Sudhindra Monkasi was vice president with one of India's leading IT BPo Companies. In 2007, he founded e-Sutra Chronicles and is presently the CEO. He is an avid traveller, traveloguer and award-winning photographer. he lives in Bangalore with his wife Aparna.
Experiential genre books like BPO-Sutra are a unique breed. While they attempt to tell the story as was experienced/heard by the tellers, they also have multiple issues: They can and will be biased by the narrator’s ideology, and with each succession the story tends to get more decorated/stripped and definitely skewed, but, in more cases than not, the core and essence do endure.
Now how about the stories in this volume?
Some I have experienced myself during my long tenure in the industry many I heard from friends who were kind enough to share them with me and others from friends of friends who appreciated this endeavour and came forward to share their stories with a stranger.
If you ask me if each of the stories here has been verified by
me, the answer will be an emphatic NO.
For one, in an industry as dynamic as the BPOs, companies appear and disappear at alarming rates, peoples’ employment places and locations are in a constant state of churn, hence it would have been a physically impossible task to track down all actors.
Secondly, it is a monumentally onerous and expensive task, given that the theatre of play here is global. Thirdly, and most importantly, while stories, like Chinese whispers tend to get ‘personalized’ with each staffing, core events and the truthful kernel do prevail.
So if a story makes for better reading because of editing’ by the teller, then I have let it be!!!
All names, and sometimes places have been anonymous to retain the privacy.
In contrast to other Industries, BPOs tend to draw extreme reactions from people; ranging from the virtuous savior to the all pervasive corrupter, depending of course, on whom you are speaking to.
So what is the best way to provide a fair and balanced view of the industry?
A book of course!
But what kind of a book?
Books to understand an industry intimately are confined to two dominant types. At one end of the spectrum we have the ‘gyaani’ books that are filled with facts, figures and myriad analysis that support the writer’s hypothesis. These kinds of books are usually found in the libraries of universities and bookshelves of intellectuals. Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat is an example of this genre.
At the other end, we have the exquisitely researched fiction books that weave an imaginary story into real life situations. Books by Arthur Hailey like Airport and News fall into this category. While both of them have their own constituency of readers, the overall treatment of the subject tends to be purist.
Experiential genre books like BPO-Sutra attempt to tread the golden path through experiential chronicling including hearsay.
We Indians have always been a nation of storytellers. No childhood is complete without the mandatory quota of stories from our grandparents. But surprisingly there is very little literature of significance when it comes to stories from inside professions. This book is, to the best of my knowledge, the first big attempt in the industry specific experiential genre in India.
Experiential genre has gone mainstream in other countries and three streams of books are worth mentioning to set a context for this work.
The mother of all: The Chicken Soup Series. Arguably the most popular of this genre, is focused on edification of a particular role of human life.
Another Bestseller: Po Bronson’s what do I do with my Late. A motivational book about the choices people make at crossroads and the subsequent journey to their calling.
A lesser known book series called the Hardship Posting by Stu Lloyd. This is a book of expatriate experiences in Asia and based on an underlying fabric of misadventures and sexuality.
To portray the BPO industry without malice or bias and depict the good with the bad, the inspirational with the ugly, I had to create a new template. A template that captures all the key vouch points of BPO life.. .Work, Call, Home, Weekends, Parties, Scams etc.
What I have attempted to do is provide the reader with 150+ stories; the non-judgmental blocks of experience, ensconced in an introductory piece which is my opinion on any one particular facet of the area being discussed.
Pretty much like the building blocks of a LEGO kit which come with some sample constructions to get the user going.
You, the reader, are welcome to use these blocks to build your own imagery of the ‘BPO Nagari’ . ..over and over again using the same blocks...to build different shapes.
What will you build today?
In the early years of this decade, if you were an Indian stuck in India and not working in the IT Industry but desperately aspired or the pleasures of western life as shown on MTV or Channel V, the best place to be was in an Indian IWO or call centre.
The US was passing through a slowdown, off shoring to India had become a proven business model and Indian IT companies were looking for avenues to supplement their software work. Companies like GE and BA had already proved that back-office work from India was possible. More immortally the world had suddenly discovered that there were millions of English speaking smart Indians. It couldn’t have been a better time.
Here is what I think did the dominant Sutra for companies want to start captive operations in India.
They found a bright, loyal, long tenured, middle aged Indian who worked for them in the US. In all probability this person had a yearning to move back to India because one or many of these things were happening to him. His daughters were entering their teens and behaving in a most un-Indian fashion. He was feeling it was time to get back together with his ageing parents having left them in charge of neighbors/siblings for too long. He had accumulated a lifetimes’ worth of money and a reputation to be treated like royalty if he returned. And of course with the Indian economy taking off, IT Industry booming, he wanted to be in the thick of the off shoring action.
In short, this Mr. Homecoming with local knowledge and connections was the perfect solution to start Indian BPO operations.
For a person who looked destined to retire as a senior-middle manager had he stayed back in the US, this was a stroke of tremendous luck and good fortune as also for the industry as we:
can see today.
Every industry’s DNA and culture is determined by the image built by its leaders and pioneers. All of us know that the Indian IT industry started off doing global find-replace during the Y2K times, then gradually moved up to high-end work. But what a lot us don’t know is that even today a significant amount of work is routine software maintenance and testing. Yet all of IT as a whole is still viewed as high-end work because of the sustained iconic image building.
The BPOs, in contrast, mainly started off as cost centers of MNCs and didn’t need to have an icon to speak of and were clueless of their image and identity. To hide the monotony of the job, attract people and to cater to the people’s aspirations of a westernized life, Mr. Homecoming and his BPOs portrayed them as fun jobs.
The type of job you take up for a while, do some work in IT like offices, meet pretty women at night, travel in the office provided transport, earn good money, have a party and then move onto other things in life.
Management implicitly parroted it, HR sold it, employees started acting it and everyone started believing it. If you wanted your weekly quota of drink and dance, you walked up to your manager and said: ‘Hey you know what, my team morale seems to be a little down lately and I plan to take them out for a bonding-de-stressing session’. And you and your team could party at the hottest party place in town on expense account.
Looking back today, this was probably the biggest screw-up in the industry.
Pretty soon the society overreacted and started condemning it aid when the industry image got so warped that parents started dissuading their kids from taking up these jobs BPO companies lead high NASSCOM launched a major makeover initiative to correct the perceptions.
And fortunately for the industry and India as a whole, things aid turn for the better real fast. The industry is now very organized iic1 professional, treats its business more seriously than IT and in taw next couple of years this industry will employ more number of people than IT.
Mr. Homecoming, to his credit, after giving immense momentum lo the industry, has either retired or moved into a sinecure in the corporate world.
Do you miss the good old days?
This book, then, is a no holds barred celebration of all things IWO. From the time when the industry was in its infancy, through Its Wild West days to now, its mature broad based employment generator avatar.
Celebrate the six. Most important touch points of BPO life; Calls, Work, Travel, Home, Scams, Parties/Weekend and join us as we party, One Night in Every Call Center.
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