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Kenyan BPOs asked to think big

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 19- Local companies that are contracted to provide third party business functions have been challenged to start offering their services to other African firms as one way of growing the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry.

Targeting African countries is part of the recommendations made in a recent survey which Kenya ICT Board Chief Executive Officer Paul Kukubo said can help the local BPO sector build a track record that can enable them to attract more overseas jobs.

“The study said that we should target friendly African countries while we are still trying to target other global companies in the United Kingdom and the USA,” he said.

Although many people believe that the BPO sector is largely driven by big deals, the CEO said local companies should also focus on small deals which can also contribute greatly to a firm’s bottom line.

Despite outsourcing being a relatively new concept, it has grown rapidly recording a six percent increase over the last three years yet the country has only managed to capture 15 percent of the market.

However, Mr Kukubo said the industry also needs to develop a niche which would in effect enable it to exploit the immense opportunities in the sector that are estimated to be worth Sh45 billion.

“Because of resource constraints, we can’t be everything to everyone and so instead of looking at all the different facets, we should look at the areas where we have some strength such as contact and calls centers and focus on those,” he said.

With a highly educated, largely English-speaking population, Kenya is seen as an attractive destination for BPO and with the operationalisation of the fibre optic cables many believe that the country is better positioned for take off as a major outsourcing hub for East Africa.

Jessica Long a Senior Manager at Accenture Development Partnerships which is the largest outsourcing firm in the world however said the country needs to focus more on skills development, infrastructure development and have a good tax and regulatory regime.

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“When it comes to labour, it’s not just about the skills, it’s also about the quality and quantity of the skills. Cost is really important and labour is one of the biggest cost factors,” she said.

Ms Long however lauded the government’s support to the industry in developing the outsourcing and the IT sector as a whole and added that coupled with Kenyans’ strong entrepreneurial spirit; these were positive attributes that country could drive the industry to its full potential.

The two spoke during the second outsourcing and shared services forum for Non Governmental Organisations and Development Partners conference. The event was hosted by a leading American IT consortium of 29 aid agencies called NetHope which currently evaluating the Kenyan business environment with the view of setting up its IT supported services centre locally.

The conference, which has helped raised the country’s profile as an ICT investment destination, provided a platform for NGOs and development partners to discuss the viability of Kenya as an emerging outsourcing destination that could stimulate local economic development and create jobs.

Participants heard that the global industry had shown resilience despite the economic downturn and forecasted that outlook was positive. This presented an opportunity for companies, the NGO sector to outsource more of their functions in order to reduce their operation costs and improve their efficiency and service delivery.

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