To reach offshore
An industry that has been flourishing in Egypt for the past few years, experts and professionals believe outsourcing will eventually become a big hit. Egypt is becoming a rising off-shore competitor, internationally ranked No 12 in terms of top offshore outsourcing destinations on AT Kearney's -- the global management consulting firm -- Annual Global Services Location Index. Surpassing its Arab neighbours and being among the top 40 countries worldwide listed on the scale, local competition is now among five strong contact centres: Egyptian Contact Centre Operators (ECCO), C-3, Tamima, Raya and the largest of them all, Xceed, which is owned by Egypt Telecom.
Egypt was introduced on AT-Kearney's scale only this year. Adel Danish, the CEO and chairman of Xceed, explained why. "We were not spreading enough information about us, but once we did we scored high, and that also showed when Datamonitor analysts visited us two years ago and wrote an excellent report about us."
Business intelligence company Datamonitor forecasts that Egypt's share of the offshore call centre market will experience a 50 per cent compound annual growth rate between now and 2009.
According to the Datamonitor report, "Egypt is a viable client service choice for companies concerned about reducing overhead costs, while at the same time maintaining a very high degree of customer interaction quality."
Egypt however faces strong competition from countries like India, which ranks first on the AT-Kearney scale, as well as the Philippines and Malaysia, which share similar characteristics of the industry. However, in terms of the three elements of the industry -- human resources, infrastructure and support -- Danish believes Egypt has many factors in its favour. "In Egypt we have 250,000 university graduates every year, and when we compare languages we find that English in India and the Philippines is their strongest language and French in Tunisia and Morocco, while we are rich in both English and French at the same time with fairly good accents."
Also Egypt's Xceed has become the first and only contact centre to be certified in Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe by COPC 2000, the Customer Operations Performance Centre, the US-based worldwide authority on best practices in call centres. Xceed received its certification upon completion of the audit by COPC International on 14 December 2005, having met all 34 requirements including high operational performance in planning, service, quality and efficiency.
Xceed started up its business process outsourcing in 2001. Since then it has been the leading company and the largest call centre facility in the southern Mediterranean region in outsourcing in Egypt with a capacity of 1,200 web-enabled workstations. It provides business process outsourcing services to commercial and government clients, including a number of offshore Fortune Global 500 companies around the world including Microsoft EMEA, Oracle (Global Product Support), General Motors, Neuf Cegetel and Carrefour. It currently manages programmes for clients covering more than 12 countries in nine different languages. Portuguese and Hebrew were recently added.
Danish, who has witnessed the growth of Xceed from the start, explained how the idea initially started. "The idea was to develop the IT activities of Telecom Egypt in terms of custom relation management. The first thing to come to mind was a call centre," he said.
Danish said the idea was to formalise relations between company clients, to be fast, handle complaints and the billing order, simply to cover all, "but we did not want a cost centre; rather a revenue-generating service."
In January 2004 Xceed received a request for a proposal from Microsoft and in June 2004 was selected through an international tender to handle its services.
"Our services have been growing stronger. We have been delivering a number of services to European customers," said Danish.
As Danish explained, the make or break point for any contact centre is the destination. "Being in the same time zone as European countries gives credit over many other countries in a totally different time zone," he said. "In addition, we somehow share the same Mediterranean culture with some European countries.
"Our significance in the industry to Europe is similar to India's to the US," he added.
The development in the business has attracted many investors the past few years. ECCO, designed by Hewlett Packard (HP) to be an Application Infrastructure provider of complex hosting and management services for enterprises with mission-critical operations, is one of Egypt's sophisticated communications data centres with an investment of $15.9 million. ECCO was established in June 2001 to be the premier third party contact centre operator in the region, and offers financial services, telecos, and also inbound and outbound services to clients in Arabic, English and Italian.
At the same time Raya, established in 2000, is considered a major competitor in the market by qualifying for the Cisco Systems Gold Partnership for the second year in a row and for the Microsoft Gold partner. Powered by over 800 agents, Raya offers services with multiple languages to 500 clients including Microsoft, Intel, Vodafone, McDonalds, P&G, Coca Cola, Citibank and Daimler-Chrysler.
On the other hand, the C3 contact centre, launched in 2001 as the first fully dedicated outsourcing call centre, has provided a variety of services to both local and multinational companies in Egypt, the Middle East, Europe, the US and Canada, supporting Arabic, English and French speaking clients over three continents. Its clients include the Wall Street Journal Europe and Tele-2.
As Danish explained, it is not a very costly industry, needing only space and personnel. The government supports special training for the workforce.
"One of our main strengths is the fact that our salaries are lower than those in Europe. For example, in Egypt it is easier to find an IT engineer with good language skills who would like to work in contact centres," said Hatem Fathi, the management information system's manager for Tamima, one of the competitor contact centres in Egypt that functions in various spheres of the business. Since it started in 1994, outsourcing constitutes about 30 per cent of the activities of Tamima, serving in three languages. It is still considered one of the services they value and aim at expanding.
Fathi argued that the company faces competition from both outsourcing and parcel delivery companies alike, "but still we have an advantage because we combine both services."
Fathi believes that the industry in general is still not getting enough publicity either in the Middle East or in Egypt. "We also need more support from the government on how to encourage companies to work together on a larger scale," he added.