John Cannavo – Visiting the Philippines for the first time

Ep 228 John Cannavo

Visiting the Philippines

In this podcast episode, I was joined by John Cannavo of the Texas A&M University specifically the Mays Innovation Research Center.  They focus on the future of work with a large part of that being outsourcing and the globalization of the workforce.

We talked to John because he is visiting the Philippines and he has been working in outsourcing now for 6 years or certainly associated with it.



Mays Innovation Research Center


John Cannavo Visiting Philippines for the First Time

John Cannavo – visiting the Philippines for the first time

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Derek Gallimore: Welcome to the Outsource Accelerator podcast. This is a short format podcast where we explore business and outsourcing mastery. My name is Derek Gallimore and I am really excited to bring you the leading podcast in outsourcing.

Derek Gallimore: Hi and welcome to another episode of the Outsource Accelerator podcast. My name is Derek Gallimore and this is episode number 228 So today this is an interesting podcast, I certainly hope. Anyway, I am joined by John Cannavo of the Texas A&M University, specifically the Mays business school of a Mays Innovation Research Center. He runs this, innovation research center. They focus on the future of work with a large part of that being outsourcing and the globalization of the, of the workforce. So it certainly, you know, really super interesting conversation to have with John John. his boss is actually Dr Korb Re. I’ve interviewed him previously on this podcast, so I certainly recommend you go back and listen to those episodes. They are episodes 187 and 188 but today we talked to John because he is visiting the Philippines. He has been working in outsourcing now for 6 years or certainly associated with it.

Derek Gallimore: And it is his first time over to the Philippines to see what it’s really like really going on. I am hosting John in Manila, and I’m connecting them to a few people. So this is the pre interview. I get a sense of what John Thinks of outsourcing of the Philippines, of the potential prior to him coming to the country. And then the next episode will be John after he has been to the country and his opinion of the country outsourcing and the potential after that. So, I of course haven’t recorded the second podcast at the time of recording this. So it would be super, super interesting to see the contrast. And of course with the magic of outsourcing all new, sorry, with the, with the magic of podcasting or you have to do is go to the next episode and have a listen for the contrast. So a super exciting and I’m actually equally awaiting the results myself. I hope you do enjoy. So of course, if you want any of the show notes, go to Enjoy.

Derek Gallimore: Hi and welcome back everybody today. I am joined by John Cannavo. Hi John. How are you?

John Cannavo: I’m doing well, thank you. Derek. How are you today?

Derek Gallimore: Fantastic. Fantastic. And this is a radical new format. Well, it’s not really a new format, but what we are doing is, John is a in Texas at the moment is in the US and has actually never, I believe, never left the US and he’s about to come over here to Manila, Philippines, and the reasons for that we will find out very soon, but I thought it would be a fantastic experience to, measure people’s expectations of the Philippines and they’re sort of pre knowledge of the Philippines, compared to after they arrive in the Philippines. And now John of course, is no a slacker. He knows and has intimate knowledge of the Philippines and certainly the workforce of the Philippines.

Derek Gallimore: As it as again, we will get to know shortly. So, it should be really interesting comparison and with the magic of podcasting, as soon as this episode we’ll have finished, then we will be able to follow this up with John’s, learned, learn and opinion of his experience here in the Philippines. And so the reason of why I’m doing this is for people that do outsource, you know, and I know a lot of the outsourcing community, we strongly encourage people to visit the Philippines. Now I know that’s not necessarily easily available or possible for a lot of people, but it just opens up the, the understanding the horizons and also then the potential for outsourcing for people’s organizations. So I’ve rattled on a little bit long there. I Apologize, John, and I apologize for the audience, but I suppose John, initially you can introduce yourself far better than I. would you be able to just give people a, a background to yourself, where you currently work now and the program that you’re coordinating and the reason that your coming over here to the Philippines?

John Cannavo: Sure. Derek, thank you so much. Again. My name is John Cannavo. I’m the program coordinator for the Mays Innovation Research Center, which is based in the Mays business school at Texas A & M University in College station, Texas. My experience with outsourcing began as an undergraduate student at the George Washington University in Washington DC. I had the fortune of working then with the now who is Dr. Kirk Ray. I used to be his research assistant at George Washington. Years ago we ended up meeting up years later. I moved out to college station and I now manage Dr Rays Research Center after he moved to Texas A and M, which of course is the Mays Innovation Research Center. I’ve been there since January of last year. So, going on a year now the center itself was founded in September of 2017 and our mission is to understand innovation broadly. Look at when it happens, why it happens, what is innovation, what gets in the way, and understand how researching innovation in the future of work can help us understand how to lead to more economic freedom both domestically and around the world.

Derek Gallimore: Fantastic. And we of course, did interview a Dr. Korok Ray on this podcast, which we’re honored to have him on the podcast. That was episode 187 and 188 if people want to go back and listen to that. And I do encourage people to do that. And I suppose, you know, just drilling down on that then, the, Mays Innovation center and you, from what I understand, you do a lot of research into the innovation of specifically employment and the future of employment and when this is going to take humanity. And how do you, how do you see, you know, because there’s a lot of conflicts I suppose. Well, there’s a lot of conversation now about AI automation, robotics, but then also there’s a lot of conversation about outsourcing, and potentially kind of trade barriers and things like that. Trying to prevent outsourcing. How do you see all of these massive changes in the employment market and I suppose the labor market affecting each other?

John Cannavo: Yeah. So, coming to them, just a little bit interesting about outsourcing is that people, some people you might find having a bit of an interpretation on outsourcing where they’ve kind of made it to a four letter word where, you know, don’t say outsourcing outsourcing’s bad outsourcing is leading to all these issues in the United States or in other, western countries around the world. but we’ve shive away from that interpretation and I think the approach that we’ve taken is more of that regardless of the initial feelings that one may have about outsourcing, it’s just needs to be accepted as something that is going to happen and is happening currently and has been happening in fact for quite some time. So instead of being upset that, oh no, what’s going to happen when we move jobs overseas or when, artificial intelligence develops more and more aspects of jobs or replace instead of being upset about, and we want to understand more about it.

John Cannavo: To get ready for that, that progression as it’s already moving and how it will develop further in the future. So the, a little bit of a little bit of background on that. as we look at outsourcing, mainly it’s through our research on online labor markets and understanding how the markets are spreading economic opportunity to people around the world. We find that while IQ and talents, or probably spread equally around, around the globe. Unfortunately, opportunities are not spread equally, but online labor markets are really increasing to that amount of opportunity that people have with, with an Internet connection. a computer and some determination people can have access to opportunities that maybe they wouldn’t have access to without the, the presence of these online labor markets. So we’ve been looking into these for some time.

John Cannavo: This began, I guess our research started looking into Odesk and elance, which now today, have combined into upwork, which is a massive platform. Looking at other companies like Top towel, Nolo Taskus, Thumbtack, how it companies like this are really providing opportunity here in the United States to businesses and around the world to individuals. And what we found, as many people I think who were involved in outsourcing or BPOs have found is that the Philippines, especially in Manila, has really developed into this hub of outsourcing opportunity for Filipinos and it’s kind of become the go to market for a call centers, a number of other sourcing opportunities, but mainly as it pertains to us for users of online like markets.

Derek Gallimore: I was actually listening to an interview yesterday and there’s a guy called Bjorn Lomborg of the president of Copenhagen Consensus Center. And the, he, he basically was looking at ways of quantifying spend on improving the world. And now there’s a lot of, I’ll get to the point of this in a second. There was a lot of spend in a lot of different directions. Everything from malaria to TB to a sexual health, initiatives to anything across the world. And He, it’s their mission to basically put dollar for dollar the cost versus impact of actually having a positive impact and moving the world, you know, to a better place in the top five out of hundreds, literally hundreds listed by the WHO it was actually free trade. And they found that, you know, for relatively little money spent, you could free up trade, you could reduce tariffs, the politicizing of international trade. And he said the impact of that is the furthest reaching of any other, intervention they could possibly do. and there’s a lot of people talking about that now I think isn’t there in terms of the benefits of having a completely networked world where it’s not just one country against another, but it’s, it’s literally a, you know, potentially 7 billion people working in unison and creating greater economic output for everyone.

John Cannavo: It’s pretty spot on with what we are looking at or the interview rather than that you were listening to. It really seems aligned with the idea that, that we’ve taken, regarding innovation, which is, you know, over time by sending innovation at it at a deep level, and looking into the future of work, we can see the interaction between markets and economies and technology and seeing how by combining those things, how can we make trade more free markets more free. and, and how has that as a whole going to make society more free? Like you said, the idea that at some point in time, perhaps it is a situation when we do have 7 billion people working together at once, which sounds, which sounds great. Of course it would be, quite an investment globally and it would take quite a bit of time to put together. But in theory I think it should be able to happen, if we allow more opportunities to be spread around the world through, through free trade and, markets.

Derek Gallimore: Fascinating potential. So the world is undoubtedly becoming more of one place. And, so the background and the reason why your coming to the Philippines, you have studied platforms like work platforms, as you said, like upwork, and you yourself have your own internal platform. Is that right? Do you want to just explain a little bit about the workforce that you have personally been working with, over the last year and how that came to, I suppose, mature?

John Cannavo: Sure. So a few years ago, I guess a five or six years ago now, when, when we started working more closely on, on this idea, this was back at had George Washington before the center even existed or before we really knew exactly what we were doing and we want to learn more about it, we decided to build and online laboratory of our own to not only increase our productivity, our efficiency, but to take the data that we had access to because it was our platform and understand more about, what’s going on. you know, we, we could have done a similar thing by just using an existing online platform in terms of interacting with, global workers and increasing efficiency for having our own tasks completed. But we wouldn’t have had, we would not have had access to the data because of course the company that we’d be using would have its own data.


John Cannavo: So we created our own, which a, it’s a simple name, but we call it job market. And a, over the last several years, we have sent out a close to 7,000 jobs to global workers around the world. We post a job, it could be transcribing a dictation, performing simple research, translating one language to another, building slide writing in a waytech, writing some python code, a number of tasks that we’ve posted over the years. People from all over the world have, have claimed him. as we, as we found and as I had mentioned earlier, eventually we find that folks in the Philippines have, have claimed more jobs than anyone else, around the world. But we have worked with people in South Africa, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia as probably the other biggest countries outside of the Philippines. So by posting these jobs, you know, it helps us in the short term.

John Cannavo: For example, if we have a notes on a conference and it’s a 20 minute audio file, instead of taking all that time to sit in front of the computer and type it up, we just take time, sit down speaking to our mobile app. It goes to the website. Soon after some, global worker around the world will claim a job, type it up and, and give us back the, the transcription, which is incredibly helpful and saves a lot of time. That’s the short term benefits, but the longterm is it informs our research and it helps us to understand, what exactly can be outsourced and what does a little bit harder to just to use a mobile app and post a job and have somebody complete the goal is on our end to, to put as little, front limited effort for ourselves and just have the output.

John Cannavo: So the easiest way would be the, the dictations because it’s really no effort to us at all. You just hit record, you speak, you hit upload and that’s it. But some of the other jobs, if it’s a more complex research task that’s going to take more time on our end to explain the job, whether it be, in writing or by speaking it. And then to work with the, the person who claims that job to kind of fine tune the, the output with a transcription of a, of a dictation. It’s really just whether the person, here’s the words, understands the types, then book the research shows. It might, it might take a few iterations. So we want to understand, how complex of a research task could you, could you put online and how much effort on our end to get high-quality output. And that’s, that’s been, one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned over the years. So where I come in, in terms of, the trip to the Philippines is we have a number of, a number of folks based all over the country who have been working on the job market for years now and, and, earn a living. and some of these folks have a very kindly agreed to meet with me when, when I get to the country next week and I’ll be able to sit down with them and really just learn anything that they’re willing to share. You know, what was it like growing up? What’s their experience with their local education system? what brought them to remote work? Have they ever worked a traditional job such as showing up to a shunning, to a business and working there? Have they only ever done remote work? How do they find job market, things like that? And trying to understand who our, our, jobs are going to and then that way that’ll inform our decisions as we move forward and didn’t posting new jobs. And it’s again, trying to get new workers to use the platform. and eventually how complex jobs can we put up and be completed in a reasonable amount of time.

Derek Gallimore: Right. It’s, it’s a fascinating concept isn’t it? Because you’re almost, if I could sort of humble interpretation, it’s kind of like Amazon took and it’s almost trying to automate something using a humans. And then I suppose, the friction then comes in when the increasing complexity of the role takes more a contextual understanding, takes more background understanding of the role that you’re actually asking. I assume when you’re asking for a transcription it, it’s really self explanatory and the job just kind of rolls on. Whereas if it’s research based then they need some sort of context understanding, maybe even experience of working with your previously before the job is really smooth. Yeah.

John Cannavo: Interpretation. Yeah. That’s very well ordered. Thank you.

Derek Gallimore: Yeah, and it’s because we, you know, we deal with this and we see it very distinct bifurcation in the market of the we work, sorry we were upwork and freelancer kind of jobs, which are one off project jobs versus ongoing, outsourcing, you know, and one of them is, is more akin to obviously contract and project work and then the other one is more in to just employment but just people are sitting in a different location. Do you find, have you, have you found that the, the people on your job market that have been with you years, there’s obviously a distinct advantage to them because they’re already up to speed with a lot of contextual and familiarity and those sort of a kind of experience based things?

John Cannavo: Yeah, I think absolutely. And that’s, you know, pretty pretty, the, I think to be expected. You know, we’ve got some people who’ve been working on, on John, we’re here for years and if it’s something as simple as just knowing the sound of our roof always, you know, everyone has a distinctive sound and a, if you know how people will cross a certain word, then you’ll know you’ll listen forward. You can spell it for us the next time because, if we, if we go through a, a job when we noticed that generally all the tech jobs, the transcriptions come back great. And, and we’ll just leave a comment and their review box and be like, thank you for doing a great job. But sometimes if there was a, a recurring error, we’ll just make a note of it. And then we find that people who have received the feedback, interim work improves dramatically as they claim future jobs.

John Cannavo: Whereas if we’re a little sloppy on our end and we just take the output and off the rest of the payment and don’t say anything then, which is also to be expected, the person doesn’t really, ever improves. That makes plenty of sense. so same things as simple as, I’m just clarifying what we’re saying. Well, for, these dictations, but where it becomes a very important is the is the research jobs. Folks who’ve been clinic research shops for our, a long time know the intricacies of how we want an excel file formatting or if we’re asking for, some data entry into a file, what’s the best source to go to find that information. And, and those who have not done in a safe for very long, the output just is not as good at as, as people who have claimed a number of jobs. And that, that’s pretty interesting to us as, as we look at the data in terms of efficiency, statistics or ratings, we grade each job and, on a scale of one to five and then, the amount that each person earns. Cause of course we have access to how much each person has been paid over the, over the years. And the rate definitely goes up over, over time on proportionately a job by job.

Derek Gallimore: Yeah. It’s, you know, with outsourcing we, we commonly preach, you’ve, you’ve really got to invest a lot of time up front and, you know, I think people underestimate really the front time investment that people have to make into their teams. You know, and it really is, it’s a human on the other side on the other end of the computer and writes, people have to invest in them emotionally and, and sort of also bring over the culture and these more tested, items. and I think a lot of the outsourcing failures, when people just expect to be able to press a, a green and have a task, produced for them. And now I think the, the outside of outsourcing when it’s an ongoing permanent continuous role is that you only have to do that once in theory. Whereas, you know, if it’s, a lot of project work on upwork, then people are really facing having to kind of bring people up to speed each time, which I think can kind of fatigue the enthusiasm for the sector.

Derek Gallimore: But anyway, so we’ve got you on this call, because I just want to get some insight and I’m really excited about, we’re going to meet here and I’m honored to be able to show you around Makati and I’m a, and we’re going to go and visit a few BPOs, but, I just want to, it now kind of get a little bit of insight into your thoughts and I suppose we can do kind of quick fire round just in terms of, your kind of flippant, I suppose, reflections on things. And we can dive into this deeper I think, because there’ll be a lot more to talk about, once you actually come to the country. but I suppose in a, in a relatively, I mean, spend as much time as you want, but what, and I suppose on a more superficial level, what are some unknowns, fears and concerns that you have a for Manila in the Philippines and your presence here?

John Cannavo: Sure. Yeah. Like you said it is definitely easier to finding a way to these question once I spent some time there, but my first concern, I guess it’d be something that you and I have discussed over email – just getting around. I want to be able to do a lot on there. I’m going to meet with people and, and get around the area because it’s probably easier for me in some cases to a travel too where, some of the workers are located, then it wouldn’t be for those people to travel to where I’m located. So I’m a little concerned to that. getting around Manila or even getting outside of Manila by a car is not possible. So I hope that I can find some way to make that work, a little bit better just because I want to make sure that the time there it is, is used, yeah to its fullest potential.

Derek Gallimore: Something else, and this is just because as you mentioned early on in the, in the podcast and I’m not a world traveler, like I said, I’ve never left the country or anything. so I am concerned about, about jet lag and how that’s going to affect a, the, again, the amount of time that I can spend working on, what I need to be doing. You know, I’m, I’m hoping that I can just get there and get ready to work cause I don’t want to waste any time, but let’s see how that goes as well. That’s not really specific to the Philippines as, as it is more to going anywhere. but

Derek Gallimore: it, it’s very relevant isn’t it? Because I’m sitting here at six in the morning and you’re probably sitting there at about 5:00 PM at night. It is something with international work and trade that is never going to go away. Is that even with sort of the, the march of technology, you’re never really going to get rid of time differences and a jet lag. Right?

John Cannavo: Sure. Yeah. I’d like to think it’s just going to work out. We’ll see how that goes next week. So, energy, getting around. what else?

Derek Gallimore: In terms of you know, because we have a lot of apprehensions and also, you know, there’s political instability and this stuff can really throw a war around a country’s economy, especially when you’ve got the sort of fortune 500 is making decisions on things that they read these papers and reports. you’ve obviously been working with the Philippines for many years now, so, so there are levels of comfort beyond the typical sort of a Layman. but what are your thoughts in terms of political instability in terms of the, the sort of choosing the Philippines as the bright place to do business?

John Cannavo: Sure. I mean, you know, you can’t pretend like it wasn’t there, you know, the protocol stability. I think your interpretation of them, and it would obviously be a bit more accurate than mine just from what we read in the news, but it seems like based on, the current government. I would imagine that companies might have, some apprehension before they decide to base operations for it as part of their operations in the Philippines based on, issues concerning click on stability. you know, reports of corruption are probably not what companies are going to want to see if they’re looking for a stable place to operate. Again, that’s just, you know, let’s just headline news that we get in the United States. I don’t know that personally because I’ve never experienced it.

Derek Gallimore: Fantastic. And so what about relative capacity and capability of people? Now, you know, how, like you said earlier that, all of these systems and platforms. They’re really creating, and this is my word, what I believe is a true meritocracy for the world economy. Basically people who can do the task, who can perform, it, it’s mattering less and less where you’re sitting, what university you went to and things like that. what are your thoughts in terms of, I suppose the Philippines fulfilling the role initially as like kind of powering the world in terms of a backend operation and in terms of a fulfillment center?

John Cannavo: Yeah, absolutely. Towards the beginning of the other podcasts and you mentioned it. Yeah. I, I do believe and I think our research indicates that online labor markets and outsourcing are a true spreading opportunity to areas of the worlds that, probably has less opportunity for employment then, then we see here in the United States and a lot of major markets. you know, as we see the Internet spread, we’re going to see massive changes in the global economy. with an estimated what billion new people using the Internet for the first time over the next few decades, people could probably offer it on the Internet and in two different capacities or both. They could be a producer or it could be consumers. I think it’s more liquid than they’re going to be producers and the output that they’re going to create is going to, directly affects consumers down the line.

John Cannavo: It at some point in time, but just having the opportunity to become a producer at any point in someone’s life, wherever that person is located around the world is a, it’s incredible. It’s amazing that we’re in the middle of that right now. Even when opportunities and education, aren’t as plentiful or, and other, areas that are going to lead to economic growth even when that isn’t there. Just by having the ability to, to access the Internet in earning, I think we’re going to see some, some pretty impressive changes that, that hopefully will balance out some of the disparity that we see in an achievement gap. Like you said, if we can, if, if outsource and get to the point where it, it creates a true global meritocracy, then I think that’d be a wonderful thing. And it, of course, we need some time to get to that point and a lot of, a very active effort on, the parts of governments and companies with you can’t just happen over time. Someone needs to make it happen but that would be a, that would be great and I think very possible, not just the type

Derek Gallimore: So then you have been working with the job market with a Filipino workforce for many years now. how well do you feel that you’ve got to know them and you know, you’ve even been studying them and collecting data and this is more, I think in value of the comparison chat we have afterward. But have you, do you feel that you kind of understand how the, your colleagues tick, how they, interact and, and you know, or do you feel that you sort of, there is a filter through the computer monitors and through Skype and things like that?

John Cannavo: Yeah, I can’t, I can’t pretend to really know a whole lot about the lives of the workers. I might know their tendencies based on output. I know, who’s a better performer, who’s more eager to participate in this type of industry. But I really can’t say that I know the the people, it’s hard to know anyone that, that you’ve never met in person, especially when we’re in this completely separated not employer-employee, but a similar relationship. It’s definitely hard to really know people that that’s something that I’m most excited about. This trip is not that I can learn someone’s entire life before meeting them for an hour or so. But I am saying to really know the human aspect of, of the job market and get to know people so we can understand them better. They can understand us better and both sides can benefit.

John Cannavo: But in certain circumstances, we have had the opportunity to get to know some of our workers better. There was a woman who actually now, it does not use the job market. but, her name was Cheryl. She was a nurse in Manila for a long time. And she actually told us that she made more money typing up the dictations, the audio files that she did as a nurse and she used the funds that she received from job market to support her mother who when she had gotten older, had moved in to Cheryl and needed a somebody to, support her in terms of estate. Just that she had actually made so much money, by typing up the audio files that she quit being a nurse, stopped using job market and started her own a medical transcription company and she now employs other people to type up notes for doctors and nurses based in the Philippines.

John Cannavo: So I thought that was a pretty fascinating story and really great. I hope Cheryl has an opportunity to meet with me during the time that I’m there because we do a, we have still stayed in touch, but if that’s not possible, you know, that’s too bad. But it really, it’s amazing to see the amount of opportunity created, just by opening your computer, spending some extra hours on a night during the night, typing up some, some audio files and, and what she was able to achieve. So I think that’s a pretty, pretty great anecdote, but I, I can’t say that it’s truly indicative of all of the hundreds of people that use job market.

Derek Gallimore: No, I do actually see a huge potential for outsourcing to really, I mean, of course, benefits the economy and the people, but I really do feel that outsourcing more than other forms of industrialization I suppose really enables people to upskill and move up the career ladder even if they’re not really supported by an institution that will push them up the career ladder. If people are working in a factory, they really have no opportunity to go up a career ladder because they can’t really go out on their own and have the machines on their own because they’ve sort of reliant on the infrastructure of the factory. Whereas I think people that do transcriptions, you know, they’ve got youtube there, they’ve got Google, then they can learn to code, they can upskill themselves fair that they can take on staff of their own, they can go and get jobs off the, the job market or other job boards. The potentials. Incredible isn’t it? You know, and I think that example that you sited there is, is, is fantastic to see.

John Cannavo: Yeah, I agree. I think I think everything you said is it is definitely relevant to what we are looking at it and won’t be hope to see, you know, of course. We can’t pretend this is a pure act of altruism, this mission to upskill workers around the world. That’s, that’s not the original goal, but it is fantastic by-product. You know, our academic research-based, we want to know, we want to know more innovation in this sprint of global opportunities, but what we’re finding out in the process that, you know, those are the nice stories that, that make the research a little bit more worthwhile. and if, if people, upscale and increased their, their own chances of earning a better living in the process then that’s just fantastic.

Derek Gallimore: Fantastic. And so it’s a, and I’m sure, and you know, this is the exciting thing. When you do come over here, you will experience more of those stories and see the real life behind these people. And you know, it really does add a sort of end, really exciting perspective to this whole outsourcing gig. So I’m super excited for you. But anyway, with the magic of the podcasting, we will come right back and we will have your opinions in the next episode of your visit here so do stay tuned.

Derek Gallimore: Okay. And that was John Cannavo of the Mays Innovation Research Center. If you want any of the show notes, then go to and of course, as always, if you want to ask us anything and just drop some email to [email protected] see you next time.


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