From Site Selection magazine, November 2004

India Reigns,
But Philippines Gains
Low costs and flexible skills mean
countries are speaking the right language.



sia figures to be the high-growth region for call center activity for years to come by most accounts, as companies continue to offshore operations in India and the Philippines and head to China to serve the local market.
      A recent Datamonitor report predicts the number of call centers in the Asia-Pacific region will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14.3 percent, surpassing 17,000 by 2008. Datamonitor believes call center dynamics in the region will continue to be influenced by labor costs in India and the Philippines and increasingly in Malaysia and China. While China does not have a critical mass of English speakers, that will change by 2008, Datamonitor says.
      David Ross, project manager for ITESA, a New York­based call center and business process outsourcing firm, says the top reasons for a company to site call center operations in Asia are to:
  • Expand operations;
  • Lower costs;
  • Follow customers;
  • Compete in the global marketplace; and
  • Receive around-the-clock business support.
          Ross says China is getting more looks these days as the nation is awash with infrastructure improvements and construction in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.
          "China has an incredibly large and growing middle class and the service market is increasingly more competitive," says Keith Fiveson, ITESA's founder. Fiveson says China has 45,000 to 65,000 call center agents by varying estimates, a small percentage compared to the more than 3 million call centers in the U.S. So the Asian market is both immature and fertile, say Fiveson and Ross.
          "In the next 10 to 15 years, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population will be over 55," Ross says. "Today in India, more than 500 million are under 25, so if we take a look at demographics, we are at the beginning of a major shift in economies. China is really where India was nine years ago," Fiveson says. "There are more people learning English in China now than there are in the U.S."
          Says Ross, "India and the Philippines are good plays for back office/front office support for call center operations out of the U.S. China is much more multinational. Companies are much more likely to go there to follow their customers."
          There are other choices in the region. Australia, with 146,000 call center seats, is an option for companies looking at serving North America. For labor costs, Ross likens Australia to Canada. Also, more than 100 different languages are spoken in Australia, offering great flexibility.
          Malaysia has labor-cost similarities to China, the ITESA executives say. It can support service to China as well as English-speaking populations and has a high literacy rate.
          Fiveson says offshoring is appealing to companies in debt and in need of lowering their cost structures and technology is making this possible.
          "We've just started to see the beginning of this phenomenon we are calling globalization," Fiveson says. "With greater bandwidth and the lowering of bandwidth costs, the ability is there to send information and voice calls to areas that were unreachable 10 years ago. It costs nothing to make a call to India."

    Small Pilots, Big Targets
          While India still rules among Asian countries serving North America, the Philippines is advancing rapidly, says Dave Shapiro, senior vice president of international business development for Toronto-based Minacs, which provides contact center services to companies in a variety of business sectors.
          Shapiro is currently in the midst of site searches in the Philippines and China for centers. Minacs is looking for a 100- to 150-seat site expandable to 800-1,000 in the Philippines, while plans in China call for a small, pilot operation starting with 25 and eventually growing to 2,000.
          "The Philippines, as opposed to India, has a much more North America-centric culture," Shapiro says. "The accent is not as thick, the way of doing business is much more like America and their sports and media are similar. Their favorite sport is basketball."
          Shapiro says firms considering the Philippines for a call center should look at the country's 96 special economic zones overseen by the Philippines Economic Zone Authority (PEZA). These zones offer tax breaks and other incentives.
          With a 12-hour time difference from the Eastern U.S., Philippine call center workers wind up working all night long, so proximity to transportation systems and 24-hour restaurants is important, Shapiro says, adding that there is a lot of commerce surrounding these zones.
          In China, larger cities such as Shanghai and Beijing are the usual targets, Shapiro says. Locations in the northeast offer multi-language workers who can serve Korean and Japanese markets. Companies look at China for China's sake, he says, with centers serving the domestic market there.
          One of the latest to open in the Philippines is Omaha-based SITEL, an outsourcer of customer support services. The site is located in the first IT business park within the Quezon City district of Manila, is wholly owned by SITEL and serves global markets. Site Selection


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