factor into your decision.

The Major Differences

  • Income tax holiday: SEZ units enjoy a graded income tax holiday period that translates to significant tax savings for a large-scale setup in India. The tax holiday incentive for STPI units expired in March 2011
  • Indirect tax benefits: both SEZ and STPI schemes provide custom duty exemption on imports of capital goods. However, SEZ units are also eligible for a “zero-rated” Goods and Services Tax (GST) that effectively decreases the cost input for domestically procured goods and services
  • Location: STPI units can set up operations in any location in the country. SEZ units are restricted to a designated area.

Key Decision Variables in Selecting SEZ or STPI

  • Financial attractiveness: SEZs outweigh STPIs in both direct and indirect tax incentives. Where cost savings are significant (e.g., a large-scale setup) and need to be prioritized, SEZ is a clear choice for many enterprises
  • Access to a broader ecosystem: Many SEZs offer a complete ecosystem, with easy access to commercial, residential, healthcare, and educational options. Further, SEZs offer quality infrastructure and business continuity planning advantages including:
    • Large reputed SEZs offer a more reliable supply of utilities including electricity, water, telecommunications, and overall security
    • The office space standards and building compliances (e.g., natural disaster preparedness) are typically more stringent in SEZs
  • Access to large talent pool: Given their size, SEZs offer ready access to a large, skilled talent pool with relevant technical, functional, and managerial skills. And the ecosystem often developed in and around SEZs is a significant attraction for the talent pool to work in them
  • Site and scale flexibility: STPI units provide far more location (e.g., financial district or central business district) and scale options than do SEZs. Many small-sized GICs tend to prefer this flexibility
  • Ease of compliance: Compliance and statutory reporting requirements in STPIs are relatively more lenient than in SEZs. For instance, introduction of GST has increased the compliance and record maintenance burden on SEZ units. Exiting SEZs may involve more scrutiny given the higher economic benefits involved.

SEZ vs STPI

How a Financial Services Firm Made the Decision

Everest Group recently supported a U.S.-headquartered financial services company looking to set up a small-scaled GIC in India to deliver high-end niche IT services. Our setup advisory team used a three-step process to ultimately recommend the right facility and commercial model to meet all the client’s requirements: outlining the space, handover timeline, and proximity to the central and/or secondary business districts; assessing potential savings in operating from an SEZ; and evaluating and scoring the additional pros and cons of shortlisted sites to make our final recommendation.

When we evaluated and scored the client’s “must-haves” — scope for expansion or relocation, access to social infrastructure, lower commute time, and proximity to talent hubs – against the limited SEZ options available, it became clear that an SEZ was not the right answer for the client.

Thus, we recommended that the client go ahead with an STPI option in a large IT business park, and register the unit with the STPI to benefit from indirect tax benefits. This option allows the client to take advantage of all the business park’s large talent pool, marquee tenant profile, social infrastructure, and other amenities, and gives it flexibility for any future expansion or potential relocation within or outside the business park.

More than 30 new GICs are set up in India annually, and half of these are first-time center setups. In order to ensure their success, the enterprises establishing these centers must take the time upfront to clearly understand their objectives and requirements against the trade-offs of SEZs and STPIs.

Sourcing Professionals Have a Tough Job | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

If you are a sourcing professional, you have our deepest respect, because now, more than ever, your job is a tough one. The sourcing industry is changing fast, disrupted by emerging technologies, shifting talent requirements and evolving service provider capabilities. Moreover, fluctuating geopolitical and legislative issues are causing enterprises to rethink substantial, long-held sourcing strategies and provider relationships. Sourcing professionals face formidable challenges in the global economy as the new year approaches and they look for better strategies in an industry experiencing unparalleled turbulence.

Technology is Changing the Game

It used to be that a sourcing professional’s No. 1 responsibility was finding a way to get the work done as cheaply as possible. Not any more. Technology has changed the game. In nearly every industry, digital technologies are driving the development of innovative products and services and improved customer experiences. To keep pace in this digital world, enterprises are now pursuing a digital-first rather than arbitrage-first strategy. In fact, the global services market has seen a threefold increase in digital-focused deals.

Automation, once merely a service delivery tool, is now “front end,” with enterprises demanding strategy, vision and strong Proof-of-Concepts (POCs) for advanced automation in 33 percent of all application services contracts in 2016. Similarly, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing and robotics will soon begin to pervade the enterprise portfolio and will eventually become mainstream in sourcing landscape.

Talent Requirements Are Shifting

The increasing adoption of digital strategies is changing the workforce skills that enterprises seek, and, in turn, forcing sourcing professionals to revamp their location portfolios in the midst of a dynamic landscape. Location options for traditional global sourcing continue to expand, and new locations are emerging for unique talent demands, such as digital capabilities.

Geopolitical Disruption Adds Complexity

Sourcing professionals also must anticipate and react to numerous geopolitical disruptions that keep the sourcing landscape shifting like windblown sand. In the past year, for example, we have seen a significant decrease in demand from the United Kingdom given the uncertainty with Brexit; uncertainty about healthcare legislation in the US has dampened the healthcare sourcing market; and the uncertainty due to visa reforms has led to increased local hiring and onshoring in the U.S.

The Provider Landscape is Constantly Changing

Sourcing professionals also are challenged to stay abreast of changes in the provider landscape. Mergers and acquisitions are on the rise, and leading providers are making fundamental changes to their talent and service delivery models. Between April of 2016 and March of this year, Everest Group witnessed 40 acquisitions to expand digital capabilities, 140 alliances between providers and technology providers or startups, and the setup of 35 new centers and digital pods to help clients rethink their digital strategies.

Data for Sound Decision-Making

In the midst of this complexity, buyers of global services are tasked with making critical decisions. Recompeting an outsourcing contract, selecting a location for a global in-house center, or contracting for new tech services—these are the types of decisions that can significantly impact an organization’s performance and an executive’s career.

That’s why Everest Group has announced that it is doubling down on its commitment to provide fact-based comparative assessments. We’re consolidating our comparative analysis offerings – previously offered under a variety of product names – under our flagship PEAK Matrix brand, which will now evaluate services, solutions, products and locations. Additionally, we’ll be expanding the market segments addressed to include new functions, processes and industry verticals. Read more about it here.

In the midst of all the complexity and change that sourcing professionals face, one thing remains the same: Everest Group is your source for the fact-based analyses you need to make informed decisions that deliver high-impact results.

Is Mexico Losing its Luster as a Nearshore Delivery Location? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Over the years, Mexico has become an attractive nearshore delivery location for U.S. enterprises and service providers. But two significant potential challenges may impact its popularity.

NAFTA

To boost economic ties, Mexico, Canada, and the United States entered the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993. However, NAFTA critics argue that it has resulted in job losses and suppressed wages in the U.S., and encouraged illegal migration of workers from Mexico into the U.S. The Trump administration is considering withdrawing the U.S. from NAFTA due to ‘protectionist’ measures, i.e., those that are in the interest of U.S. domestic market.

The proposed outsourcing tax/Border Adjustment Tax (BAT)

To further promote and create jobs in the U.S., President Trump has proposed incentivizing companies to make goods domestically by adding a tax – an outsourcing, or border adjustment tax (BAT) – on companies that import goods and services from other countries. He has floated the idea of 20-30 percent BAT on imports.

While the actual impact of impending renegotiations on NAFTA and potential implementation of the BAT on Mexico as a nearshore service delivery location is yet to be seen, Everest Group conducted research to determine the likely short-term effect of these developments on the IT-BP industry in Mexico. Following are snapshot findings from our study.

everestnew1

 

Further, while there are multiple alternative locations in Latin America available to U.S. enterprises, very few offer a significantly better cost-talent proposition than Mexico. Thus, even in the likely scenario of NAFTA revocation, Mexico is not likely to lose its sheen as an attractive nearshore location for IT-BP service delivery for U.S.-based organizations.
Although there are no favorable indicators in the short-term, there have been no knee-jerk reactions from firms leveraging Mexico for service delivery. We believe the country’s medium- to long-term outlook continues to remain positive for IT-BP services delivery.

For more detailed findings, please read our report: “Mexico IT-BP Services Viewpoint.”

The Dichotomy of Current and Future Offshore/Nearshore Delivery Locations | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

An interesting offshore/nearshore locations strategy dichotomy is emerging for today’s major third-party service providers and enterprise firms, as well as their GICs. On one hand, they are continuing to set up delivery centers in new and unexplored locations due to increasing competition, business continuity planning, and risk diversification. On the other hand, the pressure of new disruptive technologies, changing consumer demands, and need to maintain points of parity with competitors is pushing them to consolidate their footprint in the top 10 locations.

Growing Oligopoly of Offshore/Nearshore Locations Driven by the “Digital Winds of Change”

 

Offshore, NearShore

Top-10 offshore/nearshore locations include – India, Poland, Republic of Ireland, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Singapore, Romania, Malaysia, Mexico, and China

In the past few quarters, new center setups in the top-10 locations have jumped by ~10 percent, from 60 percent in 2015 to 70 percent in 2016. The key driver of this change has been availability of talent; only selective locations currently have the capability to support complex digital services. Thus, both external providers and GICs are leveraging these locations for digital services centers and setting up relevant centers of excellence. While several other non-top-10 locations are also investing in building digital talent, they are still not considered a viable option for digital delivery.

  • The major gainers from this shift have been India, Poland, Singapore, the Republic of Ireland, Romania, and Costa Rica. Analytics and cloud are the leading digital services segments in these offshore locations, primarily core software-based analytics. Both types of providers are also building centers in these locations for mobility, social, IoT, and cyber security.
  • The major losers from this shift towards digital have been China and Brazil, given providers’ caution around language constraints and political uncertainty, respectively.

Going Forward, Concentration and Diversification

While most firms are investing in the emerging technologies/digital space, they are still in the nascent stages of building capability. As they mature, they will start diversifying and distinctively leveraging different locations for supporting elements of digital, thus driving a uniform distribution amongst top-10 locations in the next three to six years.

Following are highlights of our research on the future of digital services delivery destinations:

  • India and Singapore will be large scale offshore hubs. Analytics, cloud, and mobility will continue to hold strong, while other technologies, (e.g., IoT, cybersecurity, and blockchain,) will, ultimately, be broadly and deeply supported
  • Nearshore locations such as Ireland, Poland, Mexico, and Costa Rica will support real-time innovation and product development, and provide multilingual service delivery for social media and mobility services
  • Offshore locations such as Tel Aviv, Cairo, and the Baltic states are currently the ”dark horses” in the race towards the top-10, and will gain momentum in the future. Look for them to deliver regional content contextualization, especially for mobility and social and interactive segments. Some of them will deliver digital technology R&D as well.

To learn how locations activity spanned in 2016, please refer to Everest Group’s report titled Market Vista™: 2016 Year in Review: Global Services Industry Facing “Winds of Change.”

Marginal Margin Impact from H1-B Visa Reforms? Maybe Not | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

On 25 April 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump moved one step closer to instituting new regulations for granting H-1B visas. At the same time, many IT service providers – especially those of Indian-heritage –moved one step closer to realizing their worst fears! The threat of visa reforms became real when President Trump ordered an inter-departmental review of the H-1B visa program, which would ensure formulation of regulations for hiring only the most skilled or the most highly-paid professionals and “would never replace American jobs.”

While it is universally acknowledged that a stricter visa regime will negatively impact most service providers’ onshore margins, particularly the offshore-centric providers that follow the “landed” resource model (i.e., a delivery model that hires resources from offshore centers to work in the U.S.,) it is important to examine the true nature of this impact. The exhibit below indicates the possible impact on onshore margins under various visa reform scenarios.

Scenario-based H1-B visa reform impact assessment on onshore (U.S.) margins

H1-B Visa Reform impacts onshore and offshore margins

Even in a situation where the visa reforms do not translate into full-fledged regulation (the most ideal scenario for Indian-heritage service providers) we expect far greater scrutiny of H1-B visa applications, leading to fewer visa grants. Even in this scenario, we expect more onshore hiring by IT service providers to meet their talent requirements, leading to reduction of service provider margins by 2-4 percentage points.

The probability of the above happening has become more dubious, given recent developments, and it is highly likely that visas will be granted based on either skills/merit or minimum wage requirements of US$130,000. In either case, service providers will need to hire a much higher share of local resources. This further complicates the situation for Indian-heritage providers, as they have a smaller foothold in the U.S. talent market than do the global providers. Whether Indian-heritage or global, hiring landed resources at some/all levels of the delivery pyramid at the minimum salary levels of US$130,000 could drop service provider margins by as much as 14-16 percentage points, resulting in negative returns on onshore deals, at least in the short-term.

While none of the scenarios paint a rosy picture for service providers, the impending visa reforms may act as a catalyst for them to develop more automation solutions and front-end technology products and restructure their talent hiring and value proposition. Interestingly, while onshore resources will increase in U.S.-based contracts, the overall portfolio-level offshore ratios may also marginally increase with providers pushing the offshoring lever to protect their overall margins.

Everest Group has simulated the potential impact on onshore margins using key input variables around existing cost structures, rate cards, staffing pyramid, and onshore-offshore resource mix. Please see our viewpoint on the above topic: “Impact of Changes to H-1B Visa Program on Service Provider Margins” for more details.

From Labor Arbitrage to Digital Arbitrage: Shareholder Value in the New IT World | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Recently, corporate developments, such as management changes, corporate governance, and investor activism across Indian IT service providers, have bombarded the investor community. Many investors perceive the initiatives taken by these companies to be a watershed moment in their histories.

Furthermore, with next generation automation, digital services, artificial intelligence (AI), and other disruptors creating massive, requisite, and unavoidable change in the IT services industry, investors and service providers are in increasingly opposing schools of thought. However, many of the investment firms we work with struggle to correlate these developments with their investments and returns.

Given the scale of the IT industry and the pace of disruption happening in the entire ecosystem, it’s valuable to take a few minutes to dissect and analyze the situation.

Growth vs. profitability equation – digital arbitrage vs. labor arbitrage

For the past two decades, Indian IT service providers have reported a stellar net profit margin in the range of 18-25 percent. The business grew on the investments made in human resources. The players achieved impressive returns primarily due to their grip on labor arbitrage. The investor community embraced the stocks, and experienced significant returns. For instance, an investment of US$350 in one of the top Indian IT service providers in 1992 would have yielded US$377,643 in 2015!

The emerging IT services model – driven by digital disruptors – gives little emphasis to labor arbitrage or the providers’ earlier factory model, and instead focuses on innovation and value creation for enterprises that extends far beyond greater efficiency. Not many IT service providers have demonstrated a mindset aligned to these new requirements. They are still hesitant to loosen their noose on profitability, as they set investor expectations very high with their earlier business model.

What is bothering investors?

Investment firms we work with believe that most disruptive technologies will drive lower profitability for Indian IT service providers likely in the 8-15 percent net profit range. They also believe that technology disruption will not allow the same level of offshoring as before, and will further erode profitability.

As most of the Indian IT service providers have zero debt and own huge piles of cash, investors think they should receive distributions in the form of dividends. Their demand is stronger when they learn the providers are going to invest in low-margin digital businesses, as they believe they will not receive the optimal reward they are due.

A twist

Believing that the market is undervaluing their stocks, IT service providers are planning share buybacks, spinning them as a way to reward shareholders. However, they actually plan to reduce tax leakages caused by dividend distribution, as Indian tax law stipulates they pay a 15 percent Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT) on dividends paid. Additionally, the share buybacks help them increase their control over the company.

What is the reality?

Both these opposing schools of thought fail to think in the long term.

Investors looking for dividends aren’t acknowledging Berkshire Hathaway’s theory of dividends. If a business can deliver promising returns in the long-run, dividends act as a negative catalyst for growth. In an attempt to pacify their investors, most of whom are technology novices, most Indian IT service companies are relabeling their old offerings as “digital.” Instead of dividends, investors need to ask IT service providers’ leadership tough questions on how they plan to use their large cash piles relative to their IP, platforms, acquisition, talent development, and client relationship strategies. How do they plan to differentiate in this crowded market? When large-scale offshore development centers fail to provide the needed competitive advantage, what does their armory contain to create shareholder value?

The way in which IT service providers are surrendering to investor pressures gives the impression that they are not willing to utilize their cash for digital technology investments. This in turn reinforces the popular opinion that Indian IT service providers are not confident enough to tide over the current transition. That some of the providers are distributing cash instead of putting the money in beneficial investments is making some market observers uncomfortable.

Furthermore, if the providers are not planning to distribute cash, they must ensure that they use the money for useful investments rather than just share buybacks. This is a win-win situation, as the providers get a boost to their topline and ability to endure the current business transition, and shareholders get maximized wealth in the long term. Net-net, firms that invest wisely are going to withstand the changeover, while those that use their cash piles to temporarily shut out investors are likely to witness a tough time.

Are these companies capable of implementing the business model?

As the adage goes, easier said than done. Although service providers are vocal about re-skilling employees opening onshore centers focused on digital services, the viability of these initiatives are questionable. The majority of these companies have amateur design thinking capabilities, and their DNA is around supplying people, not innovation and strategic partnerships. Indeed, in our recently published report “Customer (Dis) Satisfaction: Why Are Enterprises Unhappy with the Service Providers,” enterprises only gave providers a score of five out of 10 on their strategic partnering abilities.

Only time will tell whether service providers made the right move in distributing cash or investing in low-margin businesses.

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