The Impact of AI in the Philippine BPO Industry

25 May 2018

As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, the need for traditional approaches becomes less prevalent. Stories of the rise of artificial intelligence or AI in the workplace have become more and more prevalent. This is both an exciting and cautious time for the offshore outsourcing/Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry. We previously predicted that it would be the trend to watch out for, together with the decline of the traditional call center. Though this does mean automating plenty of low, entry level functions, adapting automation puts businesses in the forefront of trends and ahead of their competition.

The Philippines, in particular, has been preparing for this major transition. After all, the BPO industry is poised to become the highest part of the country’s GDP within the next five years. We’re seeing different voices in favor of automation, while others see the future effects on the Filipino workforce. Let’s take a look at some of the insights presented.

The Rise of AI

Even on a surface level, most people are aware of what AI can do for any business. The successful implementation of AI in the BPO industry in particular would mean a massive increase in productivity. Menial and repetitive tasks such as administrative work can become automated, allowing for the allocation of resources in different areas of focus.

The Philippines remains cautiously optimistic with the implementation of AI. Lawmakers understand the concerns brought about the possible loss of jobs and how it will affect the overall business climate. They assure companies that AI would “compliment” current technologies rather than replace them outright. Furthermore, experts encourage further training and upskilling in special areas as these are areas that need to be strengthened. Experts in the Philippines also predict that automation will gain major traction in the next three to five years.

The Drawbacks To Come

Still, skepticism around fully automating functions in the BPO industry still remains. The concerns surrounding it are not unfounded either. The biggest issue being what it would mean for employment. While some see the implementation of AI as an opportunity, others see it as a threat to their livelihood. Despite the assurance from the government, fully automating processes with AI would mean losing over 1.3 million jobs in the Philippine BPO industry alone. If companies are not able to provide alternatives for their livelihood, it becomes detrimental to the industry and the Philippines as a whole.

Additionally, we are already seeing some of the problems that automation has brought to some major companies. YouTube, for instance, caused a stir among its most prolific users with the demonetization of different videos due in part to buggy automation. Facebook’s automation problems are also well documented, with some writers observing it as both a blessing and a curse. Few have observed that AI’s biggest flaw comes with being unable to properly address context with the content being produced. Errors as a result of automation, especially on a major scale, have had unintended consequences.

Finding The Balance

Human interaction is an indispensable asset to any business and in many ways, forms its heart. For all the convenience AI can bring, many people still prefer a “boots on the ground” approach. As Sudhir Agarwal, CEO of Everise, stated “people like talking to people, not machines.”

Genuine human interaction is something that people will always prefer over an artificial intelligence.

The BPO industry is never one to shy away from new technology, and AI is no different. If companies are able to take advantage and the quality of work that comes out of the Philippines, they will no doubt have an advantage in the coming years. Part of what makes it such a resilient industry is its ability to stay relevant together with emerging trends. The Philippine workforce has proven again and again it is able to overcome challenges in order to produce quality, world class work. Companies are now seeing both the importance of AI, and the significance of upskilling their workforce. Much like offshoring, the implementation of AI is set to create more jobs rather than decrease them. Slowly but surely, more companies are accepting the next step in a constantly changing business landscape. Those that recognize this are now finding the right balance with new technologies and the people behind it.