The Philippines is set to see major development as a hub for analytics — the method of finding meaningful patterns in data – as IBM pioneers an ecosystem in the country for producing analytics professionals to service the industry’s booming global demand.
The New York-based multinational technology and consulting corporation is bullish about its investment prospects in the Philippines, emboldened by the country’s brisk economy and its rich, young pool of English-speaking IT talents.
The new president and country general manager of IBM Philippines, Luisito Pineda, is undaunted by warnings of inadequate broadband infrastructure in the country.
What he sees, instead, is a conducive environment for the technology innovator’s strategy in responding to the big three shifts taking place in the information world today: data, cloud and people engagement.
For Pineda, the challenge is to replicate the global brand’s evolution through innovation on a country level, particularly in an emerging economy that does not even have a homegrown, national broadband.
Two private telecommunications operators and some minor carriers end up providing limited services at higher-than-affordable rates for retail users.
Strategy of transformation
IBM has transformed itself over 104 years from a pioneer in building business computing machines into an all-round, still mainframe-based, software solutions provider. It has even stepped beyond the technology borders to engage its clients at the practical level by going into strategic business consulting and IT financing.
A native of Davao city, leaving at age 12 to join his family’s move to the US, Pineda returned to the country decades later, himself a transformed man – a full-fledged computer scientist educated at the University of Washington and shaped into a well-rounded top executive by the information-based corporate culture of IBM.
Having served as vice president for Client Support and Success, Industry Cloud Solutions for the IBM Software Group in the US, Pineda took over the helm of IBM’s Philippine operations aiming to demonstrate how the success of the company’s strategy of transformation could prove effective in a nascent economy such as the Philippines.
“We want to prove we can do it here,” Pineda told The Manila Times at a roundtable discussion with its journalists.
“We’ve thrived more than a hundred years because of transformation. Our commitment to dealing with transformation is very apparent in what we are doing today.”
Analytics is a top priority area of development under IBM’s Philippine agenda.
Addressing the issue of inadequate broadband facilities in the country, Pineda said cloud computing provides a solution to limited physical infrastructure, enabling both startups and established enterprises to make their analytics applications available to users through the less bandwidth-intensive Cloud.
“There are developers who focus on designing applications that are not reliant on high-speed internet or so-called web or bandwidth optimized applications. If the cloud-based application is web or bandwidth optimized, it can run on the speed that we currently have in the country — because the application is not relying on persistent connection (or a connection is created only when it is required). A good number of users are satisfied with the performance of their Cloud or web based application. [Of course], an increase in internet speed and reliability will definitely help everyone.”
According to IBM’s agenda, “data is becoming the world’s new natural resource. It promises to be for the 21st century what steam power was for the 18th century, what electricity was for the 19th century and what hydrocarbons were for the 20th century.”
Growing at tremendous rates – an estimated 667 exabytes (one exabyte is 1 quintillion bytes) of data flowed through the internet alone last year – IBM sees its place at the frontier helping industries manage the flood of data to their advantage instead of allowing it to inundate them.
“Our answer to big data and analytics is cognitive systems. An entirely new era of computing; cognitive computing will take advantage of the flood of data available and how it is processed … There will come a time when you cannot program all that and other data that exists to understand all the information that exists. You will need a system that learns, a system that teaches itself,” and that’s where IBM comes in, Pineda said.
Besides the obvious data-dependent areas of business, people-oriented departments such as marketing and human resources (HR) have also been flooded with data they can’t afford to ignore.
“If you look at marketing today, it’s very data-driven. It has completely changed from the past. You look at HR – in the past, it’s good enough to have somebody who liked people, who liked dealing with people, who could read people and who could interview people.
Today, HR uses data pretty extensively. When they hire candidates they look at their presence in social media. They look at their tweets. They look at their Facebook profile. They look at social media for recruiting,” Pineda pointed out.
“Data and analytics are really changing professions and the industry itself. Industries today are really using the power of data to make better business decisions.”
Tapping and training
Identifying and training talents then becomes a vital part of the formation of the IBM ecosystem for analytics.
To maximize its reach and streamline the cost of infrastructure and labor resources involved in professionalizing the industry, IBM Philippines has formed a tie-up with existing educational institutions in the country to share the responsibility of training, instead of handling it all by itself.
In December 2012, IBM Philippines formally signed an agreement with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to collaborate on developing a comprehensive analytics education masterplan for Philippine institutions for higher education.
IBM initiated the project to “prepare the country’s workforce for the emerging trend toward analytics.”
Isagani Cruz, a former curriculum adviser for the Department of Education (DepEd) and CHED who now leads The Manila Times College as president, said demand is a big factor that determines the creation of a curriculum.
It turns out that strong and growing demand for analytics services among local industries and overseas exists. The collaboration between IBM and CHED resulted in a curriculum for the analytics course now offered in the country’s major universities.
The first Analytics course offered in the Philippines was officially launched in 2013.
“We have the major universities teaching that course now — we actually have initial batches of graduates and we’ve hired a lot of them at IBM,” Pineda said.
IBM Research & Development (R&D) Executive Jay Sabino said the company has been engaged in the implementation of the Analytics course in collaboration with 77 higher education institutions.
The year-long program produced an estimated 40 to 50 graduates last March, and by next year the total number is expected to grow to about 500 graduates, he added.
IBM has trained 604 faculty members so far under its Corporate Service Corps units.
The idea of the Philippines – whose claim to global “fame” may include supplying workers to tech-based business process outsourcing (BPO) businesses and being the text (SMS) capital of the world – becoming a global analytics center may sound like a far too ambitious dream.
Analytics, according to a pioneer of IT education in the Philippines, Paulino Tan, serves three main purposes: describe what is going on (descriptive), predict what could happen (predictive) and prescribe possible courses of action (prescriptive).
The aspect of analytics that deals with its application, rather than its science aspect, is where the Philippines can emerge as a global leader, said Tan, who is the incumbent president of Asia Pacific College.
“If the government puts priority on it and seriously supports the development of the analytics industry, yes, I think we can be a global analytics center, insofar as the applied services field is concerned,” he added.
The BPO industry is one of the obvious beneficiaries of analytics. Pineda pointed out that BPO operators could create more value for their clients by including analytics among the services they provide.
Part of Pineda’s social networking is being in touch with various industry leaders to discuss the extent and growth of demand for and potential supply of analytics
professionals in the country.
IBM itself is hiring people in massive numbers. Producing graduates of analytics courses to meet demand for analytics jobs around the world is not enough. Supply needs support to be sustained.
The Philippines, Pineda said, is the only country in the world where the ecosystem is taking shape – from the government to the academe, to the industry – “working together to bolster the cause.”
“The whole ecosystem needs to keep going,” Pineda reiterated, explaining the need for the analytics training program to solidify the ecosystem for the industry. IBM continues to lead in formalizing training on analytics and bringing it up to the national-agenda level.
“We continue to be championing that cause in IBM and we will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.”
“The shortage of analytics jobs across the world is staggering,” he stressed. “Once we’ve really built that ecosystem, the world is our oyster in terms of servicing world demand.”
REPORTED BY CATHERINE TALAVERA, WRITTEN BY NERILYN TENORIO