Raman Roy’s Quatrro becomes first company to get DoT permission; starts pilot projects.
A year after the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) conditionally relaxed rules on IT-BPO employees working from home, Raman Roy, chairman & managing director of Quatrro BPO Solutions, has started pilot projects in Mumbai and Delhi to explore the possibility of scaling up the model.
Quatrro is the first BPO to have secured permission for this model from DoT. “This is a provisional permission. Once the company is able to meet all our security concerns, we will grant them a licence,” confirmed a senior DoT official on condition of anonymity.
The licence is a prerequisite for service providers to provide infrastructure and last-mile connectivity.
The $11-billion BPO sector employs over 750,000 people, and "working from home" could add significantly to the employment numbers, said Roy. He added that he has been “toying with the idea for nearly two years before I got help from software body Nasscom and the required permission from the DoT”.
Roy plans to launch another pilot in Chennai soon. He has also appointed a dedicated team of six senior employees — including a lawyer and a technician — to make these pilots successful.
“We feel this is the next-generation step for the industry. It will create jobs for people who are educated but don’t have the flexibility to go to offices. Besides opening a career option for them, it will create a flexible workforce. So, housewives and others can work from home, will have flexible work timings and also earn money,” said Roy.
Currently, the 30-odd employees who work from home have a computer that is connected to the company’s server (using virtual private network or VPN technology). Whenever an employee logs on to the computer, the data on the screen is monitored by a supervisor sitting at the Quatrro headquarters in Gurgaon.
The supervisor sits in front of four large Plasma screens and can see each of the employees’ monitors. If he wants to speak to anyone of them, or clarify any of their doubts, he accesses the webcam.
Currently, these employees are involved only in non-voice work which comprises both low-end data entry work and in some cases high-end data analytics, Roy said.
The main hurdle in this case is ensuring that a client’s data is secure. “The test is all about security. So, the solution is that when the employee logs onto our server, the supervisor will be able to see him and his activities. The plasma screens ensure constant monitoring and guidance. The VPN pipe takes care of security,” Roy said.
Usually there are 8 to 15 supervisors in one shift but for this virtual model one supervisor will be able to supervise 16 or 32 sessions at one go.
If the pilots are successful, Quatrro plans to expand this concept and train people by sending supervisors to tier-II and III cities and towns where it will set up training centres.
Roy said he has already spoken to some schools and received a favourable response from the principals. Quatrro will set up a computer lab with around 10 computers in schools that will be used by the schools in the morning and for training BPO “work- from-home” aspirants in the evenings.
Going forward, employees who are selected for the work-from-home programme will be provided with computers in their homes for which Quatrro will stand guarantee with banks. The company will deduct the monthly installment from the employee’s salary. The salary structure for such employees, said Roy, will mainly be variable as the fixed salary structure will not work here. “We plan to make the pay structure transaction-based. The higher the number of transactions, more the pay,” he explained.
Another company that is experimenting with this concept is Aspect Software. “The home agent is the new wave of offshoring and is not intra-continent but intra-country. The processes demands what percentage of people can be home-based,” explains Rajeev Soni, Managing Director, Aspect Software. The company has experimented with this concept with Sparsh BPO and its own BPO for both voice- and non-voice work. However, it is yet to get a licence from the DoT to roll out the services on a commercial scale.
Soni explained that by using Microsoft’s Unified Communications in the work-from- home concept, the follow-up calls went down from 18 to 20 per cent to 8 to 9 per cent, thereby reducing costs.
Analysts, however, remain sceptical about arrangements related to working from home on the ground of- data security, infrastructure, data processes, employee motivation and monitoring problems and lack of a controlled environment. “Independent work can be done in a work-from-home arrangement but group work requires a controlled environment. Models like these work only when data masking is possible,” says Sabyasachi Satpathy, partner at advisory firm Tholons.
Moreover, processing needs to be scrutinised and a faster turnaround can’t take place in such models, said analysts. Few companies are interested in the work-from-home policy as infrastructure is another problem and the work will have to be verified.
“We understand and appreciate these concerns,” countered Roy, adding: “After all, I have been there and seen this industry grow to its present size. But I believe that we will make this concept work.”