By Peter Ryan
The Invest in Haiti Forum, sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank, which was held in Port-au-Prince at the end of November 2011 (assembling personalities as diverse as Bill Clinton, Vicente Fox, and Donna Karan) demonstrated that the opportunity for offshore contact center outsourcing in Haiti may not be just a pipe dream. With an emphasis on diversified economic development and political stability, now is the time for vendors with an eye to new delivery markets to commence due diligence on Haiti’s potential – albeit taking into account the country’s limitations as it rebuilds from the 2010 earthquake.
A Fluid Labor Market and Niche Deployments Are a Good Start
During the forum, Ovum was encouraged by the Haitian workforce in regard to its ability to meet the needs of nearshore and offshore end users (notwithstanding the low cost of labor in the country). Not only does the country have an ample supply of French speakers at its disposal, but English and Spanish are also surprisingly widely spoken among the population. In addition, mobile phone penetration is approximately 50% and growing rapidly, according to anecdotal evidence. With this kind of talent in Haiti’s labor force, opportunity abounds for CRM outsourcers that are anxious to find a new contact center location for nearshore delivery into the Americas.
These factors have not been lost on some local players, including Triangular, a Haiti-based contact center operation that provides offshore contact center services into French-speaking Canada. Telco Digicell is also doing some Caribbean support from Haiti. That there is already one contact center player on the ground inHaitiis at least a first step in building confidence among vendors in the country, which is not yet known for its CRM capabilities.
Considering the language capabilities in the country, outsourcers seeking to offshore from Haiti should initially target Canada’s French-speaking market, in which the Haitian accent is readily accepted, as this would make linguistic training minimal.
Reconstruction Means Outsourcing Opportunities
From an outsourcing vendor perspective, one of the most important factors identified at the Invest in Haiti Forum was the chance to take advantage of a newly constructed infrastructure as the country rebuilds from the devastating earthquake of early 2010. This rebuilding is poised to result in more reliable transport and telco networks during the coming months and years. This likely would not have been installed at the same pace otherwise, and outsourcers are spared from having to make all of these investments on their own.
Initial Success with Targeted Deployments is a Crucial First Step
What is abundantly clear is that CRM outsourcers aiming for first-mover advantage in Haiti need to be realistic about what can be accomplished in the short term. Although the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure (including a commitment from Digicell to provide connectivity throughout the nation) and the building of a state-of-the-art business park in Caracol are certainly encouraging, vendors need to understand that for the most part, the contact center industry is unknown to most Haitians. Developing that culture will take some time, which means recruitment and training could be arduous in the near term.
In addition, finding the right nearshore deployment for delivery from Haiti is equally important in terms of size and function. It is likely that initially, small deployments of 100–200 agent positions will be the realistic scalability addressable in Haiti by any single vendor. Considering the language capabilities in the country, outsourcers seeking to offshore from Haiti should initially target Canada’s French-speaking market, in which the Haitian accent is readily accepted, as this would make linguistic training minimal.
Overcoming Perceptions is Key to Long-Term Success
However, for outsourcers looking to leverage Haiti for nearshoring into the Americas, it will be crucial for them (and their clients) to be comfortable with the concept of doing business in this country. Recent elections that overwhelmingly elected President Michel Martelly were a positive first step, but investors will want to see that the government functions and remains transparent to overcome its problematic past reputation. For example, in the recently published Global Corruption Perceptions Index, Haiti was ranked 175th of 182 countries surveyed. Such assurances were provided to Ovum directly by Haiti’s Minister of the Interior, Thierry Mayard Paul, but it will be a major challenge to overcome the specters of political hijinks and corruption that have lasted decades. At first glance, it appears that with the support of global business interests, celebrities, NGOs, and foreign governments, Haiti is creating a solid foundation to do so. However, from the perspective of potential investors, the coming years will be critical in validating Haiti as a legitimate nearshore delivery location.
Peter Ryan is a leading analyst with Ovum and contributes regularly to Nearshore Americas. This article is reprinted upon permission of the author.