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Ireland Shoots To Become Shared Services Center Of Europe

Ireland will not be the next Calcutta or Mumbai. It’s not trying to be the western world’s back office customer service contact center mecca. Which is probably just as well.

What it wants to do is build its position as Europe’s leading provider of the next business step from contact centers – contact center plus, if you will – offering serious technical support and a whole range of services far beyond offering simple solutions to customer demands. Some are operated by outsourced providers, but most in Ireland are run by the businesses they serve.

Here, the staff takes care of the entire internal communication system for large multinational operations. They not only handle traditional help desk calls, but also provide technical support to their own staff and businesses, dealing with HR issues such as recruitment and sick leave, payroll systems, corporate as well as internal communications on policy and strategy. , staff and customer information and the intranet function.

In its now sophisticated telecommunications sector, Ireland has 66 contact centers for a range of companies such as 3Com, American Airlines, AOL, Dell, eBay, GE Insurance, Google, Hewlett Packard, IBM, MBNA, Oracle, Starwood Hotels, Symantec and Xerox. – and that’s just an arbitrary sample.

These centers – Europeans call them shared service centers, but most Americans will be more familiar with the term managed services – are where Ireland sees its growth potential, although the Irish don’t have the intention to turn its back on the investments of ordinary contact centers in the service of the bank and the customer catalog for example.

Technology changes the product. Answering the phone is not enough these days. To be successful, centers must serve the world in a host of functions.

Customer backlash could boost Ireland’s efforts

A recent survey of 1,000 UK adults by contact center industry analysts ContactBabel found that 142 had switched providers because their existing provider used an offshore service, while three in four said they felt more negative towards their supplier if they used offshore agents.

Steve Morrell, principal analyst at ContactBabel, said in the report: “If UK businesses fail to address customer concerns, the level of customer defection will rise and their profits will decline further.”

This is a problem – and for Ireland, an opportunity. In India, university graduates, lured by the prestige of contact center jobs, earn perhaps ten times the average salary but cost their employers only a tenth of the price of a European or state-based operation. -United.

In theory, this means that a typical bank with 12 million customers and revenue of $400 per customer each year would save more than $17 million by replacing 1,000 employees in its expensive call center with 1,000 in India. The downside is that the same hypothetical bank would only need about 1% of its customers to switch to another bank in protest for losing all those savings instantly.

“Ireland is the only English-speaking member of the eurozone,” said Brendan Haplin, head of international media at IDA, the Irish government agency that seeks foreign investment from around the world. “Ireland offers a first-class advanced telecommunications infrastructure that includes vital bandwidth and hosting capacity, and we are backing all of this with strong IDA support, both financial and practical.”

The call ? Language and low taxes?

Ireland’s landscape – business and cultural – has attracted far more than its fair share of not only European but also American business. “Ireland has changed dramatically over the past 10 or 20 years,” says Haplin. “We now have between 60 and 70 multilingual, pan-European and transatlantic shared service centers.”

We are talking about large companies of the size and scale of IBM or Dell. Overall, these organizations are extremely happy with the quality of staff, quality of life and service delivery they have found in Ireland. They bring in selected technical experts from the United States, then use locally selected personnel to develop and expand the skill base.

These great operators are proof of success, not just because they stay there, but because they can report significant cost savings, increased efficiency, better customer service, and more. real sales momentum that ultimately delivers better returns to shareholders.

Ireland, adds Haplin, offers an attractive package, with a low corporation tax of just 12.5%. She works hard to minimize bureaucracy and instead design a low-risk, fast-start, high-performance knowledge economy. “We have a well-developed environment for call center and shared services operations, as we have all the basic ingredients in place: the skills and knowledge, experience and availability of multilingual and knowledgeable staff in IT and the global strategic fit that provides facilities for businesses to “follow the sun” on a 24/7 model.”

A growing population bodes well for employers

While Ireland may deserve a place on a company’s shortlist of potential offshore locations today, what will it be tomorrow? Will the right talent – in sufficient quantity – be available? According to Dr William Harris, chief executive of the Science Foundation of Ireland, the answer is a resounding “yes”. “The key element of knowledge creation lies in intangible assets such as expertise, insight, talent, passion, imagination and perseverance.

“We believe that investing in such capabilities is the best predictor of success that Ireland can have,” adds Harris. “Ireland is brimming with young talent ready to make science and engineering the next big wave of Irish innovation.”

Ireland is one of the few European countries to experience an increase in population and some 260,000 people, or 12.6% of the total labor force, are employed in business services. While the worker population is shrinking in other countries, which portends real problems, Ireland is looking to develop a pool of young talent on par with that of the United States.

[SIDEBAR] The Irish landscape: ready to compete

Ireland has changed and changed dramatically. Gone are those sad depictions of girls in love bidding tearful goodbyes to men who were ready to live in the New Worlds of America or Australia? They would make a fortune and return to build a castle and start a family in Kilkenny.

Over the past two decades, the Celtic Tiger has been slicing its way through the jungles of the global economy. He gets plumper, healthier, and more voracious with every paw print he makes.

The environment is hospitable

The quality of life is a fabulous balance between stunning scenery and superb leisure options. Golf courses, angling, cycling, camping, hiking and searching for deserted bays along the rugged coastline are just a few possibilities to ponder.

Property is cheap (except in central Dublin) and land plentiful. Petrol is around half the price it is in the UK and corporation tax of 12.5% ​​sits alongside the US 39.5% or UK 30% . Although the value added tax is 21%, it will not have much impact on companies whose profits are based on exporting outside the EU and the government has simplified red tape. If 85% of your goods or services are for export, then you will be exempt, so you won’t have to fill out forms to reclaim VAT.

The Irish are renowned – and rightly so – for their warm hospitality, and this extends not just to a pint of Guinness with a passing stranger but to those who have come to stay longer.

Unlike some of their European neighbours, the Irish are not unhappy with the arrival of migrant workers but welcome them with open arms as a real and useful addition to the native skill base.

Location and politics provide a counterweight

Air travel is reasonable but needs more development. The main airport is close to Dublin and offers around 100 direct destinations worldwide. There is a second international airport at Shannon and smaller, mainly short-haul facilities at Cork, Belfast and Londonderry. Most international flights depart from Dublin or Shannon.

In terms of freight transport, ferry services are solid but the distance from mainland Europe makes them slow. Although a crossing from Dublin to Holyhead on the Welsh coast takes less than two hours, Normandy is 7pm. From Belfast and Larne in the north there are faster crossings to Scotland and England.

A long history of a sluggish agricultural economy meant Ireland was slow to enter the 20th, let alone the 21st century. Apart from a few large cities, there remains a wonderfully preserved but also underdeveloped rural society.

Ireland entered the European Union with Objective 1 status, meaning its underdeveloped economic state qualified it for a whole host of major infrastructure grants to help it progress rapidly . Its heavy rural culture saw the benefits of the Common Agricultural Policy, instantly allowing farmers access to guaranteed markets and guaranteed prices for their produce, though much of it ended up being dumped on mountains of butter and in milk lakes. Almost half of the total EU budget of €44.5 billion is spent on agricultural subsidies of one kind or another.

The maze of minor country roads gives Ireland much of its charm, but isn’t much use for heavy trucks hauling large loads of produce to markets around the world. European Union money has helped extend road and motorway infrastructure essential to economic growth.

All of this has encouraged new investors from other countries to settle in Ireland. The government encouraged them with enticing packages that lured Dell, Xerox, Baxter International, Hertz and a host of others before they even hit contact centers.

But all that aid from the eurozone is now gone. The rise of the Celtic tiger, the reality of economic growth, has forced Ireland to move from being a grantee of the European Union to a provider of grants to other emerging countries, including some of the 10 new countries whose membership brought the European bloc to 25 in total.

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