c&ws strong

Chris Coles, chief commercial officer of business markets at international telecommunications provider Cable & Wireless Communications, tells Alex Irwin-Hunt about what drives the BPO sector in the Caribbean.

Q: What attracted Cable & Wireless [C&W] to the Caribbean?

A: As a network service by definition, we have to string up wires, put up cell sites and we are quite engaged in the local economy. As such, to support that business we set up support structures, customer service and sales activities accordingly. That is the origin of our presence in the Caribbean –  and it has served us well.

If you compare the Caribbean with other regions across the world, there is a lot to be said for the culture, energy and people that inhabit the region, many of whom are local, but also many expats or transplants coming in from Europe, North America and other parts of the globe. We are present and delighted to be there.

Q: What are the opportunities and challenges in the region?

A: Nearshore opportunities are inherently more appealing for a number of reasons, not least of which is the time zone. A lot of North American businesses can visit on a one- or two-day trip, which improves the client engagement. Most of the Caribbean is English speaking, meaning dealing with colloquialisms is a matter of routine. 

Due to the infrastructure that C&W and others have been putting into the market, you have high fibre-quality services for internet, video and extensive mobile networks. The cost of operations in the Caribbean is a lot lower than in other areas of the outsource roadmap.

In terms of challenges, the obvious ones are related to hurricanes and floods, but that is not unique to the Caribbean; many parts of the world have that exposure, including business process outsourcing [BPO] centres in India or the Philippines. There are added complexities relating to high unemployment, and sometimes governments are a bit transitory, in the sense that with a five-year term, limited leadership or administration, at the end of that time a new administration may come in and modify or [abandon] prior decisions. This is something we work closely on with the various regulatory and legislative policy bodies in the Caribbean, to look for ways to have a more sustained approach, and to infrastructure investment in particular.

Q: Are governments investing enough to support the BPO sector?

A: I think certain governments – Jamaica being a very positive example – have a competitive advantage based on geography, language skills and the work ethic of the people. Jamaica is in the process of a massive infrastructure programme to upgrade the roads, buildings and skills of people, such as job skills training, and working with people on phone processes.

Others are taking notice, and there is certainly enough business out there if the infrastructure and skills are up to task to make that happen.

I think a number of governments observe it and are acting upon it. There are [18] countries in the region, but they are not coming at it with the same pace and vigour. Those that see it as an opportunity certainly are.

Q: Any further thoughts on the Caribbean and the BPO sector?

A: I think from a global landscape, the Caribbean, while not as mature as other locations such as India and the Philippines, is punching above its weight and will continue to overachieve because of the infrastructure, the people that service customers for global firms, and its proximity to big markets. I think that there is a growing recognition that nearshore options such as the Caribbean are quite interesting to North America as well as South America. There is an ample supply of Spanish-speaking people that can address Latin America.

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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