Even in 2016, awareness remains one of the barriers for U.S. companies working with nearshore providers in Latin America. While India and Asia have grown their brands as cheap sourcing destinations, even many experienced procurement professionals lack an understanding of the who, where, why, and how when it comes to partnering with Latin American firms.
For the nearshore phenomenon to really reach the next level, it needs more Anthony Porters.
Porter, currently head of global corporate procurement and global IT strategic vendor services at Acxiom, now spends much of his time advocating nearshore but he started out in engineering and IT, focusing on software development, tech architecture, and supply chain at Dell. But in time, he made a career shift to procurement and vendor management, and he became responsible for Dell’s partner network throughout the Americas.
Porter was able to spend time all over the region, living and working in Mexico City, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Bogotá, and Santiago. He helped the tech giant expand its footprint and sell more products and services through third parties all over Latin America. The company was thrilled with the success as he built a sweeping partner network with a foundation rooted in the type of trust that can only be established through face-to-face interactions.
But the experience was even more rewarding — invaluable even — for Porter, as he became intimately familiar with how business was conducted in all the region’s major markets. This on top of his personal knowledge of Latin America — he was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador — and experience working in the United States set the stage for Porter to become an enthusiastic, knowledgable proponent of nearshore.
“That’s one of the things that has made me successful in my current role,” said Porter. “In dealing with Latin American companies, it’s having that understanding of how business gets done, and also understanding what U.S. companies are looking for. The best of both worlds.”
Equipped with an in-depth knowledge of the local talent and capabilities in each of these major Latin American countries, Porter has since spread the gospel everywhere he has gone. After Dell came video game maker Electronic Arts. There he built what he called a “Follow the Sun” support model, using companies in Mexico and Argentina along with traditional Indian providers.
After EA he moved on to health insurance giant Humana, where he was really able to put all his understanding to work. It started by sourcing procurement to Softtek in Mexico. He figured out that 30% of the work that his internal team was handling was low-value, manual, operation tasks. “It still needed to get done to keep the lights on, but I was really overpaying these folks to be doing these types of functions,” said Porter.
Softtek was more than capable of taking this over, leveraging its workers in its Aguascalientes office, about 150 miles northeast of Guadalajara. It helped automate workflows, track cycle times, and measure expected outcomes, which were certain to be run well due to Porter spending time at the corporate headquarters detailing the necessary process mapping and engineering.
The cost savings this option offered were nice — but even better was how it freed up his staff. After the transition, the skilled Humana employees were able to become more customer-facing, perform higher-level functions, and start focusing on strategy. “Those are all things you don’t have time for when you’re knee-deep in manual tasks,” said Porter. “Most of the efficiencies and savings were in productivity and better customer outcomes.”
In time, that low-hanging 30% grew. Softtek proved its meddle and took on more-complex assignments and higher-risk contracts that included more oversight. Together, the two companies first built the capabilities. Then the positive outcomes, plus time, built trust. And it became a natural evolution from getting low-cost work done to having a real partner.
Other work got sent to Globant in Buenos Aires. This relationship was a different beast, looking more towards digital transformation and the brand of high-level, creative work that Globant has become known for. The key initiatives centered around modernizing Humana’s forward-facing brand, and the Argentine firm was more than capable of walking a old-time company in a stodgy industry into modern days.
Tangible deliverables included apps for iPhone and Android. This may not seem like a space-age advance but, especially coming from a Latin American supplier, it did represent a big step forward for the health insurer. “If you talk about insurance and banking in general, these are industries that are incredibly risk averse,” said Porter. “As such, the fact that we’re able to bring in partners from a country like Mexico and then Argentina, which is not really known for this type of work, is quite an accomplishment.”
Advocating nearshore wasn’t simple. “I had to market and I had to push and I had to convince and I had to charm people in order for this to happen,” said Porter. “It wasn’t in any way easy.”
That’s the key message for providers in Latin America. Humana, like many large enterprises, never would have looked to these markets if it hadn’t been for one, loud, exuberant person leading the charge internally.
Porter knows they do good work — and not just his partners, but many others throughout the region. He spent the time in the region to learn the names and faces of the top-tier brands. But he remains one of the few. Providers cannot just sit on their hands and hope more people like Porter rise the ranks to do that advocacy for them. They have to push even harder than Porter did to get the word out and force executives to realize just how much they can offer. Only then will they start to truly compete with the larger global companies that are already well known in boardrooms across the United States.
“All these companies, although they do good work, they have a long ways to go in terms of driving perception and awareness of their high-end capabilities in Latin America,” said Porter. “That’s something that to me was blatantly obvious. None of my peers or C-suite-level people had ever heard of any of these companies.”