Starting the BPO Industry from Scratch
In 2000, there was no Sykes, no Convergys, and no eTelecare in the Philippines. Today, you probably have friends who work in call centers, who are medical transcriptionists, who are software engineers. I remember sitting down with a few of them one morning in McDonald’s. It was a random group that I chanced upon and who didn’t mind that I joined in their after-work chismis. They talked about their night shifts, what they spent their salaries on, and the clients they dealt with on a daily basis. They made jokes about taxes and wondered if I’d be so nice as to lower it for them. I laughed along.
Today, this industry has over 450,000 people. That’s certainly a far cry from the starting 5,000 that pioneered the call center market in the Philippines at the start of the decade. And I can say now that after watching the local industry thrive despite global recession, I am very, very proud to have been part of this push. But as many pioneers of the sector will tell you today, getting investments, establishing the industry from scratch wasn’t easy. I remember the small hotel room where I was crammed in along with Karen, Bong, Dan, and many others… to plan the first business strategy of the BPO industry in the country. We had to make a case, you see. We had to go around countless business missions to get the multinationals to set up shop.
First of all, we were competing with many other countries: India, certainly, along with Ireland and the Dominican Republic, among many others. Back then, not too many companies in the world knew that the Philippines was the more cost-efficient option with a thriving population that already spoke fluent English. And even here at home, there was a big behind-the-scenes debate on what to focus our attention on: do we compete on the software writing level? Or do we blaze a trail for customer service? As a fresh DTI Secretary, I did a bit of research and I can tell you with certainty that we lacked the manpower to do the first. As it turned out, however, we were very well equipped for the second, proving once more that the greatest resource of this country is its people.
This being the new year of 2010, it’ll be approximately 10 years since we took that plunge. It took two strategic phases to enable the BPO and IT sectors to grow to the state its in today. We are now on the verge of the much-awaited third phase. Where will this path lead? Well, my take is simple. Now that we have the industry, we go back to basics… but instead of incentivizing the foreign multinationals, we focus on allowing the local companies to compete with the pioneers, we focus on getting more people involved, educated, and/or hired. Considering the vast audience that is the Internet, I’d like to pose the same question to you, dear reader. What do you think? How should government treat the industry in 2010? Why?