For most companies in the United States, the ongoing pandemic has been profoundly impactful. The path to recovery is proving to be quite a challenge. Here in the Philippines, recent events have unfolded in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry that may change the way we view security protocol, continuity measures, and how we interface with our partners.
In this post, we’ll briefly summarize the issues and their effect on the country’s outsourcing economy. We’ll also conclude with thoughts on how to improve from our Managing Director.
The effects of COVID-19 are staggering on a global level. Economies everywhere are crippled. Entire industries like travel and hospitality are facing a flood of bankruptcy filings as we approach the 4th quarter. The United States alone has more than 6.42 million cases, 193 thousand deaths, and is adding north of 30 thousand cases per day. The Philippines, a country with a third of the US population, currently has less than 4% of the total cases of the US, and about 2% of the deaths, while logging fewer cases per day nationally than most major US cities.
With that said, the impact is about a lot more than numbers. The Philippines’ response to the pandemic was to enter the world’s longest lockdown. In the capital city of Manila, that lockdown has just passed the six-month mark, causing virtually every industry except BPO and consumer goods to fall into a state of economic crisis.
The Philippines issued an exemption for call center/BPO workers, encouraging them to work from home, but simultaneously allowing them to bypass the lockdown and enter the office with a skeletal workforce.
Although the government acted quickly to protect the vital outsourcing industry, the Philippine economy fell into recession for the first time in 29 years. It now has an overall unemployment rate of more than 45 percent.
While the job numbers are appalling, the newly unemployed are flocking to the BPO sector as a haven, causing an already burgeoning talent pool to explode.
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Three employees from Sykes in Cebu City were said to have stolen and converted 60 million pesos worth of online gift cards to bitcoin.
Google has since ended its partnership with Sykes and is seeking out alternate partners for their outsourcing needs.
And while a large company like Sykes or Google may routinely go to tender, the sudden contract cancellation and the reason for it have sent shockwaves through the outsourcing sector.
What safeguards can be put into place to prevent this from happening for smaller companies with less technical infrastructure?
Even with a considerable Business Continuity Plan in place, the idea of entire continents closing their borders, military-enforced lockdowns, and industries like air travel and accommodation disappearing overnight was hard to comprehend.
But SuperStaff did the unthinkable. We grew.
Initially, we were sweating bullets when the lockdown was announced, just one week after we doubled our operations space to make room for projected growth. A week after that, we had to come to grips with the fact that most of our pipeline was made up of industries that are now defunct.
So, like many of you, we got to work. We charted out the growth projections for companies we felt would expand due to the crisis, and we hit the phones. By the middle of the third quarter, that brand new operational floor was sold out.
The other thing to think about is decentralization. For those of us with the ability to operate from multiple cities and/or islands, an extended lockdown in the capital region is just not as impactful. And if we can operate smoothly, that means our clients can too—this gives them a decided advantage when their customers are looking for reliable service in these uncertain times.
Lastly, as it relates to security protocols, pick your partners wisely. Examine their processes. Don’t pick a partner that meets your standards. Pick one that exceeds them.
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While BPO traditionally stands for Business Process Outsourcing, I’ve come to believe that for some folks it means Business Problem Outsourcing. However, a lot of people who offshore strictly for cost reduction purposes are learning a hard lesson about business continuity, cybersecurity, and the open exchange of information among partners.
A true partnership should be fortified by full and transparent reporting across all business units. The concerned departments should meet with their BPO counterparts. For example, Quality Assurance (QA) should be meeting with QA. Information Technology (IT) should be meeting with IT. Recruitment should be meeting with recruitment. Regular third-party audits should be happening—not just of the processes employed by the partner, but on the affinity between the two companies across their human infrastructure.
Outsourcing as a whole should not be just about individual business units; it is about your business units collaborating closely with ours, finding solutions together, and making them work.
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