Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Merry Christmas and All the Best for 2012

I would like to wish all our clients and staff a very Happy Christmas.

We at SouthWestern look forward to working with you all again in 2012.


Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Public Service Reform

SouthWestern welcomes the recently announced programme of reform for the Public Service in Ireland.  We welcome in particular the establishment of a Reform and Delivery office within the Department so that the 200+ actions highlighted will be managed and followed-through in a rigorous fashion.

SouthWestern today offers the Public Service a flexible partnership that can be tailored to accommodate surges in activity that can be seasonal, reactive or planned as part of a project or campaign.  We have a long history of supporting Public Sector entities in the delivery of excellent services to Ireland's citizens and look forward to developing further solutions as part of the reform agenda highlighted

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Value added benefits of a public-private partnership

I was interested to read the views of a NHS director in Family Health Services currently using the Shared Services model as a means to streamline their processes, making them more efficient and cost effective. Read the article below from

Modernising the NHS back office - shared services not just about cutting costs

Director of Family Health Services for NHS SBS Jon Baker joins the debate on transforming the NHS's back office and reducing costs through shared services.

With a budget deficit of over 8%, the government wants the public sector to increase efficiencies, drive down costs and offer greater choice – working with private companies to gain even more value where appropriate. Despite the delays in reform, the NHS is one area in which the government has already experimented with allowing the private sector to run back-office services.

With the changes currently proposed, the emphasis remains on providing an NHS that is focused on patient care, quality and better patient outcomes. Critical to its success is accurate patient data and robust back-office processes to underpin the move to clinical commissioning groups. The shared services model has led the way in demonstrating the transformational change and efficiency savings that can be achieved. However, it is not all about saving money to achieve QIPP targets and the £20bn challenge; it is also about working in partnership to transform and modernise the back office, making it fit to meet the challenges of the future – state-of-the-art technology, governance and data security, and people who really understand the needs of NHS clients.

NHS Shared Business Services (NHS SBS) is jointly owned by the NHS and business services company Steria, and manages Family Health Services, Finance and Accounts, Payroll and HR, and Commercial NHS Procurement for more than 40% of the NHS. The Family Health Services has particularly demonstrated the benefits of the shared services model to really transform the way some back-office primary care services are managed, whilst achieving proven cost savings for the NHS.

There are five core services within Family Health Services, which are:
  • Patient registration;
  • Medical records management;
  • Call and recall for screening;
  • Performers list application;
  • Payments processing.
NHS SBS provides services for 16 primary care trusts (PCTs) in the East Midlands and North East London, supporting a population in excess of 6.1 million. In addition to core services, it provides individual services, such as GP list validation, bulk mailing and printing, as well as physical medical record storage.

Streamlining and modernising services involves at least 30% savings in operational expenditure; enhanced data security and information governance; successful transfer of NHS staff; and consolidation of multiple operational centres – using a shared services model to achieve efficiency savings, quality improvements and better patient data.

Working in partnership

NHS SBS is one example of successful public private partnership working. In addition to achieving efficiency savings and service transformation, there are many value added benefits, enabling NHS clients to share in the continued success of joint ventures – a true NHS public private sector success story.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Mortgage Arrears – the Supervisory Strategy of the Central Bank of Ireland

Matthew Elderfield, Head of Regulation, Central Bank of Ireland – October 14th, 2011

I attended this UCC FSIC (Financial Services Innovation Centre) and ACOI (Association of Compliance Officers in Ireland) sponsored event last week and found the subject matter of Matthew Elderfield's speech entirely relevant not just to the domestic mortgage sector, but pertinent to all utility providers servicing the Irish market in the current climate.

In his introduction, Mr. Elderfield stated “…I would like to focus on the very difficult issue of mortgage arrears which is a top priority for the Central Bank.  I welcome the opportunity today to outline in turn the different elements of our supervisory strategy in this area.  I will also tell you about the new work the Central Bank is undertaking in this area which will involve setting out our expectations on the structures and processes regulated lenders should put in place to handle their arrears……………..”

“The significant increase in arrears over time is clear  – the number of primary dwelling mortgage loans in arrears of more than 90 days past due, increased from 3.3% in September 2009 to 7.2% in June 2011.”

Such is the challenge of past-due payments, some utilities i.e. electricity, gas and telco providers have already recognised they need to proactively engage with their customer base struggling to pay their bills.
This engagement is not a simple task; it requires an expertise in debt arrears management - expertise in both systems and people.  At SouthWestern, because of our knowledge and experience in such a space, we are working with leading companies in the energy, telecoms and mortgage book sectors, helping them to do just that – recognize the early signals of payment difficulties, engage with their customers fairly and transparently, to offer options, e.g. payment plans or in the case of utilities, pay-as-you-go meters.

Only last week, Bord Gáis reported that “1 in ten customers are in arrears of €100 or more on their bills.  However, the number of customers in arrears of 60 days or more is down from 115,000 in May to 103,163 at the end of September. 

Bord Gáis said it has been proactive in managing the issue of bad debt. The rate of disconnections has fallen 33%, from 3,540 between January and August 2010 to 2,393 between January and September 2011.
The company said disconnection is an "absolute last resort" for customers who do not engage with them to agree a repayment plan or a pay as you go meter.

Bord Gáis has agreed 63,000 payment plans with customers already this year compared with 31,500 for the whole of 2010.
It has installed 13,161 pay as you go meters this year against just under 1,000 in the same period last year.”

By deploying an agreed system of debt management, SouthWestern clients are making significant inroads in their overdue accounts numbers while at the same time maintaining the relationship with their customers for the longer term. 

Our ongoing work with existing clients in the utilities and mortgage book space reflects the good supervisory systems that Mr. Elderfield is looking to achieve in the domestic banking sector.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

British Army to outsource recruitment

I thought this article might give us some insight into one of the routes some of the British government departments are actively taking in order to stay within their much reduced budgets.  Food for thought ......

Recruiting sergeants get marching orders as enlisting goes civvy street

MoD to outsource the signing up of soldiers – by Gill Plimmer | Financial Times | October 10 2011

When the British army said “Your country needs you” the call was traditionally barded by recruiting sergeants.  But from next year, it will come from quieter men in suits most likely employed by Capita or Serco.

 The two private outsourcing companies have been shortlisted to handle recruitment for the Ministry of Defence.  They are competing for the contract to sign up 9,000 soldiers a year in a deal expected to cover everything from marketing to some areas of training.

 The outsourcing comes as the MoD faces an 8 per cent cut in its £35bn annual budget.  More than 10,000 soldiers are expected to lose their jobs in a government cost-cutting programme that will reduce the army from 101,000 staff now to 90,000 by 2015, with a further reduction to 82,000 by 2020.

The MoD said that more than 9,000 new soldiers will still be needed each year, in part because the army is expanding its part-time force.

 The recruitment contract – to be awarded next month – will be the first of a series of outsourcing deals that will transform the way the British armed services go about their daily business over the next 10 years.

 Other contracts out to tender include a competition to run the MoD’s back-office and finance functions, while there are also plans to outsource the running of all the regional bases, with private groups responsible for everything from barrack construction to catering.

 The MoD said the recruitment contract was aimed at saving £250m over the next 10 years.  It also hopes that the introduction of private providers will improve the quality of recruits and encourage the better deployment of staff, as expensively trained combat soldiers are freed from desk-bound jobs.

 The government spends £17.5bn a year on support functions for the MoD, but just under half of the work has been given to private providers, which argue they can create further savings.  Serco already provides several services, from logistical support at RAF Lyneham and other bases to the UK atomic weapons establishment.

 It also provides career advice to the US army as well as cost analysis support to the multi-national coalition forces in Iraq.

 Capita has contracts with the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force as well as running a back-office recruitment service for the MoD overall.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Jim quoted in today's Irish Times article

"The term 'call centre' is sometimes perceived in a negative light.  In SouthWestern, we prefer to describe this service as 'contact' centre because the emphasis for us is the contact, the engagement, we make on behalf of our clients with their customers and it's something I feel strongly about.  Have a look at an article in todays Irish Times by Siobhan O'Connell who asked me to contribute to the piece."

Talk not cheap as call centres prove crucial to retailers

Retailers can advertise all they want but shoppers still phone around for best deals. Although the recent closure of the Talk Talk call centre in Waterford grabbed the headlines, contact centres are big business in Ireland. The sector employs 29,000 people across more than 100 contact centre operations nationwide, and many of these centres are vital to the marketing of goods and services.

Retailers can do all the advertising they want but when it comes to big-ticket consumer items, shoppers tend to call around to source more information and find the best deal. And if they don’t get the answers they are looking for at the other end of the phone, then they will likely take their money elsewhere.

This reality was brought home to me personally recently when I had occasion to seek out a new washing machine-tumble dryer for my apartment. My quest was centred on three retailers – Currys, DID Electrical and Power City – and with each of them I was directed to a contact centre.

Calling the phone number for one of DID’s Dublin southside shops puts you through to an Irish contact centre when the shop phone is busy. A helpful agent called Keith did his best to source the Bosch model I was looking for. Alas, after a few calls back and forth, Keith conceded defeat because the model I wanted was not in stock. Keith was to be commended for having even rung Bosch overseas to establish how long it would take to bring the machine to Ireland. However, waiting a month without a washing machine was just too big an ask.

Next on my list was Currys. Finding a phone number on the Currys website was something of a challenge but eventually I tracked down the premium rate 1890 number for the Carrickmines shop in Dublin. The call was answered by a lady in an English call centre and I explained that I wanted to converse directly with someone in the shop, which is located 10 minutes from where I live. That would not be possible, I was informed. Nor would she be able to assist me by revealing the Carrickmines phone number so I could try my luck myself. Instead the only way forward was for the UK call centre to ring Carrickmines on my behalf while I stayed on hold.

But then Carrickmines didn’t answer the phone. Could she please ring the Currys store in Swords or Liffey Valley, I pleaded. No, I was told, because the rules are she can only ring one shop at a time. So I would have to hang up and ring in again.

Rather than persevere with Currys, I rang Power City. As with Currys it is no longer possible to ring a Power City store directly. Instead there is just one phone number listed on the website and it’s a call-back service. This means you ring the number, leave your contact details and Power City will call you back. Which Fergal did within seconds.

As with DID, the Power City call centre is based in Ireland and as with DID the service was excellent. The Bosch model I wanted was in stock, the deal was concluded and an invoice was e-mailed to me immediately. Fergal even gave me his mobile number so I could call him if there were any problems with the delivery of my new machine.

It is estimated that there are 90 million calls like mine made to Irish call centres every year. One of the big operators in the shared services sector is SouthWestern, which handles business for Eircom, O2 and Bord Gáis. Chief executive Jim Costello’s view is that Irish consumers prefer to deal with someone in a call centre based in Ireland.

Creating trust in the person who calls with their query is hugely important, as is understanding the cultural nuances such as being able to discuss the match on Sunday,” says Costello. “But there is a service management cost issue, particularly for white goods retailers, and some companies want to run it as cheaply as possible. If you treat your customers well, they will stay with you longer and they will improve your business over time.

“If the query is resolved by the overseas call centre operative, and service meets expectations, then all is well. But if it’s not, then all of the other factors such as language, accent and culture come into play.”

6 Oct 2011 - The Irish Times - SIOBHÁN O’CONNELL

Read this article in today's Irish Times

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

UCC, BIS Graduation Breakfast speech – September 09th 2011

This is the celebration of your graduation and the start of a very exciting career ahead for all of you. I am CEO of SouthWestern Business Process Services and I want to tell you three short stories from my career, as to how the link of Business and Technology has played a major role in my career and continues to do so to this day:

Story 1. I have been involved in the IT industry since the mid 1980’s and worked for Unisys Corporation for 17 years in the UK, Holland, France and the United States. I returned to Ireland in 2003. I am an accountant and graduate with Masters in Science.  In the course of my time in Unisys I came across many massive trends. One we got totally wrong was the PC market. Unisys was a $10bn global leader in mainframe and Financial services and Government systems. We decided to enter the PC market in 1987, at the start of that market. We invested in the right technology for sure. Look at the success of Dell and HP. However we didn’t understand the business model. Moore’s law meant that the PC doubled in capacity every 6 months. Over the next 5 years Unisys built a $ 1bn stock of outdated PCs, simply because new models came to market before we sold the old stock. It nearly broke the company. We literally had to bail out of the market to avoid bankruptcy. We never thought you could build such small items to Order. That was Michael Dell’s idea. Same technology, different business model and he cleaned up.

Story 2. We are coming up to the Anniversary of September 11th. At that time I worked in North America and we had the IT services contract for the New York Port of Authority. We took care of their Data centres and ran also their back-up data centre. Data centre 1 was in Tower 1. The backup systems were in Tower 2…..
 Obviously the only concern for anyone was the woeful and tragic loss of life. Everyone pulled together. Nobody talked about the technology issues. In business, as in life, people are always the most important factor. I will never forget that.
Since then Business Continuity Plans or Back-up plans for all major companies have been changed such that back up systems are far away.

The third story is about a Bull station company in West Cork, that has developed one of the largest wind farm inventories in the country and is now the largest Irish owned technology based Business Process Outsourcing companies. The BPO idea arose from, as a first step, the linking of Bull station to technology. (The EU required food source, and therefore Animal databases). SWS acquired the technology expertise (From UCC as it happens). Secondly it required the vision of people, like your own Professor Ciaran Murphy, Mr. Kieran Calnan (former CEO of SWS) and former Minister Joe Walsh, to build a Technology Park in Clonakilty, with broadband links (fibre) that gave it same capability as metropolitan Cork or Dublin and thirdly we applied the basic principles of Business Process management through technology to sell these services to Irish banks, Public Sector and commercial companies.
We have expanded into the UK market and built operations in Poland. From 34 people in 2004, today we employ 700 people and growing fast.
 We deliver business processes more efficiently than anyone else through the clever application of technology and business know-how.

I hope all of you go on to the career you wish to follow. For me it has taken me abroad and back to Ireland. I met my wife on the way and we have had a child in each of France, UK and America. They are all in school here in Cork now, with good thick Cork accents.

Whether you travel, or if you stay in Ireland, enjoy it, like I am, and grab the great opportunity that BIS has given to you. We would love to see some of you working in SouthWestern some day. Enjoy your day and congratulations.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

An Irish Times profile

To get my new blog going here's a copy of a recent profile published in the Irish Times...
AS HE TAKES a seat, the accent is faintly discernible. A proud Kilkenny man, Jim Costello laughs when I suggest he has taken on the west Cork tones of his adopted home in Clonakilty, the headquarters of SouthWestern, the outsourcing company he has headed up for eight years.
“My wife would be pleased to hear that. She’s a proud Cork native,” he smiles.
Like many of his generation, Costello (48) spent most of his working life abroad before returning to Ireland in 2003. Having worked in construction in New York in his early 20s, he returned to Ireland to finish his accountancy studies before heading off for London. A career with US multinational Unisys followed.
Costello rose through the ranks to become finance director for the IT multinational, which brought him to the US, London, France and the Netherlands. “I had spent most of my working life abroad and the next stage in terms of my career path was to move to London. At that point I was ready to move back to Ireland. SouthWestern was just beginning to move into the area of business outsourcing and I saw an opportunity.”
Like Costello’s own life trajectory, SouthWestern has had an interesting history. The roots of the business stretch back more than 50 years, when it was part of SWS, the Cork-based co-operative founded in 1957.
The company began providing accounting and administration services to its farmer members, its first foray into the field of business processing. Throughout the ensuing decades as SWS moved into areas such as renewable energy, it was also quietly expanding its business processing division, administering the national animal movement and registration system on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, a contract it still holds.
In 2006, SWS was bought by Ion Equity for €110 million, with the private equity group assuming about the same amount in debt. Three years later Ion sold SWS’s wind business to Bord Gáis for €550 million, pumping some of the proceeds back into the outsourcing business – a €45 million investment in SouthWestern was made by Ion in December 2009.
According to Costello, Ion’s commitment to SWS’s business outsourcing business is proof of the growth potential of the business.
Having employed 35 people when Costello joined in 2003, SouthWestern now has a workforce of 450 in Ireland and a further 150 in its base in Lodz in Poland. Last week, it announced the creation of 150 new jobs over the next three years, making it one of the biggest employers in the southwest.
SouthWestern’s main activity is providing business outsourcing to private companies and public sector bodies. This can range from administering accounts and payroll to dealing with customer queries. “We provide back-office administration to about 40 per cent of the top 20 companies in Ireland,” he says.
Clients include Kerry Group, Independent News Media, Vodafone, O2 and Car Trawler. Topaz, which is owned by Ion equity, is also a customer.
Turnover in 2009 was €22 million, rising to €25 million in 2010. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) for 2009 was €1.9 million. While Costello admits that, like all businesses, margins have come under pressure as the company has been forced to give discounts to some customers, this has been offset by the level of new business wins. He is optimistic about further growth. The company has plans to open an office in the UK, and extend its reach in Poland.
“What we’re seeing is that companies are looking for ways to become more lean, to reduce costs. Outsourcing allows them to do this, while allowing companies to concentrate on their core business. It’s becoming a long-term solution for companies.”
Costello is keen to dispel the image of outsourcing as a low-cost, low-paid business associated with emerging economies, instead stressing the strong RD and technological credentials of companies such as SouthWestern
“People automatically think of places like India or China when they think of outsourcing, but there are 20,000 people employed in the outsourcing industry in Ireland. Companies need high-end back-end services. For example, we have a contract with Car Trawler providing them with support in eight languages.”
Investment in IT and technological infrastructure is one of SouthWestern’s key selling-points, both in terms of efficiencies and implications for labour costs. “Because of our investment in specific technologies – we spend hundreds of millions of euro on IT – we can provide services to companies that involve a lot less people, making us more competitive.”
Is this not a central paradox of the outsourcing model in terms of its contribution to the economy? Many argue that many of the “new” jobs created by firms such as SouthWestern are in fact displaced from other parts of the economy, essentially resulting in a net decrease in jobs. For example, it emerged that some of the 167 Irish job cuts announced last month as a result of Vodafone outsourcing its call centre and debt-collection services, are going to SouthWestern.
“Our announcement last week of 150 new SouthWestern jobs does not include those Vodafone jobs,” Costello says. “The 150 new jobs are being generated due to new contracts we have won in the UK market and represent net additional jobs to Ireland.”
Indeed, he believes winning outsourcing contracts with international companies offers a key opportunity for growth both for SouthWestern and Ireland more generally. “The second-largest market in the world in our business is the UK. It’s an €8 billion market which employs three million people. It is the same size as the financial services industry. All local authority contracts are up for tender in the UK. Our experience working with the public sector here means we can compete for these contracts, which will in turn bring jobs into Ireland.”
Currently, roughly 15 per cent of SouthWestern’s turnover is international, which it intends to increase in the coming years. Nonetheless, in the long-term Costello believes that public sector reform in Ireland, if implemented, could hold huge potential for the outsourcing industry as well as savings for the public purse.
“Take means testing for example. Instead of having separate means test applications for education, the HSE, social welfare, why don’t we have one means-testing organisation for the country which could provide and administer that information to all the different partners? This could provide huge savings for the exchequer.”
A similar streamlining approach to the motor tax system could be adopted, he suggests, with six or seven regional centres around the country administering the system rather than the current system which is spread over 34 local authorities.
Regional enterprise is something Costello strongly supports. SouthWestern is located in West Cork Technology Park on the edges of Clonakilty. “At the end of the day, our broadband provision, which was provided when the technology park was first built, means that we can offer the exact same services to our customers as they would get anywhere in Dublin.”
Costello is evidently extremely proud of the company’s importance as a local employer.
“We offer local young people a very strong career path. It’s an excellent place to work. Besides,” he adds with a smile, “people may think of India and China when they think of call centres, but Clonakilty is undoubtedly the most beautiful outsourcing location in the world.”

Courtesy of the The Irish Times - Friday, June 17, 2011