Ghana jumps into BPO

The West African nation of Ghana is looking to offshore business process outsourcing (BPO) to diversify the revenue stream for the country’s economy.

“Countries such as India and the Philippines have taken the lead in Business Process Outsourcing. Ghana has some advantages even if we are new to the game,” said Sam Somuah, a special assistant at Ghana’s Office of the President.

Somuah thinks Ghana’s skilled labor pool, relatively low wages, investment climate and culture will make it a competitive destination for BPO companies.

Some companies have already started locating offices in Ghana. Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc. opened an office in Ghana’s capital, Accra, in 2000 and employs over 1,300 Ghanaians. Data Management Internationale Inc., of Wilmington, Delaware, also has a facility in Accra.

To further fuel the country’s effort at placing itself on the offshore outsourcing map, Ghana’s president, John Kufuor, in September last year took a tour to Salt Lake City, Utah, to canvass for BPO companies to locate some of their operations in his country and to lobby existing BPO companies who have located in his country to expand their operations.

Global Response Ghana MG Ltd. is the outcome of that visit. While U.S. companies including OverC (a call center division of Cincom Systems Inc.) and Convergys Coorp. have paid exploratory visits to Accra, in October last year, Global Response Corp., the customer contact center and fulfillment services business based in Margate, Forida, entered into a joint venture partnership with a Ghanaian entrepreneur to start a call center in that country.

The joint venture, Global Response Ghana MG Ltd., estimates it will have about 500 agents manning BPO workstations in two years. Although the venture is in its early days, the partners in Global Response Ghana MG Ltd. are optimistic about the Ghana project. The new enterprise has taken advantage of Ghana’s anglophone population, and has recruited a substantial number of native French and Spanish speakers residing in the country, who have come from Ghana’s West African neighbors.

“We can service Canada, every part of the U.S. and France,” says Samuel Crabbe, chief executive of Global Response Ghana MG Ltd.

“We think there is a great opportunity here (in Ghana) ….(but) the challenge in Ghana is going to be technical,” says Michael Shooster, chief operating officer of Global Response Corp.

“In my understanding, labor is the driving force” for BPO in Ghana, India, and the Philippines, Shooster said, noting the relatively lower cost of labor in these countries compared to the U.S. However, he noted, “telecommunications cost is higher; something we have to roll back our sleeves on.”

Ghana authorities say they are aware of the telecommunications hurdle, and they are working hard to overcome it.

“We are going to come up with a pricing structure that will make Ghana competitive,” Somuah said.

Other entrepreneurs from companies such as Rising Data Solutions (Ghana) Ltd. discerned the opportunities that Ghana presents well before the government did.

Rising Data Solutions has been in Ghana since November 2001 and will launch its call center in April.

“India is today’s news with increasing competition for labor. Ghana is tomorrow’s news. We wanted to be there at the beginning. Be a leader not a follower,” said Sambou Makalou, CEO of Rising Data Solutions.

“Our company did a thorough analysis of locations around the world that are best-suited to deliver call center outsourcing. We found that Ghana had a compelling list of assets including a stable democracy, a well-educated English speaking population and sufficient IT infrastructure especially with the arrival of SAT-3 (satellite telecommunications system),” he said.

Setting up in Ghana has not been all rosy. “We are still struggling with extremely expensive bandwidth costs. We have also found that the labor pool is relatively limited at this point,” says Makalou.

Despite these difficulties, Makalou thinks Rising Data made a good choice.

“Ghana has been a very good place for us to work so far. We have had full cooperation from the government. The experience has been positive,” he said.

Now, Ghanaian authorities are looking beyond call centers. “We want to start with these contact centers and move up the full chain to high value IT offshore outsourcing,” Somuah said.