Nearshore Americas

The New Direction of Nearshore: Laughlin Speaks with AFZA

The digital nomadism boom spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and the move to remote work provides an opportunity for Latin American countries with a sunny climate and strong ICT infrastructure to kickstart battered tourist industries, Kirk Laughlin, Executive Director of Nearshore Americas told the Association of Free Zones of the Americas (AZFA) podcast recently. 

“Countries in the region should adjust their policies to suit digital nomads,” he said.

For Latin America’s popular tourist hot spots, this is also an opportunity to make up for the devastating loss of business over the last 14 months. Many countries in the region have already spotted this opportunity, Laughlin explained.

“Costa Rica is an example. It is reportedly amending its law to woo digital nomads. A group in Mexico is also trying to capitalise on this trend by building condo-like offices on the West Coast of the country,” he added.

Nearshore’s New Demand

Laughlin’s appearance on the AZFA podcast highlighted strong demand that Nearshore actors are enjoying following the pandemic, as North American businesses look closer to home to integral software and CX services.

The AZFA is a non-profit established to promote and defend the Free Trade Zone regime in Iberoamerica by partnering with both the public and private sector firms. It is affiliated with over 13,000 companies operating in more than 600 FTZ in 25 countries across the region. It also helps regional governments attract foreign investments to their FTZs. The AZFA explained that regional FTZs are in the process of adapting their regulations on remote work to provide multinational companies the flexibility they need in the post-pandemic world.

Latin American Investment Agencies

During the podcast, Laughlin lauded Latin American investment agencies for their efforts to attract investment in BPO and IT services industry during this period of rising demand.,

“It doesn’t matter whether investment promotion agencies communicate to their audience through webinar, investor conference, or through some other channel. They need to make potential investors have a better understanding of their country,” he said.

Most of the countries in the region, he says, have done a good job and many are improving. “Best practices of investment agencies will continue to evolve over time.”

English language skills remain critical to be successful in the global services industry he explained: “It is the common ingredient you will see across the Nearshore services industry. It can never be overlooked”

Artificial Intelligence and Automation

When asked whether automation would eliminate a large number of jobs, Laughlin said there was no need to worry because AI still requires large amounts of human input. “Not everything works so well in an automated solution” he said, pointing to Amazon’s popular app Alexa.

Automation cannot replace humans completely. “Amazon famously said three or four years ago that they would hire 100,000 outsourced agents over the next 6 to 7 years to keep pace with product rollouts.”

Nearshore Advantage

Throughout the interview, Laughlin defended the advantages the Nearshore industry is enjoying.

“It is not that Latin America is competing with the Philippines or India. Latin America has its own opportunity,” he said.

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“Organizations are realizing that time zone compatibility is very powerful. Businesses or actual consumers are not comfortable knowing that you are keeping somebody up all night to service their business. The question often asked is whether you have employed best people to work on night shifts,” he explained.

Skilled Talent

He said Latin American countries need to focus on building a large tech talent pool to capitalize on the demand for digital services.

Companies are increasingly employing new technology solutions, including big data and artificial intelligence, to improve customer interface and experience.

From Federal Express to Amazon and Citibank, many large corporations are dependent on skilled talent to be successful in Latin America, he added.

Narayan Ammachchi

News Editor for Nearshore Americas, Narayan Ammachchi is a career journalist with a decade of experience in politics and international business. He works out of his base in the Indian Silicon City of Bangalore.

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