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.
"And in Egypt, being a call center agent is not seen like being a telephone operator. It's not a dead end job, it's seen as a stepping stone to a career in the IT industry," he said.
But critics say Egypt's outsourcing "boom" won't develop into more than a boutique industry, with the much-touted multilingual and skilled human resource pool amounting to a tiny percentage of Egypt's 76 million population.
A high level of illiteracy, dire poverty and a very large rural population mean that most won't touch the benefits of a booming IT industry.
Omran said the figures speak for themselves.
"A tiny percentage of a huge population is a lot of people," he said. "We're talking millions. And IT is like blood, it gets into the veins of all industries and sectors."
He is eager to showcase his agency's pride and joy: Xceed, one of the largest contact centers in North Africa and the IT arm of the government-owned Telecom Egypt.
At the 16,000m2 space equipped with "cutting edge fault tolerant IT infrastructure," 1,200 agents offer customer and technical support to General Motors, Microsoft and Oracle among others, in eight languages including English, French, German and Hebrew.
According to Xceed, in 2005, nearly 70 percent of total outsourced Egyptian workstations were supporting local customers.
"However, by 2010 this will be nearly completely reversed with 65 percent of Egyptian outsourced workstations servicing foreign end-users," Xceed said.
ALEX AZAR: The first visit by a head of the Department of Health and Human Services would strictly observe the CECC’s special regulations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar is to lead a delegation to Taiwan — the highest-level visit by a US Cabinet official since the two sides cut formal relations in 1979. The plan was announced yesterday morning by the US Department of Health and Human Services and confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Beijing has expressed its concerns to Washington, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said later yesterday. Taiwan and the US only issued statements saying that the visit would happen “in the coming days.” MOFA said that due to security concerns, it would
‘CROSS-STRAIT CONSIDERATIONS’: Groups said that the Ministry of Education’s policies excluded Chinese and students should not be blocked over political issues The Taiwan International Student Movement yesterday said it would protest today outside the Ministry of Education in Taipei against a policy that excludes some Chinese students from returning to Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since June 17, the ministry has allowed foreign students from 19 “low risk” and “medium-low risk” countries and regions to enter Taiwan. On July 22, it announced that it was relaxing restrictions to include students from all countries and regions who are graduating this semester and on Wednesday it further expanded entry to students enrolled in degree programs. A letter sent by the ministry on Wednesday to universities did
The military last week sent “no small number” of Marine Corps officers to the Pratas Islands (Dongsha Island, 東沙群島) following reports of a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) drill targeting the islands scheduled for this month. In an interview with Hong Kong’s Bauhinia Magazine published on Saturday last week, PLA National Defense University professor Li Daguang (李大光) confirmed that the Chinese army was planning to stage a simulated invasion of the Pratas Islands in the South China Sea this month. The islands comprise three atolls, with Pratas Island, at 1.74km2, being the largest. They lie southwest of Taiwan proper in the South
‘CORRUPTION’: One DPP lawmaker and two KMT legislators were held incommunicado, while former NPP chairman Hsu Yung-ming was released on bail in the Pacific Sogo case The Taipei District Court yesterday ordered that three lawmakers be held incommunicado amid a probe into allegedly bribery relating to an ownership dispute over Pacific Sogo Department Store (太平洋崇光百貨). The three are Su Chen-ching (蘇震清) of the Democratic Progressive Party, and Chen Chao-ming (陳超明) and Sufin Siluko (廖國棟) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Also held incommunicado were Su’s office director Yu Hsueh-yang (余學洋) and Sufin’s office director Ting Fu-hua (丁復華), as well as Kuo Ke-ming (郭克銘), a political lobbyist and general manager of Knowledge International Consultancy (是知管理顧問公司). The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office on Friday raided the offices of six incumbent and former