Future-proofing BPOs requires workers’ willingness to upgrade skills: expert

By Edd K. Usman

Future-proofing the Philippine workforce — especially in the BPO industry — requires collaboration between the government and the sector itself. But the most crucial by far is the willingness of the workers to upgrade their skills.

IBPAP president and CEO Rey Untal and CCAP president Jojo Uligan flanks tech guru Richard Jones, VP, Sales Asia Pacific, Autonomous Anywhere, who delivered the keynote speech at the 9th IT-BPM International Summit in Makati City. (EKU)

IBPAP president and CEO Rey Untal (left) and CCAP president Jojo Uligan flanks tech guru Richard Jones, VP for sales Asia Pacific at Autonomous Anywhere, who delivered the keynote speech at the 9th IT-BPM International Summit in Makati City

Richard Jones, VP for sales Asia Pacific of tech company Automation Anywhere, made this remark on Tuesday, Nov. 7, during the “PH DNA: Human Tech International IT-BPM Summit” in Makati City. IT-BPM stands for Information Technology and Business Process Management.

In an exclusive interview with Jones, he provided a pathway for the BPO industry to soften the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and its attendant technologies on the workforce. This also involves riding the wave of emerging technologies to improve customer experience, increase productivity, and derive more revenue.

When asked what advice he could give the government, the BPO industry, he rattled off three worlds: “educate, educate, educate.”

“Make people aware about the environment that is coming, give platforms for people to learn, and introduce more and more digital robotic services so people will become more naturally aligned. And don’t be afraid of change, embrace it,” Jones said.

The environment he was talking about refers to what he dubbed “the shift that is coming” which he expects most of the BPO organizations in the Philippines to be already preparing for.

Jones said the environment covers AI, analytics, cognitive intelligence, and automated processing. Being prepared for the change, he added, will take BPOs to another level.

“It will allow the BPO to not be the business process outsourcer; to be an RBO, a robotic process outsourcer. Effectively the enablement of robotic process with BPO is going to be part of the (digital) journey.”

He said companies that will embrace technology are the ones that are going to thrive, emphasizing that the Philippines BPO’s 1.2 million employees will grow as previously been demonstrated as it has risen so fast from a BPO perspective.

“And it is only just starting to mature and it’s going beyond call center and now it’s expanding into many different sectors,” said Jones.

The tech executive referred to the six organizations of the IT-BPM industry such as ​Animation Council of the Philippines, Inc. (ACPI), Global In-House Center Council (GICC), Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP), Game Developers Association of the Philippines (GDAP), Healthcare Information Management Association of the Philippines (HIMAP), and Philippine Software Industry Association (PSIA). Overall, BPO has over 300 industry and support-industry members.

Earlier, analysts and other experts, including Filipino-American tech gurus in Silicon Valley in the United States have been raising warnings about the impact of AI on the BPO industry.

Thus, the summit on its 9th year took the conversation what they described as the “next level” to discuss possible opportunities and headwinds, particularly in the realm of technology and the industry’s future.

Fears of job losses

Earlier, BPO employees have also voiced fears that their jobs would be gone because of AI.

In a separate interview, PSIA president Jonathan de Luzuriaga acknowledged that the industry has expressed fears about the future.

He said there lessons from the summit, one of them that “human touch is not necessarily going away, but we need to enhance the workforce to give the country more opportunities.”

Based on the discussions in the summit, he said the industry learned of the many disruptions that will affect the jobs of the future and the future of enterprise.

On the other hand, de Luzuriaga said these issues and concerns are the focused in the Philippine IT-BPM Roadmap 2022, such as human capital and the impact of technology; inclusive growth; new country branding; government role; and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups.

Meanwhile, Jones confirmed that in the enterprise today, certain jobs and job occupations will no longer exist in the future.

He explained, however, that it does not mean that people will no longer exist in the BPO organizations.

At the same time he said there will be new jobs to replace those that would be gone, adding: “We have yet to see any company that digitized that removed any of their employees. In fact, they hired more in certain circumstances.”

Jones identified where the burden lies in future-proofing Filipinos. “I also believe that there is onus on government, there is onus on industry, there is onus on employers. There is an onus, and this is the most important thing, on each individual. The onus is on the individual to know and understand change is coming.”

It remains the government’s and the industry’s duty to educate, inform and make sure they tell everyone change is coming, if not already here. “But the fundamental issue of change is to people to want (change), they cannot be forced.”

He cited the importance of humans and robots working together, not robot replacing humans; he called this as “co-botics,” which means humans cooperating with robots.

“When you know and understand that robots will be part of everyday life, the gap changes because you embrace that fact that (robot) is an enabler, not a replacer. And because of that you start to use it more and more, and so by the nature of using them the gap will sink.”

The gap Jones was referring to, apparently, is people’s knowledge of robots/machines that if they ignore it the lesser they will learn. But if people work them the more they will know.

“Robots and their deployments will make humans more human. We are removing the robot out of humans to put in humanization back in (people),” he said.

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