Upbeat on outsourcing

Published by rudy Date posted on December 15, 2008

How’s this for noche buena? Mother, father and sister carry packed food in plastic containers and then alternate between walking and taking public transportation, seemingly off to a special mission. Just outside a building, they prop up a table with a few chairs.

They set the dishes they have brought. Brother, a call center agent, is in the graveyard shift; there are no holidays in his job. But when he sees his family outside, waving at him, he puts down his headset, turns away from his computer and walks out the door of his office for a little break.

Of course it’s familiar; it’s the storyboard of a television commercial of a brand of all-purpose cream. We all know what it says—that the spirit of Christmas is not restricted to a particular location, but is anywhere and everywhere our loved ones are. It’s nice and sentimental, but I’m talking about something else in this column.

The commercial is premised on how business process outsourcing has become a way of life for thousands of young people and their families—so much so that old habits may be tweaked a little in order to make room for the changes it brings.

From an economic and business standpoint, the picture has looked rosy for years. Investors find that relatively good English and inexpensive labor can exist together in a country, as they do in the Philippines. As a result, we have seen one outsourcing company after another establishing sites here, with the resulting employment, spending power, real estate rentals or purchases and gross value added in the services sector of the national income accounts. The government has recognized the contributions of the industry to the country’s financial health and has touted BPO as “the way to go.”

But then the credit crunch in the United States spurred present economic challenges worldwide. Suddenly, the ground became shakier for many of those on the payroll of companies based in countries that may be having difficulty. Here, the promise of business process outsourcing became less obvious, even less believable, to many. The rationale was that if companies in the US and other developed countries were suffering, their offshore investments may be in trouble, too. They may not only halt expansion; they may lose their clients and hence have no more use for Filipino workers they already employ.

Has outsourcing been overrated, its benefits overstated, after all?

* **

Duncan Cowie, executive vice president for North America and Asia of Transcom, does not think so. In fact, he believes the best is yet to come—both for his company and the 3,500 men and women Transcom now employs. Transcom is one of the leading call centers in Europe and has presence in South America; its entry into formerly Canadian-owned NuComm International has expanded its presence to North America and Asia.

For instance, if you think “good English-speaking skills” and “good work attitude” are just phrases coined by government spin doctors to boost the stock of Filipino workers before the rest of the world, you are wrong. In fact, Cowie says he doesn’t see a better country for English support. “We are still excited about the Philippines,” he says. He cites the well-educated manpower, the good customer training support, much-improved power and telecommunication systems as well as government support as reasons. Cowie remains upbeat about the Philippines that his company is looking forward to building new sites in key cities outside of Manila, though he declines to identify these cities yet. That’s in addition to the three-floor building his company now occupies in the Frontera Verde compound in Pasig City. The expansion will give opportunities to thousands of employees in these areas.

The way Cowie gushes, really, one would not think there was a crisis besetting the world. How can he talk this way when Transcom Asia’s clients are “predominantly” based in the United States? Predominantly means about 70 percent, he later on clarifies.

He concedes they have been lucky with their accounts. One hundred percent of their clients are Fortune 500 companies. Cowie says they don’t just take in any client that wishes to engage their services. They evaluate these prospective clients’ track record, creditworthiness, as well as revenue projections. The key, then, in being resilient these days is to make sure you have good eggs, so to speak, in your basket. There are no guarantees, of course, but one can always minimize risks by being prudent. After all, a single big account folding up or reneging on its payments may demolish any executive’s optimism. That’s true not just for Transcom but for all companies in all industries.

In the meantime, Cowie is looking forward to perfecting his company’s advanced forms of outsourcing services. He calls these quantum analytics—in-depth analysis of information whereby their representatives would be able to make intelligent input to their clients, input upon which business decisions will be based. Obviously this goes beyond the common person’s idea of what a business process outsourcing company’s employee does when he goes to work and sits in front of that box.

Of course, for that employee to be able to deliver that kind of requirement for his company’s client, he needs to be armed with good education and specialized skills. Ultimately, that will only happen if his government makes good on its promise to ensure quality education, from the most basic of levels to advanced studies in his field of interest. –Adellechua Tulagan, Philippine Star


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