Employees of information technology outsourcing company Keane Canada Inc. can travel thousands of kilometres every day without having to leave their desks at headquarters in downtown Halifax.
“They sit here every day, but they don’t really work here,” says Jason Powell, managing director of Keane Canada. “They’re working in Manhattan, they’re working in Boston, they’re working in California….”
And soon there will be more employees engaging in this work. It was recently announced that Keane’s Halifax employee base will increase by up to 375 in the next five years with the support of Nova Scotia Business Inc. and Nova Scotia Economic Development.
Keane Canada’s clients are mainly Fortune 500 companies in the financial and manufacturing industries. Powell explains that Keane Canada serves as a nearshore option for businesses in the United States who want to outsource aspects of their information technology operations to a location which shares a similar business culture, regulations and level of risk tolerance.
Since establishing its headquarters in Halifax in 1997 – there are also offices in Ontario – Keane Canada has focused on serving US customers. Powell says in 2008 it will work to expand its presence domestically as well, a new direction since parent company Keane was acquired in 2007 by the global information technology company, Caritor.
“I think the acquisition has been good for us in that the new executive really see Canada as an opportunity that was maybe a little underexploited by the old Keane organization,” Powell says. “So I think they’re quite excited about having Canada, and our presence here specifically, as a differentiator in the overall global portfolio that we’re trying to offer customers.”
Powell measures Keane Canada’s success by “continued growth and happy customers. We do customer satisfaction surveys every quarter so we’re getting that constant feedback. The vast majority of customers that have used nearshore as part of their overall solution with Keane are still with us,” he says.
The loyalty of Keane Canada’s clients is highlighted when Powell says a customer concluded a seven-year contract with them and renewed for seven additional years.
Keane Canada offers its clients a range of services including managing, maintaining and enhancing their information technology systems, offering system design and user support and providing solutions.
“I tell our staff that their job isn’t to be a programmer or a developer, their job is to solve customers’ business problems and we happen to do that with technology,” Powell says.
For example, Powell recalls an automotive manufacturer who had a nightly task that, when it was running, precluded other transactions taking place. “We found a way to reduce the cycle time of that job which allowed that customer then to open their dealerships longer which meant they could sell more cars,” he says.
Providing solutions for customers requires innovation, resourcefulness and creativity.
“We constantly are asking our consultants to bring ideas forward,” Powell says. “We present them to the customer on a regular basis and even if nine out of 10 times the customer says ‘no, I don’t think so,’ if one out of 10 times they go ‘yes, that’s really good,’ then we’re bringing innovation to them. It has to be bred into our every waking hour.”
Powell says the “nearshore consultant of the future,” will require three key attributes: “One, they need technical acumen, obviously, two, they need business acumen and three, we think they need creativity and I’d say they need those in equal amounts.”
In the past year, Keane Canada has shared its perspectives with postsecondary institutions in the province. Powell says the hope is to influence curriculum and to be “recognized as an employer of choice by students as they’re graduating.”
Powell says last year Keane Canada hired about 30 junior employees and it hopes to hire between 50 and 80 in 2008.
“We’ll train them to be consultants in a Fortune 500 environment and we’ll go from there,” he says. “That’s part of the model we’ve been trying to do here for the last few years – hire more juniors and train them and let them grow up within the company.”
Keane is a significant employer in Nova Scotia. In the last three years, the number of employees based in Halifax has doubled from 250 to 500. Powell says immigration will continue to be an important factor as the organization grows. Currently roughly 25 per cent of Keane Canada’s staff are not born in the country. Earlier this year, Keane was recognized as one of Canada’s 20 best employers for new Canadians.
Keane Canada has also been named for three consecutive years one of the country’s top 100 employers. “I think a lot of the reason why we get on that list is because we have a focus on expanding our people’s careers,” Powell says. “We don’t want them to come in and be at a level forever, so we want them to train to be able to move up that value chain in terms of the work that they do.”
Michael Haley joined the team in 1997 and is now the software quality assurance manager. When asked what it is like to work at Keane Canada he says: “It’s very challenging and very rewarding. In my 10 years here I’ve held three or four different positions so there’s certainly been a lot of opportunity for growth and for change through my career path.”
He also appreciates working for a global company. “I’ve had a lot of exposure to the rest of our organization, largely in the United States, but last year I had a trip to India and I got to see some of our facilities there which was really exciting,” he says. “Coupled with all that is just the wealth of expertise that you can tap into dealing with an organization of this size and its geographic diversities.”
All while being able to call Nova Scotia home. “We offer work with literally some of the largest companies in the world and you don’t have to buy into the concrete jungle or spend three hours a day in a car,” Powell says. “You can do it here, enjoy the lifestyle, have more free time and still have really challenging, interesting work, and if you want to travel we can make that happen, too.”
Feature story written by Marie Weeren