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Blinded by Bias or Just Not Willing to Learn?

The nations of the Nearshore – most of them anyway – have an image problem.

Whether it’s the latest Netflix series taking national traumas and turning them into ‘Narcotainment’, a border crisis where migrants are commonly mislabeled as criminals, or suggesting the current troubles in Nicaragua and Venezuela are representative of a region in chaos – these are some of the popular ‘go-tos’ when North America attempts to get a handle on the rest of the Americas.

Does this pattern prevent the Nearshore market from reaching its real potential? Of course. Knowing the Nearshore, really understanding the dynamics of the region and grasping the undercurrents and pressures of individual nations, has never been a pre-requisite to conducting business there.

Plenty of customers come and go with ease in the region, seeing just a sliver of ‘real-life’. This doesn’t make the customer some kind of cross-border genius. It just demonstrates that Nearshore service delivery is, in a vast number of cases, a no-brainer.

The model is rock-solid and often high-performing: products and services are delivered fluidly, providers and their staffs have adapted well to the fast-pace demands of US work culture and familiar employee traits like loyalty, commitment and hard-work are often identified as enablers of long-term success.

Shocking Contradiction

So why does the Nearshore region still have an ‘image problem’ when so many satisfied customers continue to talk glowingly of their experiences?

The answer to this question is complex. Variables that are at play include budget for IT and customer experience, the pace of the company’s growth, past or current experiences in offshore, the competitive dynamics within the customer’s market, availability of local talent, lack of competence in new technologies, and geographic location of operations.

But the biggest factor of course is the appetite of senior leadership to engage.

Take for example Colombia. Those of us inside the Nearshore market are well aware that Colombia has built up a remarkable reputation over the last ten years, primarily in BPO, but its IT/ software story has evolved nicely too.

Nonetheless, we still routinely run into North American professionals in ‘sourcing/ procurement and IT services’ roles that are flat-out dumbstruck to learn Colombia has become one of the Nearshore’s greatest success stories.

The refrain often contains two-parts: “No we didn’t know about Colombia’s outsourcing capabilities, (a) and it is because of our inflexible, close-minded internal culture that is going to prevent any further evaluation (b)”.

Trust the Military Guys

Saying it is a ‘decision’ to forego considering a specific country is not really what happens. More accurately the company’s leaders are randomly applying personal bias and dismissing locations based off flimsy justifications.

Popular ‘barriers’ to examining specific countries include these common arguments:

  • Our security department is not allowing us into ‘x’ country, and they know their stuff, they were in the military.
  • We don’t want to look at that country – they won’t have enough of the people we need.
  • I know virtually nothing about that country and for that “reason” – we’re out.
  • The skills and/ or work-ethic is lacking in that country – we’re crossing it off the list.
  • I am willing to pay more to be a country that appears to be safer. (Aka, Americans frequently vacation there).
  • That country’s wages are too low – and we are not looking for the lowest-cost option.

To be clear, these statements are often code for, ‘we’re not going there’ no matter what the facts might say. Lacking sound data and failing to commit to a site visit means the destination is doomed and constructing the shortlist just got a little easier.

This is not only unfair, it is also not in keeping with what one might assume is a fundamental responsibility among for those driving strategically critical geographic analyses.

Have an open mind

It’s dangerous to generalize too much when trying to parse the rational from the irrational.

We have seen plenty of US companies go about their business with dispassionate rigor, asking deep questions and spending appropriate amounts of time digging into the facts. Very often, however, bias is lurking in the evaluation, leading often to ‘safer choice’ destinations getting the nod.

I would argue that the vast majority of us possess some level of prejudice about cities and countries around the world – no matter who we are. When I was invited to Pakistan earlier this year as part of a tour showcasing a BPO vendor’s success there, my mind immediately went toward fear-based matters like war, terrorism, political instability, and risks to personal safety.

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The individual inviting me then proceeded to provide a detailed overview which slowly made the country a lot more enticing – the numbers of college graduates in ICT dwarfs nearly all Latin American countries; its modern, gleaming cities are not what people expect; the warmth of the people is something to behold – and on and on.

In the following weeks I committed to keeping an open mind – and gathered more inputs: Pakistan is clearly worthy of a visit for those with a globe-trotter’s mindset, if not for business – then for leisure – check out this rave review.

Admitting we carry biases is only half the challenge, and that’s the part that is manageable. What is far more alarming (and prevalent) is the practice of simply denying reality, sticking your head in sand and building company strategies entirely on perception and not cold, hard fact.

Kirk Laughlin

Kirk Laughlin is an award-winning editor and subject expert in information technology and offshore BPO/ contact center strategies.


  • Solid article! I could not agree more. An entire series could be written country by country as biases and stereotypes vary based on nearshore location-mainstream media- historical and current events etc… also arguably, under currents of racism and superiority (albiet in some cases just ever so slightly), still influence decision making as well.

  • Kirk, The funny thing in all cases is that what you get from News ( paper, digital, tv or any other species) is always the same terrorism, robbery, sexual attacks, and I can keep on going. However, lots of Latin American people ( me included) serve and attend with excellent skills and results North American and European people & companies.

    If people like you and many other that have had the opportunity of seeing and believing keep on reporting, informing and valuing what LATAM has, everything will be different.

    Keep on informing !!