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outsourcing work to India doesn't always mean call centres


British firms have steadily outsourced many of their operations to South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka). The cost savings of doing so are potentially enormous, and the area has a large and well-educated English-speaking population. With long ties to the area, British firms are thought to have a special advantage over those of other countries.

British insurers have been especially keen to capitalize on this trend, since their major cost burdens include elements such as documentation processing, IT/Web services, customer service, and telemarketing: all functions that can be carried out for a fraction of the cost in South Asia. Savings from outsourcing work benefit not only shareholders, but also policyholders - in the form of cheaper services. Outsourcing brings benefits to employees as well: it keeps the firm viable in the highly competitive field of insurance, ensuring that staff remaining with the company after an outsourcing phase have a measure of job security.

In line with this, Norwich Union launched its own outsourcing programme to the region back in 2003, and has steadily added staff in India and Sri Lanka since (they now total about 5,000 in India alone). Partnering with Indian outsourcing giant Tata, according to silicon.com, Norwich's goal is to shift at least 7,000 jobs to the area by this year, and reap cost savings of £250 million annually from the move.

As of this writing, major British media reported that Norwich will be hiring another 1,000 staff in India. Despite the headlines, though, the overall outsourcing plan of the company is not as simple as has been painted. In fact, Norwich has outsourced to a number of UK-based firms as well. For example, the company recently announced it was outsourcing 500 of its jobs in York, but iol.com noted that these are not going abroad but to business partner companies in Glasgow, Basildon and Essex. A similar jobs outsourcing deal with Cable and Wireless will in all likelihood see some of those jobs remain in Britain and others shift overseas.


This is because British insurance firms like Norwich use a complex strategy of keeping some jobs in the UK and shifting others abroad - based on how assets can best be deployed. In general, contrary to popular thinking, the more English fluency and cultural knowledge of Britain is required, the more difficult a position is to outsource. Insurers like Norwich are most enthusiastic about shipping back-office jobs to Asia. The job is relatively simple, and only a passing knowledge of English is required. There is also no customer contact required between Indian staff and British customers. In many cases, the job may involve no more than highly repetitive tasks such as filling in forms on a computer screen.

Work which requires a high level of English fluency and cultural knowledge of Britain, such as call centres, has proved to be a more challenging prospect at times. Thisismoney reported that Norwich quietly shifted 150 call centre jobs back to the United Kingdom from India in 2007, apparently because the Indian staff could not communicate effectively with British customers. Even those Indians with fluent English often came up short when it came to dealing with claims relating to, for example, furniture in typical British homes. That is a problem that has commonly plagued both UK and North American firms that have tried to shift call centres to the area.

While we can expect continued <title>Outsourcing Companies: Outsource IT to India - Full Time Web Developers, Administrators and Call Centers only &pound;299 pm salary</title> trends from insurers like Norwich, it should be noted that the process is far more complex than just shifting British positions overseas.


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