BPOs told to invest in 'brain power,' new services to survive digital shift

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 26 2018 05:00 PM | Updated as of Sep 26 2018 05:39 PM

MANILA - Call centers and other back office service providers "need to concentrate on activities that have more brain power and more human skills" to survive the automation shift, analysts said Wednesday, after a recent study showed that 60 percent of employers are planning to upgrade their businesses with technology-based solutions.

"Many would engage in digital, online sales. More [companies] will automate. Many of the mechanical parts of processes will be automated, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Philippines Chairman Alexander Cabrera, who led the study, told ABS-CBN News.

The BPO industry, which employs about 1.15 million Filipinos, is the most vulnerable to automation as machines can easily do its "repetitive, static, and rules-based" processes more efficiently, said Depender Kumar, a partner of accounting and advisory giant Grant Thornton.

"Repetitive jobs today are being done by robots. The kinds of jobs that will be available [in the future] will be slightly different so it is important to recalibrate your workforce," Kumar said.

Call center agents, transcribers and other BPO workers must learn how to "provide more insights to their customers" as data analysis and critical thinking that cannot be done by machines "will become very, very prominent in the coming times," he said.

BPOs may also consider providing "creative" or "interactive" services to avoid job cuts amid the shift to automation, said Asian Institute of Management Senior Data Scientist Christian Alis.

"There is already a need, a clamor for companies for them to build their data science capabilities, to start their data science journey," Alis said.

Some 900,000 BPO workers may be replaced by machines if they fail to upskill, data from management consultancy firm Hungry Workhorse showed.

Some 40,000 to 50,000 "low-skilled" BPO workers may lose their jobs in the next 5 years, the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) said in a separate study.