Cali, Colombia, with a population of about three million, is going through a renaissance in BPO/IT outsourcing. Much of this due to Colombia’s political and economic stability, but Cali itself has a long history in IT, and is aggressively promoting the sector. The country’s four most important IT companies – Carvajal Tecnologia y Servicios, Open International, Compunet and Siesa – are situated there.
A big boost came when Sitel, a global provider headquartered in Miami, decided to set up shop in Cali in 2017.
“As pioneers, Sitel practically opened the BPO market in Cali, developing the bilingual segment in the city,” says Eduardo Endo Gomes, Country Manager for Colombia. “We had great support from the government, and high commitment and acceptance from the community.”
Sitel is a big player, but it’s not alone. Cali’s municipal government estimates that there are more than 250 companies, big and small, that are focused on BPO, ITO, and KPO, and that cater to national and international markets. In 2016, the outsourcing industry in Cali employed 31,500 people, representing 9% of the national total.
“Cali’s geographic location facilitates its connectivity with important markets, in that it has the same time zone as the United States and Canada,” says Ana Milena Saavedra, Services Sector Investment Manager for the Investment Promotion Agency for the Colombian Pacific, known as Invest Pacific. “In Cali, 29% of the population – more than 757,000 people – are between the ages of 18 and 35. That’s a large potential work force.”
The city has a robust knowledge cluster in the southern metropolitan area, comprised of nine certified universities, 30 higher education institutions for associated degrees, and more than 26 bilingual schools. Hundreds of outsourcing companies are resident at the PacificShore global services cluster, which has a specific focus on BPO, ITO, and KPO. Other clusters, such as PacificTIC and Parquesoft, focus on technological innovation and the digital economy.
“In 2018 alone, Invest Pacific procured 20 projects, ten of which correspond to the establishment of new companies, and the rest correspond to reinvestments made in Cali by already established companies,” says Saavedra. “These companies are part of the Global Services Sector, and come from different countries of the world including the United States, Spain, the U.K, Nicaragua, Israel, Chile and Panama.”
That’s a pretty hot streak, and reflects Cali’s active involvement in numerous conferences and investment forums throughout 2018 and into 2019. One of the biggest pushes for the city is Zonamerica Colombia. Based on Zonamerica Uruguay, this high-end business campus is now under construction in Cali. As a free trade zone, Zoneamerica plans to become the largest business and technology hub in the region, making Cali attractive to the world’s leading global services companies.
“The project aims to attract different services companies, such as BPO, KPO, SSC, software development operations, creative industry, technical and administrative support, among others,” says Saavedra. “It’s being built on a 38-hectare site at the south of the city. Phase One entails the construction of the first two buildings – out of the 18 considered in the master plan – and the development of the first five hectares. The campus has been operative since August, 2018.”
Given that human resources are a location’s strongest asset, Cali has made major and consistent efforts to develop English language skills. One of these is the Mesa de Bilinguismo (Bilingual Committee), a project formed by the public and private sector, with support from academic institutions. Funded projects include English On Site, English Sinergy, Building Teaching, and Go Cali, an English-language program sponsored by the mayor’s office that focusses on training both teachers and students from different educational institutions in the city. Overall, over 8,000 people have benefited, with more than $4 million having been invested in bilingual programs.
For a larger company like Sitel, the access to bilingual resources has been critical. Out of its Cali site Sitel is supporting customers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Spain. These bilingual agents are serving numerous sectors, from finance, to transportation, and food and delivery.
“We have 700 seats at our center in Cali, delivering support mainly through voice, email, and chat,” says Endo Gomes from Sitel. “We’re running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and we’ve been expanding our capacity year over year, with no difficulty finding English language talent.”
The city itself has listened to demands that it make itself as efficient and livable as possible – particularly for its young population, who need access to the digital economy, as well as quick and affordable transportation to and from school and work.
In response, Cali has installed 800 kilometers of optic fiber as part of an integrated municipal network, and in 2019 it will have its first fleet of electric buses, part of the city-wide “Massive Transportation System”. This is an advanced system that provides Wi-Fi service on buses, terminals and bus stations, as well as a gondola lift that serves the hilly areas around the city. The city also has 21 miles of bicycle lanes, and has partnered with Lime for electric scooters. This emphasis on non-car transportation is critical, as young employees – the prime resource base for outsourcing providers – require access to reliable, cost-effective transportation in order to make their working lives viable.