JOSE MARI MERCADO AND GILLIAN VIRATA
Modern, minimal and sleek. These are the first things that come to mind as one enters the offices that house the Information Technology & Business Process Association of the Philippines (Ibpap) and its partner associations. The vibe is resolutely positive, as one might expect from an industry that currently holds its post as one of the brightest in the Philippines and certainly the world. In a way, this is also what makes the job rather daunting, according to two senior members of the Ibpap executive team. Jose Mari “Jomari” Mercado is currently the president and CEO, while Gilian “Gigi” Virata holds the post of senior executive director.
The two pointed out that the business process outsourcing (BPO) and the call center industries have indeed grown by leaps and bounds from the time it started in the early 2000. BPAP was the original name of the association that was established in 2004. Virata says the decision to set it up was because both the government through the Department of Trade and Industry which was then headed by Secretary Mar Roxas and some of the pioneers of the BPO and call centers felt that the industry is going to be big, as all indications were showing. At that time, Mercado says there were already about 200,000 people working for the industry, with growth rate projections of about 60 percent and Virata added that all the stakeholders agreed they needed a united voice when speaking, whether it is in dealing with government, investors or potential employees. “So the industry merged the two big associations running at that time, Contact Philippines and Outsource Philippines to become BPAP,” Virata explained.
In 2007, the association commissioned an extensive study to create a roadmap for 2010. What they did not foresee was the global crisis years that enveloped 2008 and 2009. Because of the crisis, Virata said that they did not hit the growth projections of 40 percent indicated in the road map, and averaged only from a low of 17 percent to about 23 percent. Still not bad she said, emphasizing that they quickly recovered in 2010, and the industry boomed in the years that followed.
The soft-spoken lady executive added that the growth that they had seen was phenomenal and thinks that the industry is maturing. Mercado agreed, saying, “Today, if you look at the traditional growth curves, I think we’re starting the next S-wave of the growth, so I guess we’ve reached a certain level of maturity.”
Looking back, Mercado said that the most critical part of the endeavor was “we identified what were the potential pitfalls and what would prevent us from getting to where we want.” He pointed out that globally the demand was there and it was up to the Philippine stakeholders to prepare for it, so they won’t lose the competitive edge.
Today, Mercado said that they are now in the middle of implementation of their next roadmap 2016. This new road map he said forecasts revenues of up to $25 billion and an employee base of 1.3 million by 2016, provided that the Philippines continues to successfully address HR supply, regulatory environment and brand visibility objectives. The Ibpap said that as of the end of 2013, the industry already has about 960-thousand employees, generating $16 billion for the Philippines.
According to their roadmap 2012-2016, the information technology and business process management (IT-BPM) and the global in-house center industry in the Philippines has grown at an annual rate of 30 percent over a decade, faster than the growth of the global offshore services market. If the $25-billion target is reached, the Philippines will have consolidated over 10 percent of the global IT-BPM market.
While the Philippines has held the title of being No. 1 in the world for voice services since 2010, the country is also number two in the fastest-growing nonvoice services globally. The nonvoice services cover vast areas including the fields of engineering, health care, financial, creative and software services among others for various industries. And this is where Ibpap is also focusing on, for the Philippines to eventually become No. 1 in the world.
The tasks maybe daunting but the two executives said that they are more than ready to forge ahead. Already, Mercado said that he is now thinking about the next step, which is to plan for 2020, even as the association will celebrate its 10th year this 2014. He said that another thing he is focusing on is the cultivation of more employees that can speak other Asian languages, while at the same time strengthening the spoken and written English through better and correct grammar and hopefully eliminating the “Taglish” liability, where employees cannot speak straight or write straight English. They are currently addressing this by partnering with schools for specific programs to bridge all the gaps and cultivate the skills necessary to become No. 1 globally.
Both Mercado and Virata said that their jobs keep them extremely busy and mobile, with frequent travels and numerous meetings as part of their regular itinerary. Like most executives, they also strive to keep a healthy balance between their work and personal lives. What is important they say is that they both enjoy the jobs that they do, even as the challenges remain. It certainly makes the load lighter because they, along with the others work effectively as a team, they pointed out. And this makes all the difference to ensure that they will hit their targets again, not only for their industry, but for the Philippines as well.