Local BPO industry still finding right course amid AI onslaught

By Edd K. Usman

Amid the uncertainties posed by artificial intelligence (AI), the local business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is searching for the right route to navigate the labyrinth presented by new technologies.

Photo shows (from left) CCAP president Jojo Uligan, CCAP chair Benedict Hernandez, IBPAP chair Lito Tayag, IBPAP vice chair Cathy Ileto, and IBPAP president Rey Untal

Photo shows (from left) CCAP president Jojo Uligan, CCAP chair Benedict Hernandez, IBPAP chair Lito Tayag, IBPAP vice chair Cathy Ileto, and IBPAP president Rey Untal

This issue will likely dominate and tackled in the country’s biggest BPO event – the 9th International IT-BPM Summit – which will be held on Nov. 7, 2017 in Makati City.

The event’s main organizer, the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), has again tapped various local BPO organizations such as the Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP) as partners for the event.

Aside from CCAP, the other sub-sectors of the industry are the Animation Council of the Philippines Inc. (ACPI), Philippine Software Industry Association (PSIA), Healthcare Information Outsourcing Management of the Philippines (HIMAP), Global In-House Center Council (GICC), and the Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP).

The local outsourcing industry employs around 1.1 million workers and a significant part of them are in danger of losing their jobs because of AI.

Despite the possible rough sailing ahead, the industry’s “Accelerate PH Roadmap 2022” is still hoping that it can generate $40 billion in revenues in five years. Last year, the sector earned $25 billion in revenues.

Rey Untal, president of IBPAP, noted in a press briefing that the advent of the new technologies, particularly AI, offers a new challenge for the industry.

“Of late, you could see and you could feel the impact of AI and intelligent automation. That is why, it is very important for us to get together and cover this jointly in the innovation summit,” he said.

Untal said the industry chose the theme, “PH DNA: Human Tech,” to put in the spotlight the Filipino workforce, which he said is the “secret sauce” in the continuing success of the Philippines in the BPO space.

“On the ninth year (of the summit), the focus should rightly be on the perfect synergy between humans and technology as we continue with every effort that we could muster to future-proof the industry,” he said.

The summit has invited global consulting and analyst firms, as well as thought leaders from Silicon Valley to join the discussion.

“We will talk about how businesses can keep abreast from all these rapid developments and how businesses can optimize their workforce by leveraging technology,” Untal said.

CCAP president Jojo Uligan said it is important for BPO firms to protect their people and make them stay relevant in an AI-dominated world.

“What we want to focus on is more on the opportunities — the things that we will be able to do. We can’t stop automation, we can’t stop artificial intelligence,” he said.

While the country already has a 12-percent share of the global BPO market, Untal said the local industry is still projecting growth of 9% annually until 2022.

Benedict Hernandez, CCAP chairman, noted that AI’s impact has been touted as either a boon or a bane. But the industry should not see it that way, he said.

“The Roadmap 2022 was conceptualized with the middle view. We think there is going be an impact and change, but there is also a way in which we can keep growing and take advantage of the opportunities,” he said.

Hernandez said the industry has logged in years of strong collaboration with the government and the academe, which he described as the “great differentiator.”

He said they have also partnered with 50 universities to open classes on analytics and service management to ensure the skill set needed to Filipino talent is being taught in school.

The industry has also been an early partner of the Department of Education (DepEd) for the K-12 program of the government.

“We already have kids in Grades 11 and 12 who are acquiring the right skills as early as that age. We are not done as there’s still so much to be done,” Hernandez said.

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