IDC Envisions U.S. Firms as ”Virtual Diplomats” in the Middle East of the Future

FRAMINGHAM, MA – MARCH 7, 2005 – U.S. firms establishing smart call centers, or "virtual diplomats," in the Middle East will gain access to a growing and relatively untapped market while improving Middle Eastern perceptions of U.S. businesses, according to a recent IDC study. The progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, which appears to be gaining traction, and the U.S. engagement in renewed diplomatic efforts with Europe, provides U.S. firms with the unique opportunity of establishing smart contact centers in the Middle East as part of a global sourcing strategy. IDC cites the benefits of previous alliances between the U.S. and tumultuous regions, in particular the model of economic alliance between U.S. companies and Northern Ireland in the 1990s, as models for economic success in the Middle East.

"Virtual diplomacy really has a chance to forge new connections at a confusing time," said Stephen Loynd, a senior analyst in Services Research at IDC. "The precedent was set in Northern Ireland over the course of the 1990s, but perhaps not enough U.S. corporations recognized the multifaceted quality and potential of contact centers as ambassadors for change. Not only does a company that pursues a Middle East sourcing strategy gain in business process efficiencies, but it also has the chance to forge meaningful links with appreciative populations and governments, opening up a whole new set of opportunities for the future."

As call centers proved to be a positive influence in the drama of Northern Ireland and in the development of Ireland's high-technology industry, certain political and business leaders are eager to lend similar U.S. influence to the Middle East.

Fueling the enthusiasm for call center outsourcing to the Middle East has been The Northern Ireland-Middle East Connection (NIMEC), an organization led by software entrepreneur John Cullinane, who first lead the U.S. alliance with Northern Ireland. NIMEC is leveraging the methods and lessons of the Northern Ireland experience as support for the application of the economic development model in the Middle Eastern market.

Several other groups have emerged in the pursuit of successful economic alliance between the U.S. and the Middle East, including the Aspen Institute's Middle East Strategy Group (MESG), which has incorporated the notion of economic success and alliance in the Middle East within its primary goal for a two-state solution to the Arab-Isreali conflict.

"The contact center concept is relatively new across the Middle East," adds Loynd. "For many, the question remains whether outsourcing is a viable option amidst such a vexing environment. But a model does exist that suggests a bright future for just such a concept."

IDC believes the following themes from the Northern Ireland example can be applied by companies that are interested in pursuing a Middle East sourcing strategy:

— Smart contact centers – "virtual diplomats" – can become important force multipliers, both for American business and diplomacy.

— Government involvement and support can play an important role in helping contact centers grow and flourish in the Middle East.

— Colleges and universities can play a powerful part by helping foster new ideas and alliances.

— Networks of influential individuals with relevant skill-sets and expertise can help build real momentum for change in a region long mired in conflict

The IDC study, The Northern Ireland-Middle East Connection: Smart Contact Centers as "Virtual Diplomats" in a New Vision for the Future (IDC #32689), investigates how offshore outsourcing and the contact center may well take on a starring role in the Middle East, and presents essential guidance and recommendations on how businesses might approach a Middle East sourcing strategy. Also provided are specific vendor profiles of companies and organizations leveraging successful sourcing strategies in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

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