Welcome to my BPO Tales

After months of thinking about sharing some of my thoughts on the BPO and shared services industries I received a very timely nudge in the person of the amazing Andrea Edwards (aka. The Digital Conversationalist) and so here we are.   My first blog entry.  Wish me luck.  Thanks Andrea!

To start, since this is my first blog, I should begin with an introduction.  Hello!  Phil Wheatley here.  I am from Newcastle, in the north of England.  That makes me what we call a Geordie.  A proud Geordie who doesn’t get to go home so often but I closely follow events back home, especially the roller-coaster ride of being a Newcastle United football fan.

Home nowadays is Manila in the Philippines.  I first came here in 1999 with Procter & Gamble to help establish their Asia Pacific shared service center for HR employee services.  Unbelievably that was now 18 years ago!  I spent the first few years building that shared service organization and outsourcing some services such as payroll.   I was an early customer of BPO in that role and learned what customers look for when selecting a partner to provide business process services, and what the pain points can be as well as what makes a great working relationship.

Since then I have moved across the aisle to the other side of the client / provider partnership equation.  That is a switch I have really enjoyed and gained a lot of experience (and friendships) working with my clients.  I have held leadership roles in IBM and NGA and added to my experience from previous roles in Europe.   In all I have led teams in the UK, France, Poland, India, China, Malaysia and Australia as well as the Philippines.

As I share my stories I will be unashamedly partisan, I am a proud IBMer and I lead a fantastic team of around 3,000 in Manila and Naga.  IBM is celebrating 80 years in the Philippines this year which demonstrates the staying power and reputation of Big Blue in  the country.

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At IBM we are focused on transforming BPO for the cognitive and digital age.  Our team is now called Cognitive Process Services to highlight that change of direction.  We will talk more in the coming posts about this change of direction and the challenges and opportunities they will bring to BPO and shared services organizations, and customers.  Cognitive services and analytics, robotic automation, digital and cloud delivery models will all have huge impacts and transform the nature of work in the BPO space and already are.  More to come on those topics soon.

I will also be generous with my praise for those doing a great job to further the transformation of the BPO industry.  I passionately believe that IBM can only succeed in a vibrant and growing BPO sector in the Philippines.  We learn from each other and in partnership we are developing the Philippines as the #2 global destination for BPO which benefits all in the space as well as the local communities and economy where we all live and work.

You can of course find me on LinkedIn to see more details, but my experience over the last 25 years is the main reason why I felt compelled to share some of my stories and hopefully give you the benefit of  my learnings through this blog in the coming months.

I am starting to organize my thoughts ready to share here in the future.   Please let me know what you think and if you have questions you would like me to answer, please comment and let me know.

That’s all for my first, introductory BPO Tale.  More to follow soon.   Bye for now people of the blog kingdom.


Phil sig


BPO Tales



BPO Philippines Roadmap

Welcome to the second of my BPO Tales.   Two posts within my first week reflects my enthusiasm for this topic and the potential for conversations that can be started through this blog.  Thanks to everyone who read and commented on my introduction last week.   It means a lot.

This week I want to jump right in and face an important question head on.   What next for outsourcing and is the end in sight?  For those of you with a short attention span, the kind of people who read the last page of a whodunnit murder mystery first, I will save you the trouble of skipping to the end to find my conclusion.  I believe there is a strong future still for BPO in the Philippines and elsewhere, but it is a different future with new challenges and new skills required to meet them.  The BPO industry must urgently embrace those new requirements and adapt quickly to stay relevant and continue to grow.

The BPO industry in the Philippines was founded and grown on the availability of great English language skills at a lower cost.  India also grew for the same reasons, although I would argue that India has focused more on process transformation and six sigma skills than purely language, and indeed the Philippines in recent years has taken a larger share of the voice market from India.

Labour costs and voice support skills are still relevant but are losing ground in importance to other factors.  As technology improvements continue to disrupt business models around the world BPO services need to adjust to keep up with the innovation and stay relevant.  The rise of automation and the emergence of machine learning and cognitive systems have transformed productivity as well as the user experience.  Cloud delivery models have released companies from the investment in large data centers and system integration projects and allowed a more flexible and scalable architecture.  Blockchain is starting to transform how transactions are executed, secured and managed on accelerated timings.

What next?

At IBM we are focused on embedding cognitive capabilities into our service solutions.  To reflect this focus the BPO business unit is named Cognitive Process Services.  Customers are looking for more innovation in their outsourced services.  Gone are the days of “lift and shift” transitions to off shore delivery locations taking advantage of labour cost savings alone – “your mess for less”.  Today’s clients want flexible, cloud based delivery models that offer great value with reduced operational costs, enhanced user experience and additional value for the corporation.

Today BPO providers are focused on providing flexible As-a-Service solutions that are easily scalable and building in Robotic Process Automation to deliver exceptional levels of productivity and efficiency.  Traditional operational efficiency and continuous improvement model would typically deliver up to 25% savings over a typical contract lifetime.   By using RPA that can increase to 40%.  The next generation of solutions will apply more intelligence through cognitive automation and analytics that will unlock savings of 40%+, as well as providing additional value and insight to clients.   Blockchain will accelerate transactional delivery timings while increasing security to drive yet more value.

The evolution of BPO efficiency

In order for this to be successful in the Philippines new skills will be required in the workforce.   Critical thinking and analytical skills will be key, as well as business and industry knowledge.  Technology literacy will need to be ubiquitous in all roles.  These higher value skills are key to moving up the value chain while automation and AI replace manual low end activities.   BPO companies cannot just sit back and hope to recruit these skills, they have to engage with communities and academia and be part of developing future workers and leaders who are equipped to drive the industry forward.

The good news is we have experience in doing just that.  Companies like IBM worked with industry bodies like IBPAP (the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines) and academia in the early days of BPO to develop graduates with great English language and customer services skills, which drove the huge growth in the call center business in the last decade.   Now we must switch focus to building the new skill sets needed to grow in the next decade.

IBPAP has published it’s roadmap 2022 where it outlines how to achieve this (see IBPAP Roadmap 2022 link below).  BPO is moving from a call center driven model to one which covers many new industry areas – healthcare, education, agriculture, insurance, gaming…  We need talent who culturally understand these industries.  People who can analyze huge amounts of data and provide clients with valuable insight and recommendations : Who can curate large volumes of content to enable AI systems to learn and improve : Who can build lasting relationships with clients and translate their business challenges into solutions.

In the past BPO companies used to train their staff on the cultural differences between nationalities and how to relate to people from different backgrounds.  Today we also need them to understand the cultural differences between different industries.  How a healthcare professional works versus an educator or an engineer.

The question for the Philippines and every other BPO destination, is how will they meet this challenge.  What will differentiate them as a destination of choice for companies looking for a great service partner?

Again, let me know what you think.  Does BPO have a strong future?  What skills are needed to meet the challenge?

I will be attending the IBPAP HR Summit later this month where the questions of developing talent in the country will be addressed in various sessions.  I will share my thoughts following that event in the coming weeks.

Talk soon!

Phil sig