How have IBM's operations in Costa Rica evolved over time?
IBM's delivery center operations started in 2004 with a fairly limited scope in business process outsourcing (BPO), doing HR processes, such as payroll and benefits and travel and expense accounting in the F&A space, for around 11 clients. However, based on results and as we saw the talent and the capabilities of the resources in the country, we started to expand our scope in the business process outsourcing (BPO) field, where we started doing full scope services for F&A including balance sheet reconciliation, record to report, etc, and shared services or internal support to IBM North America in various areas. For any new scope in this space that we started supporting from our center,, we found talented people with excellent English, and most importantly with great attitude and willingness to learn. Once we had the full scope of BPO services here, we expanded scope into the IT outsourcing area, which is closer to IBM's core business—technology. In 2011, IBM reinvested in Costa Rica and opened a delivery center for IT outsourcing because the technical skills in the market were as good as the business process skills we had found here. We were able to grow by about 1,000 people in this area, within a few years all with technical skills, including doing incident management, technical project management, mainframe support work, provisioning, support for data center installations and migrations, etc. As our company transformed, our delivery center in Costa Rica, continued to evolve and we started doing cloud services and cybersecurity. We are constantly re-skilling and up-skilling our resources and are preparing our team to support other service lines such as R&D, IBM Watson Health, Blockchain and others if required. We have had great success with the local talent and have not yet found any service within IBM that cannot be done from Costa Rica. The people are talented, with good attitude and willingness lo learn and can be trained to do most jobs.
What does the country and industry need to do to develop more highly qualified STEM human capital here?
This is an important topic, and this is mostly where we focus our efforts when we talk to government, CINDE and various ministries. We ask about what the government is doing to prepare people for the new jobs that are needed today or coming in the near future. There is a big need for technical skills in the workforce. However, the work to incentive students needs to be done early on in the education system. We need to make young students in the sixth and seventh grade, who have not yet decided on their career path, become aware and excited about technology and technology-related jobs, which is our biggest need today and will be the jobs of the future. One way we support these initiatives is bringing students to our company and see what we do and get them excited about technology and show them the possibilities available with STEM skills and technology oriented education. The second point is that Costa Rica has around 10% unemployment, so the challenge is how can we re-skill that workforce to do the jobs in the technology industry that we need and where demand is growing.
What does IBM Costa Rica do to differentiate itself as the best solution provider?
The training and preparation of staff is number one in terms of serving clients and adding the greatest value to their business. However, lower value transactional processes that we do for clients are cheaper to do from other parts of the world. The way to add value for clients is to take their data, analyze it, and show them the trends and business insight. Instead of just being a service provider, one becomes a business partner and gives their clients opportunities to grow their revenue and improve their processes and products. Our focus at IBM Costa Rica is becoming that business partner to our clients and adding more value, rather than just taking care of their routine processes and requirements. We look at how we can collaborate with other IBM centers through our innovation and create assets that can be shared with others doing the same type of work. Innovation, high value skills and collaboration are key to strive to be the best.
What is IBM doing to attract STEM talent and retain it?
In terms of staff retention, IBM invests a great deal in training; in the market, if one hires someone from IBM, they will probably be well trained. To help with retention, we promote from within and offer a career to our employees. We have entry-, mid-, and high-level jobs, including those with global responsibilities based in Costa Rica. Our entry-level people can go anywhere in the world; there is no limit. We have many examples of people we have moved to work to places like Europe and the US. Our collaborators can build whatever career they like within our global services scope and it does not have to be based on what they studied in school. IBM offers a wide variety of career opportunities within the one company. For example, we provide the tools and education for an accountant who joins us to become a cybersecurity analyst if they want to. This is a great way to promote staff retention. Besides offering a great place to work, we also ensure we are at par with the market on standard benefits, such as transportation, private medical insurance, work from home opportunities and others and stay competitive in terms of salary. However, the investment in skills and education in our resources which enables one to grow or even change their career path to new areas, with different skill sets and challenges is our main retention point.
Would you tell us about IBM's main CSR projects and the ones you are most proud of?
IBM's current CSR focus is on three areas—women in technology, diversity in general, and skills development. We have Internship programs with Technical High schools and Universities. Besides providing the experience of a real job to the students we have a defined training curricula to help them develop soft skills that will make them more successful on their work life and we also give fundamental training on IBM new technologies. Also, we have a program named IBM Experience that includes soft skill training and Design Thinking workshops among others, this program is used to develop skills on IBM family members, vendors and students to make them more attractive for hiring. We bring in students from different schools and high schools from all over the country to look at what we do and give them a robotics-type projects to do to get them excited about STEM careers. We show them that we have many exciting jobs they could do. Our delivery center in Costa Rica has a large and state of the art cybersecurity center of excellence, and we provide courses and workshops to the public in order to build and grow cybersecurity skills that the rest of the market can use. We also partner with universities; for example, we provide CENFOTEC a cybersecurity curriculum. We are also working with universities to help them learn how to modify their IT curricula to stay up to speed in this field. We participate in several programs to promote women in technology, including working with groups and sponsoring women to bring more of them into the technology sector. Besides the Cybersecurity Academy we also provide free academies in our Innovation Hub for Data Science and Design Thinking. We work all these programs with different ONGs to support inclusiveness in technology and skills development.