CAIRO: Analysts, journalists, technology and communications professionals from around the world gathered in Cairo yesterday for the first of three days of the Offshore Customer Management International Conference.
The conference highlights key developments in the Egyptian call center industry and examines administrative, cultural and regulatory issues that affect the industry.
This is the event where all these people gather to exchange ideas around the call center arena, says Adel Danish, chairman and CEO of Xceed, an Egyptian call center whose customers includes Microsoft, Oracle, General Motors and Telecom Egypt. It is mainly the decision makers. These are the people that would go out and talk about Egypt and talk about the event and they have a multiplier effect that is extremely high.
Although Egypt has a number of the right ingredients for a thriving call center industry, such as abundant skilled graduates and low-cost telecommunications infrastructure, the sector has fallen short of its full potential to date.
This is the country that many expect will experience the fastest growth in offshore deployment in the next five years, says Gregg Magenheimer, the conference s chairman.
The research company Datamonitor forecasts the Egyptian call center industry will grow at a rate of 50 percent to 60 percent annually over the next three years.
We are growing very fast, adds Danish. We have 1,200 seats in the location that we have in the Smart Village and now we are looking for another space outside the Smart Village to be our next call center. So we will be doubling over the next couple of years.
A number of local companies, including Xceed, Raya, C3 and the Egyptian Contact Centre Operators, have set up call centers in Egypt to cater to local and international businesses.
Multinational companies such as Equant and Alcatel have also established their own call center operations to serve their customers both internationally.
Many of these centers provide technical support and therefore require university graduates as agents. Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tarek Kamel cites the large number of university graduates as Egypt s most important competitive advantage in the outsourcing business.
Egypt ranks on the top 20 worldwide in terms of the number of graduates at higher education with more than 250,000 graduates each year, says Kamel.
In addition, although call center agent positions are not always well-regarded in other countries, Kamel says that the job is positively perceived across the country and that outsourcing has created opportunities for developing countries to participate in the global economy, thus helping to create a fair and just international trade system and empowering the youth to achieve better job opportunities without leaving their own homeland.
Graeme Mair, Oracle s vice president of global product support Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Middle East and Africa, adds that while there is a concentration of engineering graduates that have been sufficient for company s needs to date, the absence of expertise in Oracle s own software has presented a challenge for the future.
One of [the] things we ve done here was to work with local universities to put in Oracle into the syllabus so that we can start having an Oracle stream of graduates coming online, says Mair.
Oracle has had agents staffed at Xceed s call center facility since last year to provide technical support to customers globally. The company is now expanding the range of services it provides from Egypt.
We ve now moved into translation services, says Mair. We have 27 languages to support and we have in the center at the moment Arabic-English and French-English translation services. That was a nice surprise for us; we weren t confident that we d find the language capabilities in Egypt but we have.
The communications infrastructure is also a critical factor for the successful call centers, because redundant facilities are necessary to provide 24 hour support and avoid downtime.
We cannot have any risk of communications going down, says Mair, adding that his company has sensitive customers such as banks that cannot afford a lapse in service. It s clear to us from the outside that Egypt has put a tremendous emphasis on developing its communications infrastructure.
The government is also trying to encourage investment in the sector in other respects.
The government has adopted an approach of providing targeted incentives for the establishment of strategic and massive employment projects, says Kamel. These incentives vary from providing low-cost infrastructure, land, utilities and communication services up to the participation into the cost of training of the Egyptian employees to the level anticipated by our international partners.
Danish says that Datamonitor s previous forecasts of the rate of growth of the Egyptian call center industry were exceeded in reality. A combination of investment and marketing, amongst other factors, will determine whether the research company s latest forecast will be met, but the conference s selection of Cairo for its annual meeting is an indication of the increasing global awareness of Egypt as an outsourcing destination.