Bas Mahwin – AI, Chatbots and the Future Potential of Outsourcing
Last updated August 19, 2019
What would be the impact of advancing Artificial Intelligence (AI) and process automation on business and people? Will outsourcing help small businesses or SMEs catch up with AI and automation at the least cost?
Third time guest Bastiaan Mawhin shares informative insights based on his more than 10 years exposure and mastery of the outsourcing industry. You may wish to check out episodes 168 and 172 for to know more about Bas and his BPO journey.
- Rapid and dynamic changes in technology, or business process automation will transform how every business operates. Human talents can support this transformation by scaling and reengineering skill sets.
- The only thing here is that how do you transform that in such a way that, to your point, not the whole industry is suffering, and that talent and skills sets are either reengineered or navigated into a different skill set so that they can continue to support that transformation.
- He foresees that in the next few years, more companies will have to invest one way or the other in outsourcing. They will need data scientists, people that will start to put in the analytics, the algorithms and every part of the that needs human interaction from a development point of view, or data science point of view.
- Bas thinks there’s two ways on how to go about SMEs coping with automation. First, from the country point of view, what can it to upscale, reengineer those skills sets so that companies can continue to do what they’re doing in that country and then have a talent pool available that could contribute to more personalized, more company related, more company specific AI.
- Second is from a local service provider point of view, is to determine what is that service that you can incorporate as an actual added value to your portfolio of outsource services.
- Bas agrees that ideally, skilled people can work from the home and SMEs can operate without investing in real estate for their physical office anywhere in the globe. People with competitive skills and companies can benefit simply from utilizing remote working tools and can work from anywhere and everywhere.
- He says that with AI and automation it is possible to operate on a business model that reaches the pockets of people through a mobile phone or through an internet connectivity and a landline or a computer. This goes with a commitment not only on talent but also on the options and the solutions providers can offer.
- The internet enables outsourcing. As technology advances it is imperative to hire people based on merits or skill sets and not only because the cost of labour is cheaper than the rest of the world.
- How businesses operate is fast evolving particularly with the advances in Artificial Intelligence and business process automation.
- It is important to understand what services a small business or SMEs envisions to offer and matched that with the best talent and skill that maybe available or offered by the outsourcing providers.
- Service providers can benefit from automation by embracing advances in technologically and scale up skill sets to match what the business world require from the human capital.
Derek: Hi. And welcome to another episode of The Outsource Accelerator Podcast. My name is Derek Gallimore, and this is episode number 176. So back in 168 and 172, I interviewed Bas Mawhin. He is a Dutch guy who’s been in the Philippines since about 2007. So that’s 10 years. And he has worked in the outsourcing industry in pretty senior, pretty consultative roles for all of that time. So, he’s really seen the forefront of the evolution of outsourcing, specifically in the SME, SMB space. So today, I got Bas to…I got him back so that we could explore the future potential of outsourcing. And we spoke a little bit about his personal experiences with the Philippines and how it’s evolved and also the very hot topics at the moment, like AI and automation, and really how that can affect you, the business owner, and how you, the business owner, can get the best from outsourcing. So, it’s a really good conversation. I did speak previously to Bas in episodes 168 and 172. So, if you want to hear more backstory, you can go and listen to those. In the meantime, enjoy. If you want any of the show notes, then go to outsourceaccelerator.com/176.
Okay. Welcome back, everybody. Today I’m excited again to be talking to Bas Mawhin. How are you? Bas, how are you?
Bas: I’m very well. Thank you very much, Derek.
Derek: Good. Good. As always. So, I’ll let you introduce yourself, of course. But you’ve been here 10 years. We met maybe about eight years ago. And you’ve been heavily involved in outsourcing that entire time and seen the whole industry mature in those years. So, it’s great to get your insight and experience into outsourcing. So, I suppose, initially, can you just introduce yourself and let the people know how you got here.
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Bas: Absolutely. Look. I initially came out here on a project with Shell and didn’t know anything about the Philippines. It was just a step into the, I suppose, the deep waters, the unknown deep waters. And little did I know, I started to really enjoy it, I really like it. And after nine months with Shell, I learned about this fantastic industry that we call outsourcing and offshoring, also business process outsourcing down here, and have been involved with various projects, different engagements, companies, in different roles as well. And it’s been an absolute exciting and enjoyable journey so far. And I must say I’m even more so excited of the future and what is ahead of us.
Derek: Yes. It’s interesting, isn’t it? And you say you sort of took a step into the unknown. And I find that one of the biggest points of friction actually for businesses in the West considering outsourcing. To them, it’s a little bit of a scary place. It’s a developing country. It’s kind of the other side of the world. And there’s all these points of friction where people just go, “Well, I won’t kind of bother then outsourcing because I’ll just hire someone in my hometown that’s just tried and tested.” What were some of the experiences you had when coming to the Philippines? What did you expect compared to what you saw and also in contrast to now, which is after 10 years, kind of almost double-digit growth and development?
Bas: Yes. Look. Stop me anytime, Derek, when I’m starting to sidetrack here, but I remember a few examples even in my personal life where I felt that I was really exposed to more of a country that wasn’t part of my, I suppose, Western world education, from little things about how people behave in traffic or how people walk over streets with millions of people in a business district, especially when you grow up in an area that has a bit more space, and even for me saying that coming from the Netherlands.
Bas: A lot of people in this small country. Those things were very different. And I had to take a few steps back, even in technology where my bank card, so everything was very paper-heavy. Everything, well, there was a process for it. And everything took very long. And I’m like, “We have something called online banking. We have something that’s called online payments. And that was already there for us 10 years ago.” And yes, these things were hardly recognized in those days. So, I think over the years, that has definitely changed. And we’ve seen it as well in the outsourcing world where technology has taken in a more significant place. I was hoping it would take a bit more, but at the end of the day, the model is still providing talent and people, even so the management and everything on top of that, but yes, I’m more of an advocate of technology and automation, if you ask me.
Derek: Yes. Well, that’s interesting because I don’t know if it hasn’t reached the tipping point yet, but certainly, I think the conversation has reached a tipping point where everyone is kind of just expecting these places to be run by robotics and AI now. And I think the conversation is a lot more advanced than the actual reality where at the end of the day, it’s still people running processes, and it will be for a long time. But what are your opinions on AI and automation and robotics and all these things that the industry over is kind of fearful that it’s going to wipe out half the jobs. Well, how do you see it?
Bas: Yes. Look. Well, maybe to put in a bit of a cliché statement, you need to learn how to walk first before you start running. And I think the industry here definitely has that, the industry, the operation or processes, the capability to start adopting a lot of the AI and whatnot. The only thing here is that how do you transform that in such a way that, to your point, not the whole industry is suffering, and that talent and skills sets are either reengineered or navigated into a different skill set so that they can continue to support that transformation. And I think if we only look at already at the beginning of what is needed to start building all these bots or artificial intelligence, what I see now as well is that a lot of foreign companies come here to hire Filipinos that have the background from a development point of view, a data science point of view. So, it is not necessarily direct impact but also a direct impact that I see that needs to take place in this talent pool and in this industry to make sure that it’s navigated properly.
Derek: Yes. Do you see it coming kind of quickly or are we still 50 years away? Because everyone’s talking about this chat box, but in reality, we’ve had low automated phone whatever those are, IVRs, for decades. And the banks have been having those annoying kinds of robotic voices trying to, whatever, integrate you in the first bit, and they’re still not working after, like, 20 years of development. Do you really see that there’s going to be kind of complex and personal tasks being managed by this functionality in the near term?
Bas: In the near term, in the next few years, I don’t think so. I think in the next few years, definitely a lot of companies that want to jump on board and this will have to commit to it, and they will have to invest one way or the other. Data scientists, people that will start to put in the analytics, the algorithms and whatnot because I think that’s the main part that is lacking. We’ve always run businesses in the outsourcing world, what it is, or call center operations or sales operations or tech operations. It is that data piece that drives effectively the efficiency of putting in artificial intelligence. I mean, if crap goes in, crap comes out basically.
Derek: Yes. Yes.
Bas: And I think that’s also the discussion that is taking place at the moment. Like, what is that quality data that we need to analyze? What is that quality data that we need to use to build those bots? What is that quality data that we need to feed the bots and the AI with the right and the correct algorithm, so they have proper interactions with our users. And I think that is more the discussion that is taking place today and that is not something that we can do in an overnight. I think to build a bot in an overnight is something that can be done, but to actually have the bot function and have it function in such a way that it is convenient, efficient, and user-friendly, that’s another thing.
Derek: Yes. And how do you see the moving trends? Because we spoke in the last podcast that we were together about the industry providing more kind of stripped down services. It’s like seat leasing or co-working space. It’s kind of a space. Everything’s moving towards almost like the barest model with often the more traditional BPO being forgotten. Yet we’re also in the same kind of breath talking about AI and robotics. You press the button, and it solves all of your complex operational needs. How do the two interact when the majority of the market now is moving into kind of, “Let’s lease you some office space, and you deal with everything yourself,” versus this kind of conversation in complex operational automation?
Bas: Yes, I know. It’s a fair observation and a fair point of view you bring up again. I think there’s two ways on how to go about it, in my opinion. There’s one way. In those stripped down, more menu models, people are more looking at skill and, again, the option. So, what is the Philippines willing to do to upscale or rescale, reengineer those skills sets so that companies can continue to do what they’re doing here and then have a talent pool available that could contribute to more personalized, more company related, more company specific AI, if you like? That’s one way. The other thing I see is more, what are those companies today that are managing larger operations in order to drive better customer support, in order to drive better technical support or anything for that matter? How are these providers stepping up their game to really invest heavily in actual people that will drive it as a service to the customers they service today and as a unique selling point to the so-called new potential customers? So, I think that’s really how to look at it. What is it, from a skill set point of view, what the country can do? And more from a local service provider point of view, what is that service that you can incorporate as an actual added value to your portfolio of services?
Derek: Yes. Absolutely. Do you see potentially the industry kind of going into a cyclical thing where everything might be a bit trimmed back and most people are price conscious in going for seat leasing? And then, there’s kind of a move towards more higher value contribution services. And it kind of then evolves back into a more comprehensive BPO because people want the business solutions. They want the operational partner.
Bas: Yes. Look. I think, ideally, if we have our telecom partners in the Philippines to drive more reach and capabilities throughout the Philippines. Ideally, we will have people to work from the home and have no real estate anymore at all and just be a distributed team so that people can benefit, and companies can benefit simply from utilizing remote working tools and people can work anywhere and everywhere. So yes, I agree, especially the SME startup space. We’re looking in the ways on how to cut out the ownership of real estate or even real estate on the books for that matter. And that comes obviously with a commitment not only on talent but also on the options and the solutions providers can offer, and this could be any angle for that matter. Whether that is recruitment or AI or anything that could influence a business model. And today, if you are having a business model that reaches the pockets of people through a mobile phone or through an internet connectivity and a landline or a PC, there’s a lot of business solutions that have a lot in common. So, I also don’t want to make it sound like we’re trying to reinvent the wheel and talk about rocket science here. It’s pretty straightforward stuff as long as, yes, we understand what is the service that we need to offer and understand what is the talent and the skill that is required to build that.
Derek: Yes. It’s interesting when you say that, isn’t it? Because if you take it down to what is the essence of outsourcing, and it’s about having human resource kind of produce an output, isn’t it? So, then it kind of almost makes the office space just a kind of unnecessary add-on, doesn’t it, really? It’s fascinating when you kind of dissect things and see where they go kind of potentially. Yes.
Bas: Well, yes. And to your point, I don’t… if we would have had this conversation 15, 20 years ago, I think it was location, location and real estate, real estate. And we’re going to have that conversation again in the next couple of years…
Derek: Yes. Well, I mean, I really agree with you. Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have had this conversation because there wasn’t internet. So, it’s kind of internet that’s enabled outsourcing. And then as technology improves and it becomes more normalized that you’re hiring people based on talent as opposed to their sitting in your hometown and can come to your office. It’s really going open up the whole world, isn’t it, especially the Philippines where salaries are sort of 70 to 90% cheaper. Hopefully, people will be selected based on merits as opposed to where they’re sitting or where they were born.
Bas: Absolutely. Yes. Totally agree.
Derek: Yes. Fantastic. Thank you so much, Bas. And of course, if anyone wants to contact you about these topics, how can they do that?
Bas: They can reach me to LinkedIn—meet me on LinkedIn under Bastiaan Mawhin. And they can also reach me on Facebook. If they want to have a bit more of a personal or a social chat about these things, add me on Skype, Bastiaan Mawhin, also, the name. Or just reach out to me via an email that will be provided.
Derek: Okay. That was Bas Mawhin. If you want to get in touch with Bas, then go to our show notes. That’s at outsourceaccelerator.com/176. And as always, if you want to ask us any questions, then please do at [email protected].
See you next time.