Kenya the latest African entrant to the international outsourcing market

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The latest African country to take a decisive step into the international outsourcing market is Kenya. There are now between 12-15 companies offering various types of call centre and business processing work. However as a recent study commissioned by Calling the Cape from Deloittes has shown, it's not as easy as it looks to get it right. Although on one of the main indicators - call centre resolution - Cape Town scores 89% against India's 65.9%, its costs are still around double those found in India. Will it be quality or costs that will be the winner in this global market? Kenya Mugue Mugo believes she has identified a niche for her company Preciss.

How did you get into the business?

I studied IT at Moi University in Eldoret and International Business Administration in Nairobi. I've always had an interest in ICT and about 3 years ago I was invited to a conference organised by ITC Export Services. It was an opportunity to speak to businesses about what they could export in terms of services. I was one of two delegates selected to go to Geneva. I came back from that visit and registered the company in April 2002 in Delaware, USA. We began operating in August 2002 working for an online directory based in Kansas.

What work were you doing for them?

We did online research and managed the directory. We were responsible for updating entries by e-mail. In addition, we'd write to them about advertising.

In September 2002 we started doing work for an online publication in Virginia. It wanted to build a database for sales purposes. It also wanted data inputted. We were able to create a database of qualified customers.

We have three main clients currently: a UK online directory with 100,000 entries that's a competitor to Yahoo UK; and two software companies, one in Oregon and the other in Ottawa. For the latter we do data input and address list cleaning and manage databases with a million entries each. For one of them we've been working for over a year and half. In the data processing field, we can do the work and make good money from the business. Software vendors are very specialised and there's probably only 20 in the world that are completely internet-based. Obviously we sign non-disclosure agreements on our database work to give the clients confidence.

How do you market yourself?

You have to do it directly, face-to-face. We've targeted this particular sector and this sort of marketing is by its very nature labour-intensive. The next stage is to start working with outsourcing consultants in the USA and India.

How big is your call centre facility?

At present we have a ten-seat facility in Nairobi but this will grow to twenty seats shortly.

How big is the outsourcing sector in Kenya?

Well I personally visited 12 plus companies recently in preparation for a conference presentation at ACT 2004. There are a further three call centres that are in the start-up phase.

Although the data processing ones are my competition, I think there's a recognition that we need to present a common front to get business. India presents itself as a single team and Kenya needs to do the same. We've formed the Kenya ICT Service Exporters group and six out of the 12 existing companies have joined. It will: maket Kenya; seek to attract investment (both national and international), solicit government support and set standards.

What's your biggest cost?

Our largest cost is internet connectivity. It costs us USD1000 for 64 kbps a month. It should be costing us half that amount.