Region

Africa & Middle East

Mauritius cranks up the volume

By SRITHARAN VELLASAMY & Shoba Montague

Mauritius Ministry of Information and Communication Technology hosted its first International ICT/BPO Conference and Networking Forum at the Le Meridien Hotel, Pointe aux Piments over two days in October this year.

The conference showcased to international stakeholders the achievements and technology development in Mauritius to position the country as a preferred ICT/BPO destination.

Leading advisors from Gartner, AT Kearney, the World Economic Forum as well as other high profile delegations from Europe, Asia, USA and Africa attended the event, which provided a solid opportunity in bringing these relevant audience together for networking, knowledge sharing and business development experience.

The conference opened with an impressive line-up of speakers such as Swami Swaminathan, CEO & Managing Director of Infosys BPO; Yves Bernaert, CEO of Accenture (Mauritius); Santiago Cortes, Vice President & Managing Director of HP (Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa), Atul Vashistha, CEO of global advisory Neo Group; Soumitra Dutta, Academic Director at INSEAD; and Jerry Durant, Chairman of the International Institute for Outsource Management (IIOM).

Mauritius’ Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Tassarajen Pillay Chedumbrum left no doubt as to the objective of the conference when he said: “We shall leave no stone unturned to attract new entrants, high end ICT-BPO activities to our shores.

“With this conference we hope to provide a platform for ICT-BPO stakeholders, policy-makers and the research community to discuss emerging issues and trends and chart the way forward. By making this an annual event, we hope to make Mauritius a preferred destination for ICT-BPO amongst our targeted audience. As soon as the curtain is drawn on ICT-BPO Conference 2011, we shall start setting the stage for edition in 2012.”

This conference is also a platform to unveil all the achievements of the Mauritius government’s National ICT Strategic Plan (NICTSP) 2007-2011 to a global audience in the hope of positioning Mauritius to be an outsourcing hub.

It strategically sits at the crossroads of major trade routes between Asia and Africa, Australia and Europe and enjoys strong historical links with the European Union and USA.

Its membership to key bilateral and multinational trade agreements has brought it sourcing opportunities from the African continent.

Now Mauritius hopes with the progress it has made in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), will attract outsourcing interests from other parts of the world too.

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ICT boosts existing core industries

The Mauritian economy rests on five pillars, namely sugar, tourism, textile, financial services and ICT.

Insulated by political stability, it has for the last 20 years enjoyed an overall GDP growth of 5%, a factor few African countries can claim.

As sugar and tourism are sensitive to global downturns, Mauritius saw an economic slowdown at the turn of the century when its economic growth fell from 9.3% in 1999 to 5.8% in 2001 due to such susceptibility.

Today by proper planning of its ICT development through government initiatives such as the NICTSP 2007-2011, ICT has now climbed to the third pillar of the Mauritian economy.

It is also unique as a pillar of revenue because it sustains other existing pillars and as such through ICT, sugar and tourism segments are booming too.

“In our efforts to make ICT as one of the leading pillars of the economy, we are not neglecting the traditional dollar earning tourism sector,” explained Chedumbrum.

“Instead ICT has enhanced Mauritius’ tourism by raising the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of services and providing interactive featuresfor information and knowledge elements and business and social transactions. ICT is expected to boost tourism revenue from its current 6.4% to 8.2% by 2012.

“Also we have a unique concept of marketing Mauritius as a ‘Work and Play’ destination to attract more global companies to set up offices here and ICT allows us to do this very effectively.”

Foreign companies In Mauritius

Integrating the launch of Hewlett Packet (HP) in Mauritius at the ICT/ BPO Conference showed the government’s commitment to foreign companies.

“Increasing the number of multinationals is expected to make Mauritius an attractive destination for BPO and ITO services provision,” said Chedumbrum, adding that the presence of Infosys in Mauritius was also giving the country a great push in capability and capacity building.

The Business Process Outsourcing sector (BPO) in Mauritius is experiencing high growth. Research firm Frost and Sullivan reported that Mauritius’ BPO sector generated revenues worth US$200 million in 2009.

The report also indicated that by 2017, the BPO sector will register significant growth and generate revenues worth Rs23 billion (US$760m).

It also explained that the business environment, the government’s policy and fiscal measures as well as sound economic measures have facilitated the growth of the sector.

Local Talent

“Mauritius has already drawn the attention of multinationals, but the challenge is whether the nation and its people can provide the talent pool needed for them to make us a top ICT BPO destination,” said Chedumbrum.

“One advantage Mauritians already have is bilingual competency in English and French. So companies looking to outsource their services here have skilled labour with multi-lingual abilities.”

Another challenge is to create a population that knows how to utilise and maximise the high connectivity of Mauritius society, which the government plans to build through infrastructure.

Several initiatives have been introduced to promote the use of ICT throughout the entire population. “Our Cabinet has approved setting up of Wi-Fi in 10 zones , namely five in the city, four in the district councils and town municipalities and one in the outer island,” said Chedumbrum.

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“We are even exploring the possibility of making bus stations WiFi connected so that the public can remain connected while waiting for their transport. These are places where ordinary people dependent upon public transportation tend to spend substantial time.  

“For those people unable to afford computers and laptop or cellular devices, the Government is providing on an average of 6 to 8 terminals in public places where large numbers of people gather such as major bus stops or post offices in the country.”

The government recognises that the younger generation is the talent pool the country is looking to in helping it move towards becoming an outsourcing hub.

As such free internet facility has been granted to all primary and secondary schools.

To help parents of the youth to see the benefits of ICT and encourage them to use it, Chedumbrum shared a story of how technology is being used to combat the truancy problem in Mauritian schools.

All schools have an e-Register that records the particulars of the students and their parents. He said that when a child is absent, the e-Register system notes this and the child’s parents automatically get a text message on their cellular phone.

The parents’ too must use of the system to revert to the school with an explanation of their child’s whereabouts. The automated system will also inform the parents when the child re-appears in school and give them the reasons given by that child for his disappearance.

Not wanting to leave out any segment of the population, the government is also reaching out to the rural community and senior citizens by providing infrastructure and incentives for them to be more interactive in ICT.

One such initiative is called the Public Internet Access Points (PIAP). Through PIAP, free internet access will be provided by The Mauritius Post Ltd, funded by the Information and Communication Technology Authority Mauritius to some 125,000 senior citizens, 50,000 unemployed and 49,000 disabled, widows and orphans through the Public Internet Access Points (PIAPs) installed in 93 post offices throughout Mauritius.

Infrastructure

None of the above initiatives can be implemented without the right infrastructure and Mauritius has spent an enormous sum of money on this.

Its latest Lion 2 submarine fibre optic cable will connect Mauritius to Asia and Europe contributing significantly to international bandwith and enhancing resiliency. 

The government is developing a national broadband policy to ensure high availability of ICT to the general population by making it more robust and competitively priced.

Mauritius also has reliable satellite connectivity that ensures 99.9% telecommunications uptime. This has also dramatically brought down international telecommunications costs from US$40,000 in 1990 to US$4,100 by 2010.

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Safety

Mauritius legal framework governing the ICT sector has been developed according to international norms and best practices. It has several statutes in place that see to this such as the Data Protection Act 2004, Computer Misuse and Cyber Crime Act 2003, The Information  and Communication Technologies Act 2001 (as amended) and the Electronic Transaction Act 2000.

It is already fast growing as a hub for data centres and has distinguished itself further from other countries by constructing green data centres anticipating that future best business practices and certification could specify this as a requirement.

Mauritius is also in the process of implementing eJudiciary, which will computerise the internal processes of the court system and moving towards a paperless system, eliminating the need for physical storage space and
security.

In July this year, Mauritius’ Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam signed an agreement with the London Court of International Arbitration at Marlborough House to make Mauritius an International Arbitration Centre.

“We hope to see Mauritius not only a safe tourist destination but also a safe business destination. By ensuring a fair and open legal system, foreign companies will feel more secure to do business here,” said Chedumbrum.

Green Initiatives

As Mauritius is fast becoming an attractive location for data centres, it has started to leverage on this strength by constructing green data centres to make the sector more profitable.

The Mauritius Eco-Park will use sea water air conditioning (SWAC) to cool data centres.

The Eco-Park plans to build a system of pipes that will extend two miles offshore and as much as 1,000m (3,200 feet) beneath the ocean surface, where the water is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5ºC). The cold water will be piped back to the data centre complex and used in the facility’s cooling system, eliminating the need for power hungry chillers.

The electricity it uses is 1/10th the cost of conventional air-conditioners, thereby significantly reducing costs while saving the planet.

Mauritius’ image as a “Work and Play” destination is also heavily reliant on a lush and pristine landscape and ocean and an environment that is free from many of the diseases affecting the sub-tropical countries of the world.

Looking Ahead

The conference ended not with a “we have arrived” attitude but rather with an air of excitement for what other possibilities the present achievements can bring.

Already the National ICT Strategic Plan (NICTSP) 2011-2014 has been formulated and the ICT/BPO 2012 being planned. Mauritius is using ICT only as a means to an end and that end is to see the country achieve the status as a world-class outsourcing hub.  

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