Outsourced Call Centers: Virtual Diplomats in the Middle East?
U.S. firms looking to move their contact centers offshore should consider the Middle East, a relatively untapped market that may improve Middle East perceptions of American business, according to a new IDC study.
The study, "The Northern Ireland-Middle East Connection: Smart Contact Centers as 'Virtual Diplomats' in a New Vision for the Future," cites the benefits of previous alliances between the United States and tumultuous regions. In particular the study looks at economic alliances between U.S. companies and Northern Ireland in the last decade as models for economic success in the Middle East.
"While progress toward peace seems to be gaining traction in the Middle East, and the U.S. is engaged in renewed diplomatic efforts with Europe, U.S. firms establishing smart contact centers in the Middle East as part of a future global outsourcing strategy will benefit in myriad and unique ways," said Stephen Loynd, senior analyst in services research at IDC. "Not only will companies gain access to a growing and relatively untapped market, but the economic development benefits could help forge connections with regional governments and populations, thereby improving Middle Eastern perceptions of the U.S. at an essential time. The result could well be that contact centers mature into ambassadors for change, or 'virtual diplomats' of the future."
The report focuses on one particular model of call center outsourcing that is being leveraged to fuel enthusiasm and momentum for such a strategy. Over the course of 1990s, Boston software entrepreneur John Cullinane championed a strategy of call center outsourcing to conflict-plagued Northern Ireland with great success. Recently, Cullinane established the Northern Ireland-Middle East Connection, a group of business and political leaders that is leveraging the lessons of the Northern Ireland experience and applying them to the Middle East. "Call centers positively influenced the Northern Ireland drama," Loynd says. "It appears more and more political and business leaders are eager to lend similar U.S. influence to the Middle East, hoping to help change the negative narrative that has dominated the news coming out of that region in recent years."
Several groups have emerged in the pursuit to extend contact centers to the Middle East, including the Aspen Institute's Middle East Strategy Group (MESG), which has incorporated the notion of economic success and alliance in the Middle East within its primary goal for a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Select vendors and companies are already starting to take advantage of the Northern Ireland/Middle East connection. HCL Technologies, one of India's largest software and product engineering companies, established their Apollo Contact Center in Belfast. The contact center has increased its manpower base from 350 to more than 1,600, and is now one of the top-10 private sector employers in Northern Ireland. Moreover, in October 2004 Computer Associates (CA) announced the launch of direct operations in the Arab region. The company established its regional headquarters in Dubai Internet City in the United Arab Emirates and established a contact center in Beirut, Lebanon to allow customers using the CA IT management solutions throughout the region to directly contact the company.
"The contact center concept is relatively new across the Middle East," Loynd says. "While the dominant theme in today's Middle East appears to be that of conflict, another story is quietly unfolding, a leitmotif that is gaining momentum amid what has become a complex, often perplexing, global cacophony of struggle, commerce, and technological progress. Still, for many the question remains whether outsourcing is a viable option amidst such a vexing environment. But a model does exist that suggests a bright future for just such a concept."
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