Outsourcing to fight mobile margin pinch

With enormous pressures on margins, mobile operators are increasingly outsourcing parts of their operation, particularly network operations.

By and large, these contracts go to international companies. NFT Consult is a Ugandan company that offers outsourced functions and has grown significantly by providing them to international companies like mobile operators, banks and oil companies.

Russell Southwood spoke to its founder Badru Ntege about how his kind of outsourcing services are used.

NFT Consult’s founder Badru Ntege ran one of Uganda’s ISPs and his wife Elizabeth used to work for former incumbent utl.

They are now responsible for the contracts of around 2,500 people: 1,000 in Uganda; 600 in Tanzania; 400 in Rwanda; 100 in Burundi; and the rest scattered elsewhere. However, only 55 are directly employed by them.

It offers a range of outsourced services including customer support (mobile sales outlets and call centres), human resources and network support services. In terms of the latter for example, all the Huawei engineers (who fix base stations) for a client in Rwanda and Burundi are contract employees of NFT Consult.

Likewise, customer sales outlets for another mobile client (Tigo in Tanzania) are staffed and managed entirely by the company.

“We pitch clients an agreement and different people are looking for different needs. For example, we have managed the entire workforce of a company coming into the region.”

“We helped them understand local employment regulations and how to manage people locally. We’ve now handed back 70% of those employees to them now they’re established.”

It’s also looking at executive search at the top end and is currently having a unit trained to do this:”I want to see whether we can get traction with this.”

So what’s the pitch to mobile operators? “It varies but it’s usually about giving them flexibility.

For example, we manage the walk-in sales and service centres. One operator who we took over this function from had ‘waiting to be served’ times of 40 minutes. We run it like a call centre.

Every service booth has to have 3-4 people sitting in it over the course of the day. That’s difficult for the operator as they have to go on the payroll and be managed.” The ‘waiting to be served’ time has now come down to 10-15 minutes.

It is doing a call centre in Burundi of refurbishing its own boutique call centre in Kampala that will be operational again in April. It also manages staff for MTN’s call centres in Uganda.

Ntege believes that the next area of expansion will be data services. It wants to put together field intelligence teams that can get fast and accurate data that operators can use quickly to target their competitors.

It is testing a solution that can either be a hosted service or be directly hosted in the enterprise customer: ”The data request can be met with 24-48 hours and the data can be mapped using GPS on Google maps.”

“We’re currently doing a proof of concept, mapping data on retail network. The data is collected live and sent to the company’s HQ. A team of young developers in our incubator hub have developed it.”

“We’re going to translate this data in a meaningful way, using client dashboards. As the market becomes more consumer-led, we’ll be making the data come alive.

When operators currently conduct a survey, they get the results well after they can do anything about it in most cases: this is what we might call ‘lag data’”.

“We have the expertise and ability to mobilise (survey) people in any of the six countries we’re in today. We can take someone to a village area and they can post GPS-located photographs of the state of retail outlets there. The value-add is our ability to mobilise people to get research done quickly wherever it’s needed.”

The company plans to double its revenues by 2015 and claims to be well on track to doing so:”The telcos are outsourcing everything so there’s a big opportunity there. I believe that we can double supply income in one operator alone.”

Ten years ago this kind of outsourcing was a rarity in companies operating in Africa.

By Balancing Act

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Outsourcing to fight mobile margin pinch