Jobs at computer terminals link Philippines and US
Each workday morning Marian Tabjan, a fresh-faced woman in her late 20s, leaves her parents' plywood-walled home, which like others in the northern Manila suburb of Malabon has no telephone. During the next hour, she travels in the sidecar of a motorized tricycle, then in a brightly colored Filipino van called a jeepney, by inner-city train, and on a bus to get to her job on the other side of Manila.Skip to next paragraph
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There she is plugged into the information revolution that is accentuating ties between the United States and developing countries such as the Philippines.
Ms. Tabjan holds a management position at SAZTEC International, a US-based data-entry company. Its ``key-entry operators'' sit at terminals, converting information on paper into computer files.
On a given day, SAZTEC's staff can be found typing consumer-credit reports on British citizens, American names and addresses of Stride Rite shoe clients, US telephone directories, court transcripts, American hospital patient records, or the catalog of the Helsinki National Library.
On some days, more than 1,500 pounds of documents from the US arrive at the Manila airport bound for SAZTEC's offices. Similar scenes occur daily in countries as far apart as India and Barbados. SAZTEC itself has a data-entry facility in Ardrossan, Scotland, as well as in Kansas City, Mo.
By going offshore, information companies create a global work force that performs services once considered strictly local.
Data entry is only one part of this high-technology revolution, which to many people is as profound as the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.
In addition to data entry, for example, SAZTEC provides the computer programming needed to use data. Its Filipino staff calculates corporate financial statements.
Augusto Lagman, a Filipino entrepreneur, owns 20 computer companies, including Systems Resources Inc., which makes customized software.
One of his company's biggest jobs, Mr. Lagman says, was a $2 million contract with the Boeing Company to produce an air-base inventory-management system and to train Americans in its use.
``There are [offshore information] capabilities out there people just don't realize,'' says W.Patrick Griffith, president of AMR Caribbean Data Services, which has data-entry operations in Barbados and the Dominican Republic.
Mr. Griffith hopes soon to do medical transcription. US physicians will dictate remarks about American patients into a microphone; the comments will be beamed to Barbados, where they will be typed and beamed back to the US. The whole process can be done in four to six hours.
As one sign of the growth in information services, the membership of the Information Industry Association, based in Washington, D.C., has tripled in the last five years, to 700.
``We get two or three new members a week,'' says David Peyton, director of government relations at the association. ``It is all we can do to remember the new names.''
Some observers predict the information-technology industry will be the planet's largest by 1990.
Speed and mobility are behind this boom. Information, unlike steel and bags of grain, travels quickly and cheaply. There's little difference between calling Tulsa, Okla., or Barbados from New York City, because of improved telecommunications, says Joseph Pelton of Intelsat's strategic-planning department.
SAZTEC can move quickly offshore when opportunities arise. One of its motives for starting the Scottish facility was to enhance the chances of winning a contract to computerize the British Library General Catalogue. Within six months of being awarded the 1.8 million ($3 million) job, SAZTEC hired and trained 100 employees and was fully operational.
SAZTEC must do some jobs in its Kansas City facility - for example, those requiring sophisticated data processing or physical contact with American clients. But it is far cheaper to use offshore workers.
Filipino data-entry operators with four years' experience average just over $2,400 a year, including free dental and medical care. These wages are excellent by industry standards and well above the Philippines' $600 annual per capita gross national product. Even so, SAZTEC's Filipino staff earns about one-fifth as much as those in the Kansas City facility.
American jobs are lost when SAZTEC moves jobs offshore, but SAZTEC is also more competitive.