In the spring of 2011 Frost & Sullivan held a BPO event in Manila.  Held on the heals of the much welcomed attainment of #1 global status as the lead in BPO services the Philippine BPO celebration was in full swing.  There is nothing like a celebration in the Philippines and nothing can dampen the opportunity or the spirit of such revelry.  So it comes as no big surprise that the words I shared at that event were drowned out by the merriment that was being enjoyed.  It was no small feat that rising to this level of achievement over India had taken place.  The future was all bright and there was a sense of invincibility.

While some make predictions on the basis of a hope that no one will remember when it doesn’t take place.  I chose my words careful in issuing a warning that while celebrations are taking place it is also the time to look towards reinvention.  Clients were investing heavily in technology and in doing so it remained committed to solutions that provided long term value and not simply long term reduced cost containment.  This being the case in supporting a month-on-month commitment to manual and voice based BPO support.  The investment in technology would inevitably lead to some form of replacement for shifting from people to an asset invested technology solution.  At that time we weren’t talking artificial intelligence or robots, I was simply looking at a commitment to technologies that could dutifully provided consistent support with a minimum of added capital investment (vs. expensed loss).

Now that the vogue technologies have reached a level of interest concerns have been raised.  IBAP (Information Technology and Business Processing Association of the Philippines – 5/12/2017) is stepping up measures to address the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the BPO industry.  Conferences like the Digital Transformation Summit are also adding to the pace by increasing the interchange on what measures need to be taken now in order to combat the effect that might occur on the BPO industry.  Leading Data Analytics Super Star Dan Mayer has weighed in with the importance to embrace the change by shifting focus to data analytics services.  Finally, even the government (DOST – 2/20/2017 – Fortunato dela Peña) has jumped on board to address the real possibilities of AI based impact on the BPO sector.  So the question is why did the message miss being heard?  But even more importantly why didn’t any of the leading analyst groups (Gartner, McKinsey, HfS…) see or hear it either?  It appears as though there was an intermediate fixation with a much broader expanse of technologies dealing with the cloud, Internet-of-Things (IoT), Big Data and Shared Services leaving way for those up-and-coming technologies to remain as background noise.

I don’t want to be too cynical but the story doesn’t end with an acknowledgement of change.  Its not even going to end with a concern and a grass roots movement to follow a correction path.  What is about to happen will be a groundswell of concern by executive management to not only understand the potential accompanied by the ebb-and-tide effect of change.  It will involve significant strategic decisions being made that will lead to tactical plans being crafted.   History however is a horrifying reminder that shifts, such as this have painful paths.  These are littered by potholes of interruptions and a steep learning curves.

There are many questions that remain unanswered.

  • Can #BPO as a service transition to providing high value/high risk value services (this sector was once called ‘knowledge based outsourcing’… #KPO)?
  • Will customers trust offshore institutions with this level of operational intimacy and have the stakes changed for what a provider will be required to maintain (e.g. institutional security)?
  • Cradle to grave time… trained to capability (is it doable given the current state of AI and robotics considerations)?
  • What mindset change will be necessary to make the shift?  Those that have already set an information technology business unit will find the shift easier.  HOWEVER, it isn’t just about technology enable AI, robotics or analytics its about understanding the various industries being serviced.
  • What should be happening now?  Obviously action but what kind?  Waiting is not suitable at the present, a plan needs to be formed.  But more important is the need to understand that success requires intense consideration for #transitioning.

As early as May 2017 the DTI continues to track progress and goals of BPO as though nothing has changed.  This is of concern, it also echos my concern why the messages of dutiful messengers is not reaching those that can address change and the elements necessary to respond to the ever changing technology and commerce worlds.   You cannot rely upon revenue predictions or employment numbers to remain the same, even if you capture a significant segment of the AI/Robotics/Analytics markets.  There will be reductions in head counts, increases in both revenue and cost predictions and an investment in capital assets to support these sciences.  You cannot expect that these will follow the historical ‘life-and-drop’ paradigm of BPO.  There will be issues of trans border data transfer, security, time sensitivity, ground up development, repository control and matters as simple as general understanding of socio-business transference.  In short, allot to be done in a short period of time.

In closing, I remember the day when the Philippines became #1 in the BPO sector.  I remember some of my Indian clients exclaiming that it was always their plan to shift away from BPO (which I considered to be just a sour grapes comment).  Was it that they saw something that others were seeing but from a different perspective, was it that BPO was the low end of the outsourcing food chain in terms of complexity and cost or was it simply ill sentiments?  Regardless, we need to look at conditions not with a focus on critique but with a look towards the potential opportunities that need to be acted upon now.

#BPO #Analytics #AI #Robotics #Transition #TransitionalSciences

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