Nearshore Americas

In New York City Pitch, Argentina IT Elite Asks Observers to Look Past “Baffling Economy”

Can an animated film about foosball players that come to life also tell the story of Argentina’s tech services industry?

At a promotional event recently in New York City to boost Argentina as a provider of high-end services to other parts of the world, they showed a clip from Metegol, a feature-length cartoon produced by Telefe Argentina using local animators in Buenos Aires. It was the largest animated film yet made in Latin America and did very well at the box office. Universal Pictures picked up its distribution rights in the region and in Spain, while other distributors bought it elsewhere.

Watch the trailer and you’ll see the quality. Visually speaking, only someone like Comic Book Guy could tell it apart from a Pixar or DreamWorks movie.

Like animated hits Toy Story or Frozen, Metegol tackles familiar themes of overcoming obstacles and learning to work together and never giving up. The movie has a lot going for it. It was directed by Juan José Campanella, who had earlier won an Academy Award for best foreign language film. It looks great; clearly the local animation talent is top-notch. The Metegol team operated as a lean machine, light on executives and layers. They hired less expensive local computer artists and paired them with more experienced mentors. If you’ve talked to software development companies in Argentina, this approach will sound familiar.

Value for Money

But one thing that sets Metegol apart from Hollywood computer-animation blockbusters is that it was produced for about US$22 million. A comparable project would cost three to four times more if done by a Hollywood studio, according to one estimate, and huge hits like Cars can run to $100 million.

So, here we have a world-class movie that has done well with a limited audience. Far from Animation Valley, a talented team completes a complex project on a budget that’s lower than a “top-tier” studio would spend. But, as The New Yorker asked in a great piece, can this nearshore underdog compete with Hollywood?

The parallels with some of Argentina’s tech services providers are probably clear. At last week’s event, sponsored by Argencon — a group of companies that wants Argentina to export more knowledge-based services to global clients — Metegol was held up as an example of local skills. Executives from HP and IBM and other firms also praised the local talent (“No mañana attitude!”) while talking up the services they deliver from Argentina, including airline reservations systems and engineering solutions for the mining industry. They want to sell more of these services to businesses outside Argentina and the region.

So do homegrown tech innovators like Globant. Globant started reaching out to global clients not long after starting up in 2003, and they now count Coca-Cola, Cisco, Google, and JWT among them. The software developer has 25 tech centers in Latin America and around the world, including in Boston, San Francisco, Austin and London. Earlier this year it became the first Latin American software company to launch an IPO on the NYSE.

Tough Times

If you follow the Latin America tech business, you will know that Argentina has a solid reputation for IT, BPO, and media services, a certain luster, even. Big players continue to set up tech hubs in Argentina.

But it’s been a rough year for Argentina. Its baffling economy has suffered setbacks like default and high inflation and temper tantrums. And if you really want something to cry about, there was that disaster in Rio.

So, you can’t blame Argentines if they want to think about the future instead. The NYC promotional event was called “The Future of Argentina.” At the beginning of the panel discussion, Argencon President Roberto Alvarez Roldan, a former Accenture exec, announced, “we will not talk about inflation.”

Can you blame him? But if the government doesn’t get it together, a big gloomy cloud of financial uncertainty could keep some global companies from investing in Argentina. No one at the promotional event was going to bash the government in Buenos Aires, but one economist there did refer to a need for “institutional and policy changes.” That’s one way of putting it.

If Argentina wants to increase knowledge-based exports and grow its tech service opportunities, then it will have to produce not just more tech workers, but high-level tech workers who can speak multiple languages. The country gets a new president next year. Boosting tech and knowledge-based exports probably won’t be near the top of the to-do list, but getting the economy something like stable can’t hurt. If little metal football players from a foosball table can come to life, maybe politicians and business can work together to clear the way for innovators. Argentina has certainly had grimmer things to deal with.

Dennis Barker

1 comment

  • First, there wasn’t “disaster” in Rio. Starting as an underdog, considered like that even for most of his fans and press, Argentina’s team reached the final match, getting a surprise second place after 24 years of not reaching the finals of the World Cup. The real disaster was the 7-1 match between Germany and the local team, Brazil.

    Moreover, I don’t know why you mention the need of more “high-level tech workers who can speak multiple languages” and include a link to an article about lack of proficiency in English in the US. You should know that Argentina already has the highest index of proficiency in English of Latin America (http://goo.gl/XD7Nmc).

    With respect to your opinion that “boosting tech and knowledge-based exports probably won’t be near the top of the to-do list” (in the upcoming Presidential elections), maybe you should reconsider that since the current administration created the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation in 2007 and since then this ministry is busy creating opportunities for exporting knowledge-based technology (you could check the Ministry’s website http://www.mincyt.gob.ar), even with some specific funds for the software sector (http://www.mincyt.gob.ar/agenda/apertura-de-credito-exporta-10193). The websites are in Spanish, but.. hey! you said that we should be proficient in several languages, didn’t you?

    “Yes,” you can say, “but since there is no reelection allowed, the current administration is going to left the power next year”. Well, latest surveys said that the President has an approval rate of 49% (after 11 years of her party in the government!) So, maybe the “change” that they guys visiting NY are expecting is not going to happen and the same party will retain the government. In that case, the new President will continue applying the main policies of this party, and that does include the support for creation and export of knowledge-based goods and services.
    Just get your facts right. Just that.