Taking ITES to the villages of India – Rural BPO in Tamil Nadu

Manjakkudi is a small village in Kodavasal Taluk , Thiruvarur District of Tamil Nadu, located 19.5 km from district headquarters Thiruvarur, and 259 km from Chennai.

The Swami Dayananda Educational Trust, founded in 2003, is engaged in providing quality education to the economically backward Manjakkudi and surrounding villages. It currently runs three schools, one arts and science college, four students’ homes, a Ayurvedic health care centre, a vocational training centre, an old age home and a school of traditional Vedic learning.

Swami Dayananda College of Arts and Science started with a small batch of 320 students in 2001, and now has 1,000 students enrolled in its Bachelors and Masters programs. What started in the early 1930s as an elementary school operating in thatched huts is today an exemplary institution in the entire district of Tiruvarur.

rural india information technology

Rural BPO – Tamil Nadu, India

This August, the college has scored a first for rural India; it has tied up with Wipro BPO to enable the latter to start a centre on its premises. The centre has a capacity of 120 seats, with plans to expand it to 500 seats by 2013. The candidates are given basic training by the college and further skilled by Wipro BPO.

This may be the first venture of the sort; but definitely it cannot be the last. For it presents a win-win situation for both the institution and the company by tapping on mutual synergies. Cost of labour is relatively lower in the rural areas, given the lower cost of living; and for the people do not have to leave villages in search of meaningful employment. The scope of the project need not be limited to just one institution. The Manjakkudi region is located strategically with its proximity to around 46 colleges giving Wipro a possible talent pool of 13,000 graduates. That’s a scaling opportunity difficult to resist.

Of course, connectivity can be a problem. But pumping income in a rural region creates its own demand for higher quality services; connectivity cannot remain behind for long. If it works for Wipro, others would follow. To start with, the lower end data processing work could flow into the rural centres. That could completely change the BPO landscape in the country and the rural landscape as well.

Already experiments in moving the lower end BPO jobs like digitising forms, data entry, cataloguing books or ensuring accuracy of website content to the hinterland are afoot. In March last, Harva set up a BPO centre at Teekli, a village about 30 km from Gurgaon.

“The business model is compelling. It’s 35-40% cheaper than cities.” says Ajay Chaturvedi, chairman of Harva. He gave up a corporate career spanning likes of IBM, Compaq and Citi Financial to start the BPO outfit. He has set up two more centres nearby and is working on filling them up. A big challenge is convincing potential customers the viability of a rural BPO centre; In the last four months, Chaturvedi has had 10 potential customers pay a visit to Teekli.

“We are beyond proof of concept and in the early days of hockey-stick type growth,” says Saloni Malhotra, CEO of DesiCrew, which employs 170 people across five centres, and is eyeing 50 centres and 5,000 employees by 2015. According to Nasscom, there are currently about 50 rural BPOs, employing about 5,000 people, which is projected to grow to about 1,000 centres and 150,000 employees by 2015. Genpact, the $1.1 billion global BPO major, has farmed out its internal finance and accounts work to RuralShores. Major BPOs like Infosys BPO and Aditya Birla Minacs are also looking to go to the countryside.

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