Hitendra Patel in Cartagena, Colombia, during the BPrO CX Summit 2023.

Hitendra Patel Urges BPO Providers to View Disruption as an Opportunity — Not a Threat

BPrO’s annual CX summit, now held in Cartagena, Colombia, is well know for the stellar cast of keynote speakers the customer experience and outsourcing industry event always features, and 2023 is no exception. This year, one of the featured keynotes was none other than Hitendra Patel.

An expert in electrical and materials science engineering, Patel is the managing director of the Boston-based IXL Center, and chair of the Innovation and Growth Program at the Hult International School of Business. Before that, the holder of six patents was a senior consultant at Monitor Group (now part of Deloitte) and Arthur D. Little.

Patel was kind enough to sit down with Finance Colombia Executive Editor Loren Moss for a few minutes to talk about the message he shared with the CX Summit attendees, about how companies must innovate in a more connected world to become “always available.”

Loren Moss: I’m here with Hitendra Patel at the 2023 CX Summit put on by BPrO, which is the BPO industry association here in Colombia that covers BPO and the contact center industry. You’re one of the invited speakers here, so tell me, what was the main takeaway? What was the message that you delivered to the crowd?

Hitendra Patel: It’s very simple. Each one of you out there, whatever you are doing today, you decide to ask the question, “What else? What’s next?” If you do that, then you’ll come up with ideas of what you need to do to be able to adapt to the changing future. And if you’ve figured out what else and what next, then you’ve got to seize the moment. Carpe diem.

Loren Moss: I have a little sticker that I made sitting on my monitor, and it says: “What do you want to accomplish today? And what are you doing right this second to accomplish that?” There are so many distractions. We can get distracted by social media and things like that. And I always look up when I’m working — even if I’m working on something that may be important but not urgent — the idea is: Am I doing what I need to be doing right this moment? Of all the different things I could be doing, even many of which need to be done, is what I’m working on right now the most important thing to work on?

Now, we’re here with the BPO industry. Obviously, this is the service sector, and so this is where people are providing professional services, they are offering business-to-business services, and oftentimes they are consumer-focused. When we look at companies that are here and that are trying to figure out how they can find a competitive advantage, what are the ways that they can either be more efficient or more effective in seizing the moment? 

Hitendra Patel: What’s happening right now is the world is changing rapidly due to technology. There’s a disruption of robotics and AI. When you put those two things together, the whole industry — this industry that we talk about — is about to change dramatically. And the speed at which it will change will be faster than what most people have ever imagined.

Continuing doing what you did yesterday today will not make you successful tomorrow. And the time to react is getting less. Therefore, you have to now increasingly put importance to asking the questions: What else should I do? And what should I do next? If you have ideas on it, seize the moment now.

“What’s happening right now is the world is changing rapidly due to technology. There’s a disruption — there’s disruption of robotics and AI … So, the outsourcing industry has to rethink what it has to do soon, and it should see this not as a threat — though it may feel like that.”

Hitendra Patel

Let me explain why this is important. In the past, outsourcing and BPO industries were utilized because you had low-cost labor, whether in India or the Philippines and now in Colombia. Today, technology is being able to replicate many of these things very fast with chatbots, where there’s video synthesized of a human being who looks like a human but is not really there. And it looks real! If we do not solve this problem soon, technology will replace labor, and technology may be again “insourced” back into the United States.

So, the outsourcing industry has to rethink what it has to do soon, and it should see this not as a threat — though it may feel like that. It should see this as an opportunity, and you should be the first ones to seize the moment.

Loren Moss: We are here with all these really innovative technology vendors, and a lot of them are now using artificial intelligence. Besides chatbots, they are using intelligent tech. We are looking at ChatGPT. We look at different things — like Dall-E — and we are starting to be able to tell a computer, “draw me a picture of this” — and the images are coming out almost eerily realistic.

If I’m an executive and I say, “look, we have access to the same technology, we are competing for the same talent, what can I do to differentiate myself?” How can I take the mindset of seizing the moment, and how can I use that to give me a competitive edge over those who are still competing for the same talent and who still have access to the same technology? How might I look at differentiating myself from the competition?

Hitendra Patel: The first thing is you need to be able to bring differentiated inputs to the conversation. That input could be that you have much better trained people around the topic, or you have additional information that you are able to analyze so that you start eliminating some of those conversations completely.

But the real opportunity here is that what needs to be commoditized, needs to be commoditized. And once it’s commoditized, now you ask what can we do in value add. Colombians, for sure, are now the Latins of North America. The United States is about to become the United States of Latin America.

Therefore, where is the talent pool? The Latins in Colombia are equally trained in IT, equally well trained in creating products and services, and no longer need to be only in call centers. It’s time for centers of excellence of product value to open — centers of excellence on new types of technologies to be developed over here. And it will still feel low-cost for the United States, so it can continue to be outsourced over here.

Loren Moss: Now, you are a member of the board of directors of the Global Innovation Management Institute. Help me understand what that body does.

Hitendra Patel: So, the Global Innovation Management Institute is an organization that is creating standards to create a common language and a common framework around innovation. Just like English is a language, we can talk to anybody anywhere, and therefore there’s a speed and efficiency because of common language. And if there’s a common framework on how to do things, then people can innovate faster and quicker, and they can collaborate better across the globe.

Our objective is to train a million individuals and a million organizations so that they have the same language and same framework to do this. We’ve done this in Dubai. We are doing this in Colombia. We are doing this in Brazil. And we would love to be able to do more in terms of how every company can think about “what’s next?” and “what else?” — and then build the capability to seize the moment.

Loren Moss: Wow, so it sounds like you’re putting into place management frameworks. When we think about the consulting firms, they have things, like MECE, and different frameworks, like the balanced scorecard, things like that. You’re bringing that discipline to the practice of innovation itself.

Hitendra Patel: We are. What we are saying is you need to have growth — you need to understand why you need to innovate— and making the case for change. Then you have to asks where do you want to focus on innovation?? Perhaps it’s AI and ChatGPT.

Then we say to them, “where’s your processors and people to make that happen?” And then we ask them, “where are your KPIs to make sure that it’s happening?” And in there, “do you have partners? Are you doing this with other people? How do you go faster, quicker, cheaper, better to be able to do bigger and bolder things?”

Loren Moss: You have been very generous with your time. I want you to be able to enjoy Cartagena some while you’re here. The last question for me: your own firm, IXL Center, tell me what your value proposition is and what’s the situation. Who should contact you and in what situation should they contact you?

Hitendra Patel: Anybody who wants to use innovation to grow should get in touch with us. Innovation is hard — it’s not easy — but the results of innovation are tremendous. This is where ChatGPT came to the world. This is where Tesla comes to the world. Those were all original ideas that then can be packaged together to become the next big thing. If you want to work on big and bold things, talk to us.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Photo: Hitendra Patel in Cartagena, Colombia, during the BPrO CX Summit 2023. (Photo credit: BPrO)

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