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Mon, Aug 06, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Egypt seeks Indian help to develop IT

CALLING NEW DEHLI Cairo sent a delegation to India to convince companies there to sub-outsource contracts. It also hopes to learn to avoid problems facing Indian firms

AFP , CAIRO

Egypt has set its sights on grabbing a share of the multi billion dollar Indian-dominated call center market and is looking to an unexpected corner for a helping hand -- India.

As it makes its pitch to the world, touting a multilingual workforce over India's English-speakers, a time zone shared with Europe and proximity to the US, Egypt is marketing its edge over India to India itself.

The government has sent a high-level delegation to India to convince the IT behemoth to sub-outsource its outsourcing to Egypt.

Several cooperation agreements and memoranda of understanding were signed between the two countries, and Indian giants such as Wipro and Satyam have also signed agreements to set up support centers in Egypt.

According to the Yankee Group, a US-based technology research and consulting firm in IT outsourcing, Egypt is 15 to 20 years behind India, which has boomed to dominate 60 percent of the overall offshore market.

But the south Asian giant struggles to maintain an adequate supply of skilled workers, and handing some of the pie to Egypt could be mutually beneficial, Egypt says.

The Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) was set up by the government of technocrat Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif in 2004 to guide Egypt's burgeoning IT industry and propel it onto the world stage.

The government hopes to entice major IT players to set up their call centers, accounting and payroll management -- known as business process outsourcing (BPO) -- in Egypt, pumping resources into an industry it hopes will elevate the national economy.

"This sector will lead to a renaissance in Egypt," ITIDA CEO Mohamed Omran said.

So will Egypt become the new India?

"Absolutely not," Omran said. "We cannot compete with India, we don't want to compete with India, we want to cooperate with India."

"It's what makes the most sense," said Mai Farouk, an independent IT analyst researching Egypt's outsourcing industry.

"It would help the industry grow and elevate its standard," said Farouk, but she fears that the lack of a formal analysis of Egypt's IT experience so far could send the country down the wrong path.

"There has been no thorough analysis of the Egyptian experience," she said. "In Egypt, if a type of business is successful, everyone jumps into it. It is an individual and business trend here.

"We need to study and learn from other's mistakes," she said.

One problem facing India is the country's poorly planned roads making it difficult for staff to reach some of the outsourcing centers, something Egypt has picked up on.

Far from the clutter of Cairo, the government has allocated a vast expanse of desert to the highly marketed "Smart Village," a gated compound built with state-of-the-art technological services.

The lush techno park already houses Microsoft, Vodafone, Ericsson and Alcatel, among others.

At the high-tech Vodafone Egypt offices, employees have already tasted some of that renaissance -- they have access to their own restaurant, cafe and gym.

Sherif Bakir, head of retail at Vodafone Egypt, says the Smart Village has been very enticing for investors as well as new recruits.

"Young graduates in Egypt are attracted by so many factors in the IT industry: the prospects of a career, the salaries [four times that of an average starting salary] and the opportunity to work somewhere like Smart Village with all its benefits," he said.

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