HfS Network

Monthly Archives: Jul 2017

Robo's best-kept secret? Not any more... meet Redwood

July 25, 2017 | Phil Fersht


There's nothing worst than being the "best kept secret" in an industry... sure, it sounds cute at first, but after a while it gets frustrating as people aren't learning about you.  And there's nothing worse than being a best-kept robo secret in a market obsessed with propaganda, ignorance and bad analysts, many of whom have no clue what they are talking about.

So let's change this for one solution vendor, Redwood Software, which has quietly gone about helping enterprises automate processes around SAP workflows.  When we bemoan rigid, poorly integrated processes, it's often borne out of legacy systems and ERP that have the effect of pouring concrete into a firm's operations. So what better than to develop both robotic and digital automation capabilities around SAP's R3 finance platform, helping financial leaders renovate more of that they have, without the costly and disruptive need to invest millions in expensive system upgrades that often only succeed in delivering a whole new suite of integration problems.  Sounds like a simple way to make money?  Well, it actually takes decades of practice and experience, so let's hear a bit more from the firm's CEO and Founder, Tijl Vuyk. and his Chief of Staff, Neil Kinson, about how they got here and where they are taking this very well-kept, soon-not-to-be so secret Redwood product...

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HfS Research: Good morning Tijl and Neil - it's great to have both of you talking to us today. Perhaps we can start with a little background on Redwood, where you have come from and what you do?

Tijl Vuyk, CEO and Founder, Redwood (pictured left): Thanks Phil. Well it’s been about 25 years since we were founded and we started in the application space where we were building Oracle applications. We saw the need for automating these applications because there were a considerable amount of manual activities running all kinds of processes within Oracle, and later on with SAP. When we started, we created a tool that would help customers build their own automated processes. In the last five to eight years we discovered that building these automations were a challenge for many of our customers. So we tried to productize the whole idea of automating these business processes and now we call this robotics - where we use the application's functions to automate the processes normally undertaken by humans. I think that's where we are. We came from a technology background where we built enterprise strength applications to automate primary business processes, and now we are trying to make this as easy and slick as possible to implement those processes without having customers spend too much money on services and maintenance. There is more to say about what we do, but these are the highlights.

Phil: Sure, so you've been around for 25 years, how did you end up in this automation space? Was it a deliberate move or was it something that evolved over time?

Tijl: I wouldn't say a deliberate move but I love automation. If I do something twice, I ask myself, “can I do this easier and faster or not do it at all?”  And that is the attitude we have

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Posted in: Cognitive ComputingRobotic Process Automation



When automation becomes your only option...

July 22, 2017 | Phil Fersht

Posted in: Absolutely Meaningless ComedyRobotic Process Automation



Moving beyond the numbers in healthcare to drive and measure change

July 21, 2017 | Barbra McGann

In many ways, health care has been impersonal for many years… the focus being on the illness, treatment, and cure, rather than the person who hosts that illness. With the increase in focus (and payment) on value-based care, though, the holdouts that have not thought about the whole person have to do so now. It’s time to realize if you haven’t already that considering the mental, economic, and social determinants of people’s lives is not just for “tree-huggers” but are proven to be critical for effective treatment and impact on health and medical outcomes.

Consider the rise of the “Walking Gallery of Healthcare” (shout out to Regina Holliday who has painted over 400 jackets with the representation of people’s health experience and medical journeys). These visual cues remind us of the people who house and treat illness and how their behaviors and attitudes have an impact on the cost and better, more empathetic care. They help create networks and community to share insights and lessons as well as emotional support. While metrics are important, outcomes can’t just be measured in numbers if you want to effect real change.  There also needs to be a “feeling” of momentum and community for realizing value-based care.

Photo of Regina Holliday with members of the Walking Gallery                           

How do you measure the impact of transformation?

Effective treatment and prevention of disease and illness are often measured in outcomes like lower rates of diabetes or heart disease, for example, a higher standard of living, reduced readmissions to hospitals, less use of emergency rooms, and overall lower cost of health and care per person. But it can also be measured in how people behave – a healthier change in the way they live and work, a “chain reaction” in that a patient becomes a coach or champion for others going through what they did, or a series of stories the inspire action.

Here are some of the ways we are seeing health care organizations explore these outcomes:

  • Visual Cues: An experiment explored the impact of a medication on patients by looking at photographs by a patient (note: not of the patient).[1] For example, before being on medication, a patient captured his story in pictures in an app (think Instagram story). The pictures showed the inside of his house, the television, pizza, a dog, dim lighting, and no other people. After being treated, including medication, the story changed and the pictures in the app showed a girlfriend, a road trip, and an app that he is developing to help other people with similar medical issues. It shows that he is more active, more engaged with other people, and feels empowered to work.
  • Experience through Simulation: Clinical and administrative professionals at a hospital near Boston spent a day together in a design thinking workshop focused on better understanding their patient population. They started by developing personas that represent members of the community they serve and then walking them through the journey the patients take in their hospital. A clinical manager shared: “We know who the people are who are coming through the doors. But as we built the persona for a person who comes into the hospital on an ambulance, into the ER, and eventually moves to an in-patient stay, we felt more and more how intense it must be for the patient. The number of touch-points gets exponentially bigger as they go through their experience, their journey. And we are not always thinking about it that way. It’s our day job, and we are used to it. But this person is sick and vulnerable, and here we are descending with advice, interventions, meds, and education…. It was really good to have the front line providers and staff from different departments involved in this act of re-creating the patient experience so we can support the patient and each other better during busy times on the floor.”[2] (link)
  • Connect with the Community: If you are a hospital or clinic, how do you interact with your community? A hospital invited members of a community that had a high incidence of diabetes in an open forum to discuss medical needs. They didn’t hear people say, “I wish I had a doctor and medication.” They talked about wanting a playground and healthy food options. The local community center partnered with the hospital to create a garden, yoga, and cooking classes, convert open spaces, and offer dental care.

Changing behaviors has an economic impact on business as well

Only viable businesses can serve health care consumers and patients and have an impact on the high spend in the industry overall. LGH, for example, is making the effort to connect with its community because they believe that by better understanding the individuals they can have an impact on the health and medical well-being of patients as well as the financial status of the hospital itself.  

Everyone working in the health care industry has an opportunity to have an impact – from the front lines of doctors, nurses and caregivers to the business operators in finance, facilities management, etc.  An approach that can get everyone focused on the health care consumer is to put empathy – walking in your patient or health care consumer’s shoes – at the center of the way you work.

The bottom line: This transformation -- incorporating empathy and addressing behaviors -- is required for health care organizations in order to remain financially viable as well as a trusted community resource.

Empathy is the core tenant of design thinking, which can help in revisiting workflows, building apps, and developing solutions that address real human needs. Start with observing, interacting with and thinking about your patient or customer. The practical and business-like side of us often takes over and asks: “what’s the real value”? Along with tracking metrics for reduced readmissions and patient satisfaction scores, consider how visual cues and social momentum are also valid measurements of the success of investing in innovation and change that’s so needed in the health care industry.

[1] IDEO webinar, “Healthcare and design thinking,” July 18, 2017.

[2] http://www.hfsresearch.com/pointsofview/inside-the-patient-experience-design-thinking-workshop-with-lawrence-general-hospital-and-sutherland

Posted in: Healthcare



Ian Maher... Sourcing Star

July 18, 2017 | Phil Fersht

As the fog slowly lifts from our beleaguered world of operations, we can start to put the pieces together regarding where we truly are, when it comes to building the backbone for successful businesses of the present and the future:

No - not all our firms have been wiped out overnight by disruptive digital competitors (sorry all you hypesters who've been beating that drum, but most our 'legacy' firms are doing just fine).  

No - not all of us have been replaced by robotic software that can mimic our rote behavior and render us useless (if only more customers will actually admit they are finding RPA a lot more challenging than they thought).

No - outsourcing isn't dead, it's just under pressure from commoditizing services, too many competitive service providers, greater global location choice and the emergence of specialist niche firms, which can do complex work at a much smaller scale than our juggernaut firms can afford to deliver. 

In short, our enterprises are caught between innovation and renovation, where they need to make the most out of what they have, while making the shrewd investments in the innovation the need to stay relevant in their markets. So with whom better to chew the fat than a very old friend and great supporter of HfS over the years, Ian Maher, who's been the dynamic busybody behind Hanover Insurance's sourcing and operations activies over the last decade. You won't meet many customer executives who deal with technology firms, automation vendors, outsourcing providers, procurement executives, HR, IT - you name it - and still always has a smile on his face. Maybe it's his stubborn devotion to his under-achieving soccer team, Everton, which keeps the chap so positive and focused....

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HfS Research: Good morning Ian. It's great to catch up with you again. Could you tell HfS readers a little more about you and your background in the industry, where you've come from, and what you're doing today?

Ian Maher, VP, Head of Sourcing, The Hanover Insurance Group: Phil, good morning, it's great to catch up again. As you know, my background is on both sides of this interesting equation, from both a sales  and a buy-side perspective. When I was originally in the UK, I spent the first decade of my career working for what is now Fujitsu. As the development of consulting services, on the back of technology solutions, I was fascinated by how firms created new revenue streams on the back of product sales. In the late ‘90s, I moved over to the States and joined Gartner. With roles, in account management support and financial services in the North East of the US, I then started to work more closely with the research leaders in Sourcing and especially BPO, spending a lot of time working with CIOs and similar leaders, helping them understand what was going on from the BPO point of view as it started to seep away from a technology space, into the realm of mainstream business decision makers.

One of my previous clients is the company I'm with today. I've been at Hanover for nearly 10 years. We are a growing P&C business, largely in the US but with a UK operation via our Lloyds of London syndicate. In this role, I look after a variety of functions, including, traditional procurement, contract risk and governance. But more interestingly, perhaps to me at least, is the role of trying to fix together how the ideas from the outside world can be brought to benefit, what is pretty much, a traditional insurance business. I've led a couple of major

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Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)Buyers' Sourcing Best PracticesOutsourcing Heros



Can virtual assistants help to heighten the value of customer interactions? CSS Corp looks to Yodaa for wisdom.

July 18, 2017 | Melissa O'Brien

In a world of inflated hype around chatbots and where customer service interactions solutions claiming to be AI or cognitive are popping up at a feverish pace, it’s up to service providers to take a stance and articulate a strong value proposition. Most pure play contact center service providers don’t have much of a strategy for Intelligent Automation in general and in AI in particular. Many are exploring partnership options or allocating tiny budgets to develop their own chatbots and lower level machine learning tools. CSS Corp has decided to flex some muscle and use its own IP to develop a virtual assistant, “Yodaa,” claiming to be an AI tool capable of “human-like” interaction. Combining NLP and machine learning, the SaaS-based solution can be used as a standalone support interface across contact center channels or as a platform integrated with Amazon Echo, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Google Now. It also has the ability to understand customer intent and learn from its interactions. CSS Corp is piloting Yodaa across 3 clients and 1 client has already gone live with the virtual assistant. 

While the broader market gets excited about chatbots, the best way to discuss Yodaa’s capabilities is to look at the evolving landscape of service agents across a continuum (see graphic below) from more basic back office automation of processes all the way through to process execution on interactive channels. Without seeing specific use cases just yet, our best guess is that Yodaa falls somewhere on the spectrum between chatbots and virtual agents. It's self-learning capabilities take it beyond the traditional bot to integrate with enterprise systems and learn from conversations, as well as combine both human and machine learning in what CSS Corp calls a “cotelligent” platform. Its multi-channel capabilities plus ability to integrate with existing consumer virtual assistants is another important feature. What remains to be seen is whether Yodaa’s capability extends to process execution the way that IBM’s Watson and IPSoft’s Amelia have demonstrated: to help front office professionals make better decisions with insightful, predictive data and analysis or routing customer requests to execution, or interact (in the case of Amelia) with some level of “emotional” intelligence. 


Augmenting the agent experience: adding value to customer engagement

At the far right of the continuum, virtual agents are not only automating tasks to support the digitally-driven front office behind the scenes but also using cognitive intelligence to have meaningful, secure, and efficient interactions with customers. But, cutting through the hype, we’ve yet to see a virtual agent that really can replicate a true human interaction or execute processes the way a human can. IPSoft’s Amelia is the closest we’ve seen to be able to execute at a close to human capability.They’re getting more sophisticated, and ultimately these tools may replace some customer interactions, but not all. Ideally, virtual assistants and agents can help human agents do their jobs better to support the customer experience-- by providing context and recommendations to agents, promoting more valuable interactions.This opens up the door for cross-selling and upsell opportunities, as well as promotes loyalty and satisfaction with customers, whereas lower level chatbots and automation simply replace repetitive tasks and automate basic functions without adding much value. 

The Bottom Line:  Virtual assistants have the potential to help transform the contact center if used correctly.   

As Yodaa’s namesake famously said, “you must unlearn what you have learned.” Cognitive agents are not going to work well if they’re slapped on top of or inserted into broken and bad customer support processes. Customer service executives need to re-think and re-design the processes that contribute to customer experience across the board, which means “unlearning” bad habits, throwing away legacy thinking about “this is how we’ve always done it” to embrace making the contact center a much greater strategic entity within the enterprise-- one which doesn’t continuously solve simple, repetitive issues (at great cost) but finds ways to build value. We explored this concept with CSS Corp in a POV last year, where we discussed the ways in which contact centers can transform from a cost center to a profit center—most notably, we looked at how enterprises can drive more revenue by analyzing their real-time customer interaction data and support contact flows. Virtual assistants like Yodaa contribute to this strategy by making data and context easily available and automated, becoming a valuable tool for marketing and sales as well, by learning from customer conversations to better understand their needs and expectations.

The lynchpin of success in the contact center for virtual assistants like Yodaa is the capability to fulfill a very important customer need for simplicity. It all boils down to making things easy for the customer while looking for opportunities to add value when appropriate.The Yodaa tool claims to understand customer intent and be able to learn from its conversations, which can provide a huge benefit to making customer service easier. CSS Corp’s Yodaa is onto something with its learning and integration capabilities, and looking forward we will see if customer stories pan out to show this is a capability which stands out amid the din that is the topic of service agents today. 

In Q4 we will be exploring the world of service agents in more depth as we launch our first Cognitive Agents Emerging Market Guide. 

Posted in: Customer Experience ManagementIntelligent Automation



Time to get worried about being automated... very worried

July 15, 2017 | Phil Fersht

With Natural Language Processing, Interactive Voice Response, cognitive virtual agents, Robotic Process Automation, the very essence of our corporate existence, the conference call itself, is in grave danger of going robo.  I think we're done folks... 

Posted in: Absolutely Meaningless ComedyCognitive ComputingRobotic Process Automation



Technology: Terminator or Salvation?

July 14, 2017 | Ollie O’Donoghue

Recently I attended the GSA Symposium to get to grips with what’s going on in the global sourcing industry. In a debate, the topic of robotics and automation and its economic impact was tackled head-on by a panel that included union leaders and automation luminaries including HfS’ founder Phil Fersht.

The core focus of the debate was the impact of these technologies on employment, and what could be done to mitigate them. The discussion was broad and covered a full spectrum of topics including universal basic wage and the plight of low-skilled labor. It is the latter that caught my attention.

The bulk of the argument was how organizations should protect low-skilled positions to avoid such sweeping economic change. One union leader argued that if low-skilled jobs were to leave his region, it could never possibly recover as the range of employment options simply weren’t available.

The trouble is, I disagree and do so with relatively little knowledge of the region in question. Simply put, I think the future looks bright for all workers, regardless of skill, for two key reasons. Paradoxically, technology is at the center of both – except where others believe they’ll make people redundant, I think they’ll empower them to do greater things.

Technology up-skills and empowers

In previous blogs, I’ve argued that technologies like automation free people to do amazing things by doing the tedious and low-value work that nobody wants to do anyway. This time, however, I want to look at things from the other side of the coin.

I believe technology empowers people to do high-skilled work, regardless of their experience and education. Historically, individuals found themselves pigeon-holed to specific forms of work because of their academic background or employment history. It may be that they didn’t study the course they needed to get the dream job, or hadn’t ticked all the experience boxes needed to get where they wanted to be. Now, technology can balance the field.

Take a car mechanic as an example. An enormous amount of training and experience is required to be successful in the role. Fixing a Ford Mondeo with a dodgy head gasket isn’t something you can just walk into after all. However, with new analytics technologies and the increased computerization of vehicles, it may be something that can be diagnosed by a relative novice. With the right integrated knowledge management system, it might be something they can fix while reading a walkthrough or watching a video.

What’s key here is that the technology available to us now provides us with opportunities that were historically never available. So, the fear of low-skilled labor taking the brunt of the automation fallout is unlikely to be as simple as people make it sound. The parameters of what is considered low-skill and high-skill are blurring significantly.

Technology makes us more mobile

Access to these opportunities makes the average employee more mobile, as long as they have the right tools and access to knowledge most doors can be flung open. But technology makes us more mobile in another way. I’m writing this piece from home, approximately 50 miles from my nearest colleague, Jamie. Nevertheless, I’m happy talking to Jamie right now using technology that’s available to pretty much anyone. I’m accessing documents and collaborating on a report with colleagues in three continents. Of course, some jobs and professions require a physical presence (even I’m struggling with the concept of a surgeon operating from home) but more and more will utilize new mobility and communication technologies to allow employees to work from anywhere in the world.

The future of work is a complex beast, but if one thing’s clear it’s that technology will play an enormous part.

So, will technology be a terminator or our salvation?

Both. Technology will make some jobs redundant, improve some and create others – as it has always done. When I discussed this blog with our Head of Research, Saurabh, he mentioned the example of candlemaking’s decline at the advent of electricity and the light bulb. Sure this was undoubtedly upsetting for those who had dedicated their lives to candle making and had little other skills to transfer into another role. But these days, when we’re surrounded by knowledge, tools and technologies, we have a much broader range of transferable skills.

Crucially, as Phil Fersht has pointed out in his popular blog, the digital worker has a broader range of considerations rather than a particular strength in a craft – the key considerations are captured neatly in the image below which I’ve ruthlessly plagiarized from Phil’s original blog.


When did we start missing the point?

What I want to know is when did we start being so miserable? Everywhere I turn people are sharpening pitchforks for the imminent robot invasion. I answered a survey recently that asked if I was preparing for a world domination bid from an AI overlord. Amongst the hype and hysteria, we’ve lost sight of what’s really going on. By and large, technologies have been invented to improve on what we currently have. Sure, dependent on your perspective you can reel off a list of offenders that have been damaging, but for the most part, they improve how we live, work and play. And increasingly seek to secure the future of our planet.

Frankly, and if the hype is to be believed I may be in the minority, I’m looking forward to the future and what new and innovative technologies will bring.

Bottom Line: The truth is that technology may have a negative impact in some areas of the economy, but it will also have a positive impact on many more.

Posted in: IT Outsourcing / IT ServicesIntelligent Automation



IBM partners with Automation Anywhere: Great for AA, but IBM’s cognitive automation strategy just got more confusing

July 14, 2017 | Phil FershtTom ReunerOllie O’DonoghueSaurabh Gupta

If you’ve been covering the legacy world of Business Process Management (BPM) software and the emergence of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software for the past two decades, it’s fascinating to see the two solutions to mesh together, as customers need the full gamut of automation help:  the digitization of manual work, the scripting, and integration of static data that provide the foundation for the automation of the digital processes.

Then you can get to the really exciting stuff of recognizing data patterns, taking advantage of machine learning to make systems self-remediating, and, ultimately, the injection of intelligence to make them absorb everything around them to become predictive and human-like in the way they operate. This is why we’re seeing the likes of Pega peering into the RPA space, Blue Prism partnering with Appian and AutomationAnywhere now partnering with IBM’s BPM software solution.  We’re also seeing some novel approaches, such as intelligent automation provider WorkFusion donate free RPA software to the world to bridge the divide between the manual and the digital quandary.

Yes, people, there appears to be a fair bit of life left in the HfS Intelligent Automation Continuum. Despite some critics who believe RPA is a very separate solution than digital autonomics, machine learning, cognitive and AI, the fundamental thought-process behind the HfS Continuum model still rings true: all the approaches illustrated are both overlapping and interdependent:

Notwithstanding all the feverish excitement on RPA and Cognitive, we still need to include all the less exciting - but critical – activities, like runbooks and scripting, and how these approaches must be integrated into broader digital process workflows. True Digital OneOffice only works when all breakpoints and silos are effectively automated.  If you truly want all touchpoints and processes across your organization focused on executing your vision of customer experiences and building foundational capabilities that support this entire philosophy, you have to address the entire Intelligent Automation Continuum if you want a data backbone that operates in synch across your customers, partners, and employees.

This is the context in which the announcement of IBM’s partnership with AutomationAnywhere comes in.

As part of the agreement, the two companies plan to integrate Automation Anywhere’s RPA platform with IBM’s portfolio of digital process automation software. The main focus will be on integrating Automation Anywhere with IBM’s Business Process Manager and Operational Decision Manager. Crucially, integration is meant to be on code level and therefore goes beyond more loosely integrated partnerships between BPM and RPA players. These enhanced

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Posted in: Cognitive ComputingRobotic Process Automation



IoT Dilemma: Existing or New Service Provider?

July 13, 2017 | Pareekh Jain

When an enterprise decides to start its IoT journey, it has two broad choices. One is to take the help of one of its existing service providers, and the other choice is to work with a new service provider.

Our study of 150 IoT projects as part of IoT Blueprint shows that enterprises rely on their existing service providers in 82% of the cases and go for new service providers in only 18% of the cases. There are regional differences in enterprise choices as Asian enterprises are relying on new service providers more than North American and European enterprises.

We believe enterprises are missing out if they solely rely on their existing service providers for IoT. Seven reasons why enterprises should look outside their existing service provider base –

  • Expertise: IoT is a complex system of sensors, devices, gateways, network, platform, cloud, applications, data and requires expertise across different layers of IoT stack. The heterogeneity and scale of sensors and devices add to the complexity. Enterprise’s existing service providers might not have deep expertise across the IoT stack. For example, there are more than 300+ IoT platforms, and it is likely that existing service provider will not have deep expertise in the specific IoT platform suitable for the enterprise requirement.
  • Experience: IoT is a business solution and industry, or vertical expertise of service provider can help the enterprise in building the right IoT solutions. Many of the existing service providers are horizontal technology specialist instead of vertical or industry specialist. Enterprise should ask whether their existing service providers are learning or developing IoT expertise at their cost or do they bring in experience and learning of similar projects in their industry.
  • Agility: IoT is evolving area and requires active collaboration of different horizontals such as consulting, engineering, infrastructure, applications, tech support, and analytics in an agile manner. In most large service providers these are separate horizontal practices and collaboration could be an issue especially for small size engagements in initial IoT stages. Some of the specialist service providers can bring required agility in IoT projects.
  • Business Model: One value proposition of IoT is a change in business model for enterprises where enterprises start charging on outcomes instead of products. For example in the manufacturing industry, the enterprise can start charging for the actual equipment usage instead of the fixed equipment cost. For change in business model, the enterprise should also work with service providers on the outcome-based model. Will existing service providers who are comfortable in either T&M or fixed price for existing projects, be the right choice for outcome based IoT projects?
  • Time to Insight: IoT is all about data and insights. The central value premise of IoT is insight generated out of connected devices and action taken by enterprises based on these insights. So time to insight is crucial in IoT, and experienced service providers can reduce time to insight with their tools, accelerators, and IPs. Will existing service providers have required expertise to reduce time to insight?
  • Vendor Lock-in: IoT is in the initial phase and will enterprise like to have vendor lock-in with their existing service providers in IoT too or take this opportunity to relook at their service provider base. The changing service provider at a later stage will be more difficult and require more change management.
  • Security: Security is one of the biggest challenges in IoT. From any device, intrusion can be done, and whole network and IoT operations can be impacted. IoT Operations need to be secure from all possible threats to perform. As threats keep changing, security needs to be constantly reviewed and updated. Will existing service providers have required expertise to tackle IoT security in future?

One enterprise we spoke to said that it is looking for a new service provider for IoT as it felt that its existing service provider didn’t have enough IoT expertise and trying to do the hard selling for IoT to get more business. Also in the enterprise opinion, this was the opportunity to test a new service provider.

Bottom Line – Though enterprises are more comfortable with their existing service providers for IoT now, enterprises should look at IoT specialists too. Enterprises should revisit their IoT service provider strategy and choose their IoT service provider carefully based on criteria discussed above.

Whatever enterprise clients choose, they shouldn’t fell into the trap of free or cheap PoCs, which will be difficult to scale-up (Read Why Don’t IoT PoCs Scale Up? ).

Posted in: Engineering



Getting into the Top 50!

July 13, 2017 | Jamie Snowdon

Another year another top 50 list of service providers can be found on HfSresearch.com. We have included some new providers – including a couple of interesting BPO firms in Japan and adjusted for the recent wave of consolidation in the market.

I just wanted to repeat the advice I gave out last year about the report and the list – this report is all about the money. Being on the list or not, doesn’t make a service provider good or bad – hopefully market forces mean that better/cheaper providers rise through the ranks, but it isn’t necessarily so. 

The Top BPO FAQ:

You’ve made a mistake can you correct it?

We are human and from time to time this happens – just send me an email and with your thoughts and we’ll correct. By all means, call me names on Twitter – but I may shout back…

We can miss companies from time to time and define where revenues go incorrectly. And, occasionally, spell your name incorrectly ;) Also we may define things differently from you – we are trying to compare like with like as close as possible. Remember this is an estimate – so if you have further guidance, I’d be happy to have a conversation to let you know how we came up with any of the numbers.

I should be on the list / What do you have to do to get on the list?

Sending us evidence (a financial report or two, would help) that shows latest annual revenues. We use calendar years for our lists usually, so something that shows the relevant quarters would work. But happy to have a discussion with any private firms – just so we can properly establish position. I am not a miracle worker so private companies that don’t publish results and don’t provide guidance may not make the list.

How much do I need to bribe you to change my position?

It (still) pains me to say it but no – we just can’t. The pesky tax man (and our boring accountant) frown on it ;)

That said it is also free to be on the list – you just need to demonstrate that you have the revenues to make it. But I will check against public sources and validate.

I really want to be part of this but I just don’t have the revenues yet – is there anything I can do?

We are happy to engage regardless of the absolute market share if a vendor has an interesting service – we are interested in up and coming providers. And we may profile interesting firms.

Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)



Blockchain still not enterprise ready, but the Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 release can show the way

July 12, 2017 | Saurabh Gupta

Tired of the Blockchain hype? You should be, but the emergence of Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 gives us a sense of the reality to come and where this is all heading.  Let’s dive in...

Hyperledger announced the release of Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 yesterday (see press release). Hyperledger Fabric is an open-source platform, hosted by the Linux Foundation that allows organizations to develop Blockchain applications. Version 1.0 marks the release of a production-ready platform that goes beyond pilots and proof of concepts. 159 engineers from 28 organizations collaborated over a 16-month period to make this happen.

There are multiple Blockchain platforms that exist today. Ethereum is the most mature public platform (besides Bitcoin) with tremendous potential and over 500 use-cases in various stages of development. There are multiple other private or semi-private platforms such as Ripple and Chain. Hyperledger Fabric is younger than many others, but there are three characteristics that make it important for enterprises that want to solve business pain points, leveraging Blockchain:

  1. Flexible. The architecture of Hyperledger Fabric can run like a private or hybrid or public platform, making it potentially more secure from a data-privacy standpoint thus rendering itself enterprise ready
  2. Open-Source. Hyperledger is an open source collaborative effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies. It is a global collaboration, hosted by The Linux Foundation, including leaders in finance, banking, Internet of Things, supply chains, manufacturing, and Technology. This structure gives it the potential to become the de-facto standard which will become an important adoption criterion going forward
  3. Not crypto-currency based. Hyperledger does not have a crypto-currency (such as Bitcoin or Ether) which potentially renders it more usable for business applications as not every potential use case needs a currency

The announcement marks a significant move forward to leverage Blockchain for business use cases. The Hyperledger Fabric project started in March 2016 based on merged codebases from IBM and Digital Assets Holding. It moved out of incubation 12 months later and was ready for pilots and POCs. Now four months later, they have released Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 – a production ready version.

Does this mean that Blockchain can now become mainstream for enterprise adoption? No.

These are the three challenges the Blockchain pioneers must address to make the technology truly enterprise ready:

1) Technical challenges. Blockchains by design will never be able to complete thousands of transactions in a second, but the technologies do need to be able to scale up for enterprise-grade performance, efficiency, and costs. Hyperledger Fabric promises to solve this by not using consensus-driven Proof of Work (PoW) that most other Blockchains are built upon and requires major computing power

2) Policy challenges. There are no Blockchain standards, there exist multiple platforms with no interoperability, and there are no regulations in this space. And these are not easy questions to solve. For example, given that all Blockchains are Distributed Ledgers, which geographical jurisdiction will be applicable?

3) Nascency challenges. Several challenges stem from its nascency and novelty. Lack of proven use cases, limited understanding of technology and its potential, limited talent and skill-sets shortage across IT and business, etc. The inherent power and potential of the concept with the help of some pioneering risk-takers will help pull it through such nascency challenges, but it will take time

Bottom-line: There is still a long road ahead for Blockchain, but real progress is being made.

Notwithstanding these challenges, the advancements in Blockchain technology are happening at a frenetic pace. Market developments such as this Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 release are important milestones in the development of this space. It’s important for enterprises to take notice and start investigating. 

Posted in: Blockchain



HCL's CEO CVK talks three lane growth strategy: Mode 1-2-3

July 12, 2017 | Phil Fersht

One of the leading service providers is also one of the most understated:  Hindustan Computers Limited, or its better-known abbreviation, HCL. This company has grown its revenues by more than 75% in the last 5 years and maintained its profitability to surpass $7 billion this year, while running Wipro close to being the 4th largest Indian heritage IT services firm. Its reputation is one of having a very strong engineering pedigree, a "roll the sleeves up" attitude and a no-nonsense approach to business. The fact it has never bothered to spend millions on a fancy new logo, or glitzy marketing posturing, speaks volumes for this determined, humble and very focused firm, quietly - but aggressively - going about its business as becoming one of the heavyweights of the IT services industry, and one of the best positioned to weather the current malaise caused by flagging demand, too many competitors, and creeping automation. 

So when I got a chance to spend some time with its new, young dynamic CEO, C Vijayakumar, or "CVK" as everyone calls him, I just had to share some of our conversation with the HfS community...

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HfS Research: CVK, tell us about your journey to becoming the CEO of HCL Technologies? What is your secret sauce?

C Vijayakumar (CVK), President and Chief Executive Officer, HCL: More than the secret sauce that I bring to the table, the question is, what is really special about HCL, and what is that secret sauce that has developed a range of leaders within the company. They may seem different and diverse on the surface, but all our leaders embody a core culture within, and that’s fairly constant. I have had the good fortune to be part of some great milestones and worked with some excellent teams at HCL. I have also worked across multiple business functions - strategy, practice, product management, sales, business development and delivery. This has helped me to get a well-rounded view and brought me to this position today.

Phil: So what is the number one issue with HCL and the business... what is keeping you up at night?

Read More »

Posted in: Outsourcing Heros



136 enterprise RPA users have spoken and 58% are positive about the business value

July 08, 2017 | Phil Fersht

When we revealed Gartner's bullish 96% of clients are getting real value from RPA bombshell (see post) six weeks ago, everyone close to the action was incredulous:


Now we have the real data to prove where satisfaction levels currently sit, where we interviewed 136 major enterprises currently experiencing RPA installs:


My personal experience has tended to be about half of enterprise RPA clients today are experiencing positive progress, while the other half are struggling or aborting RPA projects altogether, so this data is pretty positive, especially when you consider that the same number are positive about both the cost and business impact of RPA.  

The Bottom-line: RPA is making sense in this era of renovation and the current satisfaction results reflect this

What I love about RPA is the fact it's making us fix a lot of the systems we're currently stuck with, using sensible, affordable technology. We spent years bemoaning the fact that enterprises couldn't just "saw off" their broken processes and replace with costly new systems and services, but the reality is that most enterprises are not ready to write off their technical debt and invest in change, especially when the outcome is not particularly clear. What is clear

Read More »

Posted in: Cognitive ComputingHfS Surveys: All our Survey PostsRobotic Process Automation



Want to avoid a PR Disaster à la the legacy Airline Industry? Then fix your DumbOffice asap

July 07, 2017 | Melissa O'Brien

It seems everywhere we turn there’s a new story about airlines behaving badly, and these stories are illuminating examples of a complete breakdown across people, process and technology: a classic “DumbOffice” fail.  No industry is immune from digital disruption and operating on siloed legacy operational models is a surefire recipe for disaster for legacy brands, such as these monolithic airlines, unwilling to invest in a OneOffice operating backbone.

You may be out of business before you know it in this unforgiving digital world

These DumbOffice failures could seriously take some airlines over the edge and put them out of business. Today’s digital business environment is an unforgiving place and the customer experience can make or break a business at a speed we’ve never seen before. 

This year’s biggest DumbOffice culprit, United Airlines, was in the news again recently, and not in a good way. This time, it was the story of a mom being forced to fly with a two-year-old on her lap so his (ticketed) seat could be given to another passenger, one which the beleaguered airline only responded to once she contacted the media. The airlines are having a rough time from a PR standpoint right now, and it’s just going to keep getting worse when every single snafu on every single flight is so easily picked up on social media. 

There is a decreasing margin for error when it comes to the customer experience

In reality, today’s shenanigans aren’t really anything unique, it’s more the fact that the media is lying in wait to take down the next airline that just can’t deliver a flawless customer experience. With the availability of real-time interactive technologies, sophisticated global services and much more incisive analytics, there really is no excuse for these repeated DumbOffice failures. The key is to get smart about predicting customer events, not reacting to them, if you want to win their trust and avoid these PR nightmares that are causing significant brand damage in cut-throat markets, with aggressive low-cost competitors lurking. You only need to look at the European airline industry, where the stranglehold of the legacy airlines, such as British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France had been decimated by low-cost alternatives and the luxury petrodollar brands. Fortunately for the US airline brands, they seem to have enjoyed a greater degree of customer loyalty than the Europeans, but customer tolerance is surely close to breaking point in the changing media-infested business environment.

This means today’s legacy airlines need to break down the silos that exist across their front and back offices integrating the customer experience into all business processes that touch the customer.

The latest frenzy was kicked off a couple months ago with the infamous passenger dragging incident, and since there have been numerous other tales of disgrace with American Airlines and Delta joining the ranks.  Although the subsequent events weren’t as outrageous as Dr. Dao’s sad tale, it’s safe to say the airline industry is under intense scrutiny for customer experience (or lack thereof). Passengers increasingly feel like herded cattle, crammed into smaller seats, given decreasing quality refreshments and entertainment, while being charged for practically everything but using the restroom. While airlines suffered for years with a reputation for nickel and diming customers and providing sub-par customer service, it seems the last couple of months have seen the biggest fever pitch since “United Breaks Guitars” in 2009 – and media, both social and traditional are salivating over every story.

Am effective OneOffice strategy creates the ability to stay ahead of impending disaster

While the very nature of travel assures that mishaps will never go away completely, there are a myriad of customer-focused alternatives for dealing with, and preventing the situations that occurred, in particular, those related to seats being overbooked or boarding passes accidentally “not scanning.”  A connected, customer-centric, digital enterprise that is able to cater to its customers in real time would be able to prevent these problems and set apart any airline that moved quickly in this direction. A smart OneOffice enterprise would use digital connections to engage with customers in this type of situation - for example, instead of making a blanket announcement at the gate (while half the passengers are still at the food court), sending a notification to the passengers’ app well in advance, offering credit for giving up their seats.  If it got to the point where passengers were already on board, using the in-flight entertainment system to make a similar request might get some folks to stand up and take the offer (although it seems that a true OneOffice organization wouldn’t allow boarding to happen under those circumstances).  Or how about thinking outside the box for alternative solutions?  Could those crew members who so desperately needed to get to St Louis instead of Dr. Dao have been comfortably bussed or Uber’ed in the same amount of time and reasonable cost? At a very last resort, in the unfortunate case that something like this happens, a company should at least be quick, empathetic and customer-centric in the response to the customer and the public.  Everything about United’s late, half-assed responses screams that this company has no appropriate contingency plans.… every step of the way, United has floundered and failed to respond to these problems.

The fact these issues continue to arise begs the question, what is the airline industry’s motivation to change? Despite these PR disasters, the airlines are doing better than they have in years. Perhaps the hubris of their recent spike in profitability has created a lack of concern for customers and loyalty. Customers perceive the success of these businesses as squeezing out every possible penny for additional comforts being sold as luxuries, like a couple of extra inches of legroom or a blanket - yet the majority of airline customers shop based on price. Despite a lot of lip service about experience being the differentiator, airlines’ actions show that they’re really more about how to make the most profit while providing the lowest level of service acceptable. But…. it’s not sustainable. 

No industry is immune to disruption, and the recent uptick in financial performance won’t last, while the underlying complete dysfunction and lack of people-centric values will continue to pervade these toxic companies. At the very core of these PR disasters is a lack of integrated data, and a company culture that completely lacks empowerment for decision making and empathy.    

Bottom-line: Any company reliant on omnichannel must have converged data sets so well-trained employees can access real-time information to avoid these disasters. 

The airline industry needs to find a way to appropriately give their front line staff the autonomy and the infrastructure to make appropriate decisions that will help impact and also “protect” the business results e.g. customer loyalty and positive brand image that impact short and long term revenues. It also requires a talent strategy and culture to support it. What is the right balance between rules-based and autonomy/flexibility to make appropriate customer service oriented decisions? Design Thinking is one ideal which can play a role here to design the business operation to meet the needs of the customer within a business context; using journey mapping integrate the needs of people with the possibilities of technology and requirements for business success. Give the “front line” the autonomy to make decisions by having accessible and actionable data at their fingertips with some built-in rules for guidance and standards. 

As we will discuss in the forthcoming Travel and Hospitality Blueprint, airlines can only fix this by embracing the the 5 fundamentals of OneOffice. The only way to turn around these systematic issues is to look closely at how to implement these fundamentals as part of your organization - finding ways for employees to better use technology and information, focus on impactful outcomes and integrating data, and creating urgency for short-term plans to create a long-term vision for more intelligent operations. 

Posted in: Contact Center and Omni-ChannelCRM and MarketingDigital OneOffice



Accenture Expands its Digital Frontier with Intrepid – Another Pearl in the String of Acquisitions

July 04, 2017 | Melissa O'Brien

Last week, Accenture announced the latest in its 2017 $1.8 B shopping spree with Boston-based mobile design and development company Intrepid. This is a part of Accenture’s strategy to dominate the Digitally-driven Front Office with the vision to offer its clients a model with no business silos where the barriers between the front and back office are removed forever; as described in HfS’ Digital OneOfficeTM. Accenture’s strategy goes beyond the ambitions of growing and maintaining the largest digital agency in the world. It’s about building capabilities to impact its clients’ transformation, finding unique capabilities in opportunistic Geos, opportunities for pull-through with its other services, and a keen focus on impacting the customer experience. 

Intrepid’s 150 employees will join Accenture Digital, the division where many of Accenture’s customer experience focused services reside.  Intrepid’s engineering talent and capabilities, such as it’s work with Saucony Stride lab -- an app that helps runners analyze their stride for better performance--  falls right in line with the kind of digitally-driven customer experiences Accenture is looking to help its clients achieve.  There are also great client synergies between Accenture and Intrepid, in particular around P&G, Accenture’s marquee client for front office services and an organization which is at the forefront of value creation from front office services. 

Accenture was recently placed in the Winner’s Circle of our Digital Marketing Operations Blueprint. This acquisition will further solidify its position, in a space where Accenture’s ability to replicate its Digital Front Office services across industries is also emerging as a competitive differentiator. The ‘string of pearls’ M&A strategy across the core pieces of digital transformation is illustrative of the service provider’s forward thinking vision for the evolution of this market. These acquisitions span across various core pieces of digital transformation, such as include aVVenta for content, Cimation for IoT consulting and Chaotic Moon for digital technology design and prototyping, complementing customer experience services and helping the service provider double its digital marketing operations business over the last two years.

Accenture is putting together a differentiated and bold story for the digitally-driven front office. In fact, Accenture accounts for approximately 50% of the M&A activity since January 2017. Let’s look at some of the more recent Accenture recent acquisitions in 2017:

  • MediaHive, May: Digital commerce strategy and design to platform delivery and managed services
  • Monkeys and Maud, May: Creative ad agency, Australia and New Zealand
  • Kuntsmaan, April: Belgian communication agency focused on customer experience
  • SinnerSchrader, February: German digital agency

What is the common theme in each of these selections?  A clear focus on digital customer experience and design. Accenture also stands apart from the competition in the sense that it seems to avoid falling to the temptation of talking immediately about technology and software (in spite of the strength of its technology assets and partnerships), and instead focuses on the business value.  This management consulting legacy and mindset is part of the company’s DNA and a big part of how it builds trust with its clients. 

This flurry of M&A activity is bold, but not without risks and potential problems.  One of the greatest potential issues is addressing the clashes of so many disparate and vastly varying organizations both operationally and from a cultural perspective.  Accenture’s culture is built on thought leadership, delivering operational excellence, and not necessarily in sync with more “creative type” cultures that will inevitably come with the acquisitions, it’s been targeting.  For now, the strategy seems to be running these entities independently, almost using them as R&D centers wherein their original cultures remain intact.  But inevitably over time, some cultural transformation will occur, morphing the digital giant and its entities into something new-the question is whether legacy Accenture becomes a more creative, innovative organization-or it’s subsidiaries turn more corporate, potentially snuffing out some of the creative fire and losing key talent in the process.  It also risks its size becoming a deterrent for buyers who prefer the niche specialized agencies and the attention, flexibility, and experience they receive from a smaller player.

Another potential threat is that Accenture might become complacent in delivery and execution given its dominance from a capability perspective in this space. This acquisition moves it up on our innovation versus execution grid, but will Accenture also move toward the right? We will be watching that as Accenture continues to enhance its capabilities with these innovative firms.


As Anatoly Roytman, head of Accenture Interactive for Europe, Africa, Middle East and Latin America said (of the Kuntsmaan acquisition): “Together, we’re bringing our unique model to the market: part creative agency, part business consultancy and part technology powerhouse – all laser-focused on creating the best customer experiences on the planet.”  The refrain we hear constantly from service buyers — Accenture’s included—is “more innovation!”  Accenture has certainly amassed an array of building blocks to address this demand globally; now the hard work begins to pull these pieces together – a ~$10B digital agency with many moving pieces, specialized skills and domain capabilities – to execute on transforming the digital customer experience for its clients. 

Posted in: Digital TransformationCustomer Experience ManagementM&A



The Latest HR Power Tool … IoT!

July 03, 2017 | Steve Goldberg

Now available in select “HR supply stores”: IoT (Internet of Things), one of the five tools discussed in my latest POV - “The HR Power Tools 6-Pack for High-Impact Service Delivery.” Much like the double-edged sword nature of its companion power tools, IoT in workforce management can usher in unprecedented and significant business benefits, but only when the right capabilities are selected and potential risks and adverse outcomes are accounted for. 

IoT is a process in which people, machines, and devices are connected to one another via a single network in order to automatically exchange data without any manual involvement. IoT can, for example:

  • track the productivity of workers in the field
  • confirm overall fitness or fatigue when relevant
  • assign tasks based on the nearest worker
  • tie scheduling real-time to customer flow
  • offer real-time training based on an employee’s time on job, credentials or performance

All of this sounds pretty compelling, but a couple words of caution. The first word: Volkswagen, whose engineers illegally programmed IoT-like software to sense when the car was being tested during an emissions inspection, which then activated more costly equipment that reduced emissions. This resulted in a roughly $3B fine this year. Additionally, IoT solutions will generate lots of new, often very valuable data related to people and how they perform their jobs, and not every HR Department is adequately staffed to handle the current explosion of people data or supported by data scientists.

Cause for Optimism with Early Adopters of IoT in HR

While not many HR Technology solution providers are occupying the IoT market category just yet, one company caught our attention: Triax Technologies, and specifically with their “spot- r” solution for companies with workers in the field, particularly on constructions sites. Certainly, accidents are more common there. My briefing from Triax’ COO Peter Schermerhorn enlightened me that U.S. construction companies pay out $1 billion annually for claims related to slips, trips or falls; that the construction industry pays more than twice the national average for workers’ compensation insurance; and that an estimated $7.2 billion in fraudulent workers’ compensation claims are filed annually in the U.S.

spot-r by Triax provides data-driven, real-time visibility into construction operations and safety incidents, leading to an improved safety culture on site and can result in reduced insurance costs. Automatic, geo-tagged “slip, trip, fall” alerts improve response time to accidents and record surrounding conditions (temperature, height, location of witnesses in the area, etc.), self-alert buttons empower construction workers to stop working due to unsafe conditions and alert supervisors to hazardous conditions, and high-decibel evacuation alerts are included in the mandatory wearable devices used on many of the company’s pilot projects with customers. Peter also offered a glimpse into the near future when the company’s sensors will be used in new ways to promote safety and visibility on the job site. Imagine knowing in real-time where your workers, equipment, machinery, and tools are onsite and how they’re interacting with each other.

Who said technology innovations related to HR and workforce management usually lag other business areas?

Bottom Line:  As with all the other power tools (i.e., sophisticated capabilities) recently added to the HR practitioner tool belt, IoT’s potential to be a game-changer cannot be overstated, but neither can the surrounding considerations for avoiding possible misuse or sub-optimal deployment.

Posted in: HR StrategyThe Internet of Things



The Market Outlook for Robotic Process Automation

July 01, 2017 | Phil Fersht

One of the things I've been at pains to convey is the critical link between digital transformation... and the role RPA plays it making so much of it possible. Digitally-driven organizations must create a Digital Underbelly to support the front office by automating manual processes, digitizing manual documents to create converged datasets, and embracing the cloud in a way that enables genuine scalability and security.

Organizations simply cannot be effective with a digital strategy without automating processes intelligently - forget all the hype around robotics and jobs going away, this is about making processes run digitally so smart organizations can grow their digital businesses and create new work and opportunities.

So click here to download my full session at the recent packed-out Blue Prism World in London town:

Posted in: Digital TransformationRobotic Process Automation