Brand visibility for the IT-BPO industry

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on July 15, 2011

The IT-BPO industry has vastly enhanced the brand image of the Philippines internationally—at least within client communities that engage the services of companies to perform a fast-expanding range of services. Or, perhaps a more accurate assessment would be to suggest that the IT-BPO industry has increased the visibility of Filipinos, and the appreciation of the quality of work Filipinos do.

It is almost certainly true that the industry—and others, too—would be growing even faster than it is if the Philippines enjoyed the kind of brand reputation that its neighbors like Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea do. These countries were described as Asian backwaters after World War II when the Philippines was the second largest economy in the region. Now, they are Asia’s most admired.

IT-BPO will expand by at least 20% this year and generate around $11 billion in revenues and direct employment of approximately 630,000 individuals. The IT-BPO Road Map 2011-2016—commissioned by the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) with funding provided by the suddenly defunct Commission on Information & Communications Technology (CICT)—forecasts up to $25 billion in revenues annually by 2016.

(Disclosure: A joint venture between Everest Group and Outsource2Philippines (O2P) was engaged to develop the Road Map. O2P is a subsidiary of my firm, TeamAsia, and I was a member of the project team that developed the Road Map.)

That forecast, however, can only be attained if two things happen. First, the industry requires a reliable and growing supply of talent to take on increasingly sophisticated, complex jobs. Second, the industry also requires a better understanding of its capability for performing and delivering those sophisticated, complex jobs. While the Philippines is well established as the global leader in voice, process-based services, it has not received the recognition it deserves for non-voice, knowledge-based services.

The just-released results of an industry survey commissioned by BPAP and O2P shows that there is much work to do on both fronts, and that the private sector and government have clear roles to play in strengthening IT-BPO industry brand identity domestically and internationally. Domestically, the goal is to convincingly brand the industry as an admired employer. Internationally, the objective is convincing clients the Philippines excels at complex work.

Ensuring talent supply is not just a matter of rehabilitating the Philippines’ once world-class educational infrastructure, although that is of course critically important. The BPAP-O2P survey suggests that two thirds of students are only generally aware of the IT-BPO industry. Only 33% have a high or very high level of awareness. Naturally, if a graduating student is going to consider a career in the IT-BPO industry, he or she must be aware it.

IT-BPO executives responding to the survey believe that 37% of students who are aware of the industry think of it in positive terms. That means that 73% of students have a neutral opinion (48%), a negative opinion (15%), or a very negative opinion (1%) in the view of the respondents. And they are not likely to get much support for an IT-BPO career from their parents. Survey respondents said less than 20% of parents have high (16%) or very high (3%) awareness of the industry.

Parents who are aware of the industry probably won’t have it at the top of their list of admirable employment opportunities. In the view of respondents, only 19% of parents of college and university students have a positive (16%) or very positive (3%) perception of the industry. The survey did not address the question of awareness and perception of the industry among professionals working in other industries whose skills are needed in IT-BPO.

Close to half of the IT-BPO executive respondents (44%) believe that BPAP should take the lead in marketing the industry to students and their parents. Increased awareness is the first step. But the second step—recall when considering careers—is also critical. Unless the IT-BPO industry can effectively generate a sense of aspiration among students and their parents—who pay tuition to ensure their children live productive lives—a stable, reliable talent pool won’t be realized.

Results for the second part of the survey show just how big a shame that is. Respondents believe that while awareness for the Philippines’ status in the outsourcing industry could be higher, among companies considering outsourcing work here perception is positive (64%) or very positive (11%). Nevertheless, 82% of respondents said that an international brand marketing initiative would have meaningful impact (54%) or substantial impact (28%) on the industry.

But here, government must take the lead. Almost 50% of respondents pointed to the Department of Trade & Industry as the appropriate agency to spearhead such an initiative. About one third of respondents also said BPAP should lead.

That sounds like the perfect public-private partnership opportunity. One in which the ROI seems almost guaranteed.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.). Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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