Leadership in BPO

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on July 5, 2007

SPi is the global leader in publishing and strategic content outsourcing services

There were many highlights to last week’s Cebu ICT 2007 conference. Five plenary sessions took place June 26 at the magnificent Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa, and 12 breakout sessions and a number of other, related activities took place at the Cebu International Convention Center June 27. On both days, participants not only arrived early, they stayed late, until the last speaker or panelist had concluded.

I should disclose that my firm designed the sessions, recruited the 85 speakers and managed and produced Cebu ICT 2007 on behalf of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce & Industry with the support of 47 major sponsors and close to a hundred exhibitors. So if I come across as a bit over-the-top in my enthusiasm, bear in mind that in terms of sponsors, exhibitors, delegates, and visitors this year’s conference substantially exceeded its inaugural two years ago.

But the success of Cebu ICT 2007 derives primarily from the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry and its supporters. According to the Business Process Outsourcing Industry of the Philippines (BPA/P), an association and business chamber representing BPO service providers and suppliers, the industry realized almost $3 billion in direct revenues last year, and is on target to generate $12 billion by 2010.

The enthusiasm, energy, and professionalism that underlie the industry’s rapid growth also benefited Cebu ICT 2007. BPO professionals are hugely supportive of efforts to provide meaningful and relevant opportunities to network, trade experiences, and gain insight into the future of the industry, and especially the BPO industry in Asia and the Philippines. And that’s why the industry responded with record-setting levels of sponsorships, exhibitors, and conference delegates.

Among the plenary sessions on the first day, a noontime session dubbed a “Working Lunch: Philippine Success Stories,” received exceptional feedback. Four entrepreneurs and seasoned BPO executives related their experiences growing BPO firms in the Philippines. They included Marlyn Montano, managing director of Holy Cow Animation ; Robert Cheng, president of Alliance Software ; Fernando Cala II, managing director of PropleBPO ; and, Ernest Cu, president & CEO of SPi.

Each of these firms is impressive in its own right, but given my 750-word limit, I can’t relate each of their experiences. So I’ll focus on the SPi experience, since it is the oldest firm in the group, set up in 1980, making it a true industry pioneer. It has grown into a hugely successful global firm with 7,200 employees spread across 25 locations in the U.S., Europe, and Asia (Philippines, India, China, and Vietnam).

Founded in the Philippines, SPi now has over 500 clients including FORTUNE 1000 companies, category market leaders, non-profit organizations, and government agencies in a broad spectrum of industries such as auto, financial services, healthcare, legal, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, publishing, real estate, and retail. According to The Black Book of Outsourcing, SPi is the global leader in publishing and strategic content outsourcing services, the third-largest medical transcription provider in the U.S., and the largest litigation support coder in the world.

Originally founded as a data-encoding services provider, over the past quarter century the company has evolved into a “pure-play BPO performing more complex, end-to-end work for customers,” according to Cu. Its evolution has been particularly fast over the last five years, as the firm ventured into software maintenance, data discovery, software engineering, and marketing communications services.

During this period, revenues have grown 28% from $17 million in 2000 to $75 million in 2006. This year, revenues are projected to jump significantly to US$120 million. Cu attributes SPi’s success to six key factors: market presence, multi-shore delivery, quality system, value-added services, market diversification, and people. Of these, market presence stands out for me.

By market presence, Cu is referring to marketing infrastructure built up in the U.S., its most important market. SPi has a “well-established organization in the U.S. to provide direct sales, marketing, and customer service,” he said. Cu made a point of noting during his presentation that marketing is his second-largest expenditure after people. His message was clear: for Philippine BPOs to achieve their potential, they must take their message directly to the market.

Investment in marketing infrastructure is easy to put off for many executives who must allocate scarce resources among many urgent needs. But according to Cu, those who make that easy mistake are doing a huge disservice to their firms, and their futures. Any BPO executive that intends to emulate or exceed SPi’s track record will want to keep that reality top-of-mind. Including me.

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