Catching the information technology wave Editorial
Stabroek News
September 25, 2001

ATC's call centre is now up and running. It is servicing four American customers in the telecommunications sector including internet service providers. ATC operators deal with service related queries from customers over the phone and by the web.

Atlantic Tele Centre (ATC) - a subsidiary of GT&T's parent company ATN - successfully completed its pilot project which began in November and was aimed at determining whether an offshore call centre here servicing foreign clients would be viable.

ATC has determined that it is and is now fully engaged in phase one of its operations where 85 persons - 65 of whom are customer service agents - have been hired. There is a promise of employment of 600 persons in the second phase with the addition of 175 workstations. Considering the poor investment flows into the country and the business contraction all across the board it would be a significant addition to the workforce. To date, US$3M has been pumped into this operation and US$2M is earmarked for the completion of phase one.

This ATC investment is a ground-breaking and welcome one as it thrusts Guyana into expanding its limited services base and moreso providing services for overseas customers. Importantly it also advances Guyana into the lucrative information technology sector. which though hit by a precipitous slide in .com fortunes, is still the wave of the future. Call centres and other data related services are seen as indispensable to conglomerates in America and Europe which place a premium on quality customer service and also see the centres as tools for expanding sales. The cost of providing this service would, of course, be cheaper from Guyana and other Third World locations because of lower employment charges.

How Guyana can ride this information technology wave and expand market share in a highly competitive field should be a priority consideration for the government. President Jagdeo has appropriately stressed that his goal is to place computers in every school so that a multitude of computer literate students will be produced and approval is being sought from the Inter-American Development Bank for a US$25M loan for the implementation of an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) strategy which has the promotion of ICT exports as one of its objectives.

This is all well and good but will not produce results this year or next year. The nascent information technology sector here needs to be helped by the government to begin tapping opportunities right away. Local professionals were quite rightly unhappy that a government contract for an electronic version of the updated Laws of Guyana went to a New York firm when they themselves were not given the opportunity. These are the breaks that they need to position themselves to tap into this sector. They should be given as much help as is necessary to gain a foothold in the international IT market without government worrying about the drain on its coffers.

We are already far behind other call centre markets. India for instance has emerged as one of the leaders because of its booming, indigenous IT industry, a vast pool of skilled labour, 300 million English-speaking citizens (one of our prime advantages) and the ability to provide 24-hour per day support services. One of the major US outsourcers of web services SITEL Corp has formed a joint venture with India's Tata International. Since 1996, the number of call centres has exploded in Australia from 800 to around 6,000 sites employing close to 100,000 people following the liberalisation of the telecoms sector.

As we have said before one of the objectives of the reinvigorated Go-Invest should be to target and pursue specific investment needs. Outsourcers of web service should be lobbied by Go-Invest to consider investing here given our labour cost and English language benefits. Our local IT sector would have to band together to provide a critical mass for any such venture. Investment in this sector should be pursued as we await approval of the IDB loan and finalisation of the ICT strategy. The market is being aggressively sewn up while we wait.