By Edd K. Usman
The biggest organization of call center operators in the country is not losing sleep over the potential adverse effect of artificial intelligence or AI on the country’s multi-billion business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.
“Yes, there will be affected jobs but those are the basic services that we did in the past. We are no longer doing it,” said Jojo Uligan, president of the Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP).
CCAP has about 100 member companies, which comprises 85 to 87 percent of the local BPO industry. It roster of members, both local and foreign, has a combined employee base of over 700,000.
Uligan cited directory assistance wherein clients ask for a phone number as one of the BPO jobs that is already obsolete. “That can easily be done by a machine (powered by) AI,” he pointed out.
While some services could go, he said there would be new ones that the BPO industry would be able to perform to assist a client. He said they are banking on the importance of human interaction — not with machines or robots, no matter how intelligent they are.
“At the end of the day, humans want to talk to humans, not to machines,” a confident Uligan said, stressing that machines cannot do all the things a human can.
“That is why the thrust of CCAP and the industry is really to develop things, measures on how we can stay relevant. We need to innovate, we need to understand this technology, and what are those services that we would be able to do to stay relevant and protect our industry and our people,” Uligan said.
The BPO industry road map, he said, should include the upgrading the skills of local BPO workers and enable them to handle certain work they have not done in the past.
“The skills of people we need at this time is no longer the same compared to a few years ago. Part of our initiative is to build and find ways to mitigate the risk of the potential jobs that can be automated,” he explains.
Despite the problems that AI poses to the industry, the CCAP official said there are also opportunities that the technology offers. “It is an opportunity for us to improve,” he said.
US-based Filipino tech guru Diosdado “Dado” Banatao, in a recent visit to the country, warned about the looming threat of AI on the BPO industry.
He told DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña and other officials during the meeting hosted by the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) that experts in the US are predicting that the BPO could be hit hard by AI.
In five years, Banatao said AI would impact on the BPO industry around the world as companies would be using AI to perform repetitive tasks like those of done by call center agents.
De la Peña said Banatao prodded them to put forth a significant undertaking on AI to help the call center industry avoid or cushion the negative impact. Since then, the DOST has embarked on various initiatives on AI and has even crafted an action plan on the emerging technology.