Finances Hold Back Uganda Call Center

Financial challenges are holding back the launch of Uganda's first call center, being set up by Makerere University's faculty of Computing and Information Technology (CIT).

The staff of the three-year-old faculty at Uganda's oldest university expected to have the center up and running by September last year.

"Funding has been a challenge, although we seem to be making a breakthrough," Michael Niyitegeka, the faculty's head of corporate relations, said via e-mail.

The school hopes the US$1 million call center will provide national directory services, and in the future, attract offshore work.

"The contract to supply the equipment was signed, and once we have mobilized the resources required, then we are in business," Niyitegeka said. "With certainty, before the end of the year."

The call center will be housed in a newly constructed 12,000-square-meter complex.

Of the $1 million that has been budgeted, $700,000 will be used to acquire the necessary technology, with the remaining $300,000 to be spent on operational costs.

Professor Venansius Baryamureeba, the dean of the CIT faculty, said the plan has a component that calls for preparing human resources to work in the outsourcing industry.

In its first phase, the call center will have 50 workstations and employ 200 people divided into three work shifts, with provisions for the center to be scaled up to a 700-seat capacity as demand grows.

Training of the candidates to work as call-center agents has already started, and out of the trainees, a first group of agents will be chosen.

The center was at first envisaged to provide Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) services for offshore companies, but because of the high costs of bandwidth to facilitate cheap outbound calls to Europe and the U.S., Uganda cannot compete with countries like India, which already has this infrastructure in place, Baryamureeba said.

This means that call-center operations will be made in a phased approach, with more functions added over time.

First, the faculty intends to set up a one-stop center providing directory services before expanding the portfolio to provide services like customer care, data entry, indexing and telemarketing for banks, telecom companies and hotels. The goal of the directory services is to grow a database of 400,000 clients.

"The faculty has carried out negotiations with various companies, and some have indicated a willingness to outsource a portion of their operations to the call center," Niyitegeka said.

The venture will be used to generate revenue for CIT and Makerere University in general, but will still stay true to its mission of being a training, research and consultancy center, he said.

Since the center is part of an academic institution, Baryamureeba notes, the main focus will be to create human capital, "so the key objective will be to train as many people as possible who can go out and start other call centers."

The data-capturing process for the directory database is already under way. Advertisements will soon run in local media inviting companies and organizations to register online and provide information that will be entered into the database.

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