Non-voice increases volume

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

INFORMATION and communications technology - business process management (ICT-BPM) is a cornerstone industry in Cebu, a key growth driver of the local economy. The industry has been continuously recording strong growth ever since it started to accelerate in 2008.

An industry expert said the increasing number of BPMs in non-voice services helped spur faster growth in the sector this year.

Jun Sa-a, managing director of Cebu Educational Development Foundation for Information Technology (Cedf-IT), said the number companies in Cebu that offer non-voice services now comprise 70 percent of the total number of BPMs in the province. The remaining 30 percent offers call center services.

In terms of the number of workers employed, however, call centers still account for 70 percent of the more than 100,000 employees of the sector. The remaining 30 percent work for non-voice companies.

High value

Non-voice services are high-value tasks that include software development, finance outsourcing and health information management.

In an earlier interview with Sun.Star Cebu, Cebu Investment Promotions Center managing director Joel Mari Yu said non-voice services will strengthen Cebu’s BPM leadership.

Sa-a said the increase in the number of non-voice BPMs in Cebu has generated “high value” jobs. He said these jobs are “difficult to take away” and require special knowledge and skills in comparison to voice service.

He said voice service or the call center comapanies can just immediately relocate anywhere in the country since the demand is primarily centered on English proficiency, which any province in the Philippines can supply.

Sa-a said the entry of health information management services also provided job opportunities to nurses and other graduates of medical courses.

To further address the growing demand of the ICT-BPM industry, Sa-a said Cedf-IT held a number of trainings and activities last year. These include the training for teachers on cloud infrastructure under IT storage hardware solutions provider EMC last April this year. He said partner universities in Visayas and in Mindanao incorporated cloud infrastructure in their curriculum.

Big data

Sa-a said Cedfit will also conduct trainings this year on big data to prepare students for the future demand of big data-related jobs and the revenues it could bring to Cebu.

Meanwhile, Exist chief executive officer Jerry Rapes said human resource in Cebu is a key challenge to the growing industry.

“Our biggest challenge remains to be human capital. Human resource is a very tough component to manage in a service delivery business because you rarely have the right number of people, it’s almost always too much or too little and it’s very rare also that you have just the right kind of skills in every situation,” he said.

However, with collaborations between the industry and the academe, Rapes said it has minimized the industry-academe gap.

The business environment in 2013 was also better compared to the previous year, he said.

“Forex was better this year and it allowed us to optimize our revenue. The business fundamentals in the Philippines propped the image of the Philippine-based businesses a couple of notches higher from a global perspective, which attracted clients to consider the Philippines; our inflation continues to be manageable allowing us to keep our salaries and expenses in check, among other things,” he said.

Sa-a agreed with Rapes on the human resource challenge, saying Cebu needs to improve its human capital to sustain ICT-BPM investment and encourage more investors.

Improve workforce

He said, however, that what makes Cebu better than other areas is that there are a lot of programs and continuous development to further improve the workforce.

“We in Cedf-IT, compared to other councils, provide a full year program for industry development. Cedf-IT is even looked up as the big brother of IT councils in the Philippines.”

Cedf-IT’s projects include creating a human resource survey and monitoring unit, an IT teachers’ academy to train instructors regarding the Philippine IT general certification exam and bridge courses programs.

Aside from the thriving ICT BPO industry, Sa-a said his office is also looking out for Cebu startups since they also carry a big potential to succeed. founder Tina Amper said the country has yet to establish a strong presence of startups in order to attract investors.

“Our best way to succeed is to have more startups so we can increase our chances of our startups succeeding. The more we have startups, the more we can engage more people to come and see a whole range of startups, not just one or two,” she said.

However, Amper said Cebuanos this year are already more aware of what
technopreneurship is about compared to past years. This, she said, is due to the series of organized tech events held in 2013, including Startup Weekend.

World Startup Report founder Bowei Gai earlier noted that not many Cebu startups have been funded yet. He said the country has to strengthen its startup community first before thinking about attracting venture capitalists.

Sa-a, Rapes, and Amper all expressed optimism for the year ahead.

For one, Saa said, more investors and businesses will be coming to Cebu this year.

He said that since the last quarter of 2013, foreign business analysts have shown interest in Cebu as a potential business hub. However, some trips were rescheduled due to the recent calamities.

“I noticed now that analysts are coming over to Cebu and looking out for possible opportunities they can venture into. In the past years, I have never seen these guys come to Cebu,” he shared.

The October earthquake and the November typhoon, Sa-a said, have not affected the ICT-BPM sector of Cebu.

“We see bullishness in the overall picture. The Philippines as a whole will continue to grow,” he said.

Amper, on the other hand, also held an optimistic view on the 2015 Asean integration as this will open more opportunities to Filipino startups to work with neighboring countries.

Global ranking

The ICT-BPM industry of Cebu has grown exponentially for the last 13 years. From just four companies in 2000, the sector now has more than a hundred companies.

Tholons, a global advisory firm for global outsourcing and research, ranked Cebu as number eight in the top 100 outsourcing destinations in the world in its 2013 report.

The Business Process Association of the Philippines targets to grow the industry by $25 billion in revenues in 2016 and increase IT-BPM employment to more than one million.

Sa-a said nine companies entered Cebu in 2013. They include EXL Services, United Health Group, Results Company, Cognizant, Telstra, Ameeratel, Firstsource, Daimler Group Services, and Synacy.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 01, 2014.


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