Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Offshoring and mainland Europe

I have to admit that most of my discussion of offshoring has been around the UK and Ireland experience, in posts such as: "Offshore - why I would go for South Africa over India".

Today I saw some research in TelecomPaper, "Spanish call centre staff numbers to fall 4% in 2007" that looked at the impact offshoring to Latin America was having on the Spanish market. This might seem a startling percentage drop for a single year, but there's some good insight on this at TMCnet giving figures from ACE, the Spanish call centre trade association. Part of the reason for the percentage shift is that compared to the UK or Ireland there are not that many call centres in Spain. In 2006, the number of call centers outside of Spain serving the Spanish market rose from 9 to 20, but more than 225 call centers remained in Spain. As TMC comments, and the UK's experience confirms, Latin America might win business initially on price and cost of labour, but they will have to meet quality expectations if they want to keep that business.

Of course, like India for UK companies, the physical distance between Spain and Latin America creates management difficulties. These aren't technology difficulties (an IP network can let you route calls anywhere in the world) but rather relate to the challenge of flying managers out and keeping expats overseas to manage the offshore operations. Interestingly, here the French have a distinct advantage. With much of North Africa having some French, many French companies have located in Morocco. This has the huge advantage of only being a few hours flight from France and in the same timezone. As long ago as 2005, Africa Investor had identified Morocco has having 55 French call centres with 6,500 employees. Today, numbers are harder to come by, but with major companies like France Telecom and SNCF having Moroccan operations and a dedicated annual trade show (SICCAM), the local industry looks fairly robust.

In other parts of Europe language will probably prevent widespread offshoring for voice (even in eastern Europe, German is not that widely spoken, for example), but I think e-mail may be another story. Without the need for a high standard of both accent and fluency, the non-time sensitive aspect of e-mail may lend itself to offshore management, but that is probably another post.

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