The IT-BPO industry transformed business continuity planning (BCP) into action as last’s week’s surge of prolonged southwest monsoon rains flooded an estimated one-third to one-half of sprawling Metro Manila. Metro Manila is home to hundreds of IT-BPOs in the Philippines.
Flooding was widespread and persistent, even compared to previous record-breaking storms such as Ondoy (international name Ketsana) in 2009. IT-BPO firms reported an increase in the number of employees unable to travel to work due to the calamitous weather conditions. Industry-wide employee turnout varied among companies, facilities, and even time of day, according to industry and Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) executives.
When Malacañang suspended work in public and private offices in the afternoon August 7, BPAP—which is the umbrella organization for the IT-BPO industry—was already encouraging employees affected by the rains to remain at home. “Our top priority is the safety of our employees, their families, and the communities we operate from,” said Benedict Hernandez, BPAP president and CEO.
The IT-BPO industry consists of hundreds of small, medium, and large firms offering a broad range of services. In addition to voice services, services providers specialize in health information management, software development and services, creative services, finance and accounting, engineering, HR, back-office support, and other complex, high-value services. These non-voice services are the fastest-growing sectors of IT-BPO, both internationally and in the Philippines.
For employees that could travel as flooding intensified, firms typically provided safe shuttle transportation to employees, who were alerted via sophisticated communication trees using SMS, email, online portals, dedicated support hotlines, and social networks of transportation arrangements. These systems also helped confirm employees were safe and prepared to come to work. Employees used these channels to request assistance from their employers, as well.
According to an informal survey conducted by BPAP late last week, employer communications advised employees living in flooded areas that employers would be providing shelter onsite and in nearby hotels. Meals were also provided. Frequently, similar assistance was extended to employees’ families. Employers also announced monetary relief for affected employees consisting of interest-free loans, 13th-month pay advances, and outright grants.
According to Hernandez, the industry—employers and employees alike—demonstrated resiliency and commitment in dealing with the impact of the severe weather disturbance. “Most IT-BPOs continued to deliver services despite the reduced workforce. Only a handful of IT-BPOs suspended operations, and then for less than 24 hours. Even in those cases, critical service staffing was maintained,” Hernandez said.
The BPAP survey also revealed that firms implemented other BCP plans to offload varying levels of work to facilities outside Metro Manila and to corporate network centers in China, India, and Mexico. Despite the severe flooding and electrical failures in some areas, power and communications were non-issues for the industry. As a result, many employees and their managers worked remotely from areas outside the workplace.
Employees that reported to work did double—or more—duty, covering for colleagues unable to report for work. Those that reported to work August 7 received a 30% premium on basic pay in compliance with a directive from the Department of Labor and Employment.
According to Hernandez, BPAP will conduct a review of the industry’s response to the calamity to strengthen its efforts to prioritize and safeguard the well-being of the industry’s human resources. “We’ll continue to work closely with the government to ensure employee safety, enhance disaster preparedness, and mitigate service disruption,” he said. Both the industry and government have good reason to do so.
In 2011, the Philippine IT-BPO industry generated more than US$11 billion in revenues and employed almost 640,000 Filipinos. By 2016, it is expected to reach US$25 billion in annual revenues and employ 1.3 million, according to an industry road map. BPAP estimates that industry employment has jumped this year to approximately 700,000 as global demand increases despite the impact of the global financial crisis on major markets.
IT-BPO wasn’t the only industry, obviously, affected by the crisis. As the largest overall employer of high-paying jobs in the Philippines, it was the most visible. Other industries almost demonstrated similar resilience in the face of adversity, continuing to offer transportation and communication services, provide food and other perishable items, and ensure that power supplies remained stable throughout the week.
Although the Philippines has much work to do to improve flood control infrastructure, these industries illustrated that they were prepared for the challenges of natural calamity, and largely emerged unscathed thanks to effective BCP.
(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author and commentator. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Copyright © 2012 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)