Contrasting perceptions

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on February 22, 2008

A choice of benchmarks…

Regardless of how you view President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and recent developments surrounding the now terminated National Broadband Network agreement with China’s ZTE Corporation, her remarks before delegates to the e-Services Global Sourcing Conference & Exhibition recently were not just well-received. Delegates were so impressed they remarked on her presentation throughout the day.

The conference featured offshoring and outsourcing (O&O) industry heavyweights from around the world such as India’s Wipro CEO T.K. Kurien, TPI founder Warren Gallant, and National Outsourcing Association board member Mark Kobayashi-Hillary. The financial sector was also well represented by General Atlantic managing partner Abhay Havaldar and Wachovia Capital Markets managing partner Edward Caso.

The speakers weren’t the only hardnosed, accomplished executives present. Many in the audience were also seasoned executives running highly successful O&O firms in the contact center, business and knowledge process, legal and medical, animation and creative, and software services sectors. Among the speakers, executives from successful India O&O firms far outnumbered those from other geographic locations, demonstrating both India’s industry leadership as an O&O services pioneer and provider as well as the speakers’ personal interest and that of their clients in the Philippines.

That interest in the Philippines was a recurring theme throughout the day, and it was clear that every speaker (Yes, every single one.) had a positive, upbeat perspective of the Philippines and its O&O industry, and just as importantly, its prospects. Strong government support evidenced by the president’s remarks was also a recurring theme, with speaker after speaker remarking that they were thoroughly impressed with Macapagal-Arroyo’s understanding of the industry.

Diju Raha, chairman of Eximsoft and former vice president for international R&D for Nortel Networks, told delegates that despite all of India’s accomplishments as the O&O industry pioneer, much more could have been accomplished much faster with the level of government support the industry enjoys in the Philippines. While many in the Philippines may wish they had another president, it was clear that most of the speakers would love to have the Philippines’.

The Indian executives would also like to have the Philippines’ quality infrastructure. One speaker noted pointedly that he had heard a lot of criticism associated with the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the long delay in opening Terminal 3, for example. But, he said, there is no airport in India that comes close to Terminal 2. Delegates also spoke admiringly of the Philippines’ excellent telecom infrastructure.

Of course, there are challenges. Foremost among them is of course people, and whether supply can meet demand. No one seemed to seriously think that the Philippines can ever generate enough people to meet demand for O&O services. On the other hand, they seemed confident that the Philippines – either through increased government funding or private-sector involvement – will improve educational infrastructure and its capacity to generate future knowledge workers.

Kobayashi-Hillary said the Philippines should do more to communicate its success, and build a stronger country brand. Improving the visibility of the Philippines is consistently cited as a priority by the industry to sustain, and for some sectors, accelerate investment. The author of a popular industry blog, Kobayashi-Hillary said that one of the most important contributions India’s National Association of Software Services Companies (NASSCOM) made to industry development was increasing its visibility among potential clients and investors around the world.

Right after the conference, I took off for a few days in Hong Kong to meet with a friend and business associate. As I headed out of the country, I noted that immigration at Terminal 2 – stuffed into a corner of the international wing – was in its usual chaotic state. The flight to Hong Kong was uneventful, and immigration took less than 10 minutes to clear because of the queue management system in place. The Airport Express rolled up right on time to whisk me to Central.

Checking out of Hong Kong was also a snap, and took even less time. Following another pleasant flight I found myself in another awful mess at Terminal 2 immigration, with passengers backed up the stairway. In the line I was in a steady stream of escorts – supposedly banned – jumped the line with their clients, further delaying those of us patiently lined up, still content doing things the right way.

And as I stood there, waiting, it occurred to me that while it is nice that so many Indian O&O executives clearly admire the Philippines, there’s little satisfaction in that. And there shouldn’t be. Because it’s not India that we want to outclass; it’s places like Hong Kong. It also seemed clear from India’s example, though, that the hurdles we face are no excuse for not getting there.

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