A Sincere Question From A Loyal Facebook Fan: Sir, What Is BPO? BY PRINCEWILL ODIDI

In Breaking News, Business & Economy, Columnists, National News, Opinion, Politics
Princewill Odidi
Princewill Odidi

A fan of mine asked the question above. In an attempt to come to his level and make him understand my answers, I used a personal experience that happened in 2013 as an illustration.

“It was lunch time in 2013 then working with Concourse group, I went downstairs the Concourse towers were my office was to catch a snack. Sitting next was a gentleman and we immidiatly entered into a conversation.

He introduced himself as Ken, and that he worked for a major US technology firm. I inquired how many staff he had, he said 36 senior staff and over 400 contract staff. I booked appointment to see him for a business meeting.

Next day, I called his office, a lady picked up the phone introduced herself as Sandra, then scheduled an appointment for me. She also gave me a five digit code. She instructed, that I should punch the code to gain access upon getting to Kens office. This is where the drama began!

Getting there, I called the receptionist again, she answered and instructed that I should punch in the code. I did, the door opened, ushering me to a waiting area and straight to Ken’s office. It was a large office space on the 31st floor of the building.

Ken had earlier told me he had 36 senior staff, so I inquired first about the receptionist I spoke to earlier, he smiled and said, my receptionist works out of India. Right behind Ken was a computer workstation displaying all 36 staff in different offices in different countries appearing on small box video screens, communicating with one another as though they were in the same office.

His accountant works out of Chicago USA, his research team work out of China, His Project engineers work out of the Philippines. He communicates with all his staff in real time, gives instructions, assignments, work duty and everyone was on his job. If he needs to hold staff meeting, through a network all staff are connected together through video. His receptionist also provides similar service to eight other managers in the company.

With video connected through network, Virtual online meetings are held, all staff are present, even though most have never met physically, but they all knew themselves. Decisions are taken and work is done so efficiently. By 5pm Atlanta time, work closes and everyone goes home in their respective countries.

This is the new virtual work place. You hire the best hands at the cheapest rate, all these made possible by new enhanced technology. A certified accountant in the USA may request a salary of $90,000 yearly, someone with similar or better qualification out of Taiwan would offer to do same job for an equivalent of $20,000 in his country.

So for employers, to save cost and still get the best set of employees, have resorted to recruiting workers were labor is cheapest without compromising work ethics and standards. This is what we call Business Process outsourcing. The process of outsourcing jobs, call centers, secretarial work, book keeping among others from developed countries where labor is expensive to developing countries where labor is cheap.

Growing up, we were taught about the four factors of production: Land, labor capital and entrepreneurship. With the advent of globalization, land became less of a factor, rather information technology took a life of its own in production relations.

Thirty minutes into my meetings with Ken, he asked if I needed coffee, I jokingly queried, is your coffee maker in Italy or Japan? Or are we having our next lunch over the internet? We laughed it off.

This is the new virtual workplace. Nigeria’s inability to key into this new international workplace and business outsourcing is largely responsible for Nigeria’s unemployment crisis. The internationalization of capital led to the internationalization of labor expressed as outsourcing.

Jobs are moving from USA, Canada, Europe to India, China, Philippines and other Eastern Europe and Asian Countries, The big question: Why not Nigeria?

The reason is simple: It’s now six years since submarine cables also known as fiber optic cables berth in Nigeria from Europe. As Ms. Opeke from MainOne cable recently opined in the guardian newspaper December 12, “Nigeria has more than enough broadband capacities from several submarine cables at the shores of the country, yet less than 10 per cent of the total broadband capacities from the three cable operators is being utilized in a country of over 160 million persons”.

Now get this straight. Once the submarine cables berth in Lagos from Europe bringing Internet to Nigeria, the Nigerian government should have built an infrastructure backbone that will spread the internet data nationwide, and then would have allowed the private sector to run the infrastructure at a government determined low rate. With this, every internet service provider would have equal access to broadband at the same range, and cost would be at barest minimum.

Kenya and Tanzania have gone far in Internet access penetration because the government of those countries built a nationwide infrastructure backbone, tapped from submarine cables within their waters, and allowed the private sector to run it at a determined low cost. With this every Internet Service Provider (ISPs) has equal access to available broadband capacities in those countries.

Rather, the Nigerian government allowed private operators (MTN GLO ETISALAT and others) to build their own independent infrastructure backbone and charge fees for internet data arbitrarily. The Nigerian operators complain that since they have to build their own infrastructure backbone themselves, then they have to charge high rates to consumers so they can get back their money.

Six years later, after recouping all their investments and the cost of building the infrastructure backbone, they refused to bring down the cost of phone cards and data. In 2013 and 2014, due to improved technology, the cost of tapping from the submarine cables in Lagos at wholesale prices by the local operators was reduced, yet the operators still sell internet data the same rate as 2010, only deceiving the consumer with some useless promotion packets, like talk free at night, call overseas at two naira per minute or recharge two hundred naira and get extra minutes.

This is what we call corporate fraud. So with this, you can understand why Nigeria has failed to develop and why unemployment is high.

As at 2013, Nigeria had one of the highest rate of phone charges per unit/minute worldwide. This was a major turn off to investors and operators of business outsourcing. This is where we missed it.

Ethiopia’s state-run Ethio Telecom partnered with Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, the world’s second largest telecom equipment maker, to roll out a high-speed 4G network across the capital Addis Ababa. As reported in Ethiopia’s cable news “It is expected to benefit more than 400,000 subscribers”.

Can Cross River State partner with Akwa Ibom state to develop an independent infrastructure backbone tapped from Lagos to serve her population, using a long term loan preferably from the Chinese, which will aid data accessibility and attract Business Process outsourcing to both states? Just a quarter of what was spent in Tinapa is sufficient to complete this project.

In summary, the terms used above may sound too complicated for some people, but let me explain it to a secondary school student. Nigeria has sufficient submarine cable capacity transferred from Europe to Lagos. The problem is that the local operators are very greedy.

While over the years the wholesale cost from submarines has reduced, the local backbone cables have refused to lower their unit prices. Note that the Cable submarine operators sell phone and data usage to local operators at whole sale prices and the local operators in turn sell it to consumers in the form of what in Nigeria you call recharge cards.

Now, no international investor will want to outsource their jobs to a country were data is sold at different prices. In most countries data is absolutely free or has a fixed cost. In the United States, with Thirty five dollars,(MetroPCS) an equivalent of seven thousand naira, you can talk all day as you like, use internet as you like, watch as many videos online as you like. There is nothing like recharge cards. Business outsourcing investors can plan better when data is cheap and cost is determined upfront, without any call drops or what we call in Nigeria “network”.

Alternatively, Government should step in, look at existing infrastructure and set a regulatory policy that will enable people buy bandwidth at a government determined price, instead of each operator building its own backbone and putting its own price. We can also appeal to our legislatures in House of Reps. and Senate to either sponsor a bill for the government to nationalize all local cable network infrastructure backbone, fix a determined low rate, and still allow the private sector to operate it as in Tanzania and Kenya. These are all proposed solutions to solve the problem.

A few weeks ago, I returned to visit Ken’s office on his 31st floor, as I stood gazing the beauty of Americas iconic city, I couldn’t help but stutter, why can’t Nigeria get it right?

Until we hook up properly with internet data services, at a fixed reduced cost sustained by stable electricity, the key to the new job creation office will continue to remain a remote dream.

Most of our youths and unemployed graduates in Cross River State can all be fully employed through business outsourcing as other youths in the Philippines and India. Let the government make data cheap and affordable at least at 4G speed, outsourced jobs are littered everywhere overseas.

It’s not too late, a leadership with a vision can one day fix it. Common sense is not really common, especially when dealing with governments that refused to listen to her technocrats on how to shape national economic policy and a private sector whose intent is to cheat rather than compete with dignity.

Odidi is a development Consultant writing from Atlanta USA. (princewillodidi@yahoo.com)

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