Business process outsourcing (BPO) operators in the Caribbean are preparing for growth, while some are already in expansion mode, industry insiders revealed to Nearshore Americas. The outlook is positive for the global services industry in established destinations such as Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Bahamas and St. Lucia.
In Trinidad and Tobago, investors have put off plans to set up new operations until 2021, according to Sekou Alleyne, Vice President of Investments at InvesTT. But that is no great surprise given the eastern Caribbean island arrived late to the BPO table, after years of focusing on oil and gas. The country has only one international and one regional BPO operator, but is hoping to increase employment in this area in the future.
Michael P. Gay, Invest Puerto Rico’s Chief Business Development Officer, told Nearshore Americas that CommSense, a call center based in the north-western town of Aguadilla, had increased its workforce to 825 people this year, up from just 22 workers five years ago. This growth required a US$250,000 investment.
Gay pointed to Varmed Management – a healthcare solution for managed care organizations (MCOs), insurance companies, hospitals and call centers – as an example of a company which has seen increased demand from clients. Last month, the company revamped its portfolio of services to address the increased local need for integrated medical services.
“The performance of companies such as CommSense and Varmed Management, as well as that of Medical Billing Services of Puerto Rico, is indicative of an increase in business activity,” Gay said. “That can be attributed to operational factors such as higher demand for services from current clients as well as the acquisition of new clients.”
In June, Medical Billing announced the expansion of BPO services to other companies that are seeking an alternative to offshoring in India or the Philippines.
The company is now offering its services to the marketplace for data and charge entry, cash applications and accounts receivable follow-up functions. Further plans to expand to call center and patient monitoring operations will be announced later this year, the company said.
Medical Billing Surges in Puerto Rico
Gay said the Covid-19 virus continues to seriously impact life in Puerto Rico, which recently reported a sudden spike in cases. However, he also said the BPO sector in Puerto Rico is seeing demand rise in multiple sectors, most notably in the areas of healthcare communications and technology, call centers, insurance and banking.
“Puerto Rico continues to strengthen its position as a business and investment enabler,” Gay said, adding that the island was leveraging its advantages, such as its highly educated workforce, strong infrastructure, socio-political stability, as well as tax credits and incentives.
This has led companies such as Medical Billing Services to increase their footprint on the island, Gay said.
Telecommunications services provider Centerfield said that adhering to government regulations in Jamaica had allowed it to grow, despite the pandemic. “As soon as [Covid-19] reached Jamaica, Centerfield took a number of proactive steps under the guidance of the Ministry of Health and the BPIAJ to ensure the safety and health of our employees,” said Brad Green, EVP Finance for the BPO provider. “These proactive steps have allowed Centerfield’s operations to remain active as the pandemic continues.”
The company primarily serves the telecommunications sector in the United States, which has been deemed an essential service and has experienced high demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.
To balance the growth of business as well as the safety of employees, the company has doubled its office space in both Kingston and Montego Bay. That has allowed the company to adhere to strict social distancing measures.
“Centerfield anticipates continuing to make investments in the local Jamaican economy and support our workforce during these unprecedented times,” Green said.
Itelbpo Makes the Most of Saint Lucia Entry
Yoni Epstein, Chairman and CEO of Itelbpo Solutions, said his BPO provider was in high demand – even in the early days of the pandemic. The company opened a new contact center in Saint Lucia in June 2020, adding to its existing facilities in the Bahamas and Jamaica.
The company’s geographical diversification has added to its appeal for clients.
“What we are seeing is that existing clients are really growing with us and seeking to spread across all of our geographies,” Epstein added.
“I am seeing growth opportunities in Jamaica and Saint Lucia in particular at this time. I really think that we have an opportunity… to see exponential growth as things normalize coming out of the pandemic.”
At 40,000 square foot, ItelBPO’s facilities in Saint Lucia will house 400 employees. The company also recently announced it would acquire a 20,000 square foot facility in Saint Lucia which will open early next year and house an additional 350 employees.
ItelBPO is also building an additional 110,000 square foot of office space in Kingston, Jamaica.
Gloria Henry, the president of the Global Services Industry Association of Jamaica, said about 30% of companies on the island have ramped up training and taken on new recruits or brought back workers.
Approximately 25% of firms have seen rising demand from existing clients, she said, adding that some are also negotiating new contracts.
New demand is emerging from telecommunications, healthcare, logistics and receivables management, Henry said. Companies such as Centerfield, C–4 Global and Advantage Communications (ACI) are expanding.
Gregory Hough, president and CEO of ACI, a Canadian company which is expanding across the region, said the business environment had drastically changed the way various sectors operate, including contact centers.
“Sectors such as building supply and home improvement stores had their best opening to the summer on record,” he said. “Home appliances, tele-health, the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry, meal-delivery services, as well as industrial and cleaning supplies all had record sales.” The challenge now was to keep up with consumer demand.
“E-commerce has surged in the consumer products sector, new ways to identify trends and customer preferences are being tested and re-imagined,” Hough said, adding that ACI was making adjustments to meet emerging demand.
“While change can be disruptive, at ACI we have always believed that challenging the status quo of the current contact center industry is transformative and energizing,” Hough said.
Hough added that ACI had signed “multiple new clients across multiple verticals” over the past several months. The company recently a acquired a 45,000 square foot facility in Tijuana, Mexico, and is planning to open another new facility in Jamaica.
The company is adding new technology to handle the increased volumes. ACI has been developing AI-enabled technologies with “the goal of delivering distinguished service while making our agent’s job easier,” Hough said.
The CEO said the technologies have proved extremely useful for surging demand amid new challenges presented by Covid-19.
ACI recently launched a government-supported call center with zero training. The company leveraged its AI tool to listen to conversations and automatically provide agents with the information they need in real-time. ACI also recently entered the US market and expanded across Canada with its AI-enabled work-from-home solutions.
“Our agents are successfully meeting surging volumes and many clients are viewing business-continuity planning more broadly than a regional challenge, focusing on a fallback to site closures and the ability to easily move work virtually.”
In Hough’s opinion, “Nearshore countries with stronger infrastructures will win out in this new competitive landscape, as companies seem more reluctant to send work into remote regions of the world.”