Shillong wants to be North-East back-office hub, courts tech firms

Shillong wants to be North-East back-office hub, courts tech firms

In the short history of the Indian back-office services industry, the North-East region has had an important role to play. At least four of the seven states there have a high percentage of English-speaking population and, over the last few years, have become prime recruiting ground for the country’s small and large call centres alike. Every month, call centres hire workers in the North-East by the dozen, train them and ship them to far-off locations such as Bangalore or Mumbai.

One town in the hilly region is asking the question: In an age of robust telecom connectivity, why should our young travel over 3,000km to work in Bangalore?

Shillong, with its abundant and untapped English-speaking talent pool, is home to four universities, 15 colleges and more than 100 schools, and is chasing a dream of becoming the North-East’s information technology and back-office destination. Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya.

Ambitious? Perhaps, but not impossible for a city looking to increase the presence of outsourcing firms from the handful today.

At present, just one business process outsourcing (BPO) firm runs a mid-sized operation in Shillong: technology solutions and BPO firm S S NetCom Pvt. Ltd, which runs a round-the-clock online back office, mans operations such as customer support for telecom operator Aircel Cellular Ltd. The two-year-old company has around 400 people employed in its BPO division, 300 of who work for Aircel.

The government of Meghalaya, on its part, is doing all it can to attract the big technology and back-office firms to invest and set up base in Shillong. Early next month, the department of information technology will set up a so-called software technology park (STP), the equivalent of an industrial for software and BPO service firms that provides high bandwidth connectivity and infrastructure.

“Not too many IT/ITeS (information technology and information technology-enabled services) companies are operating in Shillong at present. The STP would be the curtain raiser. Once the 1.3 acre STP becomes operational next month, we are hoping the big players would also look at Shillong as a tier II destination comparable with the infrastructure of other cities and towns of similar profile and size," said Donald P. Wahlang, information technology secretary to the government of Meghalaya. Besides, he said, Shillong offers talent at a lower cost compared with larger cities, and lower attrition.

The state government has received expressions of interest from around 15 companies, and space has been provided to seven companies, including Bangalore-based Chillibreeze Solutions Pvt. Ltd, to avail software and BPO services at the STP. Chillibreeze, a design and content firm that already has a team of around 50 content writers and designers at Shillong, is keen on expanding in the hill town.