” Africa Must Not Fall Into The Trap Of Trying To Copy India’s High-Volume, Low-Cost Call Centre Model ” – Sean Moroney, Chairman AITEC Africa

With the landing of two undersea cables in East Africa in 2009, the region will have the international broadband capacity at competitive prices to enter the world outsourcing market as a serious player. Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda each have developed national BPO, KPO and/or ITO strategies and are at different stages of implementing them.

AITEC Africa aims to fill this gap, by providing a stimulating and informative platform for the region’s emerging BPO enterprises to gain the knowledge, business contacts, learning from international best practice in outsourcing by organizing special industry specific conferences and summits.

The fourth annual East African Outsourcing & Contact Centre Conference is one such step in that direction. BPOVoice talked to Mr. Sean Moroney, Chairman AITEC Africa on various important topics relevant to the African BPO industry. Below are the excerpts :

Africa is being looked upon as the next exciting destination for outsourcing. What are your thoughts on the same?

This increased profile is of course welcome, but the key to sustained growth will be in the delivery of high-quality services. Africa must not fall into the trap of trying to copy India’s high-volume, low-cost call centre model. Although contact centres will always play a role, Africa needs to utilise its huge volume of wasted human capital and expertise by developing specialised BPO services. Services that come to mind are online technical support and software development.

Tell us something about the conference you organised in Nairobi on Outsourcing & Shared Services for NGOs & Development Agencies.

This was a great success in terms of bringing together outsourcing service providers and representatives of Africa’s huge NGO and development agency sector to get them to think about how they can focus more of their energies and resources on their core activities by outsourcing non-core activities, and thereby help the growth of Africa’s outsourcing enterprises.

The world is looking at Africa, however the big question is – Is Africa ready? What are the current challenges or shortcomings that they need to look into, in view of their history of corruption, ethnic violence and other social issues?

There are always problems to overcome, but African enterprises have decades of experience in overcoming the hurdles created by their governments in terms of corruption, lack of infrastructure and lack of investment in education. The Kenyan government, despite its weaknesses, has created the right environment for the BPO sector to take off, particularly through investing in an undersea-fibre cable with together with the other cables landing in East Africa will result in competitively priced international bandwidth. However, in Nigeria, which should be the powerhouse of Africa, the lack of electrical power drives up costs as all enterprises have to spend huge amounts on diesel for their own generators. Further than that, Nigeria has an appalling service culture, partly inherited from its history of military regimes, partly from an arrogance derived from its oil wealth, where its enterprises feel they do not have to deliver service to earn and retain customer support. For example, Nigeria has made very little effort to develop a tourism industry. In contrast, Kenya has a thriving tourism industry, which is highly service-oriented – and this feeds well into another service industry like outsourcing.

What is AITEC’s role in promoting Africa as outsourcing service provider destination?

We have organised outsourcing and contact centre conferences and training courses in East and West Africa since 2006, bringing a range of international experts to the region to share their knowledge and experiences with Africa’s emerging outsourcing enterprises.

In the MOZAMBIQUE ICT CONVENTION 2008, you challenged operators to share infrastructures. Certainly it’s an important (however not an easy) step. How encouraging has been the response?

Not very encouraging. In Mozambique Government tends to dominate the economy and has not yet taken the lead in this regard. The current elections (October 2009) have distracted it from strategic issues like this. In Nigeria, in contrast, where private enterprise has learnt that it has to take its own initiatives to progress; there are now shared service telecommunication companies that are providing infrastructure and services to a range of operators.

You have been advocating a tectonic business shift i.e. from crude capitalism to creative capitalism. Do people ever mistake you as a socialist?

I would be proud to be mistaken as a socialist but I think that unfortunately most people have forgotten that socialism ever existed. However, I’d much prefer to be identified as a humanist, and based on that I see that capitalism is the dominant economic system, that it has failed dismally to deliver happiness – even for the rich – and that we have to improve it dramatically. Millions of people remain hungry – in India alone which is supposed to represent a capitalist miracle. I call that a capitalist disaster. We have to use our intelligence to make this a better world by radically reforming the capitalist system to make it work for the majority of people rather than against them. Obama is the slight glimmer of hope at the end of the long, dark tunnel of human deprivation, destruction and violence that we currently face.

How has been the response to your much valid suggestions of forming ICT Suppliers Association, and National ICT Society?

That was specifically for Mozambique, where I believe the market has matured to a level where an ICT industry body can play a vital role in lobbying and advising government and represent the interests of the local ICT industry and users. We invited Adrian Schofield, the current President of the Computer Society of South Africa, to travel to Maputo to share the extensive experience he has of ICT industry bodies in SA. There was a surprising level of negativity regarding an idea that is a no-brainer in other African countries. But I think we planted some seeds and a couple of champions are on the ground that will eventually make it happen.

I read somewhere on the internet “That you were the editor of Wits Student, a fiercely anti-apartheid publication” How did the fiery revolutionary transform into a visionary entrepreneur?

I think I’m even more revolutionary now. At university I had no idea what a mess the world really was in. But like all of us, I have to focus on making a living and so idealism gets mostly neglected. One day perhaps………

Overall, what do you think about the Future of outsourcing?

It will always grow and evolve. Hopefully it can become a real force to spread economic wealth more evenly – and through the roll-out of widespread broadband there will be more home working and cottage industries in towns and rural areas involving more women, disabled and unemployed young people.

About Sean Moroney

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sean Moroney entered publishing as a student journalist and became editor of Wits Student, a fiercely anti-apartheid publication.

He was prosecuted in a test case as part of the government’s clamp-down on the opposition press in 1974 and eventually won his case in the Supreme Court.

Following completion of a BA Honours degree in African Government at the University of the Witwatersrand, he first worked as Media Officer for the National Union of SA Students where he pioneered the launch of the National Student newspaper. He then worked as a research assistant at the South African Institute of Race Relations for two years where he wrote numerous reports on population resettlement, detentions, security cases and press censorship. He was awarded an Oppenheimer Scholarship to study Development Economics at Oxford (1977-78).

He was appointed Executive Editor of the Africa Contemporary Record in London, a position he held for four years. He then became editor of African Business magazine, based in London, and after two years was promoted to the position of Assistant Publisher for the IC Publications Group, responsible for New African, Middle East and African Business magazines.

In 1987 he formed his own company and launched Market South East, a business newsletter covering Eastern and Southern Africa. This was followed by Computers in Africa magazine, and the launch of the AITEC. He is secretary of the African IT Education Trust which he initiated in 1999.

He is married with three children.