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Perceptions of Business Process Outsourcing Workers on the Integration of Artificial Intelligence Technologies at Work

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Abstract

The study investigated the perceptions of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) workers on the integration of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace. It has been conducted to look into the impact of AI integration on the employment stability of the employees including their openness in utilizing AI. It also focused on their plans in the possibility of being displaced from their jobs and their willingness to accept government and non-government assistance concerning individual upskilling. The descriptive research design was used, and vital quantitative and narrative information were gathered through the use of a survey instrument and an interview guide. Cochran's formula was utilized to determine the sample size for the survey whereas interviews were conducted to the point that it reached data saturation. Results revealed that many participants are aware of AI integration in the BPO industry including its benefits. However, some are distrustful of AI efficiency. Most of them see themselves as being not part of the industry five years from now and are preparing for a career change and almost all are willing to receive help from both government and non-government agencies. It is suggested that BPO employees be presented with training for skills upgrading which is vital in shifting to tasks resilient of automation to be provided by public and private entities.
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
Perceptions of Business Process Outsourcing Workers on the
Integration of Artificial Intelligence Technologies at Work
Paolo G. Hilado, Tito D. Soquiño, Gereon A. Cabarles, Katrina D. Leyva, David S. Hinolan,
Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod, Philippines
Abstract
The study investigated the perceptions of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) workers on
the integration of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace. It has been conducted to look into the
impact of AI integration on the employment stability of the employees including their openness in
utilizing AI. It also focused on their plans in the possibility of being displaced from their jobs and
their willingness to accept government and non-government assistance concerning individual
upskilling. The descriptive research design was used, and vital quantitative and narrative
information were gathered through the use of a survey instrument and an interview guide.
Cochran’s formula was utilized to determine the sample size for the survey whereas interviews
were conducted to the point that it reached data saturation. Results revealed that many participants
are aware of AI integration in the BPO industry including its benefits. However, some are
distrustful of AI efficiency. Most of them see themselves as being not part of the industry five
years from now and are preparing for a career change and almost all are willing to receive help
from both government and non-government agencies. It is suggested that BPO employees be
presented with training for skills upgrading which is vital in shifting to tasks resilient of automation
to be provided by public and private entities.
Keywords: artificial intelligence integration, business process outsourcing, employment
stability, career change, skills upgrading, government, and non-government assistance
Introduction
The term Artificial Intelligence (AI) was first coined by John McCarthy in 1956 although
the thought that machines could soon learn how to think began way before it (Smith, 2006). This
refers to machines that can simulate human intelligence capacitating them to perceive stimuli,
learn, reason, solve problems, etc. Depending on its capacity, different categories for AI have been
considered. AI technologies that perform specific tasks of humans, like play a game of Go, conduct
predictive analytics, drive cars, packaging, and filling, etc. are categorized as Narrow AI.
Integrating these functions allowing a machine to do all forms of activities that humans can do
leads to another category of AI known as Artificial General Intelligence. By the time these
technologies surpass the performance of humans to a point that they are better in almost all aspects,
then this would refer to Artificial Super Intelligence (Joshi, 2019).
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
Although the concept of what defines AI has changed over time, at the core, there has
always been the idea of building machines that are capable of thinking like humans and are faster
and more alert. A lot of places have started adapting the process of using AI and machines as
alternatives for some specific jobs that require twice the amount of work.
Indeed, AI is pushing the never-ending boundaries of machine-enabled functionalities.
This up-to-date technology facilitates machines to act with a degree of autonomy, resulting in the
effective execution of iterative tasks that usually take up most of our time. AI facilitates the
creation of a next-generation workplace that thrives on seamless collaboration between the
enterprise system and the individuals in it. Therefore, human resources are not made obsolete, but
rather, their efforts are upgraded by the emerging tech. AI could provide organizations with the
luxury of freeing up resources for higher-level tasks. According to the president of the Future Life
Institute, Max Tegmark, AI technologies have the potential to augment the capacities of
civilization like never before through the amplification of our human intelligence with artificial
intelligence (Anthony, 2017).
As AI is expected to impact many industries, the Business Process Outsourcing sector is
also included. According to the research firm Nelson Hall, AI and automation could reimagine the
BPO sector by expanding their services (AIT News Desk, 2019). The result is twice faster,
responds more, and could secure different types of processes. The firm believes that Robotic
Process Automation (RPA) and AI-integrated businesses could contribute around a big amount of
$8 billion to the industry’s potential growth by 2022. In other words, it could have the work done
twice and much earlier than usual human workers. As they ingest more data, these tools can be
trained more to optimize business processes and outcomes. In terms of customer experience, these
tools can use massive volumes of data to assess customer metrics like intent, mood, complaints,
and satisfaction levels. In effect, these tools measure and improve a customer’s journey using
predictive analytics that can adapt to their needs and streamline the customer journey.
Despite its benefits, there are also concerns that AI may put some workers at risk of losing
their jobs. In 2017, Tech billionaire Elon Musk warned that the robots will eventually become
better than each human at everything and that this will lead to widespread disruption of jobs for
humans. He added that robots will be able to do everything soon, and that fact should be considered
scary enough. Indeed, workers are in danger of being replaced by machines and it is also taken
into consideration that it is not limited to jobs that are considered as being repetitive and of low
skill. Automation, robotics, and algorithms in recent times have shown that they can do human
jobs on equal footing or sometimes even better. Multiple studies have documented that massive
numbers of jobs are at risk as programmed devices – many of them smart, autonomous systems –
continue their fast strides into workplaces. A recent study by Acemoglu and Restrepo (2017) found
that one more robot per thousand workers reduces the employment to population ratio by about
0.18-0.34 percentage points and wages by 0.25-0.5 percent. It is of concern as to what will be the
type of future left for workers if ever the time will come that one’s expertise and time are not that
relevant to the industries and corporation, seeing as AI is much faster and could be more effective.
The deployment of AI has increasingly been observed and experienced in various
workplaces. As it continues to grow and advance, job disruption could occur and those that are
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
repetitive and mundane could be maneuvered by AI. According to a study by Mckinsey Global
Institute (2018), intelligent agents and robots could replace 30% of the world’s current human
labor by the year 2030. It is considered a possible threat to workers. The study further states that
“automation will displace between 400 and 800 million jobs by 2030, requiring as many as 375
million people to switch job categories entirely”. As such, people need to recognize and prepare
for these potential changes and identify the advanced skills needed to adapt. The BPO industry is
not spared from this considering that there are also jobs within the industry that can easily be
transitioned to automation.
The concern lies in the exponential research and development efforts for Artificial
Intelligence which is expected to hasten the shift towards the use of AI-driven technologies in the
BPO workplace which could probably lead to a higher percentage of the workforce that can be
displaced. Cognizant of the aforementioned, this research has been conducted to look into the
perceptions of BPO workers about AI. Specifically, it aimed to appraise the automation potential
of jobs in the Business Process Outsourcing industry and explore the perceptions of BPO
employees on the adoption of Artificial Intelligence Technologies at work. Findings from the study
are expected to benefit the BPO industry as it provides information on the types of jobs that may
potentially be affected by AI integration. It also benefits the government and non-government
sectors as it provides information necessary for probable programs that may be designed and
implemented to upskill BPO workers and curb those who may be affected by AI integration.
Framework of the Study
Business Processing Management (BPO) refers to the industry that involves the delegation
of service-type business processes to a third-party service provider (DTI, 2003). It is part of the
service sector, one which has seen over 10 percent growth for the last 15 years (Errighi et al 2016).
This is observed to be parallel with the growth of the BPO industry which has tripled its market
share in a span of 10 years from 2004 to 2014 and is forecasted to reach 19% by 2020. It is
comprised of subsectors such as contact centers, back office, transcription, animation, information
technology, and digital content or game development. The contact centers refer to call center
activities involving inbound and outbound calls. Agents taking incoming calls from customers or
clients usually address their inquiries, provide relevant information about products or services,
handle complaints and solve problems. On the other hand, outbound call center activities usually
involve selling or marketing products or services to probable customers or clients and conduct
market research or public polling (PSA PSIC, 2009). Back-office operations, also known as
Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), involve services related to finance, bookkeeping, and
payroll processing (SEPO, 2010). Information Technology and Software development services
refer to the processes needed to create and manage software which usually includes data analysis,
software design, programming, and maintenance. Transcription services include those that convert
speech into an electronic document stored for future reference. Animation services work on the
design and provision of drawings and models using 2D and 3D technology. Digital content and
game development entail the creation of digital products for use on electronic media (Bird and
Ernst, 2009). In the latest issue of the media and research – publication and reports of the Banko
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
Sentral ng Pilipinas on its survey of IT-BPO for 2013, across these subsectors those that had the
most contribution to sale revenue includes the contact centers, IT and software development,
transcription and animation. In a much recent report provided by the IT and Business Process
Association of the Philippines (IBPAP, 2019), the projected revenue growth rate somewhat
similarly includes the same sectors which put animation and game development on top (7.3% -
12.3%) followed by Healthcare Information Management which includes medical transcription
(7.3% - 10.8%), Contact Center and Business Processing (3.3% - 7.4%) and IT and Software
Development (3.2% - 6.7%). Together with this revenue growth is the expectation that more job
opportunities would be made available to the aforesaid subsectors. In the same study of IBPAP,
the headcount growth rate predominantly involves the same subsectors thus being almost similar
vis-à-vis the employment growth of these subsectors in the previous years as portrayed by Errighi
and Bodwell (2016). To date, the BPO industry continues to play a vital role in the economy of
the country contributing a considerable percentage to its gross domestic product and being one of
the largest industries employing millions of Filipinos across hundreds of outsourcing companies.
Society is dynamic as it continues to pursue effectiveness and efficiency in meeting
expected outcomes. Historical data shows that the pervasiveness of technology plays a key role in
its development. In 1910 steam was introduced to power reapers and traction engines which
propelled the transition of the society from manual labor towards mechanization (Steckel and
White, 2012). Before the 20th century, electricity now powered the machines which led to the age
of mass production leading to more outputs due to better efficiency as it required less cost and
effort both in operations and maintenance (Muntone, 2013). During the last decades of the 20th
century, advanced technologies on electronics led to the manufacture of transistors,
microprocessors, and integrated units. These technologies paved the way for automation whereby
machines started to replace human activities on the assembly lines (Sabri, 2019). In recent times,
the fusion of computers, interactivity, and the internet have transformed machines that are capable
to manage itself and the processes it covers (Hermann et al, 2016). Given their benefits in
effectiveness and productivity, these technologies have been integrated well into operations
thereby leading to a lower need for manual laborers as certain tasks were now being accomplished
by machines. Dubbed as “Industry 4.0”, its hallmarks of the society include interoperability,
information transparency, technical assistance, and decentralized decision making. The drive
towards achieving interoperability led to the existence of the “Internet of things”. If in the previous
era machines were introduced and ways were discovered to power them efficiently, the fourth
industrial revolution intends to enable these machines to communicate and interact with one
another and its users (Liao, Y. et al, 2017). Interoperability capacitates machines to extract data
online to be used for simple decision-making as it performs tasks. Properties of information
transparency enable machines to contextualize things via the creation of virtual copies of the
physical world through the use of data collected from sensors (Hermann et al, 2016). With the
availability of data, machines get to perform the functions that they were developed to do which,
at this time, often involves the provision of technical assistance to humans giving support in
decision making and problem-solving for complex cases. For the simple ones, these machines and
devices become autonomous in decision making thus the decentralization of the said process. This
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
is made possible via machine learning whereby, through complex algorithms, they are trained on
what to do for a given scenario leveraging their learning to that of humans thus enabling them to
function on their own with little or no input from human operators (Pelk, 2016). This paves the
creation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies which refer to intelligent machines that are
capable of performing tasks the way humans do and, at times, even better. As such, inquiries arise
as to how these will shape society. It is of no argument that such technologies will bring about
better performance of services and higher outputs for productions. However, learning from the
past shows that in the course of societal evolution comes a shift in skills demand.
Being engaged in operations that have heavy use of technologies, the BPO industry is one
of those that may be affected by the integration of Artificial Intelligence technologies to automate
tasks. A growing concern regarding AI integration and job automation exists among those in the
business process outsourcing activities. Anxiety looms among individuals in this industry
considering the rapid development in text-to-speech applications, natural language processing,
robotic process automation, and voice recognition (Husein, 2018). In the Philippines,
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, during an interview in 2018, mentioned that
AI is going to be a reality and hitting harder within 3 to 5 years thus urging the BPO industry to
have the training to upgrade its workers’ skills (ABS-CBN News, 2018). Such is the concern of
some call center agents when they experienced the automation process which led to a 90%
reduction in call volume as such they were eventually replaced by software (Domingo, 2018).
Integration of AI technologies into this industry would probably be at a faster rate compared to
others considering that these are being pushed by their main companies abroad which consider a
dynamic approach in continuously improving performance. Given the nature of work in the BPO,
it can be categorized into data processing, data collection, applying expertise, and managing others
(Gallimore, 2018). Looking into the capacity of currently existing technologies, an analysis of
more than 2000 activities across 800 jobs shows that activities involving physical activities in a
highly predictable and structured environment such as data collection and data processing can
easily be automated (Manvika & Sneader, 2018). As such, it can be observed that most of the call
center activities that have a high potential for automation would include back-office operations
such as data entry, data collection, and data processing. On the other hand, experts in the BPO
industry believe that AI will not spell the end of the Call Center industry in the Philippines.
Gallimore (2018) stated that only half of the activities in call centers are susceptible to automation
(data collection and processing) whereas applying expertise and managing others would remain
relevant. Nonetheless, there exists a possibility that the integration of Artificial Intelligence in the
BPO industry may lead to the displacement of some workers. Conversely, this transition could
also potentially create new jobs across its different sectors. The standard view of technical change
is that only some jobs, not totally, are to be displaced since new jobs will be created as society
evolves (Kletzer, 2018). Learning from the past, it has been observed that employment has
continued to shift based on the skills demanded by economic development. From 1900-1940 the
shift in occupation was moving away from agriculture going towards industry, 1970 – 1990 from
industry towards manufacturing and 2007 – 2010 presents the moving out of workers from
manufacturing going towards construction. This transition led to the displacement of workers
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
accounting for 40%, 13%, and 0.5% of the labor force respectively (Harris et al, 2018). The shift
of farmworkers towards the industrial sector is observed to take place in four decades, the shift to
manufacturing happened within two decades whereas the transition to construction occurred within
3 years. The concern lies in the exponential research and development efforts for Artificial
Intelligence which is expected to hasten the shift towards the use of AI-driven technologies in the
workplace. Skills upgrading of workers may not be able to catch up with the pace which could
probably lead to a higher percentage of the workforce that can be displaced. Observations made
from historical data led to an analysis that suggests that labor force displacement due to
technological change during 2020 and onward maybe two to three times faster compared to other
big transformational periods of labor automation (Harris et al, 2018).
Methodology
This study employs a descriptive research design; it describes a phenomenon being studied
(Shields, 2013). It involves examining the distribution of the Business Process Outsourcing
employees per subsector, determine the automation potential of the jobs entailed for each and
explores their perception about the adoption of Artificial Intelligence technologies at work.
The participants considered for the study include individuals employed in the Business
Process Outsourcing sector. Sampling was done purposively whereby participants were selected
given that they meet the aforesaid criteria. Data was collected via interviews and surveys. The
interviews were continued until the point where responses reached saturation or having a
commonality in responses (Sargeant, 2012). In this study, data saturation of information garnered
via interviews was attained after interviewing 20 participants which is considered as adequate
(Creswell, 2007). A survey was also conducted to further the findings of the interview. Cochran’s
formula for estimation of sample size was utilized with a 95% level of confidence, 0.7 for
proportion, and a 7% margin of error (NIH, 1999); computed sample size is at 165 whereas
gathered responses were at 173. The estimates of proportion were sourced from the findings of the
interview.
The interview guide was reviewed by the expert panel comprised of three subject matter
experts who have expertise in information technology and research designs and another who has
a good familiarity with the characteristics of the participants. This is to ensure that items included
were relevant in exploring the perceptions of Business Process Outsourcing employees on the
adoption of Artificial Intelligence Technologies at work. These items looked into whether the
participants are aware of artificial intelligence relevant to their work and its recent developments,
their perceptions on having AI technologies and their current and potential future impact on the
BPO industry, whether they see themselves having long-term employment in the BPO industry,
whether they have considered preparations for a career change in case they have other plans, the
career alternatives they have thought of, their receptiveness of opportunities for skills transfer that
will pave toward career change, the resources that they are willing to invest to avail of this skills
transfer and, for those who do not plan to have a career change, the factors that led to that decision.
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
The survey form utilized for the study included seven questions that collected data for
profiling of the participants. It made use of single-item measurement to gather data on participants’
awareness of Artificial Intelligence technologies used in the BPO, the likelihood of being with the
BPO in the upcoming years, whether they considered preparation for a career change, alternatives
they consider in case they have plans for a career change, whether they would avail opportunities
for skills transfer if offered by the government and non-government non-profit organizations,
resources they are willing to invest for skills transfer opportunities and, for those who are not
prepared for a career change, the factors that hinder them. The survey form has been subjected to
face validity using an evaluation instrument with items from Good and Scates (1972). It has been
evaluated by three subject matter experts to which it garnered a mean of 4.67 in a 5-point Likert
Scale thus capable of measuring the variables of interest. Considering that it utilized a single-item
measurement to describe the phenomenon, reliability need not be measured (Trobia, 2008).
In terms of data gathering, the participants were fully informed of the objectives of the
study and on how collected data will be processed, stored, and secured. It was emphasized that
their identity will be kept anonymous, and that the data will be treated with utmost confidentiality
thus in no way will be used to trace them via the responses provided. Data were only collected
among those who were willing to engage as participants for the study for both interviews and
survey as evidenced by the informed consent forms.
This study also worked on data that was also collected from publicly available BPO
relevant reports published by the government and private entities; these data were usually procured
online. Apart from the aforementioned, there are also data used in this study that were made
available upon on-site visits and requests from various government agencies.
Cognizant of the research objectives, the following data analytic tools were utilized. The
percentage was utilized to present the automation potential of jobs in the aforesaid industry. These
were analyzed to generate a frequency distribution for each question on the survey form. As to
explore the perceptions of the BPO employees, data collected from the interviews were subjected
to summative content analysis whereby commonality in responses was documented. Those that
were emphasized in the responses of most participants were interpreted in the underlying context.
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
Results and Discussion
The different jobs for each subsector of the BPO were explored in terms of their automation
potential. These subsectors include the contact centers, back-office operations, animation,
information technology, and transcription. Findings show that BPO employees performing tasks
relevant to transcription are at most risk for automation. Per observation, this is led by the word
processors and typists (90%), data entry keyers (86%), and those in a medical transcription (73%).
Word processors would refer to those who use a personal computer for purposes of recording,
storing, and editing reports, statistical tables, and other printed materials. On the other hand, data
entry keyers are those who fill out forms, edit current information, proofread, and make new entries
to a database; they usually work on information internal to the company. Those in medical
transcription are unique from the aforementioned considering that it requires domain knowledge
on health to function effectively. Often, they are covered under intelligent transcription as the
transcriber must have a solid understanding of the data being worked on. It focuses on the capacity
to communicate the main idea via text and more than just transcribing the material. Given the
nature of these jobs, the high percentage of automation potential may be attributed to Artificial
Intelligence models that utilize natural language processing which is common among software
with voice recognition and word processing capacities. Automation for encoding of data and filling
out of forms have also been made possible via graphical user interface automation. Working on
packages in python designed for these functions, the model can briefly type repetitive data and
accomplish forms efficiently (Sweigart, 2019). In addition, there has also been extensive use of
different machine learning models for data entry tasks. These models can find significant trends
or patterns on the data being worked on and make predictions relevant to such which would be the
kind of information that will be encoded into the database.
Apart from the aforementioned, employees of contact centers may also be affected by this
shift to modern approaches in handling tasks. Per estimates of Mckinsey (2016), those jobs that
have over 50% potential for automation would include employees handling accounts on travel
(73%), insurance (60%), and contact center information clerk (53%). Packages for speech
recognition and engines for speaking capacity among applications have taken popularity and are
readily available for use by any programmer (Python Software Foundation, 2021). Combining
these with a plethora of other packages for various functionality, an application gets to interact
with voice commands and perform various tasks required for different processes. Despite the
growing number of applications developed with such capabilities, most are a far cry from Google
Duplex. Given its advances in understanding, interacting, timing, and speaking, the said
application can engage in conversations that make it seem natural and carrying this out fully
autonomously without human involvement (Leviathan and Mathias, 2018). Currently, it can
seamlessly make reservations for its users via a real phone call of the AI assistant to the place of
interest and when reserved, it reflects this booked schedule into the Google Calendar. Its unique
feature is its capacity to engage in the communication process despite the nuances in the
conversation. Often many virtual assistant applications become confused and lose track of the task
when complexities arise during the conversation, this is not usually the case with Google Duplex
as presented by Google CEO Sundar Pichai during the 2018 Google I/O annual conference (The
Verge, 2018). To note, such technology is still considered by its creators as under development; it
may have more functionality as the technology continues to be improved. Although the said
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
application is designed to be a virtual assistant for Google native devices, this could potentially
inspire other developers to come up with applications matching this capacity for other tasks. As
such, it may be possible that this technology may eventually be used for voice-related tasks like in
the case of BPO contact centers and often its automation potential may depend on the complexity
of the topics in the communication process.
Some jobs in the Information Technology subsector have also been observed to have more
than 50% of their activities that can be automated. As shown in Table 1, this includes the Network
and Computer Systems Administrator (63%) and the Computer Network Support Specialists
(62%). These professions have been observed to have increasingly relied on automation to handle
tasks such as updating software and configuring servers. Moreover, machine learning models have
been utilized for preventive maintenance for networks by predicting possible problems and
working them out in advance. Another is the shift of most companies from an on-premise to on-
cloud network infrastructure. The latter allows for automated monitoring and with functions like
dashboards, the user would be able to view the status of all cloud services at a glance (Ikink, 2021).
Despite all these, it is to be emphasized that the network topology design is dynamic thus continues
to change through time thus new implementation methods would also be needed; one wherein AI
technologies might find challenging. As such, these would likely be the roles whereby AI tends to
augment rather than replace.
In terms of BPO jobs involving the back-office operations, those who are doing clerical
jobs relevant to payroll, bookkeeping, and accounting and keeping files may be at risk. As reflected
in the table below, the automation potential for the activities in this job accounts for 89%, 86%,
and 79% respectively. Given the nature of the jobs dealing with a structured process of doing
things and one that is also repetitive, it is among those jobs considered to be at risk for automation.
For payroll, tasks involving the calculation of taxes are not being automated and many automated
payroll systems have been made available. The limitation that the AI technologies currently have
would be in the interpretation and integration of regulatory changes or when dealing with some
exceptions in the process (Woodward, 2018). As to bookkeeping and accounting clerks, experts
believe that the automation of transactions related to these is inevitable as such there is a need to
upgrade one’s skills to provide value-add to the business thus remain relevant (Nagarajah, 2016).
Same with payroll, bookkeeping, and accounting clerks, the file clerk jobs also involve mundane
tasks such as sorting records in alphabetical or numerical order depending on the filing system
used. Provided that a considerable percentage of the activities involved in the job can be
automated, the workers are expected to render more time for value-add to the business or, by
circumstance, be influenced to find other meaningful roles.
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
Table 1
Automation Potential of Identified BPO Jobs per Subsector
*Source: Mckinsey & Company (2016). Automation Potential of Jobs
To explore the perceptions of BPO employees on the adoption of AI technologies at work,
a survey was conducted involving 174 participants; this is shown in Table 2. In terms of their
awareness of such technologies together with their functions and capacity, it can be observed that
50.87% were somewhat aware, 41.52% were aware to a great extent and 7.51% were unaware.
This is further supported by the separate interviews conducted which also indicate that many of
the participants are aware of what artificial intelligence is. This awareness was the result of them
being workers in the BPO Industry as mentioned by one of the interviewees.
Such finding shares similarity with the survey conducted by other entities such as the
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the United Kingdom (2019) which
involved 2467 participants in Great Britain whereby many knew something about AI (63%)
followed by those who knew a lot about it (12%) and those who have never heard about it at all
(7%). The findings inform us that many BPO employees have an idea of AI technologies and the
capacity it has on how it could change the processes at work. On the other hand, there still exists
a group of BPO employees who are completely clueless about it.
Sub-Sector Job Automation Potential (%) *
Transcription
Word Processors and Typists
90
Back Office Operations (Non
-
Payroll and Time Keeping Clerks
89
Back Office Operations (Non
-
Bookkeeping and Accounting Clerks
86
Transcription
Data Entry Keyers
86
Back Office Operations (Non
-
File Clerk
79
Contact Centers (Voice)
Travel Agents
73
Transcription
Medical Transcription
73
Information Technology
Network and Computer Systems Administrator
63
Information Technology
Computer Network Support
Specialists
62
Contact Centers (Voice)
Insurance Salesperson
60
Contact Centers (Voice)
Information Clerk
53
Contact Centers (Voice)
Retail Salesperson
47
Information Technology
Database Administrators
37
Back Office Operations (Non
-
Administrative Service Manager
35
Back Office Operations (Non
-
Financial Managers
34
Contact Centers (Voice)
Customer Service Representative
29
Information Technology
Systems Software Developers
26
Back Office Operations (Non
-
Chief
Executives
25
Back Office Operations (Non
-
General and Operations Manager
23
Back Office Operations (Non
-
Human Resource
14
Back Office Operations (Non
-
Accountants and Auditors
12
Information Technology
Application
Development
8
Animation
Animation
2
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
Further findings from the interviews show that participants have ambivalent feelings
toward the introduction of AI in the BPO Industry. There were relatively equal numbers of users
and non-users. Some of the participants mentioned that their companies may be acquiring one in
the future.
In terms of its benefits, participants have mentioned that the primary purpose of utilizing
AI was to reduce the time it would take for the BPO to provide solutions to customers’ issues. This
is the reason why most of the companies are using AI engines with an Interactive Voice Response
system which reduces customer interaction time and eventually result in an increased number of
customers being served. It was also mentioned by the participants that an AI that would help in the
monitoring of the agents’ performance could greatly improve the company’s productivity. An AI
that would help even in the selection of call center agents. In addition, several participants also
mentioned that an AI that could manage customers’ accounts would greatly improve the
company’s performance. Despite these benefits presented, participants have research trust for AI
technologies as some of them still do not have complete faith in the AI capability due to their
experiences of glitches and malfunction. In addition, they consider the maintenance of the AI
system to also entail high costs.
Like any other technology, benefits almost always come with externalities and, at times,
developers of these technologies may overlook the latter and only come to realize when such has
been deployed for use of the society. The concern lies in the fact that, in some cases, these
externalities may be hard to reverse or worse irreversible when integrated into the societal process.
As to the negative externalities of integration of AI technologies in the workforce, most of the
participants agreed that maximizing AI’s use will result in a significant loss of workers. However,
most of them also believe that people could not be completely replaced by AI. They repeatedly
mentioned that nothing could beat human beings when the work involves “emotions”. Moreover,
some age group (the elderly) tends to choose humans to answer them. And they positively added
that training could be given to employees to make them skillful in handling complex transactions.
Furthermore, these employees should be given opportunities for career development.
A thought to ponder on is the future of workers, especially those that are doing repetitive
and mundane tasks when AI technologies are adopted. Would they be engaged by the government
or companies in a program that upgrades their skills? Or will this be considered as an individual’s
responsibility to ensure the resiliency of oneself in the age of industry 4.0? Among the
marginalized and those most vulnerable to such externalities, it would seem to be a good idea to
have them informed beforehand so that they may have the necessary preparations for this shift
towards a smart workplace. For some countries like Europe and the United States, educational
programs such as Elements of AI and AI4 All reach out to the non-technical population to inform
them of the fundamentals of AI (Duarte, 2020). This practice is likely to be a good benchmark
considering that AI technologies would eventually be adopted by almost all countries. As more
people get to be informed of its benefits and externalities, the more that they could prepare for
what the future holds in terms of AI at work.
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
Table 2
Awareness of BPO employees to AI Technologies
Given the changes that AI technology adoption would introduce at work, the BPO
employees were also asked with regards to their preparedness for a career change in case their jobs
would be affected. As shown in Table 3, more than half of them (66.47%) are prepared for this,
however, some are not prepared (31.21%) and those who are not sure (2.31%). Findings from the
interviews support the aforementioned as some of the participants are already planning for a career
change due to instability. Furthermore, many of them do not see themselves five years from now
in the BPO Industry.
Learnings from the past show that those who are skilled to perform the new tasks that have
evolved through the transition toward the modern era are those who can keep their jobs or fill a
newly introduced role (Harris et al, 2018). Those who did otherwise became part of the unfortunate
group who found themselves displaced. An interesting pattern to consider is the pacing in the
transition; the faster the pace, the demand for skills upgrade is more urgent to a point where some
could not catch up. Concerning the growth of AI development, it is interesting to note that in recent
years, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has recorded exponential growth in
AI-related patent filings from China and a growing number of filings from Japan (WIPO, 2019).
Furthermore, a 100% increase in AI-related patent applications from 2002 – 2018 is reported by
the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in their Artificial Intelligence with US
Patents Report (2020). Given this information on the pace of AI development, there is urgency in
preparing the workforce to upskill themselves.
Table 3
Preparedness of BPO employees for a career change concerning AI technology adoption
There is a need for skills upgrading to adapt to the evolution of work when AI technologies
are integrated. Cognizant of the aforementioned, survey participants were asked about their
receptiveness to opportunities for career change via skill enhancement training to be provided by
the government, non-government agencies, and others. Table 4 shows that many of them would
avail of this training (86.13%) which presents optimism as many are eager to be equipped with
Choices
Counts
Pr
a
ct.
Unaware
13
7.51
Somewhat Aware
88
50.87
Aware to a Great Extent
72
41.62
TOTAL
173
100
Choices
Counts
Prct.
Prepared
115
66.47
Not Prepared
54
31.21
Not Sure
4
2.31
TOTAL
173
100
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
future-ready skills. From the interviews conducted, the participants are very much willing to
undergo training in skills transfer whether these opportunities are provided by non-government or
government institutions. They are willing to invest their time, effort, and personal funds in
exchange for skills transfer training. This is part of their effort to also secure their future.
Some countries, such as Singapore, have acknowledged the threat that rapid technological
change involving the introduction of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics
can displace routine jobs in manufacturing and services. As such, their Ministry of Manpower has
introduced the “Adapt and Grow” initiative to assist their citizenry in being able to adapt to current
labor market trends and remain relevant. The government provides wages and training to both job
seekers and employers. Through their Professional Conversion Programme, mid-career
professionals are allowed to “re-skill” themselves to enter new job roles most especially in growing
industries (SG Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018). It is also to be noted that the impact of AI
integration at work will not be felt equally as there will be groups that are more at risk compared
to others (UK Commission for Employment and Skills, 2014). As such, those with few technical
skills or specialty trades are those who are likely to face more difficulties during this transition.
With the right training opportunities from the government and other concerned entities to be
offered to the citizenry most especially to the vulnerable groups, it gets to curb the likelihood of
having many displaced workers during AI technology integration in the workplace to include those
coming from BPO industries.
Table 4
Receptiveness to Opportunities for Career Change from Government, NGO, and others
The European Parliament report on the ethics of artificial intelligence (2020) acknowledges
the possibility that the introduction of such technologies could further worsen the already existing
social and economic divide among the people. Such possibility may also exist in the BPO industry
as it houses jobs that perform repetitive and mundane tasks that are automatable. Automatable job
sectors are at risk for being eliminated or redefined to a different role that would entail more value-
add to the business leaving those who may not be able to adapt well to be displaced. Another
growing concern lies in the quality of new jobs that are produced when AI technologies have been
integrated into the processes. These new jobs may dwell on data pre-processing which often
involves manually tagging objects needed for machine learning models, reviewing content to be
shared and moderating those that violate terms of use, and working on queries that AI chatbots
cannot process. Winfield (2019) puts it that although some of these may require some skill, in itself
they are repetitive and mundane thus considered as the incoming ‘white-collar sweatshops’ soon.
Choices
Counts
Prct.
Avail
149
86.13
Not Avail
23
13.29
Not Sure
1
0.58
TOTAL
173
100
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
Conclusion
The results of the study show that many of the participants from the BPO industry are
aware of the existing Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, where some of them mentioned that
their company might acquire one in the future. The participants know well about the benefits of
AI such as improved customer service, easy monitoring of the agents, and automated managing of
customer’s accounts. But despite these benefits, some of them showed mistrust towards the
efficiency of AI technologies as they have experienced glitches before, and hesitation since it is
costly to maintain one.
More than half of the participants have mentioned that they are prepared for a career change
due to instability. Many of them do not see themselves still working in the BPO industry in the
next five years. Almost all of the participants said that they are willing to receive assistance for
career transition from the government and non-government entities.
Those who are not well aware of the potential disruption of AI technologies in the processes
of the BPO industry are a concern especially those engaged in mundane jobs such as transcription,
payroll, bookkeeping, and data entry. These jobs can be easily automated and those occupying
such may find themselves displaced.
Recommendation
Preparation for the future is key to the effective management of probable situations that
may arise at a later time. Given the negative externalities that AI technology integration may bring
among the BPO workers, it is imperative to continue campaigns that raise their awareness of this
matter. Such would further ensure the relevance of one’s skillsets despite the upcoming changes
brought upon by the adoption of AI technologies.
Cognizant of their eagerness to engage in activities that transfer skills resilient of
automation, the government and concerned non-government sector could explore the provision
programs that will provide such opportunities. As observed in this study, these opportunities would
most likely be availed; many are even willing to invest their time, effort, and personal funds.
On a macro-level, a country’s adoption of AI technologies should cover an in-depth look
at both the benefits and externalities it brings. The welfare of the workers should also need to be
prioritized when planning for the transition to the use of AI technologies. To curb the number of
workers who could be displaced, the plan for AI adoption must also include programs supportive
of ensuring workers’ relevance to the industry despite the adoption of AI.
This research paper is published in Ad Sapientiam: A Peer Reviewed Multidisciplinary
Research Journal of Colegio San Agustin – Bacolod Volume XII Series of 2020 with National
Copyright ISSN 2012-290x
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BPOs to feel artificial intelligence 'reality' in next 3 to 5 years: Pernia
  • Abs-Csb News
ABS-CSB News (2018). BPOs to feel artificial intelligence 'reality' in next 3 to 5 years: Pernia, retrieved from: https://news.abs-cbn.com/business/01/24/18/bpos-to-feel-artificial-intelligence-reality-innext-3-to-5-years-pernia
Capgemini Named a Leader in RPA and AI for Banking by NelsonHall
  • Ait News Desk
AIT News Desk (2019). Capgemini Named a Leader in RPA and AI for Banking by NelsonHall. AiThority. Retrieved from https://aithority.com/news/capgemini-named-a-leader-in-rpa-and-aifor-banking-by-nelsonhall/