In a watershed joint venture, South Africa’s customer management and business process outsourcing (BPO) supplier, Merchants, and the Bahrain government’s e-government Authority (eGA), have created a National Contact Centre aimed at creating jobs for Bahraini nationals and enabling service delivery to citizens.

The joint venture, known as Silah Gulf, will also provide BPO facilities to private and public sector organisations in the rest of the Gulf Co-operation Council region.

In a first for the BPO industry, Merchants licensed to Silah Gulf its intellectual property (IP) around the design, development, deployment and operation of contact centres – as well as providing professional services – in exchange for a 33% stake in the business.

The IP licence will run for five years.

The creation of this JV enabled the Bahrain government to execute a key part of its 2030 Vision for the economic development of the Kingdom’s economy.

“Merchants’ commitment to making our economic development strategy a reality was exceptional,” says eGA CEO, Mohammed Ali Al Qaed.

“For one thing, we didn’t want a contact centre simply to reduce the costs of answering calls. We wanted the NCC to actually deliver the services of all our government departments – so that people needed to call only one number, no matter what their service delivery needs were. We relied on Merchants to show us how to take advantage of the process integration and consolidation – and the consequent service delivery improvement – that a contact centre makes possible.

“In addition, we wanted the NCC to provide employment for 1 000 people within three years of start-up. But we wanted to scale up over time so as not to incur enormous costs upfront or start too small and then have to rip and replace once we began to grow.

“We couldn’t find either the technology or a local supplier to do that for us. Merchants brought in their parent company, Dimension Data, to help on the technology side and then provided their own intellectual property to guide us to the best possible solution in the shortest possible time.”

So successful has the solution been that Silah has won two awards in the Middle East region only 14months into full operations.

On 18th May, it took Best Contact Centre at the Qatar Customer Service Excellence Summit in Doha and on 31 May it won the Best New Outsource Call Centre of the Year award at the Middle East Call Centre Conference in Dubai.

Silah has also landed its first private sector customer inside Bahrain and one in Kuwait – and, as a result, already has some 260 employees.

Joe Tawfik, Silah Gulf CEO, says that the company has a high performance culture with strong values and an ethos centred on delivering exceptional customer experiencesfor its clients. “However, the value proposition that Merchants brought to the table is also visible in every aspect of the business – from the way the technology fits together to the human resources, operational, and quality processes that ensured that we achieved consistent, standardised service levels from day one.”

Tawfik believes that Silah Gulf stands head and shoulders above its 700 regional competitors because it doesn’t just address a customer’s transactional needs. “Our enhanced customer management actually creates strategic value. We work with our clients on a development plan that accelerates their growth and profitability.”

Adam Foster, MD of Merchants, says that Silah Gulf gives the Kingdom of Bahrain a highly functional operational facility from which technology and services can be sold to the region on an on-demand basis. “What’s especially pleasing is that our intellectual property helped give the Bahrain government the means to derisk the process of achieving its strategic objectives. The joint venture is a remarkable example of a private public partnership paying dividends at every level.”