Cebu’s emergence

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on June 21, 2007

Is there unity in diversity?

Next Tuesday, senior information and communications technology (ICT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) executives will meet in Cebu for the Cebu ICT 2007 Conference & Exhibition. Cebu is fast emerging as a strong tier-two location for ICT and BPO investors after Manila. Evidence of this relatively new reality was apparent on a recent trip to Cebu, when I spent some time in the Asia Town IT Park developed by Cebu Holdings, a subsidiary of Ayala Land.

Like IT export processing zones in Manila such as Eastwood, many of the modern office buildings in Makati and Ortigas, and the Northgate Cyberzone in Alabang, Asia Town comes alive in the evening, as thousands of mostly young knowledge workers arrive to begin shifts talking with irate customers and prospects thousands of miles away, primarily in North America.

But Cebu is poised to do much more than basic contact center services according to Department of Trade & Industry brand manager for IT services Jeanette Carillo. In a recent interview, Carillo said “we’re seeing growth in back office services and Cebu can play a major role in supplying the requirements of this sector.” Back office services include such processes as claims processing, HR management, and accounting functions.

Cebu is also considered an ideal site for value-added services such as market research and analysis, legal research and related services, and equities brokering. And Cebu offers an attractive lifestyle alternative for expatriates and knowledge workers alike, providing the benefits of living in an exotic, but low-cost tropical location without the crowding typical of larger urban areas.

The theme for next week’s meeting is “Pioneering Landmark ICT Collaboration in Asia.” Cebu ICT 2007 is a project of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and is being undertaken as part of the Chamber’s month-long Cebu Business Month (CBM) celebration. CBM is meant to promote Cebu to foreign investors by communicating its success as a business center and investor-friendly character.

Bonifacio Belen, who is the executive director of the Cebu Educational Foundation for IT and the chairman of the Cebu ICT 2007 committee, has worked tirelessly to promote the meeting throughout Asia and the Philippines, and approximately 300 delegates are expected to attend plenary sessions at Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort June 26.

Many more will attend the three-day exhibition June 26-28 and breakout sessions on June 26, all at the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC). Entrance to the exhibition and breakout sessions is complimentary, unlike the plenary. Together, conference plenary and breakout sessions will feature more than 75 international and Asian speakers, panelists, and moderators.

Cebu ICT 2007 is supported by almost 30 corporate sponsors, and over 50 companies, government agencies, and associations will participate in the exhibition, displaying the latest in BPO-related support and other technologies. The three-day event also provides a job fair, a web design contest, and the Summit of Asian ICT Leaders. For those entrepreneurially minded, the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship will present Go Negosyo sa Cebu in partnership with CCCI also on June 26 at CICC.

The Summit of Asian ICT Leaders will be participated in by a select group of influential Asian ICT leaders and 13 Philippine commercial attaches stationed around Asia. The Summit will examine the ICT and BPO specializations of Asian nations that provide outsourced services. Ideally, that exercise will help identify ways that Asia can collectively work together to promote regional expertise to outsourcers.

Given Asia’s diversity and intra-regional competition for investment, that might seem a far-fetched desire. But not everyone believes so. Last week I listened to internationally respected architect Felino Palafox, Jr., more popularly known as Jun, suggest to an audience that Asia can realize unity through its diversity. His argument was that Asia is so culturally rich and diverse, that it offers something for just about everyone.

Assuming that Asia might find merit in unifying its markets and taking on cooperative promotional efforts at all, would that matter for the ICT and BPO industries? Obviously, it’s hard to say. But conceptually it can be argued that diversity promotes specialization, and outsourcing is, after all, a product of the trend for organizations to specialize and let go of non-core processes.

So the discussion will be interesting. As will the conference and exhibition. If you haven’t already, make arrangements to be there.

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