After three years of dedicating herself to software testing, her true passion, Maria Clara Choucair resumed her role as general manager of Choucair Testing in February 2013. Having founded the business in 1999, she returned in order to expand its growth and consolidate its operations in Colombia, Peru and Panama.
“I took myself out of the general management because I wanted to see how the company would run without me,” she told Nearshore Americas. While the business had achieved significant growth, both in turnover – around US$12 million a year for the three subsidiaries – and in the number of employees – 431 at the end of last year – we had to adjust the workings of the operation and redirect the course the business would take from then on. Particularly in Peru, where sales were not as high as we had hoped for. So, a radical change of strategy was needed.
“Currently we are in the consolidation stage; we are looking for new clients and new ways to keep growing,” Choucair said. The company has created an International Businesses Management unit, dedicated to supervising the operations at the offices in Peru and Panama, and making sure local regulations and administrative procedures specific to each country are adhered to.
Panama is now Choucair Testing’s second strongest market after Colombia. This is partly due to the fact that this Central American country has over 90 banks, a sector in which the business has a great deal of experience. “Also, from our perspective, it is an attractive country, with zero unemployment,” adds Choucair added.
When asked about plans to extend into other Latin American countries, Choucair replied that, for now, they will only be focusing on countries where they are already operating, serving each country’s internal markets – although they have also carried out a few projects for Mexican, Bolivian, Costa Rican and Ecuadorian businesses. “We have qualified personnel, and our methodology, (involving methods, tools and procedures) is standardized, which means we can offer the service without any problems,” Choucair explained.
She recognizes that expanding into other countries has provided an important learning experience for everyone involved in the business, from understanding the business culture, to making sure operations are profitable. And, of course, when promoting service exportation and trying to think more like a global enterprise, something that Latin American organizations need to keep doing, she states.
A Cognitive Task
According to this enterprising Colombian, over the last few years, the subject of software testing has become somewhat distorted. From her point of view, it is often erroneously seen as a sector that employs a large number of people but obligates them to work long hours for little pay. But such viewpoints fail to take into account the high levels of training and certifying involved.
“The people in charge of the testing have a clearly cognitive task,” Choucair said. “The concept of software manufacturing has been misunderstood in many countries, and what they need to be made to understand, is that it is a service.”
Choucair even believes that the market needs to be “reeducated” to gain a greater understanding of the the basic concept of outsourcing, which means leaving procedures that are not considered to be the “core business” in the hands of a third party, and not allowing yourself to be swayed merely by price. “The companies should contract services based on what they really need, and what kind of relationship they hope to establish with the outsourcing service providers, because not everything is man power; you are also buying knowledge,” she explained.
Since branching into new markets, Choucair has committed to explaining, in detail, exactly what her company’s specialization involves, the methods that are employed, and the benefits offered. By her definition, “software testing is all about means, not results.”
“We try to showcase the complete experience, we generate a symbiotic relationship with the client, helping him improve the testing in his organization, rather than merely carrying out projects,” Choucair adds.
A Global Scale
Choucair believes the question that Latin American business leaders should be asking themselves is how to convert their local businesses into global enterprises. This is something that her native Colombia is beginning to comprehend.
Educating the new generations is key to achieving this goal. The low number of admissions into the engineering industry has repeatedly been brought to the attention of government officials and universities. “I believe that the greatest obstacle is that educational authorities are not generating the primary subject: knowledge,” Choucair said. So, for young people to be able to make the most of the opportunities offered by the global free market, the teaching of mathematics and problem solving needs to be taken seriously, while they must also be taught how to learn and develop an analytical mind, among other skills.
Having returned to the management of Choucair Testing, Choucair also has her own educational role to play. She brings her vast experience and what she describes as an “operative” management style to the table, as she bids to give the company renewed impetus through reorganization and consolidation.