Financial Times

Sri Lanka poised for BPO growth - Aegis, India

By Dilshani Samaraweera

This week, Indian Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) operator, Aegis, announced the acquisition of 80% of Sri Lanka’s Ismart-Timex, which is part of the Timex Group. Aegis is part of the Indian multinational the Essar Group.

“Aegis has acquired 80% of the Timex BPO venture. Timex will retain the balance 20% and will be our partner in Sri Lanka,” the Chief Operating Officer of Aegis, Sudhir Agarwal, told journalists at a press conference on Thursday, to announce the entry of Aegis into Sri Lanka.

The acquisition is aimed at tapping into the BPO opportunity in Sri Lanka. With the end of war, Sri Lanka’s BPO sector is expected to take off. “The BPO industry is still in an ascent stage in Sri Lanka. But I feel that over the next 12 – 18 months, there will be marked growth in BPO activity in Sri Lanka. When there is political turmoil it is very difficult for this kind of industry to boom. But now, with the end of war, Sri Lanka is looking very attractive to the BPO sector,” said Mr Agarwal.

In terms of BPO operating costs, Sri Lanka is seen as comparative to India. “In terms of costs, Sri Lanka is pretty much on par with India. So the game changer will be in what skill sets that Sri Lanka can offer,” said Mr Agarwal.

Although Sri Lanka’s support infrastructure for BPOs is currently very limited, demand for BPO services in Sri Lanka is expected to increase sharply. “Outsourcing is still new to Sri Lanka, but many companies outsource their non-core activities to allow them to cut their operating costs and to concentrate on their core activities. We expect this to increase in Sri Lanka, among local companies and we also expect more international companies to outsource to Sri Lanka,” said the Managing Director of Timex Garments, Arshad Sattar.

With the end of war, more companies are expected to enter Sri Lanka and local companies are expected to expand operations. The BPO sector is hoping to benefit from this growth in business activity, by offering to take on activities that these companies are willing to outsource, ranging from telecom related services to any type of back office functions.

Alternative to garment jobs
The BPO sector is seen as an alternative, rapid employment generation option, to the garment sector.
“I feel this will be the biggest industry next to the garment sector, to generate employment, particularly for young people. We are able to provide training and to employ from various levels of educational qualifications. BPOs can also provide part time work. So young people can work part time, earn well, and do their studies as well,” said Mr Sattar.

Aegis plans to double employment at Ismart from less than 1,000 at present, to 2,000 jobs over the next 12 – 18 months.

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