Philippines region aims to be country’s next BPO hub

Mindanao, the Philippines’ southernmost and largest region, has embarked on a mission to become the nation’s knowledge and e-services hub outside Metro Manila by 2010.

Although the strategy to meet this goal is not yet polished fully, business leaders have already identified key areas that must be improved.

The development of the region’s human capital is an important consideration in rationalizing Mindanao’s ICT plan, based on regional private sector consultations. Business leaders in this province, which is famous for its tuna and pineapple produce, have already set a vision to integrate IT in the core of basic education. The identification of emerging issues, trends, opportunities, and challenges in the IT arena will then play a crucial role in this effort.

Jan Ced of the General Santos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and co-chairman of the 4th Mindanao Information and Communications Technology (MICT) Congress said, in an interview with Computerworld Philippines, that there is a need to address the human capital as early as now. “We should not wait for the ICT companies in the city to suffer in the dwindling of available competent and competitive human resources. Sustainability of the pool is critical.”

In a talk during the MICT Congress, Mitch Locsin, Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) executive director, said that the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is gaining ground worldwide and this is an area wherein Mindanao can also participate.

According to Gartner Dataquest, the demand for BPO services has more than doubled since 1999 — from US$208 billion to $543 billion. In the country, among the BPO services currently available are the contact centre services, medical transcription services, animation services, engineering design, and software development.

Some of the early signs that Mindanao has a promising future in BPO services are already present. “As of now, we are quite glad because BPO companies operating in Metro Manila and Cebu are coming in the region to supplement their manpower. This is a good manifestation that we do have quality manpower. But, then again, we should not be complacent because of this,” said Ced.

Ced admitted that Mindanao leaders are still in the process of identifying the region’s strengths in the BPO sector. “We want to try all industries — contact centres, animation, medical transcription, and software development. We will try to identify what will suit Mindanao the best.”

This move is aimed at attracting a greater number of college graduates to pursue their careers in Mindanao. “If we have a strong BPO platform, we can entice our graduates to stay here in Mindanao. Because what’s happening right now is that our graduates go to BPO companies in Cebu and Manila because they don’t have opportunities here yet. But later on, maybe a BPO company will invest in Mindanao that will give them opportunities.”

The local business sector is optimistic that Mindanao can attract investors, saying that Mindanao offers a different kind of incentive for ICT investors. “The edge of Mindanao is the lower cost of living, but that doesn’t mean we provide low-quality manpower. For a lower cost, investors can get good people,” said Ced.

Aside from developing the human capital, enhancing Mindanao’s digital infrastructure is also a key to Mindanao’s active participation in the borderless economy. Ced disclosed that a PEZA-accredited IT park is in the works at General Santos to gear up Mindanao in preparation for the infrastructure surge. “But even with the IT park in the works, we’ll still keep focus on developing manpower since an IT park will remain an IT park without people,” he said.

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