HfS Network
Barbra McGann
Chief Research Officer 
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The Rise of Supplier Relationship Management
February 14, 2017 | Derk ErbéBarbra McGann

A smarter business operation is one that uses the right combination of talent and technology to impact business outcomes. Third party suppliers are an inevitable part of that right combination, and most effective when managed according to their potential impact on business results. There is, therefore, an increasing focus on the relationships with suppliers and investment across industries to standardize contract management and governance, centralize management of strategic suppliers, recruit and engage talent that has relationship building and critical thinking skills, and better leverage self-service platforms and automation in procurement and supplier management.

Based on our research, including discussions at the HfS Summit, our annual Shared Services and Outsourcing survey with KPMG, and 10 interviews with executives from financial services, healthcare, logistics, high tech and other industries, we’ve put together this picture of the “state of supplier and partner management” in the IT and business process services industry:

  • As organizations grow the business, they are increasingly standardizing and centralizing business operations functions, often incorporating outsourcing in hybrid / global business services models. IT has been the first mover here, with business functions following – F&A, Procurement, and HR as well as industry specific support. We expect centralization and shared services to continue, with selective and targeted use of outsourcing (on and offshore) and RPA in a model many are calling “no-shore.”
  • In the same way, there is a move to centralize supplier/partner management – if not the complete set of activities, then at least the governance and contract management separate from the relationship management. Relationship management is more difficult to centralize and typically happens when the suppliers are providing IT or BPO through a shared services unit. Once centralized, governance and contract management is increasingly automated; and relationship management gets more focus.
  • More mature or forward thinking Procurement / Sourcing leaders are working to position themselves as advisors – partnering with the business to define strategy; coordinating across business units, IT, and legal; defining standards for governance (reinforced through templates and automation); using training to ensure the more distributed relationship management is active and following a framework.

Exhibit 1: Top 3 Desired – and Hardest to Find – Capabilties for Business Operations

Source: HfS Research in Conjunction with KPMG, State of Business Operations 2017 N=454 Enterprise Buyers

Click to enlarge

  • Talent for supplier management (and procurement/ sourcing in general) is increasingly oriented toward relationship building, decision-making, and analytical skills. Subject matter knowledge of the function is a basic capability that’s needed; negotiation and contract management “can be taught.” Executives are also increasingly interested in candidates with technical skills (or interest) in determining the right mix of talent and technology for managing optimal business results.
  • Procurement is setting the pace for evaluating and implementing robotic process automation and cloud-enabled platforms for more self-service. Some interviewees mentioned that processes, especially those associated with managing commodity or transaction-based activities and suppliers, are candidates for RPA.
  • Across the board, we found a move to consolidate, reduce, and prioritize/tier suppliers for better negotiation capability, more effective and compliant oversight, and a more collaborative and engaged approach to partnering versus managing “off the side of the desk.”
  • Talent will either enable or hinder your ability to have supplier relationships that support business objectives. It doesn’t matter what your operating model is if you don’t have the right talent. If you have the right talent, they will make the relationship with the supplier effective for the business.

The bottom line: There are three critical components to effective supplier management that stand out in our research

  1. Alignment and tiering of suppliers with business objectives
  2. Standardized and coordinated supplier relationship management and contract management and governance
  3. The “right” talent to broker and manage relationships and results

In general, companies are on a journey to have a more strategic approach to supplier management and believe it will take a matter of years to get there because of the cultural shifts required. We explore these themes further in our recently published POV, “The Rise of Supplier Relationship Management,” available for download (free with site registration).

From Designing to Doing: Enabling Design Thinking into Solutions and Results
February 03, 2017 | Barbra McGann

We’ve seen a number of consulting and outsourcing firms making investments in design thinking over the last couple years.  The most visible approach recently has been the roll of acquisitions of design-thinking boutiques. A few representative ones that are being covered in our current research for the Design Thinking in the As-a-Service Economy Blueprint include:

  • Capgemini – Fahrehenit 212 (2016)
  • Cognizant – Idea Couture (2016)
  • Tech Mahindra –BIO Agency (2016)
  • Wipro – Designit (2015)
  • Accenture – Chaotic Moon (2015), Fjord (2013)

And while other outsourcing companies are not making acquisitions, they are partnering with design thinking firms  (e.g., Sutherland with UXAlliance, Genpact with Elixir Design) and academic institutions that offer design-thinking curriculum (e.g., Infosys with Stanford d.school).  Do their clients feel like it really makes a difference?  From what I’m hearing in my interviews with operations executives, product managers, and finance transformation leaders to name a few… Yes, it does.

Here’s how:

From designing to doing: Design thinking offers an approach for a diverse group of people to work together to identify and articulate a common problem, brainstorm ideas for addressing it, quickly prototype/wireframe/storyboard and test it, and continue to iterate on the idea as it takes shape into a proposed solution. While designers often operate within a “non-constrained world,” Consultants bring a healthy dose of reality check into the process, shared one interviewee. For example, a market-based and analytical approach adds context to the process of testing the ideas and prototypes for how well they could work in the business and how relevant they are to the market. Another executive described it as an “innovation agency” partnering with a “solution provider.”

Industrialization of methods and tools: Consulting and outsourcing firms have a rich history of standardizing what they have seen work in multiple instances. Many of them have been known to go to the extreme of “this way or the highway.” Most design thinking firms take a more creative, empathetic, and flexible approach, but are typically not as strong in analyzing, identifying, and setting standards. There are design-thinking agencies that are known for strictly adhering to standardized approaches and toolsets – IDEO comes to mind – but it is not the norm in the industry.  Likewise, there are pockets of creativity in consulting and outsourcing, but, again, not typical. These two groups are starting to find complements in one another. Clients are appreciating this emerging combination of creative, engaging, and simple (thanks designers) and standardized, contextualized (thanks consultants) approaches. 

Research depth: Design thinking can be a richer experience through thoughtful diversity – bringing together people at different levels (hierarchy) in a company, from different business units and functions, and from different professional backgrounds (e.g., ethnographers, CPAs, and programmers).  Design thinking firms are rich in creative professionals; and consulting and outsourcing firms can tap into industry subject matter experts, technology gurus, and change management leaders, as well, because of the breadth and depth of their organizations. They can help address needs from market sizing to industry expertise to rapid prototype development with new, emerging technologies because of internal experts or their own ecosystems. 

Recalibration underway 

A key theme we hear over and over in the outsourcing industry is the drive toward “recalibration.” Outsourcing firms that have been in business for years were built on the premise of providing lower cost, higher efficient processes using best practices: Lean six sigma, and ERP or now, increasingly, cloud-based/SaaS platforms. But to keep doing something basically the same way and expecting different results is insanity (a refrain often accredited to Einstein) – design thinking offers an approach to finding those new results. 

Bottom line: A design thinking led approach moves the focus of the operations executive and service provider partner off the process itself, off the internal, “what’s wrong inside of what we do” to “what do we actually want to achieve” (the business outcome), and what do we want people to feel and do naturally that will lead to further engagement and new—and different—results. 

After seeing the impact of the human-centered, flexible, creative, fast approach within “innovation centers,” “labs,” or “digital” business units, consulting and outsourcing firms are realizing that design thinking can help a company and its clients reimagine something that desperately needs a new way of working. Outsourcing and service delivery is an industry suffering from hitting thresholds on cost reduction, failing to meet expectations of innovation, and wondering how to use digital technology and overcome barriers in communication set up within and between clients and service providers.  At the same time, though, there are key aspects of rigor, process orientation, and service inherent in the services industry that fit well into enabling design thinking to move into solutions and results such as increased customer and employee loyalty and new revenue streams.

About 18 months ago, we thought – wow, what an interesting idea, using design thinking in the services industry. And we launched the first Design Thinking in the As-a-Service Economy Blueprint to explore whether it not it was feasible – if there were any examples of how design thinking was changing the way consulting and outsourcing firms work, internally with or for their clients. There were a few. As we go through the current refresh, we are finding that design thinking is actually changing the way many clients and service providers work, that there is a real complement between designers, consultants, engineers, and service delivery; and we will continue to share examples over the next few months.

VCU Health tests telehealth for shortening time to treatment for stroke patients (#telestrokecare)
January 26, 2017 | Barbra McGann

We hear a lot about how retailers are trying hard to bridge the online and in-store experience for customers, but have you thought about how this concept can help patients in healthcare?  VCU Health, for example, is a forward thinking hospital that is looking outside the hospital walls for how to create a better experience and outcome for stroke patients before they even reach the ER.  Partnering with the ambulance authority and technology providers, VCU Health is testing remote assessment of the patient during their ambulance journey to shorten their time to treatment.  Led by neurologist Dr. Sherita Chapman Smith, this hospital’s story involves a passion for modern and mobile patient care, a lot of collaboration, and some real outside the box thinking in order to fine-tune and bring the idea to life.

At the heart of the effort is empathy – making an effort to “get inside” the experience of each person involved, understand their needs, and how to address those needs both simply and effectively.

The group that Dr. Chapman Smith gathered to the table included individuals from the local ambulance authority, the VCU Health Telemedicine Center, and technology provider swyMed, to determine what was needed to have a secure and stable system that would work and work well for all users. To get a patient perspective, the hospital reached out to specialty actors who have been trained to act in patient scenarios with medical students and residents, to give feedback on how they should interact with patients. The team trained these patient “stand-ins” on how to act out symptoms for a stroke.

These “patients” were picked up in an ambulance and connected via teleconference to the vascular neurologist in the hospital, who conducted a remote assessment; and when they got to the hospital, the scenario had them quickly advanced to the next stage of treatment. Afterwards, each one shared feedback via survey and interview, such as, did they feel safe, did they feel connected with the neurologist, were they comfortable, what did they think of the audio/visual quality? Participants ranged in age and ability to take into consideration comfort with technology and levels of hearing. The hospital also compared the responses with bedside evaluations. The feedback, combined with the experience from the physicians and EMT has led to proposals for changes to protocol and to the solution.

As the project moves along, they keep zeroing in on what will make the patient comfortable, and whether that works for the physician and EMT in the ambulance.

What makes it work?

Internal and External Network of Active Participation: “It’s a small group of vascular neurologists at VCU,” said Dr. Chapman Smith, “so I just asked my colleagues – can we give this a try?” She talked to her department chair, who connected her to the Chief of Emergency Services Operations and Medical Director of a local EMS agency, and then reached out to the communication office, and then to the ambulatory authority, bringing in representation from groups that all have a stake in how it would work, and how easily, and how smoothly. A small community banded together to test—what will work for the hospital, the patient and the EMT, and provide feedback. They have roles in working through implications to protocol, simulations, and dry runs.

Steady Visual Connection: “We wondered if the patient really needs to see the physician or EMT from within the ambulance,” said Dr. Chapman Smith, “but a main comment from the patient simulators was that it put them at ease to see a face versus just hear a voice… just a voice can add to the anxiety.” So the ambulance clearly needs a steady and secure connection with high enough bandwidth as it makes its way to the hospital. A modem, antennae, and single carrier connection did not do the trick; in test runs, the ambulance encountered multiple dead zones.  “We want to be sure wherever we go, we can do the assessment/exam without a drop.”  So, as part of the solution under development, swyMed software monitors for connections and can switch cell towers and antennas to get the best quality signal at the lowest bandwidth.  It’s part of a portable solution the team developed to keep a live-video connection to a doctor all the way to the medical center.  

Ease of Use and Access: During the assessment, the neurologist wants to be able to see the patient, but not have to click arrow keys to move around a camera. Taking this into consideration, the team designed a set of predefined commands such that a command would move the camera to a certain spot to look at an arm or a hand with as few arrow clicks and mouse moves as possible.  Also, the physicians and EMTs want a mobile solution: physicians don’t want to be limited by being at a desktop computer; and the EMTs want something that is portable between vehicles, something not every ambulance has to have, since they are not all in service all the time.  These insights all came from interviews, observations and dry runs.

There are a number of healthcare providers working inside the walls to create a better and more effective experience for health and care, but what happens before and after that care can have significant impact on outcomes as well.  The work that VCU Health is doing is an example of a human-centered, not hospital-centered or technology/telehealth-centered care. The hospital is on a journey—still to finalize the protocols and rollout the remote assessment with real patients—but it’s a worthy example of forward thinking that shows how healthcare providers can step outside the storefront and provide real remote services that can really impact the quality of care.

Putting healthcare services at the fingertips of your patients and members
January 17, 2017 | Barbra McGann

“It is a truth universally acknowledged” that the healthcare experience needs to change – for consumers and clinicians. Part of this change is to make access to data, services, and transactions easier – more “at the fingertips,” if you will—and more relevant to their healthcare experience. In a word, mobility. Mobile is about the platform; mobility is about the journey, the movement of the person, and the experience while in motion. There are a number of mobile platforms on the market today, but who is using them to bring mobility to healthcare?

“…mobility is about understanding where I am, where I am going and what I want to accomplish, and helping to make that journey exponentially better,” said David Sable, CEO of communications firm Y&R in a Huffington Post blog.

Well said. There are a number of mobile platforms on the market today to help make this happen, from well-established technology providers like IBM, PegaSystems, and SAP as well as up-and-comers like Kinvey, Kony, and MobileSmith. And I recently had an opportunity to get to know one offering suite a little better – Skava, which was acquired by Infosys in 2015.

How can mobile platform technology providers bring mobility to healthcare?

Skava is well established as a mobile development platform in retail, powering mobile apps, kiosks, and mobile devices for Gap, Staples, ToyRUs, and others. Now Infosys is bringing this consumer engagement and e-commerce enablement platform to healthcare. It is developing a set of independent, modular, discrete functional units packaged as “Build Your Own Digital Platform” for healthcare providers and payers. (see Exhibit 1) Imagine consumers, patients, caregivers, pharmacists, and clinicians – among others in the healthcare community – being able to enroll, complete transactions like paying bills, scheduling, care management plans and alerts, etc. Then imagine having it integrated into the core healthcare management systems already in place.

Exhibit 1: The “Build Your Own Digital Platform” Play for Mobility in Healthcare

Infosys isn’t the only one with this capability, so if you are looking at walking down this path, take a look around for what best fits your needs. What I found with Infosys is that even though this solution set is not well established in healthcare, it does have a strong client base and proof points from retail, an industry that is heavily dependent on engaging consumers in transaction oriented interactions. The platform supported $1.5 billion in e-commerce revenues in 2015. Infosys also has depth in IT services across industries, including healthcare, so it has the capability to work with clients to integrated and customize apps and services as needed. The Skava platform does plug into current IT infrastructure. And, the service provider is also better integrating its business services and IT capability so that if you want on-going support that includes data management and analysis, you can tap into extended services and have a single provider.

One “miss” in the story line so far, though, is my earlier point about mobility and creating an experience versus offering a mobile platform. Infosys as a company is investing heavily in design thinking capability – an innovative approach to identifying and solving problems. Yet, when we engage in briefings and look at the materials associated with this solution set, there is no mention of starting first with – what problem are you trying to solve? What opportunity are you looking to address? How are you defining and testing out the proposed solution prototypes with the stakeholders – consumers and business? And that’s a critical first step to ensure that the use of the IT-based solution is truly to address the consumer experience and how that impacts the business outcomes.

Bottom line: If you want people to do something, make it as easy as possible for them to do it. Healthcare providers and payers need to make healthcare services easier for consumers to access, use, and pay for, and mobility plays an inevitable role.

Infosys can tap into its design thinking approach and IT services, and leverage the Skava platform in a flexible way to help clients get there. There are already a number of healthcare management apps and mobile capabilities on the market, so it isn’t new. It is something that if you want to truly be a healthcare consumer oriented organization, you’ll have to incorporate into your business, and partnering with a service provider with IT, business process, and analytics skills is a viable option.

Which Service Providers will help our healthcare organizations survive, even thrive, post-ACA?
January 10, 2017 | Barbra McGann

Much as I’d like to, I can’t foresee the actual future of the U.S. Affordable Care Act (ACA) or healthcare policies under President-elect Donald Trump… anymore than anyone could predict the true outcome of the recent U.S. presidential election. What I do foresee, however, is the increased need for partnerships to focus on what the ACA is designed to accomplish (regardless of its existence) – affordable, accessible, quality health care.

Getting to the heart of the problem –the cost.

There are many people who are upset at having to pay for “other people’s” healthcare costs – which they believe is because of the ACA. And there are many people who are receiving care who didn’t before and wouldn’t otherwise, because of pre-existing conditions or age, for example. And these are often people who when they did get sick, would go straight to an emergency room – an expensive treatment which by the way somehow had its cost passed in some way at some time to, likely, people who today do “not want to pay for other people’s healthcare.” Any way you look at it, costs get spread around.

So let’s look at this issue – cost – from a different angle... how about the angle of reducing or eliminating some of these costs?  Reducing the cost of ER visits or readmissions because we can identify and intervene in someone’s pattern of such use or events before they happen because of triggers? Or, increasing the possibilities of people being healthy because of proactive education around nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle?

Partnerships are critical to truly changing the nature and outcome of health care

Just as it “takes a village to raise a child,” it takes a community of partners to create a high quality, lower cost environment for healthy consumers. Those partners include people on the front lines of care everyday—the obvious, like doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers – and also professionals who work behind the scenes but have an impact on care and cost – such as billing coordinators, claims processors, and coders. If everyone is thinking about their work, and how changes to the way they work, can impact the healthcare consumer, we have a

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From Day One: Design Thinking the Patient Experience with Lawrence General Hospital and Sutherland Global Services
December 22, 2016 | Barbra McGann

There’s no two ways about it. I’m excited to be on the cutting edge of a Design Thinking-led services engagement in healthcare to address patient experience. Thank you to Lawrence General Hospital (LGH) and Sutherland Global Services for inviting me through the door and into this initiative…. and especially for agreeing to let me blog about it! We are constantly looking for where companies are “taking a detour with design thinking” and finding results to share. This time, we’re bringing you along on the journey.

We’ll start with a workshop led by Sutherland Labs, and follow their version of this human-centered, iterative innovation methodology over the next few months. The goal is to re-think the patient experience at LGH, and I’ll be sharing the progress here in my blog as we go. After months of researching, interviewing, and writing about Design Thinking and the value it can bring to a services engagement, I will be able to give you an inside look as well. If you have done this before, you can compare it to your own experience and perhaps find some new ideas; and if you haven’t, here’s a way to get some further exposure to a work in progress 

Design Thinking can play a strategic role in helping healthcare organizations to better service the consumer as the patient, member, caregiver, clinician, etc… and rethink operating (and business!) models.

We believe design thinking can help bring about a more healthcare consumer focused type of engagement, which is so needed in health care today. With the latest news burning the wires that in the U.S., premiums are going up yet again, healthcare consumers are just going to get more discerning about how and what services they are receiving for their money. Value – always defined by the beholder – is changing for healthcare consumers. Being aware of that, and aligning the organization –front, middle, and back office – is simply becoming an imperative to the future health and success of healthcare providers, period. And service providers can play a role in doing so.

Despite the potential, and early success stories in and outside of the industry to date, the use of Design Thinking in healthcare for impacting business outcomes through operations is fairly nascent, as seen in Exhibit 1 from our recent Intelligent Operations Study, which included 45 Healthcare Operations Services Buyers. Only 23% of the respondents say they are using Design Thinking today, so we see LGH and Sutherland as pioneers here. For those of you who have not yet jumped into the waters, you can also find some ideas on how to get started in my recent interview with Charlotte Bui, Global Lead of Design Thinking at SAP… and stay with us here as this story with Lawrence General Hospital and Sutherland Global Services develops.

The LGH and Sutherland partnership to put patient experience at the center of reimagining the hospital business operations – the use of Design Thinking – exemplifies one of the 8 Ideals that HfS Research considers critical in the move to more “intelligent business operations.” As it is also one of the least mature of the Ideals in this services industry, they are breaking some new ground here.

Exhibit 1: The Maturity of Design Thinking in Helping Achieve “Intelligent Operations” in Healthcare Organizations

At the same time, fellow HfS analyst Hema Santosh, and I will be launching an update to the Design Thinking for the As-a-Service Economy Blueprint we published with Phil Fersht in early 2016. We expect to hear more about how service providers are using Design Thinking and incorporating innovation into their engagements, to be more forward thinking and investing in the long-term value of outsourcing services partnerships.

If you have a story to share, questions to ask, or challenges to pose, please fee free to post them here, or contact me at [email protected]. And, stay tuned…

What Pokemon Go! can teach us about outcome-based performance management
December 08, 2016 | Barbra McGann

How do you change a workforce and shift performance management from status reporting and check-ins to an outcome-based approach?

With Pokemon Go! hot news in the press and, frankly, in my house, this summer, I was reminded of an example of gamification used effectively for performance improvement, financial impact, and employee development and engagement at a US healthcare system.

The director of revenue management and patient financial services brought in gamification, along with training and outcome-based performance management, as part of a change and quality management program. Along with an increase in AR staff productivity and engagement, the impact on the business included an increase in payments, a decrease in net days in accounts receivable, and a decrease in denial turnaround time.

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How has RPA played a role in increasing data accuracy and predictability in your healthcare operations?
November 15, 2016 | Barbra McGann

Are you using robotic process automation (RPA) as a way to drive better outcomes for your healthcare organization? 

In our research, we are hearing that companies using RPA find the greatest value from it in the quality, predictability, and speed that results from the use of the software to automate rules-driven business processes (there’s your definition of RPA, by the way). And we’d like to hear more examples –stories to share –of how it is being integrated into healthcare operations to impact health, medical and financial outcomes.

Notice in Exhibit 1, that 65% of the respondents in our cross-industry survey say the most value they get from RPA is in driving more predictability and quality in the processes, and half add that speed is of value, while rounding out the top three is freeing up staff to move to other projects. Healthcare respondents mirrored this top three, adding that number four is “creating more reliable data sets for analytics.”

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How deal closure can increase when sourcing and sales teams work together
October 31, 2016 | Barbra McGann

Breaking down the barriers between the end-customer and the business support functions is so pivotal for success in today’s world of the OneOfficeTM. And one place to start is by identifying the potential intersections where there is a shared outcome. We’ve seen how this approach can work for sales and procurement, leading to increased sales and compliance.

In my colleague Derk Erbe’s post, Why We Should Love Procurement, he encourages the much maligned procurement organization to “be a business facilitator” and the business to be a partner with procurement to contract, buy, and use services from third parties in the most beneficial way for the business.

Just recently, I heard three good reasons to “love procurement.”

This story of collaboration between procurement and sales led to (1) increase in closed deals for sales, (2) increase in compliance, and (3) increase in mutual respect. It also, by the way, caught my attention as an example of using Design Thinking for an internal function, taking a stakeholder-centered (empathetic) approach to defining and solving a problem. 

Thinking “outside the box” on how the skills of a sourcing professional are relevant to the business more broadly

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How to Get Started With Design Thinking in Shared Services and Outsourcing
October 23, 2016 | Barbra McGann

From An Interview with Charlotte Bui, Global Lead of Design Thinking at SAP

Recently a colleague in common introduced me to Charlotte Bui, Global Lead of Design Thinking at SAP, and I chatted with her about how design thinking is used with SAP clients. I’m sharing snippets of this interview to get you thinking about how to use design thinking in your work, and in your partnerships and outsourcing engagements to drive new levels of innovation and impact from them. Consider it a way to address the challenge Phil laid out in his October 2nd blog: “let’s make outsourcing great again”… because there is a lot of untapped potential …

Charlotte, how do you bring design thinking into your work?

We ask questions to uncover and discover the true needs of our customers as it relates to their business and their customers. What that means is that we often dig deeper to better understand the “why” behind their needs, their motivation. We ask questions about how the work they do impacts stakeholders and customers, such as: Why do they need this? Why do they care? What’s missing? These questions can be applied to any situation to get focused on how to solve problems with a human-centered, customer first approach, versus a business-centric, solution first approach. And by leading with listening, we work with them to help uncover what’s missing or even what could potentially change their entire business model.

Business process services and IT services is a process driven industry; what can you tell us about how to structure an approach to work that uses design thinking?
We share customer stories and we talk through our method; there are many design thinking methods that all share a same common theme. At SAP, we use “look-think-do.” (link) It is about understanding WHO you are doing it for, cultivating ideas, finding the one (or more) that is real and can be implemented, and execute it. That last step is where the value is realized from the design thinking driven work. We use design thinking to understand what clients need, then work to define and apply the right solutions to bring those ideas to reality. 

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