Though the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a frenzied panic for businesses across Latin America – and the world – stakeholders in Bogotá’s outsourcing industry are brimming with optimism that the industry could come out stronger as a result.
Employing an estimated 300,000 people, the outsourcing industry in Bogota has seen impressive growth of 16 percent a year. It now amounts to five times the country’s total GDP, according to Invest in Bogotá, the city’s investment promotion agency. CEOs of the biggest outsourcing firms in the capital told Nearshore Americas that they have adapted quickly to work-at-home measures and are reassured by the government’s support. As a result, they expect that rate of growth to hold steady, or even accelerate.
“These are challenging times, and the industry will have to undergo important changes to guarantee the safety of our talent and operations,” predicted Ana Karina Quessep, president of the Colombian BPO Association. “However, because of the stability of the Colombian government’s support and access to connectivity, our companies have been receiving more campaigns, requiring more talent and ultimately generating higher income. In this sense, we are optimistic that in the long term, this crisis will end up playing in our favor.”
While some countries have forced outsourcing centers to shut down, Colombia’s government has allowed companies in Bogotá to continue operating. However, authorities have imposed new regulations – forcing bosses to reduce the number of employees and increase the spacing between them to reduce the virus’ spread.
Important to Economic Prosperity
The national government identified outsourcing as one of the 34 initial sectors which are “highly important to Colombia’s economic prosperity,” and will therefore be protected, said Luisa Fernanda Mesa, Investment Promotions Manager at Invest in Bogotá. The government is also working closely with the Colombian BPO Association to ensure it remains operational, Mesa added.
The most seamless transitions from office-based operations to working-at-home have been seen from the largest, most global companies. These organizations have adopted and built upon the practices employed in outsourcing centers in Asia, where the virus hit first.
Most companies have minimized health risks by moving as many employees as possible to remote working positions, despite the additional costs, which Invest in Bogotá estimates to be a 10-14 percent surcharge per head. However, when taking into account the devaluation of the Colombian peso, which has lost around a third of its value versus the US dollar in the past year, most will still see higher profit margins.
Security limitations have reduced the degree to which some centers can send employees home, particularly for those dealing with sensitive information such as banking. However, most have reported relative success transitioning to remote work. One notable example was Teleperformance – the company currently has 25,000 employees at home and plans to have 90 percent doing so for the foreseeable future.
“Strong IT solutions” have allowed a painstaking adjustment of “every single process,” said Andrés Bernal, CEO of Teleperformance CGP Region (Colombia, Guyana and Peru).
Now the business model has been transformed, “the ongoing challenge remains keeping the company adjusted to the new requirements that keep transforming the world between two musts: versatility and flexibility,” Bernal believes.
A Sweeping Transformation
Looking ahead, Bernal did not see the “new normal” limiting the telemarketing firm’s growth.
“We are seeing a great opportunity in the nearshore business where during the last couple of years we have demonstrated to US clients that we are able to leverage great Colombian talent with the right industry expertise and innovation that Teleperformance possesses,” the CEO added.
Teleperformance currently has a demand for 4,000 additional bilingual staff and predicts that number will double by the end of the year.
Like Bernal, many other industry stakeholders predict that measures taken in response to the pandemic will only accelerate efficiencies and innovation within Bogotá’s BPO industry, leading to a better long-term outlook.
“The BPO business is one of the industries that could benefit the most from the transformation many companies are going through with the pandemic,” said Ximena Cardenas, formerly Managing Director of Experis (ManpowerGroup), after speaking to industry leaders on the impact of the pandemic.
Beyond transformations within the industry itself, Cardenas believes a global necessity for further cost-cutting measures and a transformation away from face-to-face tasks towards live or automatic agents will drive demand for the BPO sector.
Various outsourcing operations in Bogotá report that e-commerce has also enjoyed a historic boom during the lockdown.
Outplex, the international business process outsourcing company, announced this week that it would be taking on 500 new recruits in Bogotá, which CEO, Jim Ryan, attributes to two drivers: “Demand for digital messaging to assist with brands and businesses connecting with their customers rather than phone,” and “phone support uniquely for e-commerce companies that are surging with customer orders and support.”
“Digital was growing already with messaging and bots,” Ryan said. “The virus has just accelerated that need.”
Given the current support for the industry, the current outlook is rosy. However, that outlook could change quickly if the government changes tack.
“As businesses look to reopen and companies attempt to properly social distance, a key question is how governments work with the private sector to cooperate and properly communicate,” Ryan said. “We have seen some very draconian regulations and many that affected business operations both for brick-and-mortar and perhaps even work-at-home models negatively.”
None of the businesses Nearshore spoke to believe more draconian measures will be coming soon, but both governments and businesses are walking unchartered territory.