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Embracing AI is the battle plan for Philippines’ call centres

The government plans to launch an AI research centre to facilitate new technology access for smaller businesses. (Freepik pic)

MANILA: In a Philippine hotel ballroom packed with stakeholders from the world’s second-largest provider of outsourcing services, their main trade group leader issued a bold call: embrace generative AI, don’t fear it.

The Southeast Asian nation should tap the technology to “propel the sector to new heights of efficiency,” Jack Madrid, president of the IT & Business Association of the Philippines, told an industry summit attended by some 800 delegates.

“The AI train has left the station, and it’s moving very, very fast,” he said late Thursday. “We need to match that speed.”

Like the rest of the world, the Philippines is bracing for disruption from AI, as bots take on more call centre jobs. Adapting to the technology is crucial for the Philippines, whose outsourcing sector accounts for around 8% of economic output and is a top source of dollars.

Some companies are exploring how generative AI — a form of artificial intelligence trained to create new outputs based on existing dataset — can help in their operations.

Accenture Plc’s Philippine unit is studying the use of AI-powered “co-pilots” as “advisors” for call centre agents, and to help their coders understand and create codes.

“Our clients are very much starting to explore generative AI, so it’s important that the industry goes in lockstep with this,” Arvin Yanson, managing director of Accenture Philippines’ innovation hub, said in an interview on the summit’s sidelines.

Even with this push, humans will remain important in outsourcing companies’ processes, given that the technology is still in its infancy and still has challenges with accuracy and more complex tasks, according to Yanson.

“It is prudent to actually ensure that a human is still kept in the loop to either review, approve or modify what the generative AI is saying,” Yanson said.

The Philippine government is also planning to set up an AI research centre where it will hire scientists to help smaller businesses explore and have access to new technology, trade secretary Alfredo Pascual said at the same event.

Industry head Madrid said the prospects for the outsourcing sector remain bright despite the challenges posed by AI. This year, the industry expects to achieve 23% of the 1.1 million jobs and a fifth of the US$29.5 billion additional revenue it’s targeting by 2028.

“Artificial intelligence plus our emotional intelligence will be a very potent combination,” Madrid said.