ICT: In search of better connections
A small group of global outsourcing operators in the cluster of gleaming tower blocks known as Ebene Cyber City is the driving force for the island’s newest area of growth – information and communications technology. Earmarked by the government as “the fifth pillar of the economy”, ICT is the third biggest contributor to gross domestic product, making up 6.7 per cent in 2011.
“Our main competitors are in north Africa, which already serves the French-speaking market, but we believe that our stable environment will work to our advantage,” he says.
The recent addition of two subsea fibre optic cables (Lower Indian Ocean Networks 1 and 2) to the South African Far East (SAFE) cable has provided the capacity to turn Mauritius into a digital information hub, says Mr Pillay Chedumbrum.
“To improve staff skills, we have set up an ICT Academy through a public-private partnership that will involve leading companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Oracle. It will be industry-driven. Anyone who graduates from the academy will get a job.”
The government says Mauritius is the lowest-cost ICT base in the French-speaking world, citing a recent survey. However, operators and local corporate users are critical of the country’s infrastructure, especially the cost and slowness of internet connection. They also regard the dominant role of Mauritius Telecom, the state-owned operator that has a partnership with France’s Orange, as an obstacle to development.
“There is a big debate on infrastructure, especially telecoms connectivity,” says Vidia Mooneegan, the local managing director of US-based Ceridian Global Workforce. “It has got better, but it still isn’t sufficient. Mauritius needs more competition, especially on internet providers. The national rate of internet penetration is poor – roughly 25 to 30 per cent. That needs to be trebled in the next three years. In a remote country, internet connection is vital,” he says.
Ceridian Global began developing software in Mauritius for the group’s UK office, but moved into payroll, tax, medical claims and human resources outsourcing when the SAFE cable landed. Other global business process operators on the island include Accenture, Orange, Business Solutions and TNT.
“Mauritius produces IT graduates of a quality comparable anywhere in the developed world,” says Mr Mooneegan. Ceridian has a strategic partnership in training with India’s NIIT, but he also believes that Mauritius’ ICT Academy is raising local skill levels.
Mr Mooneegan sees strong growth potential in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Africa has talent in this sector, and at a lower cost than here. And some of them speak European languages such as German and Portuguese, as well as French or English. “Mauritius could be a secondary location for some of these countries’ operators, using the multicultural model that made Silicon Valley so creative.
“We can bring qualified people here, there is no problem obtaining work permits and a lot of bright people want to move to Mauritius, not only from Africa but also from Europe.”
Source: Financial Times