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PH BPO Industry and the Challenge of AI

The robust Philippine BPO industry faces a tough challenge in 5 – 7 years. The challenge brought about by Artificial Intelligence. The alarm bells are being sounded by Filipino Tech Gurus Yobie Benjamin and even economist and former National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) chair, Cielito Habito.

The Philippine Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector is one of the shining stars of the Philippine economy. It has brought in US$25B into the economy and is now outpacing the Overseas Filipino Workers 9OFW) remittances I economic contributions.’

The BPO sector is expected to eclipse the OFW sector and has already outshone the export sector with its 16% growth rate last 2016 as compared to the export sector’s 9.2% growth rate. The local BPO industry has already outperformed India’s BPO industry and has 1.2 million its employ. This is a phenomenal growth rate from an industry that started with a 0.08% economic contribution in the year 2000.

But according to Yobie Benjamin, the challenge of AI cannot be ignored and cited the book by Martin Ford “ Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future,” the current trend of AI acquiring “cognitive powers” will pose a threat to human intervention in known industries and that includes the BPO industry. Ford who is also a known entrepreneur in Silicon Valley admits that the gap between AI and human capabilities is rapidly closing.

The adjustment and adaptation of the BPI industry must come with “we need to move the levels of service that we provide through the BPO industry, to more of what they call knowledge workers [with] higher knowledge," Yobie Benjamin said.

Capacity building of current and future BPI workers must be implemented now so as the human resource base must be prepared to transition into the next level of human work intervention in industries.

Knowldgde – driven workers will be the norm and higher skill levels must be included in education and training.

Human creativity is still the key for being productive in the future. "So, what do you do as a matter of national policy to prepare for a workforce that requires very different skills and you are part of a global economy? You have to prepare for the future. The future is not very far." Benjamin said.

According to Cielito Habito, it is not only the direct BPO employees who will be affected. The most vulnerable part of the BPO industry is the call centers that rely on voice services. But the downstream industries that have also experienced a boom in their sectors such as the food, real estate, tourism and retail industries will be affected by a down-turn in the sector.

Habito said that it would entail the cooperation of the technology sector, the education sector, government and civil society in order to meet the challenges of the dynamic ecosystem in technological progress. 

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