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While most of the services and operations industry obsesses with Robotic Process Automation to streamline its rudimentary back office processes, one provider that’s never shied away from making bold moves to disrupt illustrious competitors is Genpact, with an imaginative move to integrate true artificial intelligence with its business process service offerings by acquiring the impressive Boston-based Rage Frameworks.
It's almost history repeating itself from a decade ago, when the (then privately held) Genpact turned the BPO model on its head with its disruptive virtual captive proposition that significantly challenged the pricing models and ability to integrate offshore capabilities into the old BPO model. Now, the firm is breaking the mold, yet again, by making real inroads into infusing AI into business processes and introducing these concepts to its huge global community of finance leaders.
Let’s get to the rub: RPA is all about digitizing the back office, but Artificial Intelligence is where we see the true marriage of business processes with clever technology and self-developing algorithms. We’ve danced for years trying to prophesize when BPO will truly integrate with IT, but we’ve now had reality unveiled: RPA platforms streamline the back office, while AI brings the middle and front together to create that true Digital OneOffice™ experience. The Digital OneOffice is not about collecting and archiving historical data simply to discover what went wrong, it's about being able to predict when things will go wrong and devising smart strategies to get ahead of them. The Digital OneOffice is about embedding smart cognitive applications into process chains and workflows, it’s about learning from mistakes and new experiences along the way. This is the emerging “organization neural system”, where the needs of the customer can be intelligently supported by real-time, self-learning intelligent operations:
Why is this acquisition significant?
In a nascent market where stakeholders stumble through smoke and mirrors to make any sense of the many claims around Intelligent Automation, M&A is a clear indicator that the market is starting to mature. When in December 2016 ISG bought Alsbridge and CA acquired Automic, HfS suggested that Intelligent Automation was at an inflection point and that the focus on automation tools will shift toward the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook around deep learning and the integration of unstructured data. While we have not yet seen the Internet giants play their hand, Genpact’s acquisition of Rage Frameworks is underlining exactly these market dynamics. And this is the first time that a service provider is driving automation capabilities through M&A.
Rage Frameworks drives pre-built automation engines deep into unstructured territory
Whereas the broader market remains misguidedly focused on the intricacies of RPA, Rage’s focus is not on automating specific process steps, often on sub-process level, but on developing a broad ranging platform (RAGE Enterprise) for custom solutions with a deep vertical footprint. While RPA is largely focused on structured information, Rage will take Genpact deeper into integrating semi and unstructured data. Their development effort over the last two years to build enterprise applications for financial industry processes (wealth management, commercial loan processing and financial statement spreading) is shifting the focus from automation tools and capabilities to providing an end-to-end process leveraging a model driven business transformation platform.
In our view, the value proposition of Rage Frameworks is centred on leveraging Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing to build out highly vertical engines in Financial Services, Capital Markets, and Supply-Chain. The functionality of these engines ranges from managing business rules to real-time integrating content to data access and NLP all built around a process assembly engine. These engine building blocks can then be assembled for custom solutions that automate business processes or can be used as one of three pre-assembled financial services industry applications: LiveWealth, LiveCredit, and LiveSpread. In addition, broader capabilities including front desk automation, real-time intelligence, and pricing are transforming how commercial lending, policy underwriting, financial statement analysis, investment research, and multi-system reconciliation can be performed.
RAGE’s industry applications are a big part of the allure for Genpact, which has spent the last few years going deeper into its commercial banking and capital markets operations accounts with data and analytics solutions trying to solve the same client operational challenges as Rage. In our recent HfS Capital Markets Operations Blueprint, Genpact placed in the Winner’s Circle, with an HfS callout about its need to bring more technology enablement to capital markets. The service provider has examples of using emerging technologies such as machine learning, automation, dynamic data extraction, etc., in LOBs as retail banking. What Rage brings to the table for Genpact is a more strategic approach for impacting client operations through technology-led change.
Genpact continues to lead the automation discussion from the front
From Genpact’s perspective, the acquisition is reinforcing the perception of being a pioneer in Intelligent Automation. Having led the market with the first publicly announced partnerships with AutomationAnywhere, Exilant, and Automic around its Rapid Automation program, Rage Frameworks fits in well with Genpact’s holistic approach to automation. Within that context, Rage’ assets will further advance the integration of unstructured data: Genpact has invested heavily in analytics and big data with a dedicated research lab in Bangalore, India. They have developed a Data Engagement Platform using big data technologies, in order to be able to harness structured and unstructured data from multiple sources. Thus, its Lean Digital strategy is aligned with HfS OneOffice concept. But the company has to demonstrate that it is starting to link up back, middle and front-office.
The broader market will follow with accelerated M&A activity
Regulations and risk management requirements are forcing banks to rethink the way in which they capture, store, manage, and distribute the growing volumes of transactional and trade data. Structured data from multiple departments and asset classes are maintained in silos, and unstructured data present new challenges as well as opportunities for automation and analytics.
Despite the continuing noise around RPA, we believe the market will shift toward operational analytics and the broader notion of AI. Not only are the leading RPA tool providers expanding in that direction, but we expect the investment focus to progress toward Deep Learning, Neural Networks, and broad NLP capabilities. While it might sound trite, data really is becoming the new currency. But this currency needs to be integrated into delivery backbones on an industrial scale. Thus, service providers need to reinforce their efforts on service orchestration. We haven’t seen many proof points for a successful expansion into data-centric scenarios, but those deployments will be a clear demarcation between the leaders and the also-runs.
Central to this will be the articulation and delivery of business outcomes for specific industry functions through the use of operational analytics, RPA, BPO and AI. Can Genpact put together a financial spreading function by leveraging its operational expertise in BPO and RPA, the RAGE LiveSpread application and analytics interventions to deliver more efficient and effective credit risk management?
Bottom-line: Genpact is progressing toward True Digital OneOffice capabilities
Genpact’s announcement can be crystalized to its ambition of blending RPA in the back-office with AI in the middle-office, which is why the firm, still regarded by many as a "pureplay BPO" managed to break the top 10 in the recent Digital OneOffice Premier League, despite not dragging a multi-billion dollar IT services business around.
Thus, BPO is ever more changing to becoming technology-led. We expect that this strategy will be increasingly underpinned by neural networks and notions of self-remediation to enhance the Digital Underbelly and the Intelligent Digital Processes of the OneOffice concept. While Rage Frameworks is one of the superior suppliers across the Intelligent Automation Continuum, the more providers that are progressing toward the notion of AI, the more inflated the valuations for M&A will become. Against this background, valuations for RPA providers could look like peanuts very quickly. But then again, M&A is rarely rational in today's foggy market.
The time for smart partnerships to drive real innovation and new thinking in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive computing is now. This means we need to see the industry’s deep-pocketed innovators become increasingly open – and eager - to working together to help the services industry make the shift to true digital, intelligent, cognitive capabilities.
Recent HfS research shows adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive computing to enhance operational analytics and Machine Learning is strongly accelerating, with 72% of senior operations executives citing cognitive as becoming a critical component of the future operations strategy:
Digital and Cognitive are Driving Enterprise Operations
Source: “Intelligent Operations" Study, HfS Research 2016; Sample: Buyers = 371
While the market perception around these topics remains refreshingly blurred, AI is a critical building block as organizations increasingly look to progress from legacy labor-driven service delivery to progress toward notions the As-a-Service Economy and the Digital OneOffice (see link). While AI is capturing the imagination of many PE investors and VCs and is being used to hype up media reporting and conference circuits, the market dynamics are far from clear.
Against this background, the fundamental question being posed is “Who will be in the driving
Last week, HfS had the opportunity to meet with the NTT DATA leadership team at the service provider’s first major analyst summit in Dallas Texas, since its acquisition of Dell Services last year. So can the firm live up to its new billing as one of the major tier 1 global service providers?
Making sense of a complex fast growing entity
Analyzing NTT DATA is by no means an easy undertaking, given its complex organizational structure and lower visibility due to its reluctance to invest in marketing.
The CEO of NTT DATA Inc., John McCain, tackled those perceptions head on and vowed to change direction. Much of the purpose of this event was to present the “new” NTT DATA. Building on the acquisition of Dell Services, he pointed to branding campaigns that include TV and broadsheets. This is reflecting that the company has evolved, not least through acquisitions, into one of the largest global service providers. And with these significant investments come higher expectations. So, how should we look at NTT DATA and how does the company stack up in the competitive landscape?
The strategy framework that McCain outlined appeared sound and offers a platform for further expansion. In particular, (re-)packaging the portfolio and industrializing delivery. In the context of the portfolio pillar, McCain was pointing to the aim of deriving greater value from NTT DATA investments and of leveraging the “NTT Group power”. Yet, throughout the two days, we actually did hear very little about the Japanese capabilities and activities that the broader NTT Group brings to the table. When executives actually touched on those capabilities, the differentiation to the broader market appeared at least in contours. NTT DoCoMo, DiData, discussions on how Quantum Computing and Cognitive Computing could solve mankind’s more pressing issues, were providing a glimpse of highly differentiated capabilities. Invariably, the discussion of cognitive evoked strong memories of IBM. However, in contrast, NTT DATA is crucially not constrained by the many legacy deals with which IBM is still struggling. If anything, NTT DATA had hitherto focused on specific project-centric business but is now keen to trade up to larger and broader sourcing deals across multiple domains.
The challenge of bringing together the existing Japanese business units with the newly-acquired international businesses
The marginalization of NTT DATA’s Japanese business points to another crucial issue. The integration of the various business units, including the many acquisitions, is a work in progress. One can point positively to the long-term focus of the Japanese business culture that has seen acquisitions being very carefully integrated over a longer period of time. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling that the cultures of Keane and Dell Services appear to be the dominant reference points in many discussions. Thus, there appears to be a healthy tension between the Japanese core business and the “Global Business” i.e. the multiple acquisitions outside Japan. However, if HfS’ contention that organizations are moving toward to the Digital OneOffice™ (download our POV for a full definition of the Digital OneOffice), where connecting back, middle and front-office is corroborated, then NTT DATA has to eat its own dog food and move toward being a more connected global organization – you can’t deliver true Digital OneOffice capability if you haven’t become a true Digital organization yourself at your core.
NTT Data has real potential to align to the Digital OneOffice
From what we are learning, the seeds for that are already being sown. Around its Digital Services, NTT DATA is suggesting the first focus is through its customer’s eyes. And, similar to our suggestion of a Digital Underbelly, NTT DATA is pointing to the fundamental shift that automation is creating. However, the boldest initiative is to wrap the needs of the customer directly around its delivery priorities through its CUE2, continuous customer experience engineering program.
Let’s start with NTT DATA stance on automation. The prominence in which executives were talking about automation was tangible. Yet, the specifics of the various initiatives might have been lost to many in the audience. Below the radar screen, NTT DATA is running the largest deployments of IPsoft’s IPcenter globally. Tellingly, the Global Management One platform is helping clients with onboarding to NTT DATA’s cloud platform. A task that has been challenged by the many acquisitions that we have called out. Furthermore, the company is helping to adapt IPsoft’s Amelia to the Japanese language and executives were suggesting strong traction. Around more mundane matters, the strategy around RPA was a trifle blurred. While NTT DATA’s BPO business is focused on its proprietary AFTE solution, as executives suggested the solution to be more efficient than any third-party tools, the consulting arm, largely representing the Carlisle & Gallagher acquisition, was pointing to third party tools as the preferred way of engagement. Beyond the nuances of the automation strategy, what really stood out for us at the event, was NTT DATA’s ambitious plan to integrate customers directly into their delivery strategy with the CUE2, continuous customer experience engineering program. This program is not only adapting Agile and DevOps to the requirements of Managed Services but putting the user center stage. In all but name, here it is where the connection to the HfS Digital OneOffice concept is the strongest. Suffice it to say, NTT DATA is still very early in rolling this out across its engagements, but the strategic intent could evolve into one of its strongest differentiators.
Bottom-line: NTT DATA has to eat its own digital dog food to progress toward the OneOffice
As bold as the CUE2 initiative is, in order to catch up with the leading global service providers and to demonstrate its Digital OneOffice credentials, NTT DATA has to advance significantly the integration of its various business units. Only by finding and leveraging commonality across its global delivery units, NTT DATA’s many innovative forays will lead to repeatability and thus margin improvement. In order to reach new clients, NTT DATA should make a virtue of the achievements of the broader NTT Group. While culturally not always accessible, NTT DATA’s strong innovation credentials, often emanating from the Japanese market, provide a platform for a clear differentiation in a market that has been notoriously difficult to achieve a meaningful differentiation. Deep networking and mobile capabilities that can be leveraged in IoT scenarios are jumping to mind. To succeed with the ambitions for the “new” NTT DATA, a broader mix of accents might go a long way, not least Japanese. Then we will start to look at NTT DATA as a truly global heavyweight.
At a time where alternative facts and fake news open doors to a parallel universe, where global labor markets are being disrupted by various flavors of travel bans to the United States, the specter of a wall being built at the US-Mexico border that costs more than the entire Space-X program, a reform of H1B visas that could likely dismantle the traditional outsourcing model, and a curious thing called Brexit that could change the global trade landscape forever, one might be forgiven for feeling slightly disoriented. Yes, people, we've arrived at a time where the very foundations for service delivery models across the industry are being put at risk, where there is no written rule book for how to get ahead of this. So what better time than to add a sprinkle RPA into this global potpourri of disruption? Maybe a food dose of process automation will give us all something to cling onto during these heady days?
Against this slightly perturbing background, what is the state of the RPA market, the emergence of the virtual workforce - and how will it affect the broader markets? Is RPA the silver bullet to overcome many of these issues and obstacles? Back in December, we already chartered the service provider capabilities around RPA. As a result, we not only got a strong endorsement for our findings, but stakeholders were asking us to provide a similar assessment for the RPA tool providers themselves. To get more clarity on these pressing issues, we have sent our automation overlord Dr Tom Reuner back into the RPA community to separate the wheat from the chaff... the bots from the clots.
Based on his findings, Tom and I went into conclave, compared notes and war stories, as well as cranking the numbers for the evaluation. And finally, we have white smoke. Thus, we are pleased to share the new 2017 RPA Blueprint grid and the key findings with you.
Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst: Despite all the noise, many stakeholders still struggle to comprehend what RPA is all about. Tom, can you help these lost souls to get up to speed before we dive into the details?
Tom Reuner, SVP Intelligent Automation: I wish that would be so easy, Phil. Despite all the noise RPA is still an undefined market. To make matters worse, the IT juggernauts, the service providers, and management consultancies are only very gingerly educating the market. Two
I remember vividly reading an article back in 2012 that a new set of software termed “robotic automation” could be a serious threat to offshoring if not outsourcing at large. Suffice it to say I sat up straight in my chair and wanted to find out more. And I am very glad that I not only read that article but started to research those topics. This research not only got me immersed in the small yet highly innovative Intelligent Automation community, but it led to HfS suggesting that we should join forces to push the envelope on how these tools might disrupt our industry. At the time, Phil titled the blog in his inimitable fashion: “Greetings from Robotistan, outsourcing’s cheapest destination.” And the key strategic questions the HfS team was asking included: If you were a buyer, how fast would you jump at the option to hire FTEs at rates that undercut the Indian body shops by 50% -- without sending jobs offshore? (“Hire” isn’t the right word, of course: it’s “create”.) If you were a BPO services provider, how would you like to build a software robot to automate a business process for one client, and then resell copies of that robot to a dozen other clients in the same vertical?”
So, fast-forward 4 years, is the offshoring industry any closer to the abyss? Those questions raised by HfS can be condensed to the suggestion that RPA will lead to a surge in insourcing which in turn will cannibalize large parts of the offshoring industry. This was underpinned by the assumption that scaling those robots is a piece of cake. Suffice it to say those suggestions need to be understood in the context of time, but equally that it were tool providers like Blue Prism and UiPath pushing that narrative in order to get the concept of RPA on the radar screens of the industry’s stakeholders. So where is the industry really at and what are the likely scenarios moving forward? Two recent industry events might help to shed more light at this. First, early in December Capita announced restructuring program. Crucially, the expected job losses are meant to be buffered by both moving services offshore as well as investing into a proprietary RPA solution. Capita is an important reference point as it has been used by the likes of Blue Prism and UiPath as a case study for the suggested trend of increased insourcing through RPA. What this tells us is that we have to stop ask binary questions, namely is one concept supplanting another. This is also demonstrated by the second event. HfS did spend a couple of intriguing days in Vietnam visiting Swiss Post Solutions (SPS) delivery centers in Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho. SPS is a compelling example for scaling out RPA as part of its Global Sourcing strategy. The company is blending proprietary IP, RPA (UiPath) and Artificial Intelligence (Celaton) to accelerate toward higher value services. Thus, SPS is aiming to expand from its core in document management outsourcing toward BPO services. This journey is incremental, building on its historical strengths around document management and invoice processing but progressing to broader capabilities in F&A BPO and Insurance Claims processing. Unlike many other RPA deployments which tend to focus on client specific activities, often on a sub-process level, SPS is focusing on industrializing the core of its delivery capabilities through RPA and AI.
Before you raise your eyebrows, the point here is not to suggest that the market will necessarily follow SPS, but that we need a much more nuanced understanding of the implications of RPA and Intelligent Automation at large. HfS has been vocal, to put it mildly, on the impact of automation. First and foremost, this impact plays out differently in different scenarios. We see the most pronounced impact on service providers internally. It is here where RPA is being deployed aggressively and as financial earnings calls show, thousands of jobs are being “freed up”. Service providers are much coyer in deploying RPA in Managed Services contracts as top line revenues will be impacted. More recently we see a surge in transformational projects building out captive automation capabilities for clients. However, the boundaries between the last two scenarios are blurted. As part of the sourcing mix both might exist within one organization. But equally, we are seeing failed in-house projects that end up as BPO contracts and vice-versa.
However, to get a better sense for potential disruption, we have to continuously enhance our understanding of what automation really means. The more I think about automation, the more discussions I have with stakeholders, I keep increasingly coming back to one issue that helps me crystallizing my thoughts on the impact: How much of automation conceptually is actually a managed service and how much conceivably could be run as unsupervised learning. Take the example of SPS, business agents are being supported by elements of RPA and AI but their activities continue to require significant manual intervention. You can apply the same logic to the various tool providers and you get a sense when you visit their offices. Do you see hordes of developers doing manual tweaks and coding or do you see largely just R&D capabilities? Unsurprisingly the latter technologies offer higher value moving forward, even though at times it might require more effort to get the deployments up and running. Now combine the emerging notion of Virtual Agents underpinned by those forward-looking technologies and we really are staring at highly disruptive scenarios. On the danger of sounding like a broken record, we urgently need an honest and transparent debate on the various implications of Intelligent Automation.
Bottom-line: Intelligent Automation projects will only be successful with constructive change management
The White House released a report on the implications of automation and AI on the economy, the UK Government undertook an inquiry into robotics and artificial intelligence, yet our industry appears largely to remain in denial about those issues. Almost all service providers we try to engage with around this topic continue to suggest there will be no disruption. People “freed up” from projects will re-trained, re-badged – and you will have guessed it – all be happy. But I keep scratching my as we work in the sourcing industry. I am the last one proposing restructuring and job losses, but we finally have to get to a more honest and transparent debate on all of this. The implications will not only be felt in global sourcing locations but much closer to home in equal measure.
When somebody offers me something that is allegedly free, I tend to get skeptical, if not outright cynical, about possible motives or hidden catches. This is especially the case in the emerging intelligent automation market, where the focus needs to be centered on making automation work effectively and driving value from digitizing legacy processes, not saving some money on software licenses.
I had the same reaction when I first heard about WorkFusion’s plan to offer core RPA capabilities for free. In a nascent market that is clouded by the reluctance of many stakeholders to share their views and more importantly playback experiences, leading to extremely blurred perceptions, the move to commoditize core RPA, before it even has become mainstream could open a Pandora’s Box. In mythology, Pandora’s Box contained all the evils of the world. So what is really in WorkFusion’s box? Is it rather an altruistic box helping clients to climb to the stairway not to heaven but to digital operations as the company did put it? Before I let my cynical inner-self rip, I listened to WorkFusion’s webinar to find out more details. So, let’s first look at what WorkFusion is actually planning to launch. Dubbed RPA Express and planned to be launched in Q1 2017, the new product is said to offer the core RPA capabilities including:
- Bot Recorder
- Developer Studio
- UI Automation Drivers
- Bot Libraries
- Control Tower
- User/Role Management
While RPA is not defined across the industry, those suggested capabilities capture the value propositions of the leading RPA tool providers such as Blue Prism, UiPath, and AutomationAnywhere. Thus, WorkFusion’s strategic move to offer these for free could have profound implications for a market that has not yet reached maturity.
The two fundamental questions we have with WorkFusion’s aggressive move:
- Will it lead to commoditization before we have even reached market maturity and
- How this move could impact the leading RPA tool providers – and how will the respond (if at all)
WorkFusion’s move will accelerate the move toward transformation
WorkFusion suggests the motivation for offering RPA Express for free is to accelerate customer’s journey toward cognitive automation including crowdsourcing, chatbots and a broad integration of machine learning. As WorkFusion is not a shy organization, it reminded the audience in a recent webinar that it had launched several industry firsts including:
- Train Machine Learning with Crowdsourcing
- Virtualize data science
- Combine RPA with broader cognitive capabilities
- Build-in Tableau analytics
- Automate conversations through chatbots and other means
Fundamentally, free RPA tool sets will lower the barrier to entry. Organizations can trial capabilities without having to worry about licensing costs. WorkFusion was at pains to stress that RPA Express is not a community version, requires costly upgrades to delivery enterprise-wide results or containing padlocks on higher value features. Provided these claims will get corroborated, the move could accelerate the move toward understanding RPA as part of transformation projects rather than a short-term focus on cost elimination, often on task rather than process level. Suffice it to say, at the same time it WorkFusion will strike at the heart of the RPA tool providers. On the service provider side, many will be chuffed by the elimination of licensing costs, but at the same time, many have established practices for Blue Prism, AutomationAnywhere or UiPath and will not easily jeopardize these relationships at least in the short term. However, the missing piece in the jigsaw is the talent that can integrate RPA capabilities – regardless whether they are free or not – into broader service delivery strategies. Therefore, partners will charge for training around RPA Express as well as helping to advance the journey toward higher value, cognitive automation capabilities. Nothing in life is really free.
Move could impact valuations of RPA tool providers
RPA Express is all about free tools for structured data. Yet, as we have stated repeatedly the industry needs to embrace the broad Continuum of Intelligent Automation (IA), with a strong focus on integrating unstructured data and building out cognitive automation capabilities. It is here where WorkFusion’s Smart Process Automation (SPA) is providing the value add and will thus provide the revenue streams. WorkFusion’s starting point in IA was Crowdsourcing and Machine Learning. Initially, it had used the RPA moniker to get a seat at the table for the decision-making on automation projects before building out broader RPA capabilities. The core RPA discussions continue to center on Blue Prism, AutomationAnywhere, and UiPath. It is these providers that could lose most from this move. Their licensing models will come invariably under scrutiny. The key question here is, how quickly can those providers accelerate their roadmaps in building out operational analytics and cognitive capabilities to buffer against potential losses in licensing revenues? Suffice it to say, I expect Harvey Ball graphics depicting the differences between RPA Express and the leading tool sets any time after the expected launch. And I can hear already voices claiming that WorkFusion has only limited capabilities in RPA to start with and can therefore easily suggest free offerings. However, in a market where very few understand the technical details of RPA tools and their impact on broader process flows, perceptions are likely to remain as blurred as they are now.
But there is possibly another subplot here. I believe that the leading RPA tool providers will be absorbed over the next 18 months by M&A. Thus, free RPA tools could weigh on valuations while management of RPA tool providers will be forced to focus on accelerating their roadmaps as the key value proposition is being forcibly commoditized. RPA Express could easily be seen as a spammer thrown into those M&A scenarios. Having said that, Blue Prism’s share price has not yet suffered, but then again, the broader market does not yet have seemed to digest the news of WorkFusion’s move.
Bottom-line: Disruption, but at what price?
We are seeing the move as a strong positive for WorkFusion as it will accelerate its customer acquisition but equally the progress toward higher value services. For the broader industry, however, the jury is still out. While WorkFusion might succeed in squeezing competitors boosted by a strong balance sheet, the market might lose important educators on the broader notion of IA. Obituaries on the demise of RPA might be premature, but the stakes have been raised significantly. It could hasten M&A in either direction. However, it could be a case of forced commoditization that carries significant risks for the broader market. A “self-medication” with free RPA tools might throw the hard-fought progress in understanding RPA as part of transformation projects off track. Put in a nutshell, it could be a highly disruptive move. It will take more clarity from WorkFusion’s partners to understand how they are planning to balance their ecosystems and what the detailed strategies are. Therefore, be braced for disruptive counter moves.
The market dynamics in the world of Intelligent Automation are hotting up. Two acquisitions within a single week and the market is awash with fresh rumors about more M&A. We already know about two other ones imminent – one a done deal and the other closing in.
First, ISG acquired Alsbridge, not just for their rapidly expanding RPA advisory and implementation capabilities, but RPA is likely to have been a key consideration as ISG was lagging both in terms of traction, as well as skill sets. Second, CA announced its intention to acquire Automic. This is a strong indication that the juggernauts appear to be not only willing to overcome innovator’s dilemma, but are expecting that offerings around Intelligent Automation will ringfence their leadership position rather than erode their bottom line. Moreover, the risk of not investing in Intelligent Automation is clearly outweighing doing nothing and hoping this feverish wave of interest dies down (which is not doing).
Sourcing advisors are currently not bringing automation deals to the supply side the way they used to with the people-scale centric legacy deals. As part of our research for the Intelligent Automation Blueprint, we tested this assumption with all the participants. Yet, at the same time, we are seeing the Big 4 play an increasingly important role in implementing transformational RPA deals. Thus, they have significantly moved on from largely doing top level advisory and tool selection. This is shifting the market from a narrow focus on task automation with short-term cost considerations. However, this shift and acceleration are being curtailed by an acute scarcity. In the broader market talent that understands the impact of innovations around the notions of Intelligent Automation on broader process efficiency remains a rare breed. Therefore, we expect more M&A predominantly by the Big 4 with pure plays like Symphony Ventures, VirtualOperations, GenFour and thoughtonomy likely to be high on their shopping list.
Even a few days after the US elections, I am still shocked.
Most people in the world are shocked, apart from outliers such as Vladimir Putin. It is difficult to brush off the xenophobic tirades, sexism, protectionism, misogynist outbursts, etc., etc., as sheer rhetoric or just a means to an end. Yet, we really don’t know what is coming. Can one individual really change the US political system and break the influence of the vested interests? And more poignantly, can we believe any politician, let alone Donald Trump, on the many promises made on election campaigns (and beyond)? Even more pertinently, the notion that Trump will stand up for the long-suffering (white, male) working class just seems incredulous.
While it is utterly tempting to let my emotions get the better of me and just let rip, from a narrow sourcing point of view, two issues stand out: Immigration and, intrinsically linked to that, whether automation could fill the void if global sourcing is being disrupted by immigration policies.
The following is not meant to be a comprehensive analysis. Rather, as it is a blog, it is meant to stimulate debate. At the same time, dissecting populism is always contingent to context. As we have seen with Brexit in the UK, and as we are likely to see in the US, political decision-making is not based on a set of consistent policies or even on policies aimed at the majority who voted for Brexit and Trump. In my humble opinion, populism is all about being self-serving to the whims of politicians. However, as these politicians increasingly make it to the highest offices, we have to start thinking about scenario planning. Put another way, there is little value in discussing potential policies in an abstract way.
IBM’s Watson has come a long way since winning a Jeopardy contest in 2011. While popular games remain a benchmark for advances in Artificial Intelligence as seen in Google’s DeepMind winning at Go, Watson’s capabilities have evolved strongly. So much so that IBM is betting much of its fundamental transformation on the deep investments in the development of Watson. Thus, Watson has become a key strategic pillar for IBM next to cloud and Bluemix. Having had the opportunity to attend the World of Watson in Las Vegas, one couldn’t help to notice the scale of the evolving ecosystem as more of 17,000 people attended the gathering. Suffice it to say but the scale also references the complexity of the evolving ecosystem.
Charting the complexity of the evolving Watson ecosystem
The issue that struck us the most in Las Vegas was the comprehensiveness (put positively) or complexity (put slightly more negatively) of the various Watson offerings. The core Watson Cognitive Platform is composed of four components: cloud, content, compute, and conversation. From a service delivery perspective, the two key components are conversation and content. Within the conversational services, Watson Conversation enables developers to create dynamic interactions and custom applications using the full spectrum of Watson services.
Phil reminded me recently of my piece on the Automation Crystal Ball and then challenged challenged me to take a longer (and bolder) view as to where Intelligent Automation (IA) will be in 5 years’ time.
Here’s the interesting piece: to do that, we have to know where we are now. IA isn’t well defined today and stakeholders struggle to find any common ground. So in the midst of that confusion it might be difficult to see a clear path forward. But I’ve already accepted Phil’s challenge so I’ll start first by offering my views on where we are today so to have better clarity on where I think IA will go.
Blurred Perceptions Rule Right Now: Today’s Game Is To Create Shared Understanding and Definition
First, it’s NOT about tools, technology, and hollow promises to solve the most pressing issues of mankind (although who doesn’t want to save mankind?). Instead, at HfS we believe the relevant context for discussing IA is service delivery. Most approaches to IA involve decoupling routine work from labor arbitrage. At it’s core, it means IA is about automating mind-numbing, repetitive pieces of everyone’s jobs – giving companies two benefits:
- Lower costs by reducing the number of people needed for “grunt work.” This savings goes way beyond what could be achieved simply by swapping out higher paid workers with lower paid ones (even if the lower-paid workers were equally or more talented.)
- Increasing opportunities for workers to do creative work, develop new avenues for revenue creation and skill growth, and improving the job satisfaction of workers who no longer have to suffer through boring, routing tasks.
Our research shows that the IA is still a nascent market amidst the confusion we discussed earlier. But as the market begins to firm up around this service delivery perspective on IA, we see exponential growth coming. The seeds of that growth have been planted by suppliers and buyers. The supply side has built out strong capabilities by setting up IA centers of excellence and by continuously integrating the plethora of IA tools. The picture of the demand is much more difficult to assess as IA clients tend to shy away from discussing their projects in public. They often don’t want to give away perceived competitive advantages or are concerned about the socio-economic implication of the topic. However, in private buyers tell us they’re piloting, testing, building and otherwise beginning to engage in IA.
Suppliers And Buyers Must Co-Create A Consolidated Understanding
Against this background of an extremely blurred perception of IA, what are the issues that need to be addressed in order to see an acceleration in the market development? The following points provide a high level call to action:
Buyers need to:
- Work with service providers and other third parties to educate the market on use cases and implications of IA.
- Address the issue of governance. How do these highly automated environments need to be managed?
- Create scenarios to understand the implications on talent and affected workers so they don’t cause unintended consequences in their automation efforts.
Service providers need to:
- Better understand the impact of IA on their revenue models so they can make better decisions about what to offer the market and how to change their businesses to be successful in the automated environment.
- Discover the right testing methodologies to guarantee the quality of service delivery in an environment of self-learning and self-remediating engines.
- Look at their own talent, not just the talent of clients. Are robots taking over the workplace and how is the way services firms work going to change?
Suffice it to say, much of the future development is dependent on how stakeholders are going to address the issues that we have raised. Therefore, in this context we will focus on two top level issues that encapsulate the future of IA. First, what is the direction of travel for the build out of IA? And second, how is IA impacting knowledge work?
IA’s Growth Will Come From Vertical Evolution
HfS believes in 2020 we won’t talk about RPA anymore as it will be just a reality in the back-office. But we will continue to talk about the broader notion of IA. Yet, in the context of how of industrialized, highly automated service delivery will interact with Deep Learning, Neural Networks and Artificial Intelligence to generate highly verticalized insights. That is where both value will be created as well as differentiation be provided. We see early examples in Watson Health or UK startup RAVN which offers enterprise search and machine learning in legal environments. At the back of my head I keep thinking about the comparison to high frequency trading. In a market where standardized platform don’t offer differentiation anymore, value will be disseminated through new business model on top of those platforms (as well as the continuing informal practices).
Bottom Line: IA Will, Yes, Bring About A Virtual Workforce. Eventually.
In 2020 we will be in the midst of a disruptive transformation of knowledge work. Already now we see the emergence of virtual agents that are underpinned by broad scale automation capabilities. Those agents range from the big beasts Watson and Amelia to OpenSource avatar and Amazon’s Alexa voice integration. Those approaches will make a broad range of activities superfluous. Take RBS in the UK who has announced to introduce robo advisors with the sole purpose of taking out FTEs. Thus, we will see a mix of mainstream human augmentation through the use of IA but equally cold hearted job elimination. The impact will be most prevalent on the supply side. As we are working in the sourcing industry we have to stop dressing up the issue and start an open and honest debate on the discussion of knowledge work. Just like offshoring, automation will severely disrupt the industry – and clients need help in addressing those issue. Therefore, these projects should be paid for work and not pre-sales engagements.
IA will be a blended but mainstream reality in the various service delivery strategies. The focus will have changed to connecting front and back-office through the rise of virtual agents that will integrate the requirements and capabilities for what HfS has termed the Intelligent One Office. Those virtual agents will be tangible part of the transformation of knowledge work. However, unless the industry is addressing the implications head on, we wouldn’t be surprised to see widespread demonstrations against some industry practices on IA as the fervent discussion on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence that is already raging through the developer community and more customer facing businesses such as Google and Facebook will disrupt the B2B space. Thus, Virtual Workforce could be both a euphemism as well as a broad placeholder for a blend of human and automated work.