Business Process Services (BPS) in South Africa, a Brave New world

To some Business Process Services may sound like yet another convoluted and ostentatious label applied by self-important people who may not otherwise be defined due to lack of substance, product or identity. Quite the contrary.

Business Process Services or Outsourcing, when it delivers, has the potential to genuinely lower administrative and operating costs, more quickly provide new services, improve customer satisfaction, and enhance focus on core business activities. Very simply, these are the people that allow business people to focus on their core business whilst the likes of human resources, finance, accounting, contact centres. Document Management Services, Healthcare are taken care of by outsourcing to a third party

Without getting bogged down in detail, it’s sufficient to say that there are many divisions of BPS: there’s the back-office, like human resources; front-office, like call centres, there’s offshore and onshore BPS and even further breakdowns including IT based ITES-BPO (Information technology Enabled Service) and LPO – legal process outsourcing.

Looking at the big picture: the global industry is said to be growing by 40% per annum. India is the world’s biggest player in the industry with revenue of US$10. 9 billion from offshore BPS. It has a 6% share of the BPS industry in general but a 63% share of offshore BPS. On the other hand the South African call centre industry has grown by approximately 8% per year since 2003 and it directly employs about 54 000 people, contributing 0. 92% to South Africa’s gross domestic product. Dwarf size compared to India but the potential is huge.

The South African Government’s upscaled Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP 2) has identified Business Process Services (BPS) as a key sector for investment attraction and job creation. The South African Government implemented a BPS or Business Process Outsourcing and Offshoring (BPO&O) incentive programme from July 2007. It is claimed that during the period July 2007 to March 2010, the incentive resulted in the creation of at least 6 000 new jobs and attracted R303 million in direct investment.

Since then, after negotiation with the private sector a further proposition has been made with the Monyetla Work-Readiness Programme, a dedicated investor friendly set-up process, and a programme to improve industry service standards, in order to position South Africa as a preferred location for BPS operations.

Monyetla, which means ‘opportunities’, was launched in 2008 by the Business Trust, the Department of Trade and Industry (dti) and BPeSA as a pilot project to provide the unemployed youth of South Africa with employment through the BPO industry. The pilot project was a success story, over 1, 000 learners registered. Due to its success the second phase was launched in July 2010, with 3, 400 learners joining. Further phases continue to date. To become a certified employer of choice on the project there are two criteria: Take on a minimum of 60 learners; and offer employment to 70% of them upon their successful completion of the programme. For every six learners employed, one team leader must be trained. So there’s a very specific outcome pursued here.

BPS leaders BPeSA, Western Cape CEO Gareth Pritchard is reported to have said “With South Africa rapidly growing as a BPO provider both locally and abroad, it is imperative that we build our employee base, allowing South Africa to move from a reactive talent development strategy to a proactive one, ” In the last decade, SA has built up a reputation as a world-class customer service destination that is able to deliver results for a number of the Uk’s biggest brands, including ASDA, Virgin Mobile and TalkTalk.

South Africa has also attracted many top international call-centre outsourcers, including Aegis BPO, Fusion, Genpact, Stream, Sykes and Teleperformance, as well as IBM and Deloitte, which provide a variety of services in English, Dutch and Flemish for customers worldwide. Most recently, the Economics spokesman at the SA High Commission in London, Yusuf Timol, forecasted that there would be huge opportunities looming for capturing India-based BPO work in 2012 and beyond.

To emphasise whether South Africa has a future in this industry Frost & Sullivan’s business unit leader, ICT Africa, Birgitta Cederstrom says “Africa is increasingly popular as a preferred destination of contact centres; South Africa specifically has been a natural choice for contact centres due to its large and articulate English-speaking population and service-oriented business culture. Another strength is its expanding broadband connectivity, thus ensuring that the latest unified communications and collaboration tools will run efficiently. ”

During Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies’s Budget Vote in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in Parliament he said “To date, 23 applications for the BPS incentive scheme have been approved, potentially leveraging R4. 1 billion worth of investment and 15 149 jobs over three years, ”

“Close to 3 400 young trainees were trained under the second phase of the Monyetla Work-Readiness Programme, 70 per cent of whom were placed directly into employment. ” said Davies

This brings us to ‘where’. A couple of years ago South Africa’s Call Centre Nucleus group was fully acquired by Aegis, India’s business process outsourcing arm of the diversified Essar group. The company purchased CCN as part of its strategy to invest R500 million in the next three years and create 5000 jobs in South Africa. Currently they are situated in two locations: Woodmead and Sunninghill, both in Johannesburg. The total seating capacity of over 1, 300 seats.

Interactive Intelligence Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ININ) is a global provider of contact centre automation, unified communications, and business process automation software and services. Interactive Intelligence has more than 4, 000 customers worldwide. In other words, a major player in the BPS world. Interactive Intelligence is about to occupy one of ATIO’s buildings in down town Johannesburg, which will now function as its regional headquarters serving all of Africa.

Amazon, America’s largest online retailer, has expanded its customer service operations into Cape Town, claiming to have created 600 jobs in its first two years of operation and an additional 400 seasonal jobs during holiday season.

A R125-million, 1 500-seat call centre integrating, training, office and recreational space has been constructed to enhance the global competitiveness of the Coega Industrial Development Zone outside Port Elizabeth. The business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Park, covers five hectares and includes training facilities, lounges, a cafeteria and a restaurant, is the first of its kind in South Africa. The BPO Park is situated in Coega’s business service precinct, next to workers’ residential areas, and replaces a 200-seater call centre already in existence.

Then came Fusion, another world player in the BPS industry. Fusion Outsourcing’s headquarters, Fusion House at Century City, Cape Town; and the new Gauteng premises in the Johannesburg CBD are modern, state-of-the art contact centre facilities, from where almost 1500 agents and support staff deliver customer services. In 2011 Fusion won the national industry awards for the 3rd consecutive time for both the Best Offshore BPO Centre of the Year, and the Best Offshore Customer service Centre of the Year.

The market for such centres seems unpredictable. Anticipating the market for contact centres a while back, construction giant Grid, built a luxurious and state of the art built-for-purpose call centre in Mount Edgecombe next door to Umhlanga Rocks. It’s fully occupied. On the other hand a cursory glance through the free on-line classifieds Gumtree, revealed an advertisement for “Call centre property to let or for sale in Kent Avenue, Randburg. Total GLA 6500m², 350 – 500 work stations, and 185 parking bays. Asking rental R60/m² net or for sale at R49 mil excl VAT if applicable. Available immediately. ” So there are some surprises out there from a real estate point of view.

Not that long ago A 27, 000sqm call centre in the Jo’burg CBD was sold, through a negotiated deal, for R97, 5m. The seven-storey facility situated at Laub Street was sold on behalf of a major retailer and was snapped up by City Properties. The property was sold with a ten year triple-nett Edcon lease in place and in effect is a sale and leaseback transaction.

So it would be incorrect to say that BPS is not having an effect on property since they are definitely players in the market. But the extent that there is any ripple may call for some speculation.

BPS certainly is an industry worth monitoring from a commercial real estate perspective, currently as a growing number of international firms choose to set up shop locally and large numbers of staff will be required in specialised or converted to spec facilities.