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Pres. Aquino: Build BPO "To Achieve Lasting Progress"

Announces New Funding at International Outsourcing Summit

"Let's go from success to success and achieve lasting progress," said Philippines President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III in remarks at the 3rd International Outsourcing Summit, held at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Metro Manila.

Aquino announced a 500-million-peso (approx. US$11.5 million) initiative at the summit, to support training programs in the IT-BPO sphere, part of a massive new government economic stimulus of more than US$1.5 billion.

Aquino reviewed the decade-long history of BPO in the Philippines, which has grown to an US$11-billion industry that employs 600,000 people directly. He noted industry leaders' desire to expand to 1.3 million jobs and US$25 billion in revenue by 2016, along with making a transition from an industry that today gains 65% of its revenue from call centers.

"I know we can do better," he said. "(And) we should not just focus on short-term solutions, but the long-term" future of the industry.

His remarks echoed those of Alfredo "Fred" Ayala, CEO of LiveIt Investments Ltd., who mentioned financial, healthcare, legal, engineering, IT, and creative services as targeted development areas. Ayala backed up his words with action during the summit by announcing a new BPO investment from LiveIt in the healthcare industry.

Aquino's Visit a Highlight
Noynoy Aquino was elected as President to a single six-year term in May 2010 with 42% of the votes cast in a crowded presidential field. He currently enjoys approval ratings in the high 80s. He is the son Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. and Corey Aquino.

His father was infamously assassinated in 1983 when Noynoy was 23 years old. His mother then ascended to the Presidency in 1986, following the "People Power" revolution that toppled Ferdinand Marcos.

Aquino's appearance at the summit highlighted the importance of the BPO industry to this country, even as it underscored its challenges. Now directly responsible for more than 5% of the Philippines' economy, the industry also spurs local construction, food service, and other business as it steadily creates office jobs that pay well by local standards.

Time for Internal Branding
Yet BPO is not considered to be "sexy," the word used by many people over the course of the two-day summit. Students in this traditional, conservative society tend to pick a course of study after careful consideration with members of their family. Working in a call center is not on the typical list of career aspirations.

Some BPO companies here have indicated a willingness to consider high-school graduates for entry-level positions, an idea that only lowers college students' view of the industry.

Industry leaders at the summit discussed the need to move toward industry diversification in depth, while also touting the management potential of call centers and BPO. "Where else in the Philippines can a 27-year-old be managing 100-200 people while making (several times entry-level salary)," one executive asked.

Throughout the two days, a truly international delegates' list drawn from 17 countries listened to remarks from speakers on a roster that was 60% non-Filipino, with numerous foreign-national residents from India, Australia and New Zealand, the US, and Europe.

Presenters spoke of internally branding BPO as an industry with great management potential, and diversifying beyond call center to attract people educated in the fields that Ayala mentioned.

Time to Come Home?
Another overarching theme at the summit was the challenge of luring Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) back home. OFWs number in the millions, generally work overseas 6-9 months each year (sometimes more), generate 13% of the entire Philippines economy, and are routinely proclaimed as national heroes. But the stress on families in this family-centric society wears on the nation as a whole.

Summit discussions focused not only on creating suitable jobs for returning OFWs - the pay scale differences between here and abroad are still quite vast - but on also urging OFWs to return home and become entrepreneurs. One such example was provided by Myrna Padilla of Mynd Consulting, who spent two decades as an OFW before returning to start a software-development company.

There was also discussion of diversifying BPO beyond the greater Metro Manila area, which has 25 million people and is one of the largest urban conglomerations in the world.

The country's "second city" Cebu City already supports a healthy BPO and IT development culture. (As an example, noted Philippine entrepreneur Winston Damarillo employs a large staff of software developers in Cebu City.)

Additionally, the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPA/P) - which organized the conference along with local producer TeamAsia - has identified several "Next Wave Cities," each in various stages of attracting foreign companies and developing homegrown businesses. Myrna Padilla's company is located in one of them, Davao City, Mindanao.

Cloud computing was also the center of discussion during several sessions over the two days. I'll be writing more about the summit and all the issues it addressed. Please Tweet me up if you want to know more.

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More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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