Rogers KaleebiOn Sept. 18, the National Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Centre was launched in Kampala with the objective of helping to solve the unemployment among the youths. Rogers Kaleebi, the secretary general of the centre, spoke to Julius Businge about the opportunities it offers and the key issues in the industry.
What is this incubation centre all about?
Well, the government of Uganda in 2011 allocated funds to set up the facility as part of the government's long-term solution to addressing issues of unemployment amongst educated youths as well as increasing investment in area of Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES).
It started in 2012 with three companies. However, along the way two of the companies were not able to meet the required standards and had to leave. The space was re-advertised and two replacements got in.
Now, each of those companies offers different services from call centre services to data management, transcriptions and data entry. This centre has a capacity of 240 seats, which translates into 750 direct jobs and could go up to over 1,000 at full capacity.
You said two companies left due to failure to meet the required standards. What are those standards?
According to the contract, each of those companies was supposed to create a certain number of jobs in a particular period of time in order to stay in the incubation centre. The companies were not able to meet that standard according to requirements set by the National Information Technology Authority -Uganda (NITA-U). I won't be comfortable mentioning the name of these companies.
The Centre has been running on a pilot basis now for a year. What has been your experience been like?
The centre is going to work. The three companies that are there already have work and are looking at expanding. In the next three to four months, the centre will operate at almost full capacity. Two of the companies are into call centre services and customer care, while the other one is doing data management, transcriptions and data transfer.
What specific businesses or institutions are you targeting and how will they find their way here?
We are targeting government ministries and departments and agencies, financial institutions, insurance companies, telecom companies, companies dealing in fast-moving consumer goods, airline companies, and utility companies among others. These companies have direct marketing strategies of reaching us. Government is set to organize more workshops and meetings to expose opportunities of the sector.
How will the centre specifically impact the growth of businesses in Uganda?
The government is meeting some of the costs including rent and internet connectivity. Most of these companies have been struggling outside there because many could not afford to meet these costs. The Internet is unreliable out there.
But with this Centre, we believe companies are going to build capacity from here and then, save and be able to go out there and survive on their own. Other costs like power are shared between the public sector and private sector.
In general terms, how will the launch of this National Incubation Centre impact on Uganda's economy?
Let me put it this way. Right now the global BPO market is valued at over $1 trillion a year. What we are trying to do is to position the country as a BPO destination. We want to tap a percentage of the trillion dollars and if and when it comes in, the tax man takes a share of it thus increasing revenue collections but most importantly more young people will get gainful employment.
In your view, what are the missing links in Uganda's BPO industry?
In 2008, the government conducted a study on the BPO sector and we realized that we could not do well in the BPO industry unless we improved on the infrastructure and developed the skills. Whereas we have very good English-speaking youth, speaking good English is one thing and gaining the skills to work at a BPO Centre is another.
So what is happening is that government is developing a pool of BPO skills from well-trained agents. It is aggressively working on completing the third phase of the National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) to boost internet connectivity.
Facilities like the incubation centre - which we have just launched - are all avenues to boosting the sector. We need to know what the global market wants exactly so that we meet the required standards.
Uganda's geographical proximity with Europe, the huge youth population and growing service sector provide it with an excellent opportunity to grow its BPO market locally and internationally.
Government initiatives like this one are susceptible to mismanagement and often fail to meet the objectives for which they are formed. What assurances do you have that this will achieve positives?
The reason why some of these things fail is because there is no planning. Number two, at times those who implement them are the wrong people. The good thing with the BPO industry in Uganda is that there is a strategic partnership between the government and the private sector.
The public sector - the government - is doing it through NITA-U, which is the mandated authority for BPO, while the private sector is the BPO association. We have got a very good understanding and we meet on a monthly basis and plan before implementing anything. We are sure the Centre will do a lot to support the sector's growth.
What is the way forward now?
Plans are there to build other centres like this one. There are also plans to put in place ICT parks. This is just the beginning. In the next few years I would want to see ten or more of these Centres, where the youth can go in and do things like website designing and software development and maintenance.