Ask the average person what a global capability centre (GCC) looks like, and they’ll probably describe an old-fashioned call centre, with rows of cubicles filled with people frantically making and receiving calls.

Nothing could be further from the reality of GCCs in 2021, writes Avesh Singh, head of TransUnion’s global capability centre in South Africa.

Traditionally, these centres have handled outsourced operations like back-office functions, business support, contact centres and IT support to allow enterprises to focus on their core business.

Today, they are rapidly moving up the value chain to provide sophisticated services that clients previously kept in-house. They’re doing a range of so-called ‘non-voice’ work, including producing project plans, performing quality assurance, and running data analytics. They’re integrating a range of new technology innovations, including the ability to provide asynchronous chat into the voice environment. In the process, they’re becoming strategic partners to business.

And here’s the kicker: they don’t even need physical premises. That’s changing the game from the old model of vast, single-location campuses that housed hundreds, or even thousands, of contact centre agents. Far from being a hindrance, the virtual model means they are able to scale at speed to accommodate the increased demands of the global markets they operate in.

Earlier this year, TransUnion opened a new virtual GCC in South Africa to facilitate greater innovation and provide support to clients around the world. At a time when Covid-19 was turning the global workforce on its head, it was a massive show of confidence in the future of the continent and the sector.

Six months later, the centre is expanding rapidly, both in terms of numbers and technology usage, as demand for innovative, skilled work continued to increase in markets across the world. It has since already started servicing TransUnion’s business and customers in the US and Canada, providing a range of support services in both French and English.

This is a clear indication of the growing confidence that big business has in the GCC industry, and the talent that is available in offshore destinations like Africa and India. Two decades ago, many enterprises were wary of outsourcing support functions, jobs and operations to foreign countries. Today, they recognise the skills and value that these destinations and operations bring to the table, and it’s been transformational for the industry.

South Africa and the continent’s value proposition as an offshore location in the global outsourcing market is significant, to say the least. We have a skilled English speaking workforce, a sizeable regional market opportunity, significant cost savings, sophisticated infrastructure and enabling environment, strong ICT and digital capabilities and a strong foundation in contact centres and niche domain areas.

As a result, we’re seeing the landscape change rapidly. The industry is not only bringing in new technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics, but it is also upskilling its workforce to be able to deliver more strategic services to businesses that are hungry for skills and an always-on business model.

A 2019 McKinsey study showed that many employees lack the necessary skills that will be required in the workplace by 2030. Businesses, and their people, simply don’t have the skills needed to handle the rapidly accelerating transition to a digital economy – so they’re increasingly looking outside the business for them.

The next step is for enterprises to start looking to their GCC service providers for actual business innovation. The critical element here is the ability to use data and data-driven insights to become a key driver of growth. When a GCC can provide actionable intelligence to its clients, it’s directly supporting business goals, like faster time-to-market and improved top-line growth, and delivering specific business outcomes.

As GCCs move up the value chain, and gain credibility with multinational businesses, they are providing an opportunity for tens of thousands of young people in South Africa and the continent to be upskilled and shine on a global stage. In South Africa alone, plans are afoot to help the sector achieve a target of 100 000 additional jobs by 2023 and 500 000 by 2030. The effects of this will be transformational for everyone.

For TransUnion, it’s a real step forward for our strategy of becoming one global organisation; a digital-first organisation that embraces the sharing economy, and promotes working from home as part of an inexorable shift towards a virtual working model. The opportunity is clear – and we’re ready to seize it.