Is Cuba Ready for a BPO Revolution? We Have Some Answers

Costa Rica Services Summit Coverage (The show is over, but the reporting continues!)

Officials from Cuba's DISAIC, (Cristina Espinosa on left and Mayra Barreto) spoke optimistically about Cuba's emerging professional services sector

Officials from Cuba's DISAIC (Cristina Espinosa on left and Mayra Barreto) spoke optimistically about Cuba's emerging professional services sector. CRM Central Editor Kirk Laughlin joins them at the Costa Rica Services Summit.

The establishment of Cuba as an Nearshore services base for US corporations is not as outrageous as we might have thought only a year ago. Recent geopolitical shifts (including the recent wrangling over Cuba’s potential OAS membership, detailed here in Time Magazine) are revealing a genuine thaw between the US and Cuba with the potential removal of the “insane” embargo in place since 1960.

While I don’t plan to incite any political firestorms here, there are clearly some valid causes to encourage normalized trade relations with Cuba, cultivate technology transfer and  enable Cuba to slowly develop a viable, long-term export services sector. Why? For the same reasons that apply to many of its Nearshore neighbors – from Panama to Nicaragua and Jamaica and the Dominican Republic – the  inflow of foreign capital into economically distressed nations generally causes good things to happen. Jobs appear where they didn’t before, university students develop career aspirations that are based on realistic opportunity, knowledge workers develop specialized skills and foreign corporations begin to investigate the long-term value of initiating sourcing relationships.

Can this happen in Cuba? It’s not as insane as you might think.

I say that because I sat down with two Cuba government officials at the Costa Rica Services Summit, both of whom work for at DISAIC, a government agency focused on consulting with Cuba business to improve their technology infrastructure, HR, training and technical services.  Sitting down for an interview was Cristina Ramirez Espinosa, marketing communications director  and Mayra Sanchez Barreto, IT consulting director.

One of the first things Espinosa pointed out is that Cuba has no restrictions against working with US companies. The hands that are bound are those of the US companies themselves. When asked about President Obama’s recent overtures which call for Cuba to take steps toward revising its governing policies, she spoke optimistically about Cuba “accessing his invitation”.

Meanwhile, Espinosa emphasizes that Cuba is focused on a strategy which is driven around exporting professional services, throughout the world. “Our biggest potential is built around our human capital,” says Espinosa. (For more on Cuba’s human capital, check out these impressive statistics.) Cuba in fact has one of the highest literacy rates in the entire world. The number of IT trained specialists is said to be in the tens-of-thousands, but we’re still searching for accurate statistics. (Anyone with solid data – pass it along.)

Espinosa cites several specialty areas in the emerging services sector: IT engineering/ systems; cyber security and Internet specialists and telecom engineering. Current professional services outsourcing trading partners include Spain, Venezuela, Colombia and Chile.

And what about all the Cuban-Americans who rigidly defend the embargo despite recent signs of promise? “Those people came to the US before the revolution,” she says. “Young people are not resistant to the change.”

What’s really important – in my mind – is the fact that the Cuban people have endured years of hardship and for once in a very long time, there is now a viable window of opportunity that could lead to vast improvements in the  quality of life for Cuban citizens.

Cuba is so close to American shores that over 60 species of birds fly over from the United States. Some make the trip in as little as three hours. Sometimes you have to wonder – who really is the lesser species?

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