International Firm Optimistic Of A Bright Future Locally
While the name Xerox is synonymous with copying and printing globally, the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ursula Burns says resting on their laurels is not a part of their forte as its main priority is to maintain pole position in the industry.
“Our strategy is simple … we want to be the leading provider of diversified BPO (Business Process Outsourcing), ITO (information technology outsourcing) and document outsourcing in our servicing line of business,” said Burns, in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner.
“We want to continue to be the premier providers of technology solution in the print copy space so our technology business has to continue to be strong,” added Burns.
In addition to maintaining its strong brand identity worldwide, Burns is also championing prudent management of the company’s cost and expenses, while seeking to provide adequate returns to shareholders.
Burns, who became the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company in 2009 when she became Xerox’s CEO, was on her first visit to Jamaica, which has the third largest Xerox BPO outside of the United States (US).
Jamaica, which is behind India and the Philippines in BPO, has some 5,600 Xerox employees spread out across seven operations – one in Kingston and one in Portmore, St Catherine, with the remainder in Montego Bay, St James, where the company is focusing on customer care for clients, mainly in the telecommunications, health care and technology industries.
At present, services account for 52 per cent of the firm’s total revenue that amounted to more than US$22 billion in 2011.
At the helm of Xerox, Burns has consistently demonstrated that she is not afraid to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions to ensure the company’s viability.
Her astute and decisive leadership was demonstrated in areas such as dismantling the manufacturing unit that shaped her career; cutting back or getting rid of products that once defined the Xerox brand; and branching out into uncertain or perceived risky new areas of business in an effort to reposition the company as competition increased.
“The potential of BPO is very high,” said Burns. “Jamaica has the following benefits: it’s a service economy, it has a fairly educated population that we can draw (from) and it’s culturally an operation that works hard.”
While Jamaica remains one the most attractive destinations for the BPO industry, with other nations breathing down the neck of the sector leaders, the Xerox boss, renowned for her no-nonsense, outspoken personality, is of the view that greater emphasis must be placed on improving Jamaica’s competitiveness in a heated industry.
She argued that Jamaica could find itself struggling to attract or even maintain investments if there is not constant improvement of its information and communication technology (ICT) business environment, including infrastructure and education.
“What Jamaica and every BPO site has to understand is that, unlike a technology business, where the barriers to entry are generally large, BPO’s initial barriers to entry can be low and it’s really important, therefore, that the people who have footprints today continue to reinvent themselves,” noted Burns.
“It’s really important that Jamaica continues to focus on the fact that they have a good base in this service-type area and that base will continue to be attacked by competitors so they have to keep making it better.”
Xerox’s ambitious agenda basically suits the projection of the Jamaican Government, which has announced plans to double the nation’s 11,000 ICT jobs over the next three years.
This forms part of an overall initiative to take advantage of the country’s emergence as a premier strategic destination for outsourcing services to North American firms.
While the call from local industry leaders in Jamaica to create additional space is considered critical to the expansion of the ICT sector, Xerox does not require any additional space as further expansion will only take place if there is additional business in similar BPO accounts already being handled here.
“As we continue to expand, yes, we would have to find more space, but I don’t want anybody to believe that we are limited by space,” said Burns.
“If we have to fit the clients in, and here is the best place to do it, space will not be my limiter … we don’t plan by region, we have plans by lines of business and customer.”
According to Burns, instead of any space consideration, she is more concerned with challenges with the unpredictability of the world economy.
“There is not a place in the world that is not unsettled now economically and that is just a business challenge that we have to deal with,” said Burns.
She singled out the United States ‘fiscal cliff’, which would see huge tax increases and spending cuts at the start of 2013, which would invariably throw that economy and, by extension, the world’s economy into recession.
Burns is hopeful that a deal can be struck between the parties to prevent the US economy from plunging into another recession.
“In terms of global business, it would be an extremely detrimental event,” said Burns, who was among several high-profile CEOs in the US to meet with President Barack Obama on the issue recently.
Earlier this year, the Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) brand, which was acquired for about US$5.75 billion in cash and stock in September 2009 was retired, a move that Burns argued worked amazingly well.
The deal was struck just six months after ACS forked out about US$85 million for E-Services group, which was then principally owned by Jamaican Patrick Casserly.
“When we bought ACS, we knew it was a company that had an amazing reputation but if you were not a client of ACS, nobody knew what ACS meant,” said Burns. “It did not have a global brand but Xerox is a brand that everybody knows.”
Source: Jamaica Gleaner
Famed Jamaicans like Bob Marley, Courtney Walsh, Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt have something in common, they are all legends in their own right and have set standards in their chosen field that are pretty hard to emulate.Each one of them is an epitome of talent and success that has been achieved through pursuit of excellence, years of disciplined effort and training. There may well be another star sharing the same qualities that could be added to the list – the Jamaican ICT industry. Jamaica long known for its serene beauty, tranquil beaches, great hospitality and easy going life style is making an impact in the global outsourcing market as a preferred nearshore BPO location.
The Jamaican BPO industry, which is about 15 years old, accounts for USD 145 million of the USD 2.5 billion Caribbean and LatAm market and employs over 13,000 full time workers. With considerable support from the government for the sector, the Jamaican IT-BPO industry is fast improving its regional market share while moving to its rightful position in the world. It’s no surprise that the AT Kearney GSLI Index 2011 rankings rate Jamaica higher than India in terms language skills and at par with US (Tier 2), UK and Canada along with being the second best location in terms of financial attractiveness in the Latin American region.
The immense opportunities that the BPO industry offers to the service oriented population has already led the Jamaican government to make ICT one of the three growth pillars along with Tourism and Manufacturing. The large untapped potential of the young English speaking talent pool on the island was recognized early by some of the largest of BPO companies in the world including the likes of ACS, Teleperformance and West Corporation. While these companies have been active in Jamaica for over a decade others like Convergys joined the fray in 2011 by announcing the launch of its local operation that would employ 1,000 agents by end of 2012. Many others like Hinduja Global Services (HGSL), AB Minacs, RealDecoy etc. are at various stages of setting up, operationalizing or expanding their local operations. With the presence of four of the world’s top ten BPO companies and many others committing millions of dollars in investments, the question is what’s attracting companies across the world to this idyllic land of Cricket and Reggae? The answer is rather straight forward – Jamaica has most of the desired attributes of a low cost and medium scale English nearshore location.
Jamaica’s biggest advantage versus other nearshore locations is the combination of its proximity to the US and possessing the third largest native English speaking population in the Americas after US and Canada. Sharing the same time zone as the US East Coast and being within three hours of flying time from key east coast cities makes it truly nearshore. Besides, it can also effectively serve Europe with a five to six hour time difference rather than the eight hours difference as with locations like the Philippines. The proximity ensures that clients and service providers can be in constant physical contact with reduced travel time and cost. Moreover, as Jamaica is a tourist hotspot, it is well connected with major cities across the world through direct flights.
The other key factor in Jamaica’s favour is its 1.3 million strong English speaking work-force. This includes over 7500 university graduates and 22,000 secondary and another 68,471 students enrolled in tertiary education in 8 universities *. While this may seem small when compared to many offshore locations, it is considerably larger than many of the other nearshore locations. Moreover, a larger percentage of Jamaica’s employable workforce is willing and available to work in the services sector. A thriving hospitality industry has created a strong service oriented culture which lends very well to the BPO sector. Low inflation and a downturn in the tourism industry have kept wages low and labor availability high. Interestingly, unlike other locations, even secondary school graduates in Jamaica are well suited for BPO roles as they are more adept in English language, the medium of instruction. With unemployment rate among young graduates (18-24 year olds) in excess of 25 %, labor availability remains high. Further, to bridge the employability gap, HEART Trust, a government funded program spread across the country, provides requisite training in computer skills, customer service, business administration etc. ensuring a constant flow of trained manpower. The government is also teaming up with High Schools to train over 10,000 students in BPO/ICT specific programs through a Career Advancement Program (CAP). Having a strong service based economy due to the tourism industry makes the whole eco system much more hospitable and conducive to be used as a services base.
Another positive facet of the Jamaican BPO industry is that it has a healthy mix of multinational providers, Captive centers as well as locally managed service providers. This has resulted in a deep pool of middle and senior level management talent that has aided in the growth of the local industry. Notably, Montego Bay based Global Gateway Solutions and Kingston based Fullgram Solutions have made a mark in the industry in a short span of time. The workforce is also trainable in vertical and specialized skills. Providers like ACS and Vista Print have been able to successfully go up the value chain by delivering complex Finance and Accounting as well as Tech support functions from their Montego Bay center.
However Jamaica is not without its share of issues. Primary amongst them is its perception of being a high security risk destination. The reality is that most of the BPO industry is concentrated in Montego Bay which being a tourist hub is a very safe city and in Portmore outside of Kingston which is a newer suburb with very low crime rates. Also, since the aggressive criminal crackdown in 2010, Jamaica’s violent crime rate has come down by over 40%. The other issues are related to a tight real estate market and high utility rates. Recent expansion of the Montego Bay Free Zone and construction of 3 new Technology parks will ease some of the capacity constraints. There are also concerns about the potential inflation and attrition due to the influx of new companies and high concentration of BPO centers in the Montego Bay area. However new entrants such as Convergys clearly don’t see that as an issue and feel the labor pool is deep enough to absorb the growth. Nonetheless, greater emphasis needs to be put on diversifying away from call center and voice based services towards higher value and skilled services such as Finance and Accounting BPO, Tech support and Software development.
The future of the BPO industry in Jamaica continues to remain bright. The new Tech parks are somewhat symbolic of the island’s progressive policies and changing priorities as they are replacing sugarcane plantations, which once were the main exports. Often rated as one of ‘happiest’ countries in the world, the Jamaican enthusiasm and commitment is also mirrored in higher employee efficiency and productivity. Jamaica’s penchant for warm hospitality and excellence in service is captured by Usain Bolt’s salute – ‘To Da World’. As more and more providers find their footing on this island, this might become the BPO industry’s welcome slogan.
About the Authors:
Anupam Govil is a Partner with Avasant and President of Avasense, a Sourcing Governance software company (wholly owned subsidiary of Avasant). Anupam has over 20 years of experience providing sourcing and globalization services to enterprises, service providers and private equity funds. He has advised and assisted mid to large size firms on their global expansion plans through a combination of strategic consulting, cross-border acquisitions and investment advisory roles. He has been ranked among the top nearshore experts in the world.
Rejo Sam is a Consultant with Avasant and specializes in location assessment and ICT advisory.
JACQUELINE Sutherland did not just dream. She carefully calculated each step of her journey in building what is now a lucrative contact centre enterprise in Jamaica.
Her company, Global Gateway Solutions, began operations in 2007 with five agents in a 5,000 square-foot facility in the Montego Bay Free Zone. Today, it has a staff of over 500 and occupies 30,000 square-feet of space.
“I put them on the phones right away,” recalled a jovial Sutherland about the handfull of staff she started Global Gateway with four years ago, processing early-stage debt collections for a local firm.
“We started small but we have grown significantly,” she told Sunday Finance.
The genesis of GGS came long before those early days in the bustling free zone.
Sutherland migrated from Jamaica to the US during her final year of high school at Priory in St Andrew but vowed to return to contribute to the development of her homeland.
“I visited Jamaica every year and always had a desire to come back and hopefully start a business. I guess that was the initial drive,” she said.
Sutherland went on to acquire an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from Howard University and a Master’s in Telecommunications and Information Systems management from the University of Maryland. From there she became an influential technology executive in the US, working with Fortune 500 companies in areas related to
the selection and implementation of multimillion-dollar, customer service information technology systems.
It was while at Verizon Communications as director of information technology that Sutherland realised what type of service she would offer in Jamaica.
“My initial desire was to come back and do more of the higher level technology – more into information technology consultancy – but at the time the call centre business was ripe and flourishing, plus I was with Verizon when they started to outsource to India and so I became very familiar with the outsourcing of technology and call-centre services.”
Sutherland also observed a growing demand in the US for near-shore services rather than call centres in India — the centre of the industry at the time. What’s more, call centre space was growing in the Caribbean.
“So I decided that the time was right to explore opportunities to set up a facility in Jamaica,” she says.
Jampro, the national investment and export promotion arm of the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, played an integral role in helping Sutherland execute her business plan. The agency introduced her to Internet service providers and potential clients and made her aware of Jamaica’s infrastructure offerings.
“Jampro saw the value and was wonderful in the support that they gave. I came down and met with some folks and within the first week they escorted me to Montego Bay, I looked at my facility and decided that it was the right place for me to start,” she says.
Jampro president Sancia Bennett-Templer said it was particularly interested in helping Sutherland make her investment because of the immediate ability of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector to create jobs.
“This is a key mandate of the agency, and we are happy to share in the successes achieved by Global Gateway and other ICT/BPO (business process outsourcing) entities operating in Jamaica,” Bennett-Templer said.
All of Global Gateway’s start-up costs – roughly a couple hundred thousand US dollars — were paid by Sutherland out of pocket.
She initially opted to run the business remotely from Florida — as she was by then vice president at financial services company Bankrate — but later she returned home to focus on the venture.
Fast-forward four years and Global Gateway has emerged as one of the leading providers of contact centre solutions in Jamaica. A big part of this achievement can be attributed to the resources that US investor Mark Jones brought to the company in 2010. Jones, who was exploring opportunities in the local ICT space, bought a minority stake of Global Gateway that year and became the company chairman.
Sutherland acknowledged that Jones came on board at a time when the company needed both a financial fusion as well as the business acumen to realise serious growth.
“It’s been a great marriage of skill sets,” she said of the linkage, which was also facilitated by Jampro. “He brought the financing and accounting background to the company and I had the IT background.”
The results speak for themselves. At the start of 2010, Global Gateway had 50 agents and still occupied 5,000 square-feet in the Montego Bay Free Zone. By March 2010, it was well on its way to tying up a major deal with a company that would turn out to be one of its largest clients. Based on introductions once again facilitated by Jampro, it landed two additional contracts, which significantly bolstered the company’s growth momentum.
“We just began growing arms and legs, and I think by the middle of 2010 we grew to about 250 agents and added another 5,000 square feet of office space,” said Sutherland.
Global Gateway’s impressive expansion continued throughout the year, and at the start of 2011, the company’s staff complement increased to over 500, requiring an additional 10,000 square feet of space. The company recently secured another 10,000 square feet in an adjacent building in the free zone, bringing its total space to 30,000 square feet. And it is in the process of building out the new space, while eyeing expansion into Kingston.
“We have gathered momentum and credibility, and we’re now at a size that puts us in a position to attract top-tier international clients who are looking to bring 100 to 400 jobs as an opening proposition. This business always requires a hand-in-hand awareness of client expansion so we try to match those as closely as we can,” said Jones.
“In this business, when the opportunity comes, you have to have the facilities and the space within a 60 to 90-day window, so we try to stay a little ahead of our growth in that respect so that we are able to meet the demands of our clients,” he added.
Jones and Sutherland remain as impressed and encouraged as they were in the beginning by the quality of Jamaican talent available to the ICT sector. The chairman is bullish about the large and growing English-speaking workforce, which he said has the potential to provide world-class service at all levels of the industry.
“Right now, there are about 11,000 people in the ICT industry. Some 30,000 students are graduating every year and some meaningful proportion of those students certainly have the qualifications to be in the ICT sector — certainly enough, we think, to allow this industry to grow to 50,000 or 75,000 people,” said Jones.
Sutherland noted that the Jamaica workforce lends itself to providing outsourcing service to North American companies in particular, due to the island’s cultural affinity to the US and the ability of the agents to adopt a neutral accent that is easily understood. Even in cases where the Jamaican accent is clear, customers of Global Gateway’s clients have indicated that they find it more “welcoming” than the accents of agents from other countries.
Both principals of Global Gateway also identified the island’s robust telecommunications infrastructure and the relatively low cost structure required to set up operations as key factors for investing in Jamaica’s ICT sector.
Bennett-Templer of Jampro is confident that there will be many similar success stories going forward in the ICT sector.
“We look forward to landing more exemplary ICT projects, and facilitate the expansion of an increasing number of small players in Jamaica to become outstanding success stories as well,” she said.
Source: Jamaica Observer http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Jobs-on-the-line_20101016#ixzz1awkQiys0