Outsourcing as Mainstay for Micro Economies in Nigeria

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Despite the present financial crunch, Nigeria’s business space continues to evolve at a phenomenal pace with more organisations utilising and developing business practices to enhance capacity, provide solutions and drive revenue. Raheem Akingbolu reports

Over the last few years, outsourcing has become a common trend in information technology and other industries. Today, it has become a common practice as businesses outsource services that are seen as intrinsic to managing a business and serving their internal and external customers to specialised service providers, thereby allowing them to focus on their core areas of specialisation.

This desire to make the operations of a company more efficient by concentrating on core areas of service delivery is one of the main reasons that companies elect to outsource. Other notable benefits include improving quality, reducing costs, bringing innovation and increasing speed of delivery amongst others.

In addition to obviously saving on overhead and labour costs, some of the reasons companies employ outsourcing as a viable solution include improved efficiency, greater productivity and the opportunity to focus on core products and functions of the business. Furthermore, more companies are looking to outsourcing providers as innovation centers. According to Deloitte’s 2016 outsourcing survey, 35% of respondents said they are focused on measuring innovation value in their outsourcing partnership.

One of such service providers in Nigeria is one of the leaders in the information technology services -iSON Group. The company which debuted in Nigeria about five years ago seems to have carved a niche for itself in the industry by handling call center services for multinational brands without being a part of them, while providing the same expertise that can be obtained from them. Through outsourcing, iSON brings in expertise from India dissimilar from what obtains in Nigeria. Today, this industry in India contributes over USD 2.9 billion and employees about 2 million people.

Operations in Africa

In 2010, iSON spotted an opportunity in Sub-Saharan Africa and established its first operations in managed services operations through its subsidiary iSON Technologies, in 17 countries in the region. In 2011, the company started its first outsourcing centre in Kenya with 65 call centre agents. Today, iSON BPO with operations in 14 countries through its 17 call centers and iSON Technologies with operations in 25 countries in SSA have a strong & skilled workforce of 10,000 employees. So there is up skilling, probably 60/ 70 percent improvement in the growth and development of employees.

The question that readily comes to mind is; what was outsourcing like before its debut in the industry? Less than 10 years ago, the outsourcing industry was essentially unstructured and lacked professionalism. It is on record that telecom subscribers had limited avenue to address any queries or complaints prior to 2010. Average waiting time to reach a telecom service provider via telephone used to run into several hours. Also, automated escalation and response mechanisms were unavailable.

Other challenges that were common to that era, according to Mr. Sola Adepoju, an IT expert is the fact that concepts of close looping on queries and service recovery were non-existent prior to this regime. He also stated that no country regulator had formulated exhaustive customer service norms.

He said: “Until recently, exorbitant customer service costs were a deterrent to business and the concept of customer service through social media was non-existent. Besides, we used to encounter low data services consumption due to very low penetration of smartphones and low subscriber penetration due to lack of customer education, backend support for registration, on-boarding, after-sales, and complaint resolution processes,”

How the table was turned

It is believed by stakeholders that iSON BPO played a catalytic role in turning around this grim scenario completely, a situation which now makes ‘customer experience’ the new key competitive advantage for Telcos, Retail, BFSI giants in Africa. Some of the iSON- led initiatives are believed to have helped in total change of perception of Customer Experience in SSA and as a result is leading to major growth in client segments.

With this initiative and others being championed by stakeholders, customer’s accessibility to problem resolution has improved substantially. For instance, regulators in various countries have started coming out with regulation governing the customer service parameters, while key performance indicators (KPIs) including First Time Resolution and Repeat Call reduction have started getting measured.

Meanwhile skill development of Customer Service Handling staff has come under focus and there is a lot of attention being given to training and quality control as functions. The services are as easily accessible from across geographies due to its availability in all languages of the region.
Another factor that has redefined the industry is that social media engagement has become highly pro-active and the fact that penetration of smart phones has boosted the use of data services. This has also helped to grow the use of mobile money because the back office processes needed to handle these transactions have become available, leading to high rate reduction in frauds.

Feedback

Reacting to the current development, the founder and Chairman of iSON Group, Ramesh Awtaney, stated that Third Party Outsourcing Industry is getting established in the SSA region and that the company has emerged as Market Leaders.
“The region has started catching the attention of the leading outsourcing countries like USA and Europe. We have been able to get some assignments from some of the largest US companies which are being executed from African countries. iSON as an Onshoring partner in Africa, for Africa is not only dominating the market but redefining business processes and how they are offered but also improving the market, defining our niche, while offering the best of superior services to the end- customers,” he said.

Challenges

But it was not smooth sailing at first for the company, as it had to overcome initial apathy and general ignorance exhibited by people generally. In addition, there was the need to attract upskill and retain talented staff. This was a major challenge for iSON as it prides itself as being an organization that is very passionate about building capacity and driving employee engagement.

Despite these initial challenges, the company soldiered on, and today has its footprints across the country, with its call centers located in Ibadan, Ilorin and Abeokuta, with plans to further expand to selected areas across the country.

“It’s evident the massive influence outsourcing is having in our local economies across all our footprints. In Nigeria alone, we are responsible for a local workforce of almost 5,000 staff. In situating our call centers in semi urban areas, we not only encourage an employment shift but also inspire and drive strong business activities not hitherto seen in these economies.
“In turn this inspires rapid development and encourages expansion. It’s all over a positive influence in all environments,” the founder added.

For him, Information Technology is a platform to bring in the latest technology to clients in Africa through its “Partner Enablement” Program. The big blue chip IT companies like AVAYA, Oracle, Cisco, IBM, EMC , Huawei are benefitting through iSON Technologies skill sets in 25 countries in the region. iSON as a system integrator has enabled these companies to offer their world- class products to clients in the region.