How the pandemic changed the story of BGV

With its roots deep in business risk, compliance and data security, background verification cannot be overlooked

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In the era of biometrics and unique identification number (UID), how difficult can it be to establish the credentials of an individual, one may think. A lot, actually.

Technology has been able to weed out any ambiguity in the unique identity of a person, and yet it is technology itself that has fuelled the world of fakes, to such an extent that we are struggling to establish whether the real is indeed REAL.

Welcome to the not-so-glamorous world of Background Verification. True to its name, it is the bedrock of any organisation, working behind the scene.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many things — new words, their meanings and their place in our lives. One of them is – ‘essentials’. It encompasses the basic and fundamental things that the world needs to keep it going, even when everything else stops. ‘Essentials’ have assumed a new meaning and importance today. In the corporate world, and particularly in the BPM sector, Background Verification (BGV) is that ‘essential’ ingredient, which has deep roots in business risk, compliance and data security too. Irrespective of the COVID situation, an onboarded person — no matter which level, job, position, country or location he belongs to — has to undergo mandatory BGV, after a rigorous recruitment process. Background verification cannot be overlooked. It is non-negotiable.

While the essential, BGV, has not stopped, it has not remained the same either. It has been challenged severely and emerged stronger, better, and perhaps even ready to a great extent for the new world order. Let us deep dive into understanding what has changed, why and how.

How it started

While companies always had their own candidate-verification processes, the credit for formalising this exercise as an industry-wide practice and accelerating this concept goes to NASSCOM. It is a global trade body for software development, services, products, IT-enabled / BPO services and e-commerce companies. NASSCOM envisioned establishing India as a “trusted sourcing” software powerhouse and global sourcing hub. To this effect, it took up the industry initiative to develop a national database of registered and verified workers for its member companies in the form of the ‘National Skills Registry’ or NSR. Today, NSR registration is an integral part of workforce background-verification process.

Behind this vision and process are the fundamentals of absolute trust and integrity. The business- process management industry (BPM) hires workforces under its brand name, which gets deployed to its clients. Clients have their own data, technologies, information and confidentialities, which are entrusted to the BPM industry.

It helps clients to focus on their core business while getting non-core activities done through their BPM partners. The BPM industry has to ensure that the people it deploys are capable of handling the work, not only from the skills and knowledge perspective, but also from the perspective of the integrity to handle clients’ confidential information. One can determine the competencies of the talent through the talent-acquisition process, but how can one ascertain something as intangible as integrity? That’s where BGV comes in, giving tangible assurance by verifying various aspects of the talent’s identity, as follows:

BGV: The PEW framework

The first step in the process of hiring talent is a curriculum vitae or CV. It’s a document that people submit about themselves stating their details, primarily pertaining to three areas, that is, PEW— Personal I Education I Work. Based on the provided details, the candidates are evaluated, to determine whether they should be engaged . While the rest of the recruitment process is in the hands of recruiters— who determine the fitment of the talent to the role — the credentials shared by a person are important to ascertain the following:

Personal information related to who they are, their residence (for correspondence), age, character (to confirm whether their records are crime-free) and whether they are citizens with valid work permits.

Education-related information to confirm the knowledge they have gained, skills they have acquired, the institutes attended and the results certified.

Work-related information about the organisations they have worked for, the responsibilities they have shouldered, and their impeccable work record.

BPM complexities

Over the years, BGV has become a cumbersome process with multiple documents required to be submitted on several occasions, to various departments. Every time there is a new security law or requirement, there is an addendum to the process. It has often become a pain point in the employee experience lifecycle and talent has indicated in no uncertain terms how laborious and frustrating the process feels. It has been a jigsaw puzzle and businesses have been keen to achieve:

• WOW experience for onboarded talent (eliminate duplication of efforts)

• environment-friendliness (reduce paper/carbon foot print)

• record management (as an employee/alumni)

• time and cost savings (reduce billable time wastage and BGV-related costs)

While this had been the intention all along and endeavours were underway, one coronavirus outbreak altered the course. The process has now gone digital in almost all areas. Intervention and adoption of technology to convert the physical process into a digital one has streamlined the exercise and is receiving a thumbs up from employees and businesses alike.

BGV’s new

– Centralised onboarding documentation tool is making it feasible for talent to upload all documents and information in one go, which can be cross-referenced any time for multiple purposes by various teams

– Organisations are now accepting digitally-signed documents. Manual paper work has gone 100 per cent digital.

– Manual address verification was severely challenged during early COVID weeks, which is now being done through GPS trackers to accurately confirm the location

– Authorised institutes are being approached rather than universities for faster verification.

– Few companies have created a central pool of alumni records, which can be accessed and verified by BGV vendor partners or the employment details can be verified using UAN/PF in UAN portal, all digitally. Adoption of technology has made it feasible to verify information digitally.

Future of BGV: Portable information@single source of truth

However, it is not a utopian world. Challenges continue to crop up, especially when it comes to dealing with small- or medium-scale industries, particularly in Tier 2 or 3 locations. The BGV process is totally reliant upon third-party cooperation and arrangements. While the advanced companies have all the measures and willingness to support each other, the small-scale companies may have different challenges. As talent is likely to get more distributed in future and companies would try to tap into remote talent as well, BGV will need to brace for industries where adoption of technology is not great and hence, the record- verification process will have to be done manually, and in parts. Also, such companies may not have sufficient manpower, time or resources to address BGV queries, and especially after COVID times, it may cease to be their priority. Aftermath of COVID may also force shutdown of companies with poorly-maintained records making it tough to confirm employment history.

As education has gone 100 per cent virtual, several people are investing heavily in upgrading their skills. Many courses and certificates are being offered by various institutes. It will be a challenge too to validate the accuracy and efficacy of online certificates as well as institutes.

On the personal front, a hybrid model may mean more leeway for talent to stay anywhere, and hence, confirming the residential address of a heavily-distributed workforce vis-à-vis a concentrated one can be a tedious task.

The future belongs to technology and it is evident that these challenges too will be addressed through nothing but technological advancements. Today, we are resorting to technology to address each piece individually, but in future it will be an integrated effort. Nirvana will be achieved when we have a single source of truth giving all verified, up-to-date and portable information pertaining to talent in one go, without the need to go hither and tither. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that possibilities are immense and the future is near. Here’s to the next level of BGV!

The author, Clifford Mohan Pai, is the VP, HR business leader and head employee relations, at Infosys BPM. He is also a certified Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) from the HR Certification Institute.