Page last updated at 12:00 UTC, Friday, 13 March 2020 PH
A study of the World Economic Forum entitled The Future of Work identified big data analytics as one specialization that will spearhead the adoption by companies of new technologies, together with high-speed mobile internet, artificial intelligence and cloud technology. It is important for Philippine business to address the forthcoming big increase in the demand for data analysts, not only to enable our large and medium-sized enterprises to make full use of this technology to improve their efficiency but also to address the need to shift the supply of our BPO-IT workers away from voice-oriented contact centers towards the higher skills of knowledge process outsourcing. A study made by Frost and Sullivan for the IT & Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) concluded that the sector of the industry that is most in danger of being made obsolete is the voice-oriented customer relations companies that still constitute some 60 percent of the business.
According to the same study of Frost and Sullivan, there is a serious shortage of the appropriate skills or talent in the deployment of Big Data Analytics (BDA) across businesses in the country. A combination of competencies such as statistics, business analysis, communication, creativity, and business intelligence is of great importance. The first logical approach is to identify the cream of the crop of the 1.2 million workers in the BPO-IT sector and subject them to the 101 days of learning needed for upskilling that the World Economic Forum study calculated would be needed during the period from now up to 2022. To quote from the study: “On average, employees will need 101 days of retraining and upscaling during the period up to 2022. Emerging skills gaps—both among individual workers and among companies’ senior leadership—may significantly obstruct organizations’ transformation management. Depending on industry and geography, between one-half and two-thirds of companies are likely to turn to external contractors, temporary staff and freelancers to address their skills gaps. A comprehensive approach to workforce planning, reselling and upscaling will be the key for positive, proactive management of such trends.”
In designing these upscaling or upskilling programs, overspecialization in purely technical skills must be avoided like the plague. As The Future of Work study emphasizes, proficiency in technologies is only one part of the 2022 skills equation. “Human skills” such as creativity, originality and initiative, critical thinking, persuasion and negotiation will continue to be as or even more valuable as robotization replaces some types of human labor. Other very important “human skills” are attention to detail, resilience, flexibility and complex problem solving. Emotional intelligence, leadership and social influence as well as service orientation will play more prominent roles in human resource development relative to their prominence in the past. Given all these requirements, the 101 days of continuous learning may actually be an underestimate, also considering the still inferior quality of tertiary education in the Philippines compared to most our East Asian neighbors.
To anticipate where the demand will be for BDA during the decade that just began, we should consider the findings of the Frost and Sullivan study for the IBPAP. Demand for BDA application will be especially large in customer service, information technology, finance, and accounting functions. In customer service, the tasks that will be enabled by BDA will be identifying customer concerns, analyzing patterns and trends, as well as providing early warning where needed and insights for future product and service requirement. Also vital will be integrating data from the contact center and traditional warehouse to reduce customer churn and drive up-sell and cross-sell activities. As regards Information Technology, BDA will enhance monitoring network performance, application performance, root-cause analysis; facilitating capacity planning and management; providing IT security (detection and forensics); providing stress and load scenario testing. In Finance and Accounting, BDA will help in driving business agility by analyzing performance metrics of various tasks in Finance and Accounting; and in leveraging data available in social and online media in areas covering regulatory compliance (know your customer, due diligence). It is obvious why in these functions, human skills can be even more important than the strictly technical ones.
The quickest way to add to the pool of data analysts in the shortest time possible is to resort to a partnership between academe and business in upscaling the skills of those who are already working for the BPO-IT industry of which there are more than a million. As an example, my university—the University of Asia and the Pacific—worked together with Telus, a leading BPO company from Canada, to develop the necessary human skills needed for data analytics through an in-house program replicating the liberal arts or humanities curriculum for which our University is famous. We sent some of our professors in such subjects as history, literature, languages, philosophy, the arts and advanced mathematics to teach selected employees of Telus to help them improve the ability for critical thinking, communication skills both in speaking and writing and their understanding of how the various disciplines relate to one another. In fact, this brings be back to decades ago when the Management Services division of the accounting firm SGV contracted a group of educators from CRC and the University of the Philippines to offer a mini-liberal arts program to their C.P.A.s so that they could overcome their handicaps in critical thinking, effective communication and the ability to relate one discipline to another. I have tracked the careers of some of these professional accountants who were in that program and I can attest to how they were enabled to reach the top of the management ladder in many top corporations here and abroad. (To be continued).