ATIO: Southern Comfort

South Africa is becoming a highly desirable and profitable outsourcing destination. Chris Van der Sande explains why to Garry Flood.

The South African contact centre industry has experienced better than average growth for the last four years (8–10%, compared with 4–6% in other countries, depending on the analyst view or industry referred to).

"European firms are drawn to South Africa by its attractive labour costs, developed skills base and compatible time zone."

This growth has been fuelled by strong local economic growth, the deregulation of the telecommunications market and a push by the South African government and contact centre bodies to promote the county as a destination of choice for offshore contact centre and business process outsourcing services, in competition with countries such as India and the Philippines.

Many European firms believe that South Africa will be the next big destination for outsourcing. They are drawn to the country by its attractive labour costs, developed skills base and compatible time zone.


The outsourcing trend is expected to continue, as organisations look to both reduce costs and operate more effectively in a truly globalised economy – market watchers Datamonitor revealed that 23% of contact centres were outsourced to offshore locations in 2006, a figure set to rise to 27% by 2012.

One of the companies well placed to capitalise on this growth is local player ATIO, which is swiftly emerging as a leader in the global contact centre industry – not just in South Africa but across Africa. ATIO is a highly stable service provider (with a 21-year operating history) offering information and communication technology, and contact centre solutions and services to a wide range of organisations (public and private). The company’s interactive division has contact centre solutions deployed in 43% of African countries.


Contact centre and converged communication are the company’s core competencies, according to its CEO, Chris Van der Sande. But how has the company managed to do so well in this notoriously competitive market? According to Van der Sande the answer is ATIO’s experience and highly focused attention to client needs.

The company has strategic partnerships with technology industry leaders Nortel and Microsoft, as well as contact centre technology specialist Interactive Intelligence, Inc, so it has a strong technology portfolio to draw on. But it’s the company’s commitment to understanding the customer’s real business objectives that is the real differentiator, he believes.

Indeed, quality of service is a key value for ATIO, summed up in the slogan: ‘For us, it is not just business, it is personal.’ Half of the company’s employees are qualified engineers, while 80% of its people are dedicated to service delivery. Each client, for example, is given a customer services manager to support and optimise their investment.

‘To differentiate by service is in some ways unusual for this market,’ says Van der Sande. ‘On the one hand, we can offer a highly skilled workforce with a very flexible deployment methodology that aims to always deliver on time and on budget. But other organisations can claim to offer that, too. What really makes the difference is that we have the local resource to make our promises a reality, and not all our competition can offer that kind of commitment.’


That’s not to say that ATIO, under Van der Sande’s leadership, intends to rest on its laurels – far from it. He sees a clear need to continue to improve the company’s capabilities: ‘We are filling some technology gaps right now, especially around workforce optimisation capacity,’ he says.

Still, the message is clear: ATIO has developed the right kind of delivery model, allied to practical experience in getting large-scale contact centres to work, to take advantage of what Van der Sande is confident will continue to be a bull market, no matter what the global economic conditions may be.

‘In many ways we have only scratched the surface here. Many of our target clients are governments who want to offer greater citizen contact in the context of a relatively low proportion of internet penetration, meaning that voice is very much the right delivery mechanism for this market.

‘Moreover, as a national economy, South Africa continues to offer European organisations things they will find a welcome surprise – such as world class skills married to a really creative and innovative approach to problem solving.’

Chris Van der Sande, CEO of ATIO.