by Cristina Lago

The culture of outsourcing in Africa

Sep 02, 2019
Outsourcing Technology Industry

Fast-growing economies, developing IT infrastructure and cheap labour is luring multinationals and big companies to outsource their BPO and ITO services to sub-Saharan countries

outsourcing ts
Credit: Thinkstock

Although India and Southeast Asia remain favourite locations for international companies to outsource their services, countries in Africa are leaping through the global outsourcing list and are progressively evolving into competitive hotspots for both information technology outsourcing (ITO) and business process outsourcing (BPO) services.

Among the reasons making Africa an attractive outsourcing destination are fast-growing economies – according to Focus Economics, six out of the 15 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa – cheap labour, improving infrastructure and growing investment from international companies.

Modernisation of ICT infrastructure, increased technology adoption – including data analytics and cloud computing – and regional governments investment and incentives are also contributing to place African countries under the outsourcing spotlight. 

Some argue that outsourcing, despite being fuelled by the morally dubious business aim to find cheap labour, can also have a positive impact on people living and working in developing economies.

“By responsibly and ethically employing hundreds of thousands of people, BPOs have a role to play in shifting the social landscape in emerging economies around the world,” said a report from Telus International, a Canadian outsourcing firm, and Impakt, a social responsibility consultancy, quoted in the British daily The Guardian.

A key driver for outsourcing across the continent is the adoption of automation technologies. Although automation is already impacting and displacing workers across sub-Saharan Africa, the introduction of such automation technologies is seen as a must to keep up with global markets.

Alexander Gaus and Wade Hoxtell, in a paper commissioned by the Global Public Policy Institute, wrote than although introducing automation technologies in Africa will cause work displacement in the short run, promoting the conditions to introduce such automation will be necessary for sub-Saharan Africa to keep up on productivity and competitiveness with the rest of the world.

According to the AT Kearny Global Service Location Index, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana – which once held the fifth, sixth, and twelfth positions respectively – shot down the list to 43rd, 49th, and 45th place as a consequence of increasing competition in the outsourcing sector. 

A competitive sector

As a report covering ITO in Africa for the period 2016-2020 by market research company TechNavio indicates, the IT outsourcing market in the continent is highly competitive.

Regional governments are increasing their IT spending to attract multinational investment, who in turn are exploring the opportunities of this emerging market.

According to TechNavio, the top ITO vendors in the African market are Accenture, CSC, HP and IBM, followed by Capgemini, Fujitsu, Infosys, Cognizant, HCL, TCS, and Xerox.

These vendors are calling for their clients to outsource non-core business process IT functions to the region, and the way to differentiate among themselves is moving up the value chain and providing more cost-effective services.

Banking and finance, telecommunications and healthcare industries are leading the ITO services in the African continent.

One of the main challenges facing the finance sector is the management of vast amounts of customer and financial data. The outsourcing of IT functions to third-party service providers in the region is seen as a way of alleviating the cost and complexities associated with this data management.

In 2013, French electronic payments firm Ingenico announced a deal between African Resonance, its local value-added re-seller, and Standard Bank, one of the main Pan-African financial institutions, to implement an outsourcing business model.

Through this agreement, African Resonance supplies Standard Bank with Ingenico’s Countertop and Wireless payment devices to provide end-to-end secure management of services to Standard Bank.

The growing Africa telecommunications industry is coming with an increased IT spending, which is leading to more IT outsourcing contracts to the service providers for new technology implementations at a low cost.

In healthcare, hospitals and speciality clinics tend to outsource their IT operations to service providers to reduce the cost of in-house IT department expenses. TechNavio sees growing investment and outsourcing opportunities in IT services such as data centres, healthcare information systems and supply chain and logistics. 

Which countries are leading outsourcing services in sub-Saharan Africa?

As an international business centre, South Africa is at the top of Sub-Saharan countries which serves as a regional hub for outsourcing services.

UK consultancy firmElixirr calculates that South Africa has a higher number of accountants, chartered financial analysts and actuaries than most outsourcing destinations. Its strong ties with the west, a strong graduate pool, convenient time zone for trade with Europe and English as a first language also places the country in an advantageous position for BPO delivery centres.

As CIO Africa reported recently, super-fast internet and a Francophone population has turned Madagascar into a BPO destination hotspot for French-speaking companies, challenging established outsourcing destinations like Tunisia and Morocco.

In East Africa, Kenya remains the regional leader in ICT based industries thanks to a fast-growing services sector, being in a suitable time zone for business with Europe and also having English as main trade language.

In 2007, BPO was named one of the six flagship clusters included in Kenya’sVision 2030 roadmap and Kenya is a regional leader in ICT-based industries. The country is positioning itself to take advantage of the growth in local and regional outsourcing deals.

However, poor infrastructure, including power outages, rampant corruption and political turmoil present important challenges for Kenya at the time of keeping pace with its leading outsourcing position in the region.

Ghana’s strong government support and incentives for companies that outsource their services to the country place it at the top of outsourcing destinations in Western Africa. The country has a developed finance industry and strong public institutions with relatively high government efficiency.

The country is also in a favourable time zone for doing business with Europe (zero to two hour difference), English as a first language, and offers a BPO ‘free zone’ area outside its capital, Accra, offering international companies zero taxes for 10 years and eight percent tax after a 10-year period.

But similarly to Kenya, ongoing infrastructure challenges, perceived high business and political risk and high rental costs for suburban offices are holding back the strength of Ghana as a preferred global destination for outsourcing services.