Over the last few years, the Philippines has maintained its status as one of the world’s leading business process outsourcing providers, with a workforce of over 100 million employed by various providers both local and international. Earlier this year, however, specialists have predicted that the growth of the BPO industry will slow down to a single-digit pace of growth in the next several years.
Some factors being considered for this “plateauing” of BPO in the Philippines include the shrinking number of employable talent; the maturing of the BPO industry in general; and the hot topic today: the adoption of automation and AI technology. We’ll be looking at this last item in particular – is it really affecting the BPO industry in the Philippines? How is it affecting BPO in general? What outlook can we expect with the widespread adoption of automation not only in BPO but in the business world in general?
Business automation and outsourcing
Automation has been a hot topic in the outsourcing industry because of its capability to fulfill and simplify repetitive and programmable business processes. Simply put, business process automation, also known as business automation or digital transformation, is the use of technology to execute business tasks that are routine – that is, repeatable and formulaic in nature.
Outsourcing services in particular focus on specific automation solutions:
- Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the programming and configuration of computer software known as a “robot” to execute a business process normally done by a human.
- Automated Chatbots or Virtual Agents (VA) are specifically programmed to address customer service interactions. These can be programmed to learn context over time so that they are able to handle more complex queries as they are used more often.
- Voice biometrics provide an alternate way of verifying identity by using a caller’s unique voiceprint. This can be used as an added layer of security.
- Speech analytics collects and analyzes data from voice calls, which can then be used to optimize your processes and improve your customer service.
How does automation impact the outsourcing industry?
The main benefit of automation is to complete repetitive tasks faster. Because specific rules are programmed and followed by the technology used in automation and AI, mistakes can be avoided and accurate results can be expected as compared to having human staff handle it.
The fear and misconception that the industry has about automation and AI technology are that it will replace people in specific roles entirely, thereby reducing job opportunities. This sounds impactful especially in a country with a big BPO employment rate as the Philippines. With automation shown to be a replacement option for 45% of current jobs and predicted to replace up to 25% of existing entry-level jobs, the country may be looking at millions of unemployed workers all of a sudden – but is it?
Marrying human and AI capabilities
There is some truth to the Philippine BPO industry being impacted by the adoption and development of automation and artificial intelligence solutions in outsourcing. The country has seen a slowing down of demand for BPO employees in 2019, and while automation isn’t entirely to blame for this (factors such as a reduction in the number of qualified talent and the maturing of the BPO industry in general play roles in this slowed demand), it is one of the reasons.
Its impact can be seen less in the manpower outsourced to our country and more in the types of jobs outsourced. Because artificial intelligence technology has the capability to take over entry-level jobs and repetitive tasks, businesses will now look to fill more specialized roles – mid-level, specialist and management roles for their outsourced teams in particular. In order to keep up with this changing landscape, BPO providers must upskill their employees, creating a career path plan and providing training to give their teams the skill set required for more specialized roles.
The fear of unemployment rates rising is also a misconception because while automation and AI technologies can fulfill entry-level tasks, they are generally designed to augment your current workforce – not replace them entirely.
A good use case scenario is the use of chatbots for websites. A chatbot can be programmed to answer a specific set of questions – information requests about products or services, frequently asked customer queries, or have the chatbots direct visitors to a specific page where they can download content related to their query. As the chatbots are used more frequently by more people, they learn context through Natural Language Processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence, but their answers will still be limited to what is programmed by the back-end developers. In such cases, a chatbot can connect a site visitor to a live customer service representative – a human agent – to handle the more complex queries. On the other hand, in cases where live customer service representatives are not available 24/7, a chatbot can immediately send a response to a customer, capturing their information so that a CS agent can get in touch with them as soon as they are available.
By identifying where you can marry human and automation / AI capabilities, BPOs can minimize the loss of opportunities for its employees. Apart from upskilling for more specialized and technical roles, employees must also be trained to use automation and artificial intelligence technologies that are now being adopted by the BPO industry in order to ensure seamless integration, therefore maximizing the benefits of a combined human/AI solution.