Software development may join cigars as Cuban export

At Gartner Inc.’s Outsourcing Summit in Dallas this week, the world looked flat. At least, that was the sense on the trade show floor, where representatives from countries such as China, South Africa, Brazil, the Czech Republic and — of course — India set up shop in booths limited to certain sizes and styles, resulting in a homogenous and oddly democratic display.

And there are many other nations that may be represented at future conferences, if they can successfully develop offshore outsourcing industries.

Gartner estimates that about 60 countries are involved in some stage of offshore IT development. The consulting firm divides them into several categories: the market leaders, such as India, Argentina and Russia; active participants, which include nations such as Vietnam, Egypt and Chile; and countries that are just taking preliminary steps to develop offshoring capabilities.

Among the new countries added to Gartner’s list of potential offshore providers this year are Algeria, Bahrain, Kenya, Madagascar, Malta, Moldova, Saudi Arabia and Uganda. It’s a fluid list — countries removed for a lack of progress include El Salvador, South Korea, Panama, Peru, Taiwan and Puerto Rico.

A survivor on the list of potential participants is Cuba. Gartner analyst Frances Karamouzis said the listed countries will likely have only a niche role in the outsourcing market, but even that could have a big impact on their own economies. She added that Cuba, which has a population of about 11 million people, is “an interesting prospect” because of its educational programs in math and computer science.

Eric Driggs, a research associate at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said in a telephone interview that Cuba offers an educated population and university-level IT training. It also has youth centers that provide training in basic computing skills. “You are definitely seeing a buildup of human capital to make [offshore services] possible,” he said.

But Cuba’s government restricts Internet access and sees IT as a threat to its security, according to Driggs. The Castro regime isn’t showing any signs of loosening its controls on access: Ramiro Valdes, who was appointed last year as Cuba’s IT and communications minister, is a longtime government official and former security chief. His appointment “is probably a good indicator that they are not messing around when it comes to the Internet,” said Driggs.

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