By David Poole
It’s always a pleasure to visit the beautiful city of Krakow. An historic and ancient city but surprisingly vibrant and youthful. I have seen many changes over the past 20 years that I have known this city. When I first visited, Krakow was a dreary and dark city still languishing in its post-Soviet misery. Little did it know that it would transform into Europe’s largest shared services and BPO services location - an industry that now employs over 55,000 professionals in 130 delivery centres for some of the world’s most impressive enterprises; Shell, State Street Bank, Uber, Ocado and Symphony Ventures to name but a few. These professionals form a large part of the new young middle classes that buoy up the local economy. The hundreds of bars and restaurants dotted all over this city and the evident investment in facilities such as the beautiful ICE Congress centre make Krakow a great destination for tourists and businesses alike.
The industry body in Krakow promoting this city as the location of choice for shared services and outsourcing is called ASPIRE. They hold an impressive annual conference and this week I was presenting on the topic of the Future of Work and Robotic Process Automation. The question I asked of the audience, which was made up of executives from the shared services and the BPO world, is whether automation is a threat or opportunity for Krakow. Will Krakow continue to grow at the same impressive pace or will the growth flatten or even decline as the headquarters of these companies invest in developing a virtual workforce to replace the work being performed there.
Of course none of us have the answers to these questions but it does strike me that the “near shore” cities are in a better position to benefit from automation than the “offshore” cities in, say, India or the Philippines. In general, the near shore cities operations complement the far shore cities, often by providing higher levels of skills and knowledge, and bringing in new scope which is re-engineered and then partly offshored to a lower skilled workforce. More often than not they will have professionally qualified staff who are true process experts, rather than generalists, and certainly will be able to provide services requiring multiple language capability more readily than most offshore locations.
This higher level capability provides the perfect foundation for cities like Krakow to become the near-shore automation capital. They have plenty of the necessary process skills and technology capability which are the raw materials for creating centres of excellence focussed on Automation. This availability of highly qualified staff is the reason we opened Symphony’s Robotic Centre of Excellence and AI Labs in Krakow.
My challenge to this gentle city is to determine its own future rather than wait and have others define nearshore locations as surplus to requirements: develop automation capability and demonstrate the huge value that can be generated not just in the back office but across the whole organisation by using Robotic and Cognitive tools. Now is the time to become the overlords of automation in your enterprises.