Guatemala Gets Serious About Software

Guatemala has been ascendant as a BPO destination in the past year — “an impressive comeback,” as we reported here a few months ago. But the country has …

Guatemala has been ascendant as a BPO destination in the past year — “an impressive comeback,” as we reported here a few months ago. But the country has its eyes on higher ground: software development. After all, why should regional giants like Brazil and Mexico get all the splashy and really interesting work?  This past week the Digital GT Committee, a young wing of the Guatemalan Exporters Association, launched its campaign to boost awareness of the country’s “digital industry” and the companies developing products ranging from iPhone games to mobile business solutions.

The group’s main objective is to “increase the competitiveness and productivity of companies dedicated to digital content development in Guatemala,” Helga Olivet, executive coordinator for Digital GT, told Nearshore Americas. Those companies — about 14 currently gather under the Digital GT umbrella — are involved in the usual business applications and more creative things like animation and social media, but the emphasis appears to be smartly on mobile software, including mobile banking and payments, games, and marketing.

A good example of that last category is a company called Tedexis Central, which developed a mobile campaign for Texaco to boost sales of its Techron formula in Latin America and the Caribbean. That campaign was recognized as one of the best  of 2010 by the Mobile Marketing Association.

Olivet said one of the products that best reflects local digital creativity is called Mini-Mundi, developed by the Guatemalan company MilknCookies (a name sure to resonate in the U.S.). “It’s an online tamagotchi, a small virtual world” designed to teach the whys and hows of proper recycling. MilknCookies developed the program for a Spanish company,  Ecoembalajes España S.A.

One advantage attributed to Guatemala is the relative low cost of labor. But Capgemini’s Robbie Brillhart, a vice president of BPO, points out a benefit of its geographic location: “There’s a heavy flow of people back and forth from the U.S., and they’re very in touch with North American culture.”

That cultural affinity can be a huge benefit: It can help developers tune products to U.S. likes and habits, and it can help facilitate collaboration with partners in the North. We’ve heard many U.S. companies say it’s easier working with Nearshore developers because of that “affiliation” Brillhart refers to.

As for the talent question, Olivet says, “We really have the people with the right skills, but we still have not made the same impact as some other countries…

We need to go out and say to everybody, ‘Look at us! We have just what you are waiting for.”

The biggest hurdle facing the Guatemalan software industry is “access to resources,” Olivet says, meaning financial. “Most companies in Guatemala are in constant search for local or international funding.” The country still lacks “an appropriate technological infrastructure for their development,” she says.

“The government is making efforts in this regard, including the adoption of laws that benefit the competitiveness of the IT sector. There is a government committee of Science and Technology, in addition to INTECAP, which has developed the Centro Tecnologia and strategies to promote the development of technical courses,” Olivet says.

It makes sense for smaller, less financially endowed countries to focus on software development. It doesn’t require the types of physical facilities that a call center does; some of the best software in the world was developed by the proverbial “two guys in a garage.” It’s really a matter of creativity and skills, and those attributes certainly aren’t limited to big countries like Brazil and Mexico.

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