Posts

Egypt and IT and the center of the world

What makes Egypt attractive

Egypt’s growing IT services and technology sector has been built on important natural advantages and few forward-looking investments in recent years. The country’s proximity to Europe, considerably large and educated talent pool, and relatively low costs compared to nearshore locations such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria make Egypt a natural hub for IT services, just as it has been a hub for commerce for millenniums. In addition, multinational companies have long-established histories of doing business in Egypt, building up the trust and goodwill needed for large investments and sustained operations. IBM has had a presence in the country for 66 years, and in addition to its six regional delivery centers in Cairo, in 2019 it opened two new centers — an Innovation and Industry Client Center and a Marketing Services Center — to accelerate digital transformation for public and private sector clients through next-generation solutions such as AI, cybersecurity, digital technology, blockchain and hybrid cloud. Sharing a time zone with much of Europe provides Egypt with a natural advantage, particularly relative to India and the Philippines, two outsourcing megacenters. 

Atop these advantages and potentially separating Egypt from other growing outsourcing locations has been active investment by the Egyptian government in developing a business ecosystem, creating jobs and exports, fostering entrepreneurship, encouraging foreign direct investment, and assisting Egyptians in innovation efforts. While this mandate may sound ambitious, Egypt, a country known for large projects, has kept a tight focus on successful development of IT services and technology exports.

Sustained investment in talent

Egypt’s critical advantage could be its talent base, particularly due to the group’s size, technology skills and fluency in multiple languages. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics in Egypt, approximately 500,000 students graduate from universities in Egypt every year, of which around 90,000 speak English. To assist graduates in finding employment with multinational companies — and to help those companies develop their employees’ skills — the Egyptian government, through ITIDA, partners with companies to provide mentoring, tools and competitions for startups as well as sponsor various hackathons and other initiatives.

The Egyptian IT sector exported around $4.2 billion in services in 2019, according to the Egyptian Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA). The country’s IT sector has become a substantial part of the overall economy growth, contributing both jobs and export revenues, primarily from BPO, software, application development and maintenance, and technical support services. TBR sees advantages for Egypt in the post-coronavirus world.

BPO 2.0 is alive at TELUS International in Bulgaria

On a recent trip to my native Bulgaria, my colleague Elitsa Bakalova and I visited one of TELUS International’s local sites. Country Managing Director Kristina Ivanova and Director of Operations Gergana Ralchovska hosted us in the recently opened TELUS Tower in downtown Sofia. With over 3,000 staff members in Bulgaria split between three offices, TELUS International has grown roots in the community not only to expand its recruitment reach but also to build local trust one event at a time, which is reflected in its extensive corporate social responsibility program.

During the tour of the facility, featuring staff who speak a total of 40 languages to serve many global, regional and local clients, the common themes of innovation, inclusion and collaboration were well displayed. As a vendor that faces the ever-evolving dynamics of the BPO industry, mainly impacted by the advent of chatbots and automation, TELUS International is well prepared for potential headwinds. From offering non-traditional BPO services, including content moderation and content management, to reskilling staff and employee engagement programs, TELUS International in Bulgaria is able to maintain an attrition rate in the teens, well below the industry average of approximately 30%.

In a rapidly evolving market such as Bulgaria, where the IT services sector presents the vast majority of career opportunities for young people, TELUS International’s approach to developing soft skills – a key attribute for working in the BPO industry – differentiates it from its direct and indirect competition. For example, TELUS International offers pre-recruitment assessments, on-site psychologists and ongoing empathy training for employees. Both Ivanova and Ralchovska indicated that the profile of current recruits has changed significantly from five years ago, when speaking one or more foreign languages was enough to get a job offer. Today, both TELUS International’s and recruits’ expectations have evolved to reflect a preference to work for a purpose-driven and customer-focused organization.

Automation means new KPIs

As culture evolves, so do KPIs. With the advent of automation, adopting new KPIs that reflect the shift from human-supported tasks to human-chatbot higher-value services is one way for many organizations including TELUS International to measure utilization and performance. TELUS International’s examples of digitization of client accounts include one client for which 1 million requests were automatically handled by a bot, saving 20,500 productive hours over 90 days, which were later billed to the client for other add-on work.

In TBR’s special report In an emerging world managed by bots, TELUS International’s culture tells us why humans still matter published in March, we wrote, “Moving forward, we expect TELUS International to continue executing on its standardized approach to customers’ digital enablement and to carefully select and manage its client base, including pursuing opportunities with enterprises that are also involved with approving TELUS International employee recruitment and training. As the BPO market evolves, the emergence of new pricing models, including outcome-, subscription- and license-based pricing, will compel the company to take on additional risk and re-tune stakeholders’ expectations around its P&L profile. As a result, TELUS International will need to continue its transformation into an increasingly automation-enabled organization with agent capabilities.”

As TELUS International in Bulgaria serves as one center of the company’s evolving framework, moving from BPO to application services exclusively is highly unlikely, but striking the right balance by blending elements of SaaS and BPaaS will certainly be at the forefront of Ivanova’s, Ralchovska’s and the global leadership team’s agenda in the next three to five years, especially as there is a heightened customer expectations for services vendors to deliver human-centric brand promises.

In an emerging world managed by bots, TELUS International’s culture tells us why humans still matter

TBR perspective

Since the dawn of outsourcing, BPO has allowed enterprise buyers to trust third-party providers with the support of many internal and external processes. While in the past, the risk associated with managing IT and business assets was heavily weighted toward the buyer, in today’s age, where social media is leveraged as a sounding board for both positive and negative customer experiences, there is a heightened expectation for services vendors to deliver brand promises. During its 14-year tenure as an active participant in the CX support services market, TELUS International has successfully navigated the ever-changing dynamics of the BPO space by investing heavily in its employees. The company has an average annual attrition rate of approximately 25%, which is about 50% below the BPO industry average, as its employees and executives trade on trust and share a common goal of servicing customers. Deploying and managing learning and collaboration platforms globally as well as adopting many of the same technologies used to support clients, TELUS International’s approach to people, processes and technology shapes the company’s culture in the era of the machines. While the CX support space has been augmented by the increased use of AI-based technologies and one might consider the BPO industry to be highly commoditized from a labor arbitrage perspective, TELUS International continues to build a human-centric culture that empowers staff (most of whom are millennials) to take charge of their careers while also being brand ambassadors in their local communities. Touring TELUS International’s Las Vegas delivery site, which is one of the company’s 27 global hubs, during the event helped bring TELUS International’s strategy and vision around its employees and investments in innovation to life, further supporting the “from slides to code” trend TBR has observed in the industry over the past 18 to 24 months.

Moving forward, we expect TELUS International to continue executing on its standardized approach to customers’ digital enablement and to carefully select and manage its client base, including pursuing opportunities with enterprises that are also involved with approving TELUS International employee recruitment and training. As the BPO market evolves, the emergence of new pricing models, including outcome-, subscription- and license-based pricing, will compel the company to take on additional risk and retune stakeholders’ expectations around its P&L profile. As a result, TELUS International will need to continue its transformation into an increasingly automation-enabled organization with agent capabilities. 

At its inaugural Analyst Summit, TELUS International brought together industry analysts, company executives and clients. The company used the two-day event to prove why, according to President and CEO Jeff Puritt, TELUS International is the “best kept secret” when it comes to company culture, employee engagement and customer satisfaction in the highly competitive customer experience (CX)-enabled BPO market, especially in the area of talent.  

Letting your clients pick you: Tweaking the digital transformation center model

“Start with a new space, furnish it with funky chairs, nontraditional work spaces and all the latest technologies. Recruit creative talent, mixed with some data scientists and wonder-tech folks, plus seasoned strategists. Bring in current clients and consult on digital transformation.”

The last time I talked about getting leadership right at digital transformation centers, I made the comment above and also mentioned three other critical elements: client selection, talent management and technology partner cooperation. I’ve seen the steady evolution on client selection, but an event last week showed me how much room exists for consultancies to play around to find a winning formula. IT services vendors, led by consultancies, initially designed these centers to cement relationships and expand their footprint with existing clients, often by demonstrating capabilities and services beyond the current engagements. For example, PwC’s supply chain management clients learned the firm also offers cybersecurity, and companies contracting Accenture for BPO could immerse themselves in that consultancy’s digital marketing services. Because initial investments drove the need for cost justification, most consultancies began by opening their doors to any and all clients, with predictably mixed results.

Consultancies learned the most efficient use of these centers included only clients on either end of a simple digital transformation spectrum, forcing the firms to spend additional sales time and effort ensuring clients came prepared. Consultancies stopped wasting half of a one-day workshop resolving a client’s internal political dysfunction or just beginning to scope core business problems and cemented processes around client selection and preparation.

Which leads me to what I saw last week. We will soon publish a special report, but it was strikingly different from every other event, as the consultancy intentionally stayed in the background — a self-described footnote at its own event — allowing clients and non-clients the space and time to collaborate, share cross-industry struggles, innovate and, in many cases, realize the combination of confidence in the ability to change and ambiguity about how to do so led to epiphanies around the need to hire a consultant. Very likely the one who had been in the room for the last two days. Subtle, smart, maybe possible only because the event was off-site for everyone and intentionally a mix of Fortune 500 companies and small to midsized enterprises.

So, a curious twist. Instead of centering on existing clients and ensuring the right ones come to the right collaboration/digital transformation center at the right time, this consultancy allowed clients and potential clients to self-select how much more advice they needed. I don’t expect a wholesale adoption of this by other vendors, but believe I will see elements of this repeated as everyone continues learning what works and what doesn’t, always looking for what’s best for the client and what starts returning some investment on these centers.