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SAP and Ericsson in Egypt: Thriving in an expansive environment

Ericsson and SAP anticipate further expansion in Cairo

Ericsson has also leveraged this environment to support its global strategy, by tapping local talent in the fields of artificial intelligence, software development and digitalization. “It is the existence of the required competent engineers, with various backgrounds and capabilities, that makes it very attractive to operate in the country,” an Egypt-based Ericsson executive noted. Ericsson has been operating a digital services hub in the country to serve the Middle East and Africa region. The Ericsson executive stated, “Since we are covering the Middle East and Africa, Arabic is an advantage for working in Arab countries.

Egyptian professionals have relatively better English communication skills as well to add on top. Plus, Egypt provides reliable telecom infrastructure that can help different engineers to communicate and engage remotely with colleagues and customers.” According to Ericsson, the environment has been very encouraging to do more and serve on the global level as well. The Egyptian government has a strong focus on the ICT sector, is making more spectrum available to operators to improve mobile broadband experience, and has the aspiration to introduce 5G. In Ericsson’s estimation, Egypt is a firm believer in building a connected society and smart cities and is already executing on a solid national artificial intelligence strategy.

Notably, in October Ericsson announced the shipment of the first AI-enabled software developed at its Artificial Intelligence & Analytics Hub in Egypt to be used by Ericsson’s customers globally. According to the press release, “The AI & Analytics Hub has accelerated the execution of Ericsson’s focused strategy in Egypt by using AI and automation technologies to create data-driven, intelligent products and services.”

Looking ahead for SAP, Mansour explained that she hopes to hire more resources in digital marketing, digital sales, presales and services, and, if SAP’s management approves, to establish more partnerships with the headquarters of companies serving the region. For Mansour, a true coup would be to convince the Egyptian talent currently employed in Germany to return to Cairo and help “regain historic leadership of the region.” Potentially accelerating that effort would be SAP’s continued success with SAP Business Suite 4 SAP HANA (S/4HANA) implementations and expanded opportunities with IoT, analytics and other emerging technologies. Ericsson’s Egyptian future, according to its executives, depends on ever-increasing internet connection speeds, recruitment of local talent, and support of a wider array of Ericsson products and services.

Building on the company’s legacy in Egypt, which dates back to 1897, when the first Ericsson telephony equipment was introduced in the country, connecting Alexandria to Cairo, Ericsson believes 5G will be next significant step. Ericsson executives noted that the Egyptian government “took proactive steps in launching 4G in the country … a testimony that the country realizes the importance of technology in building economic development. From a technology point of view, [Ericsson is] ready to switch on 5G on the existing 4G networks, so it is all a matter of getting the 5G license in place. [Ericsson’s] focus area now is to offer the latest solutions and technologies to existing customers for their 4G networks while working together on paving the way to launching 5G.”

Earlier in 2020, TBR spoke with Egyptian officials about the country’s continuing efforts to build a robust alternative for companies looking to outsource their IT services operations. As part of a follow-up, TBR also connected with SAP (NYSE: SAP) and Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC) executives to understand why both technology vendors have chosen to expand operations in Cairo. The following reflects those exchanges and TBR’s ongoing analysis of offshore IT services centers.

Cultural readiness and technology savvy: Another view of Egypt’s IT outsourcing ecosystem

With technology a given, cultural readiness differentiates Egypt IT sector

In a recurring point of discussion, CrossWorkers CEO Hans Henrik Groth described Egyptian technology professionals as creating an atmosphere of high “cultural readiness” for working with Europe-based clients, partly because Egyptians travel frequently to Europe for business and Europeans travel frequently to Egypt for tourism. The cross-cultural experiences have provided many Cairene software developers with a useful level of cultural understanding for European clients and have made working for Europe-based companies attractive, given the likelihood of travel to the continent as part of the job. As an example of cultural readiness, Groth contrasted different ways of handling client concerns regarding the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In his experience, IT professionals with little cultural context will see GDPR as an obstacle to be circumvented or a set of checklists to be papered over. More attuned professionals understand the European mindset around GDPR and the (general) willingness to adhere to the standards and demonstrate compliance. Overall, Groth cautioned that the technology requirements of providing managed services from an offshore location could be easily met in most situations. The challenges arose with making a cultural match between the lead software engineers and their European clients.

During our discussion with Groth, TBR asked about three aspects of doing business in Egypt: government, IT and physical infrastructure. On the first, Groth noted the gaps and delays between political decisions and practical impacts, but added that the talent pool in Egypt and the country’s current political and economic climate did not necessitate a heavier role from the government overall. On IT, he lamented the high cost of internet service in Cairo, explaining that CrossWorkers needs two means of connectivity — airborne and traditional cable — to ensure constant communications. Even the best fiberoptic cables, as Groth noted, could be undone by someone with a shovel. For an offshore IT services vendor, high internet costs and unreliability would be constant concerns. Lastly, regarding the physical challenges of working in a city as large and densely populated as Cairo, Groth acknowledged traffic presented a constant source of pain and commented on the three-hour drive — on a good day — from Cairo’s airport to the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), located west of the city. To combat this problem, Groth located CrossWorkers’ offices closer to the airport, allowing clients from Europe to see the facilities and meet the talent without enduring too much of Cairo’s traffic. Groth’s depiction of Cairo’s infrastructure confirmed many of TBR’s previous discussions and assessments and pointed to potential areas for immediate improvements, which could accelerate IT services offshoring growth in the country.

After reading TBR’s assessment of Egypt as an offshore IT services hub, Hans Henrik Groth, CEO of CrossWorkers, contacted TBR to provide additional insights and commentary about Cairo’s IT services environment, highlighting the differences between Cairo and other cities Groth has worked, including Islamabad, Pakistan, and various locations in eastern Europe. This special report reflects the hour-long discussion and TBR’s analysis, including from our Spring 2020 Global Delivery Benchmark.

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.