Scrutinise the BPO scholarship programs

September 4, 2008
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, NAIROBI, September 1 – Kenya’s Business Process Outsourcing industry is headed for a major competitive boost after last month’s launch of the “LiveBean Scholarship Program” valued at US$ 300,000 (Sh20 million).

The scholarship is sponsored by LiveBean Consulting, one of India’s outsourcing firms and is expected to benefit the BPO and Contact Center Professionals in Kenya and demonstrate that the country is ready to take up its place as a leading destination of outsourcing business.

“The scholarship program will be rolled out in phases, and will provide skills in operations management, people management, customer relationship management and strategic business essentials,” said Mahesh Punia, CEO of LiveBean Consulting, who launched the program on August 22nd.

The training will be offered in conjunction with “The Call Center School,” based in Tennessee, USA and is expected to attract several applicants from the BPO sector. The scholarship will be administered by the Kenya BPO Society, while the Kenya ICT Board is also expected to play a major role.

The scholarship may be a good idea, but the BPO Society and the ICT Board need to scrutinise the source of the funds and whether there are any strings attached. They need to read the fine print and establish whether the scholarship ties any of the society members or scholars in any way.

While LiveBean is said to be a leading company with a track record of revamping customer service functions for leading organisations and setting up highly successful customer contact centers in India, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Europe, it may be important to tread carefully on the training credentials.

In a brief to members, James Ochola an Executive Officer at the BPO Society said that LiveBean team had experience in business combinations comprising of mergers/acquisitions and strategic alliances for specific units like contact centers.

From their website, LiveBean officials look very experienced but their training credentials do not say much about success of trained BPO professionals. LiveBean Consulting & Training Private Limited was founded in July 2007 to operate in Consulting, Training, and Customer Experience Research & Management.

With such a young company, Kenya may be used as a starting ground meaning that the BPO professionals may not get high quality training compared to that offered by established companies such as Call Center Industry Advisory Council (CIAC).

There is nothing wrong with a new company setting up a training base in Kenya with the view to expanding its market but the sector will win the international legitimacy battle by also engaging the more established trainers.

While the course will cover basics in finance, contract negotiations and management, customer relationship and outsourcing it will also describe the process of managing the relationship between client and service provider.

There is no doubt about the experience of the training team and the Kenyan officers from various BPO companies will gain skills such as practicing the recommended techniques for transferring callers or putting them on hold, and recognize best practices when relying upon voice mail communications.

Lack of training is just one of the challenges facing the BPO sector; lack of project planning and management is a huge challenge for the sector. Most people were inspired to start or pump more money because of the promised bandwidth subsidy from the World Bank.

The subsidy, to be administered by the ICT Board is yet to be implemented, leading to many BPO firms to close shop.

“I have learnt that many people doing business today should not have started in the first place, many need to take a step back and reflect on the fundamentals such as business plans and contingency plans; if the bandwidth subsidy does not come, what do we do?,” poses Paul Kukubo, CEO of the Kenya ICT Board.

If the challenges are addressed, Kenya hopes to catch up with top outsourcing destinations such as South Africa and Egypt.

South Africa leads Africa’s BPO sector; performing call center services and all types of back office operations, while Egypt is second with significant outsourcing work. This is according to Peter Ryan, a call center analyst for Datamonitor, which provides a barometer for BPO activity on the African continent.

South Africa and Egypt have used a four-pronged approach to attract BPO companies: tax breaks; competitive telecommunications rates; training funds; and marketing aid. For instance, telecom rates are as low as Sh3.50 per minute to Western Europe and North America. International bandwidth of 2 Megabits per second circuits costs Sh254, 000 ($3,800) per month while in Kenya the same bandwidth is charged Sh670, 000 (US$ 10,000).

Faced with these statistics, Mauritius is aggressively pursuing its vision of making the island a major BPO destination on the continent. It presently has 23 operators in its Ebène Cyber Tower with a second tower under construction.

Other countries in the Southern Africa region, like Botswana, are making a huge push to attract investment in the BPO sector, offering solid packages. Botswana, for example, offers a guaranteed corporate tax of 15 percent until June 2020.

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