Mihir Shukla and Alastair Bathgate in the Battle for the Robotic Billions... only at HFS FORA

October 12, 2018 | Phil Fersht

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After all the fun and games we sparked with our recent blog "Seven deadly misnomers why these billion dollar RPA valuations are insane" we thought we'd give the CEOs of the leading two RPA firms (see the new HFS TOP 10 RPA report), Automation Anywhere (Mihir Shukla) and Blue Prism (Alastair Bathgate) a chance to face/off on stage to thrash out why their firms' valuations are on such an exciting trajectory - and engage with the HFS FORA crowd to debate where the hell this space is really going and how we need to prepare for an intelligently automated future.

Yes, people, this year's HFS FORA Summit in New York from December 11-12 is shaping up to be at our boldest, most brazen and brash best.  Ever!

If you're looking to up your RPA game and see who comes out on top, sign up to reserve your seat now, or forever hold your peace.

I look forward to seeing you in New York,

Cheers!

Phil

Posted in: Digital OneOfficeRobotic Process AutomationIntelligent Automation

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RPA is the gateway drug. AI is the drug...

October 10, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Anyone failing to escape the swirl of intense hype threatening to destroy everything great about RPA is probably thinking that these cute products are going to solve all their artificial intelligence needs and deliver them with a "digital workforce" that will go way beyond scraping screens, producing scripts and running unattended recorded process loops.

Now, don't get me wrong - I LOVE RPA... jeez, I bloody helped create the space when I first wrote about it in 2012.  I don't want to toot my own horn, but this space probably never have would have got off the ground if we hadn't been curious enough to get deep into it and articulate its value to the world.  And no one's paid me a billion dollars (well not yet, anyway).

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RPA creates a genuine experience, where the underlying fabric of decades-old processes can finally be altered

When we released the first "Intelligent Automation Continuum" in 2015,  we made it very clear that RPA was clearly the first step in a much broader roadmap to achieve beautifully-automated intelligence across your enterprise.  And today, this gateway philosophy has never been closer to reality.  RPA, when executed well, delivers a digitally-transformative experience to business operations executives, where they can - for the first time - fundamentally change how a process is designed to process data much, much faster.  Suddenly, firms have the chance to make fundamental changes to how they design workflows, instead of persisting with doing things the same old way, but with lower cost people and more efficient delivery models. Isn't that enough for now?  Why does the hype take it to a place where it's only going to disappoint?  If IBM's leadership already thinks these firms are massively overpriced, are there really others out there which will take the plunge?

When I see executives who previously stared at excel sheets all day (while beating up BPO providers for overcharging for insurance clerks in Delhi) actually getting trained to redesign workflows using scripts and GUIs, it warms the soul.  We are actually trying to do thing better... not just cheaper!  So why can't we be content with making this actually work before we get too carried away?

Time for a reality check:  RPA is firmly on the radar, but let's see it become properly industrialized and scaled before we get too carried away

The vast majority of these initiatives are project-based, not scaled - only 13% of RPA adopters are currently scaled up and industrialized, according to new data from 590 enterprises worldwide.  Most RPA adopters are still tinkering with projects and not rushing towards enterprise scale adoption:

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Suddenly, the whole RPA value proposition, which has carefully matured from the "Oh my God, a robot's going to take my job" to "OK, I get it now, RPA actually frees up time and fixes process breakages and staves off costly investments" has been injected with some serious hype-steroids, where suddenly these firms are worth billions of dollars, some are actually declaring they are going to deliver their own consulting services (really) and quickly move up the continuum to offer real cognitive and AI capabilities.  I'm sorry, but when were the RPA firms going to compete with Google and Microsoft? Am I missing something here? 

The Bottom-Line: Enjoy that RPA high a bit longer before you graduate onto the harder stuff...

The real data shows just how not-ready we are to declare some kind of robo-victory - executives must evaluate how all intelligent automation technologies can work together to take us to the promised land. RPA provides a terrific first stop for executives to make real underlying changes to their processes.  Once processes are digitized, there is so much more we can do with the data being produced, which is where other automation and AI tech comes into play, such as Machine Learning and predictive analytics and sophisticated cognitive computing.

Now it's always critical to focus on the "what next", and in the case of RPA the possibilities are limitless, but only when you have mastered how to digitize your underlying mess that has plagued your organization since before the days COBOL was the next big thing.  Then it's about how you reel in the analytics and AI possibilities that truly take your business to a new level of data heaven.  But let's get past the gateway first... let's not get ahead of reality and mess this one up, folks.

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent Automation

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Tiger burns even brighter as Genpact makes its instinctive move

October 06, 2018 | Phil Fersht

One firm that's kept driving consistent growth above the industry average, despite the cries of "commodotization" and "cannibalization" in the business process management arena, is Genpact.  This firm blitzed the offshore-centric BPO industry in the mid 2000's, with its focus on the "virtual captive", its obsession with process excellence (emanating from its GE roots) and the willingness of enterprise operations leaders to invest in its energetic culture. 

As times evolved and other aggressive outsourcers rolled up their sleeves, Genpact has increased investments in higher-end process and operations management expertise to maintain its early tranche of enterprise customers, while focusing on the next wave. Making a concerted focus on building a Design Thinking competency out of its LEAN roots, while adding skills in AI-enabling and digitizing processes, Genpact has not been afraid to stay ahead of industry disruption. In fact, its process roots have often bolstered the firm's credibility when driving industry narrative, as it understands the real changes enterprise need to make at the process and cultural level, if they are genuinely serious about a OneOffice Framework.  

The one major constant behind these phases of change has been CEO Tiger Tyaragarajan, who've I've personally known for more than 15 years, when he was the North American market-maker for the firm, before becoming CEO in 2011.  Today, Tiger talks a lot about the Instinctive Enterprise, which is very similar to our view of the OneOffice Framework, so I thought it time to reconnect before he joins us at our December FORA Summit in New York...

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HFS Research: It’s great catching up again, Tiger. We’re looking at a lot of serious tinkering and experimentation with new technologies in the business process management (BPM) space. How has a company like Genpact evolved over the last 18 months, and where do you think things are going in the next couple of years? 

Tiger Tyagarajan, President and CEO, Genpact: Phil, thank you for the opportunity to spend some time talking with you.

I like the word you used—evolution—and the period that you applied it to—18 months. In the world we are in, evolution is the way to think about things. I distinguish that from revolution, which is to drop everything that you’re doing and go after something new.

In our business, we think about many of our journeys as evolutions. We’ve always had depth and process; we understand how to bring the science of process to problems and how to generate value. We’ve always looked at process outcomes as important metrics to improve, and we’ve used methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma enough that we’re effective with them.

We’ve added new capabilities that didn’t exist six years, four years, and 18 months ago. Six years ago, we had nothing on digital; four years ago, we started building out our capabilities; 18 months ago we started scaling those capabilities and continue to scale them.

In the last three years,  we’ve made nine acquisitions. Of the nine acquisitions, seven were in consulting and digital, and two were in deep domain areas, such as supply chain and insurance. We continue to add domain, but the ratio includes much more digital, analytics,

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Posted in: Digital OneOffice

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Seven deadly misnomers why these billion dollar RPA valuations are insane

September 21, 2018 | Phil FershtElena Christopher

It's not been possible to escape the wild world of RPA valuations these past few months, culminating in the recent claim from UiPath and its investors that the firm is worth $3 billion, despite the reality that AA's annual revenues this past year are ~$100m, Blue Prism's ~$55m and UiPath's ~$65m (HFS estimates). 

As much as I would love to celebrate my friends Daniel Dines', Mihir Shukla's and Alastair Bathgate's untold wealth, I have done my homework with my  analyst colleague Elena Christopher and, while these three gentlemen and their teams will undoubtedly become exceedingly wealthy from locking up the RPA market, valuations as high as $3 billion are, sadly, pure science fiction.  I welcome any of these three dudes to save a copy of this post and proclaim to me "I told you so" in a couple of years - and I will gladly accept a glass of their champagne - but we hate to burst this bubble with seven misnomers why RPA is not your typical Silicon Valley software fantasy:

1. RPA directly replaces people.  This is incorrect, its all about augmenting processes and the improving the quality of the workforce, not eliminating actual employees with bots.  As our recent State of Operations Study with KPMG, across 381 Global 2000 operations leaders, illustrates, only 7% go into automation expecting direct FTE reduction.  Consequently, the C-Suites from 70% of these organizations are happy with the ability of RPA to reduce reliance on labor.  Hence RPA augments labor, it doesn't replace it.

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2. RPA can scale rapidly to have a dramatic impact on enterprises in months. Incorrect. The vast majority of these initiatives are project-based, not scaled - only 13% of RPA adopters are currently scaled up and industrialized, according to new data from 590 enterprises worldwide.  Most RPA adopters are still tinkering with projects and not rushing towards enterprise scale adoption.

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3. RPA tools can achieve amazing benefits all by their lonesome. Incorrect. RPA has to be driven by a motivated business line, and supported by capable IT.  This isn’t the typical software sales model where licenses are sold en masse and distributed willy-nilly across the business.  Without a genuine buy-in and partnership between business units and IT, RPA fails.  There has to be a balance.

4. RPA delivers intelligence.  Incorrect.  RPA is a gateway drug to digitize low-value processes and free up human-time to focus on higher value activities.  RPA is a catalyst to drive a more intelligent enterprise operations but is not intelligent itself.

5. RPA will be a unique game-changing product in the market for years to come.  Incorrect.  Most organizations take a couple of years to learn and understand how to incorporate the benefits of RPA, but after that it's merely a tool in the enterprise toolbox.

6. We will still be talking about “Robotic Process Automation” in two years time.  Very unlikely.  The narrative is already shifting to a broader Intelligent Automation roadmap.  RPA is very good at breathing new life into legacy processes and technologies but isn’t driving genuine digital business model transformation. RPA helps digitize the underbelly that supports the ultimate digital business outcomes by digitizing manual processes and fixes system integration points.  It is a gateway to achieving front to back office workflows that are critical for digital business to service the needs of their customers in real-time. However. once RPA has performed these tasks, the real challenge for enterprises in going beyond simple RPA to drive real intelligence into the processes. Hence, RPA is a gateway to creating basic digital infrastructure across the organization, but other AI tools are needed in the future to help organizations anticipate their customer actions before they happen. 

The more intelligent your business operations, the more you can stay ahead of the game, but none of this is possible if your processes are not automated effectively to create this knowledge for your business operators:

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Once the digital baseline is created, enterprises need to create more intelligent bots to perform more sophisticated tasks than repetitive data and process loops. This means having unattended and attended interactions with data sources both inside and outside of the enterprise.  

7. Valuations of $2/3 billion per firm are realistic.  Incorrect.  While software vendors such as Mulesoft and Marketo have recently fetched insane multiples of $5bn-$6bn, these are very established IT applications that augment multi-billion dollar industries.  RPA tools are supporting backend automations that require a very unique combination of business/IT aligned delivery, as opposed to being front-end apps that can be sold to IT budgets en masse.  RPA is a BandAid, not your new enterprise platform.  These are not the typical products an SAP or Oracle can easy ingest into their apps portfolios - the needs are too process heavy, too consultant dependent to fit their sales models.  

The Bottom-Line:  Let's love RPA for what is it, not what some people, who do not understand it, pretend it to be

RPA has dramatically altered the narrative among middle/back office process owners.  We predict a market approaching $2 billion this year alone and growing fast as traditional process outsourcing models are hugely impacted.  We've even gone as far as declaring RPA the "new outsourcing".  RPA has been a major game changer in the world of operations and outsourcing.... but $3 billion valuations of software firms barely hitting $50m in revenues?  We don't think so... let's learn to keep nurturing this great business and not squeeze it until it breaks.

While the industry is busily adding fancy new words to their résumés and job titles, we have to remember that our technological journey is gradual.  Change comes slowly and incrementally and you can't just rip off the proverbial Band-Aid, hire a bunch of Millennials and Gen-Z kids... and it's mission accomplished. As the Hyper-Connected journey illustrates, it took 30 years to get where we are today - and that's because both front and back offices needed to go through major, secular changes to become efficient and digitized.

But the next phase is not a trade-secret - this "Future of Work" is merely a phased transformation of the present.  Dumb robots evolving into intelligent assistants... ineffective supply chains plagued with manual breakpoints becoming fluid, autonomous and intelligent - with the ability to interact with other supply chains.  Quantum computing and blockchain emerging to challenge the very logic of TCP/IP and computing architectures. But to get there, we need to be experimenting, tinkering, exploring and disrupting with the kit that available today to get our organizations in a place where all these far-flung innovations can have some real possibilities.  

So let's have less talk about the future of work and focus on the present... we know where we are and what we need to do.  So let's do it!

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent Automation

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IBM, Accenture, Cognizant, Atos and HCL leading the Top 10 infrastructure and

September 20, 2018 | Phil FershtJamie SnowdonOllie O’Donoghue

it's easy to overlook our digital underbelly during these times of AI hype and "let's make a few billion based purely on investor hype" fantasies.  But who's providing the tools and grunt to make all this possible?  HFS analyst Ollie O'Donoghue has pooled our study data from the Global 2000, conducted countless enterprise interviews and driven the providers potty to deliver the perfect poignant viewpoint of this industry:

Click for a detailed view of the leading 18 providers

Ollie, what are the major trends in the infrastructure market?

Over the last few years, the infrastructure market has taken a bit of a battering with the kings of hyperscale eroding market share, and enterprises looking for more exciting things to spend their money on than traditional “lift and shift” engagements. However, that’s all changing, and the market is evolving. The big providers are partnering up with the hyperscale cloud players and making them a valuable tool in their toolbox. Moreover, “digital” has fueled enterprises’ appetite for technology. Which means getting their infrastructure and digital foundations in order. After all, these overhyped technologies like AI and blockchain have to run off something!

The challenge for us as analysts covering the space is rethinking how we assess and evaluate providers. In essence, partnerships have become a much more critical part of this market – if a firm isn’t befriending the big cloud leviathans, then they’re likely to struggle to build offerings that resonate with evolving enterprise appetite. The challenge is that as all providers follow this path, there’s a degree of equilibrium, so the assessment needs to evolve further and evaluate how these providers are leveraging partnerships, and building value-add offerings. We also need to scrutinize how providers are developing automation capabilities to design and build more resilient, scalable and cost-effective infrastructure solutions for clients. So while this is a mature market, it’s one that’s changing all the time – and one that certainly keeps us, analysts, busy.

So who’s winning this infrastructure and cloud war?

IBM’s still the undisputed champion of the infrastructure and cloud market – Big Blue brings with it unrivalled enterprise trust, and is the only IT Services major that truly has the cloud capability and resources to fight alongside the hyperscale leviathans AWS, Google, and Microsoft. It also has true scale and ability to manage the largest most complex engagements in this space. That being said, Accenture has an uncompromised reputation for delivering quality and bringing best in class capabilities to engagements. From an enterprise perspective, the fact that this comes at a premium count against the firm to some extent. And while Accenture executives assure us they’re building commercial models to make pricing more attractive, the reputation for being expensive is relatively well set in, and any changes might be like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube. Although let’s be honest, there are worse problems to have than being known for delivering quality at a price.

And the main movers and shakers in the Top 5?

A couple of firms are worth mentioning – Atos performed well because of a concerted effort from the firm to broaden and deepen partnerships with major cloud players. It’s now shaken hands with all of the big hyperscale players and is doing some exciting work around analytics with Google. Atos has also pulled some fresh thinking out of the bag and built a compelling vision for hybrid cloud. HCL has excelled at large scale transformation, is also doing interesting work in the space and comes with strong client references – the consensus is, HCL will keep working to get the job done, bringing in automation capabilities to get the most out of assets. And then we have Cognizant, another firm that is striving to deliver innovation through all its infrastructure services is producing offerings that focus on specific client’s needs. Ensuring business value is delivered, whilst pushing hard down the hybrid cloud path – in recognition that the future of cloud will be leveraging multiple providers to deliver the best results.

So what about the Top 10 overall, any surprises there, Ollie?

The big heavy lifters hold a competitive position, TCS brings a lot to the party and has an enviable track-record of delivery in some industries and loyal clients that leverage the firms considerable global delivery network. Similarly, Infosys is positioned competitively, reflecting the investment the firm is making in building out nearshore delivery centers and redeveloping talent into higher value areas of work. However, the firm does struggle to get its message out there which is holding it back a tad. And then we have DXC – the leviathan firm can bring considerable brains and brawn to engagements, but its path is still unclear to some clients and all eyes are on its financial reports looking for stability at a time when providers sinking can drag clients down with it. Unisys relies on its strong legacy in the Infrastructure space – and innate trust from some industries, particularly financial services. Supplemented by respectable security credentials and offerings. Finally, Wipro is driving a competitive approach to writing off legacy through a cloud-only approach, a strategy which could see the firm drive further up the top 10 list in the future.

So what does the future look like for the market?

We’ve been charting the major trends impacting the infrastructure space for some time now and it’s a quickly moving market. Partnerships are no longer a nice-to-have, they are mandatory if providers are going to have a chance of survival. Finally, the big providers are warming to the potential value they can leverage from the cloud giants, rather than shaking hands through gritted teeth as their revenues eroded. This is an important step as the market matures. But the biggest shift is the rosier tint the market now has after years of revenue freefall. Shifts to cloud and as-a-service hammered traditional revenues – which often made up a sizeable chunk of vendor revenues. But with some compute-heavy applications and technologies on the cards, spending on infrastructure is very much back in vogue. The smart enterprises are investing in their digital underbelly now, in preparation for their future digital needs.  

Bottom line: Our partners who got us here may not be the ones to take us where we're going - the future’s all about smart partnering as the need for savvy IT talent reaches critical levels

If we take a look at revenue projections for the market, it’s not the good news providers are looking for. With As-a-Service and cloud continuing to batter traditional revenues, the market is unlikely to grow from a revenue perspective. But it’s not going to shrink either - we see this market is bouncing back in other ways as enterprises urgently seek help digitizing their operations and scaling their digital businesses: technology is at the heard of C-Suite strategy these days, and partnerships which provide scarce talent to keep these increasingly data-driven environments agile, scalable and secure are critical for enterprises.

Reputationally, IT infrastructure has always had a hard time – security breaches, server crashes, and integration challenges. But all of that’s changing now as automation drives service quality up, and costs down. And partnerships are supporting providers in offering clients best-in-class cloud capabilities at a time when the contents of their digital shopping list needs to be running on the best. 

There is a massive opportunity to lead in the world of IT services, provided you can plug these skills gaps. The challenge is breaking out of the traditional sourcing model to access niche talent across the globe in areas such as crypto-technology, Python development, Lisp, Prolog, Go and C++. While most traditional firms still rely heavily on bread and butter IT services delivered at scale from regions such as India, the emergence of talent in Central and Eastern Europe, China and parts of South America also need to be brought into play. The IT services world will be a very different place in a couple of years as boutique firms offering niche skills come into the fore. Not to mention the emergence of crowdsourcing for IT talent. Having really savvy IT leaders who can cobble together crack teams on-tap to solve their IT headaches is already becoming a huge differentiator for many firms. The will also be a role for the super services integrator, who can pull together teams for clients to work with them on complex projects.

To this end, we recently presented the Digital OneOffice Concept to 100 C-Suite executives to understand what is holding back both business and IT leaders from reaching the promised land of perfect real-time symmetry of their business operations staying ahead of their customers’ needs.  While the business leaders grapple with changing their mindsets, the IT leaders were quick to call out their skills deficiencies to enable their businesses to achieve a digital OneOffice.  

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Hence, those providers which can pull together the resources and talent can still profit from this disruptive market - the digital engine can only purr when it's aligned with all the core components of the business, right from the front to back office.  Today's market is all about taking bigger bets on bigger risks... and only the smartest and boldest will make it.

Premium HFS subscribers can click here to download: The HFS TOP TEN Report:  Infrastructure and enterprise cloud services 2018

Posted in: Cloud ComputingDigital TransformationDigital OneOffice

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1. #AutomationAnywhere, 2. #BluePrism, and 3. #UiPath make up the top three in the inaugural HfS Top 10

September 17, 2018 | Phil FershtSaurabh Gupta

The rise of RPA is nothing short of spectacular as the market closes in on $2bn this year. It has captivated the attention of the digital operations executives with the promise of cost-savings beyond labor arbitrage, cost avoidance by extending the life of legacy IT, quicker implementation than traditional IT projects, business-user friendliness, auditability and compliance, straight through processing, and let’s be honest – terrific marketing!

And here is the actual report:  Completely free to celebrate our first "HFS TOP TEN REPORT"

However, confusion around RPA deployments is also rife. There are growing questions whether RPA can deliver on the promised ROI and outcomes. Most RPA initiatives continue to be small and piecemeal. Truly scaled RPA deployments are rare. The industry is still struggling to solve challenges around the process, change, talent, training, infrastructure, security, and governance.

With the mission to demystify this confusion and uncover the truth to successful RPA deployment, we conducted a first of its kind RPA CX research to develop the list of “HFS Top 10 RPA Products” (See Exhibit 1). The research is based on interviews over 350 clients and product partners across the ten leading RPA products across:

  • Ability to execute based on product functionality (Ease of integration with legacy IT, Unassisted automation functionality, OCR functionality, Scheduling functionality, Development tools, Exception handling, Required set-up coding, Ease of product configuration); integration and support (Service extensions and connectors, Documentation, Certification program, Training and customer support, Experience in serving multiple geographies, Adoption across multiple industries, Required IT skill-sets), and security and governance (Uptime and SLA commitments, Version control and upgrade management, Centralized controls, Regulatory compliance, Enterprise security, Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity Planning (BCP))
  • Innovation capability based on flexibility and scalability (Accommodating process / environment changes, Licensing model flexibility, Ability to handle multiple processes, Workflow templates and library of processes, Handling multiple inputs) and embedding intelligence (Processing structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data, Operational Analytics, Dashboards, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities)
  • Voice of the customer based on the RPA products ability to drive business outcomes (Realizing cost savings, Speed-to-market, Overall satisfaction, and Client reference ability)

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Key highlights from the HFS Top 10 RPA Provider assessment

  • Overall RPA Client Experience has been 'Good.' The aggregated average CX scores across all assessment dimensions is three on a scale of 4 implying a good overall experience. For most clients, RPA has created value in addition to reducing costs (just not as much and as fast as they heard in the first sales pitch!). For almost all the RPA products assessed, security, controls, accuracy, integration, and out-of-the-box functionality performs as promised. Basically, RPA works!
  • Getting RPA “production ready” is not as easy as promised. The client experience with the amount of coding/configuration required is rated amongst the lowest. Management of version control and upgrades as well the training and support offered by RPA providers was also sub-par. The primary reason behind this is a classic expectation mismatch – the RPA providers oversold and overpromised, raising the client expectations beyond normal, that then resulted in less than required client investments towards process and change management. The disappointment associated with RPA is not about the technology itself.
  • RPA is not very smart (at least as of today). The dimension around embedding intelligence in RPA was rated amongst the lowest by clients. There is considerable confidence in RPA’s ability to process structured data but drops down significantly when asked about unstructured or even semi-structured data. Clients are not convinced about the Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities of their RPA products. The good news is that most RPA providers recognize this and are investing in building out capabilities especially around Machine Learning (ML). At HfS, we believe that the holy grail of service delivery will be at the intersection of the Triple-A Trifecta – Automation, AI, and Analytics

Bottomline. RPA works but is not a magic wand. Best practices are emerging

Based on our in-depth conversations with the RPA clients, we developed a set of best practices that you need to keep in mind when implementing any of the RPA products:

  • RPA is not a silver bullet. Keep expectations realistic
  • RPA cannot automate everything. Choose the use-case wisely
  • RPA success is not about technology. Treat it as a change agent
  • Automated processes are still processes. Invest in documentation, especially as for complex automations
  • RPA vendors are product companies. Do not expect them to behave like service providers
  • Do not side-step your IT folks. RPA success requires IT-business collaboration
  • RPA products are still nascent. Do not short-change security and testing
  • RPA is not a one-time exercise. Change management and ongoing governance and the keys to continued success
  • RPA is not the holy grail. Business outcomes driven by integrated solutions are
  • RPA does not solve your data issues. Data-centric mindset is the key
  • RPA offers more than cost savings. Think beyond cost-reduction and figure out how to measure success

And here is the actual report:  Completely free to celebrate our first "HFS TOP TEN REPORT"

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent Automation

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Barely a third of outsourcing deals are now safe: Window-dressing legacy engagements is over

September 13, 2018 | Phil Fersht

We’ve been talking about the legacy model of butts-on-seats “mess for less” outsourcing fizzling out for years, but somehow the same old candidates have clung on grimly to the same old model, relying on clients that still find a modicum of comfort negotiating rate cards down to the lowest common denominator, content to hobble along with average service delivery that just about keeps everyone paid… and somehow relevant.

As we’ve bemoaned the decreasing growth rates across almost all traditional areas of business and IT services, no one’s pressed the panic button to do anything wildly different.  In fact, many have used the recent stagnant times to merge with each other to eke out a bit more revenue growth and rationalize costs wherever possible.

Meanwhile, all the providers have slapped the lovely “digital” tag on pretty much ever new client dollar that wasn’t obviously a help desk deal or some server consolidation.  Yes, people, even good old app testing today has managed to be magically reformulated as a “digital” service by some.

The balance of power sits firmly with the enterprise clients, and many have no choice but to jump ship from the old model

Being realistic, the IT and business services business is no different than it was five years ago, except there is a lot more cloud… and a lot more window dressing.  But that is all changing, and our new research reveals a new services economy is upon us.

But, finally, many enterprise clients are wising up to the reality they now wield a lot more power over service providers as the market flattens to a state of hyper-commoditization and negligible-to-pathetic growth.  Many are, finally, awakening to a new dawn that service providers can (and most are) able to takeout delivery cost through better deployment of cloud, less costly SaaS apps, and applying robotic process automation to reduce manual workarounds and augment people delivery. 

Simply put, if your long-time service provider is failing to deliver you any of these benefits to your business, or at least is making some strides to incorporate pricing that is tied to successful service execution and not only people effort, then it’s time to cut bait before you get fired yourself for perpetuating a legacy model that is depriving your firm from finding new thresholds of value your smarter competitors are already enjoying.

As this year’s State of Operations and Outsourcing study of 381 enterprise operations leaders across the Global 2000 reveals, only 30% of these relationships will continue to operate in the old model, while a similar number will stick with their service provider if they can have a shift towards business outcome pricing and a degree of automation applied.  27% have already given up on shifting the model with their current provider and have declared their attention to switch, while 17% want to end the misery and focus on bringing the work back inhouse, and look to simply automate it:

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The Bottom-line: Outsourcing is finally entering the uncomfortable phase of change that’s threatened for several years, and it’s going to get ugly.   

Judgement day is now upon the industry once known as outsourcing and this one will get pretty ugly before it eventually finds a new groove, where enterprises and service providers find real value in each other again. 

History has told us time and time again that nothing in this business changes until deals are lost and the C-Suite is forced to address why this is really happening… and actually act on it.  This is the fine balance in which we find ourselves today, where actions will change dramatically when 2% growth spirals into a 5-10% decline because that is what will happen to many service providers if they truly cannot pivot to deliver value beyond cheap labor. 

Those providers which have the capability to make the necessary investments and adjustments will take a few hits, but rebuild for a new phase… those which think they can keep papering over the cracks, repeating to same old spin, but never fundamentally changing how they invest in solutions, talent and their clients, will quickly start moving backward (and fast) in the new services market that’s emerging.

Posted in: IT Outsourcing / IT Services

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It's Bots-in-Seats as IBM, Cognizant, Accenture, TCS, Infosys and Tech Mahindra lead the HFS TOP 10 Cognitive Assistants

September 07, 2018 | Phil FershtMelissa O'Brien

The word "Chatbot" is officially banned:  they treat conversations like they're a game of tennis: talk, reply, talk, reply.  There is little to no context and zero intelligence, just pre-programmed responses only set up to deal with a pre-set finite number of frequently asked questions.  It's a  legacy customer experience that most of us go out of our way to avoid.  To be blunt, it's easier to be redirected to an FAQ page, or even some online Q&A forum than try and engage in a dumb one-dimensional conversation.  I've had more intelligent conversations down my local pub after a 3.00am "lock-in"... So let's shift the entire conversation towards chatbots with some form of intelligence...cognitive assistants.

HFS Research sees cognitive assistants as the combination of conversational interaction and process execution capabilities; they combine characteristics of smart analytics and artificial intelligence. These services can include front-office facing elements (e.g., conversations with end customers) and internal employee use cases (e.g., help desk, HR onboarding, assisting contact center agents).These cognitive assistants can self-learn, self-remediate, and execute business processes. They can also often understand structured and unstructured data and then use natural language processing to learn, comprehend, and recommend next steps. Advanced cognitive assistants can also enable predictive decision making using real-time analytics. This distinction is significant as many people use the terms “cognitive agents” and “chatbots” synonymously. While cognitive agents are a less mature capability, interest and adoption are growing rapidly—and their impacts are far greater than traditional automated tools.

So who's delivering these services most effectively today?  Well, who better to consult that HFS customer experience connoisseur Melissa O'Brien, who's just launched the industry's first deep-dive report on the services market for these cognitive assistants:

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We based this research on interviews with 300 enterprise clients of IT and business services from the Global 2000 in which we asked specific questions about innovation and execution

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Posted in: Cognitive ComputingDigital OneOfficeIntelligent Automation

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Tinker, experiment, explore, then disrupt: The Hyper-Connected Enterprise will be driven by Intelligent Automation.

August 25, 2018 | Phil FershtSaurabh Gupta

As business operations have advanced through several inflections points over the last three decades, the core component at the heart of these changes has been the emergence of digital interactivity driving the hyper-connected global business – only made possible by intelligent automation.

Digital connectivity has transformed both front and back offices over the last three decades. The key now is to integrate and automate these activities to place the customer at the core of business operations

As you can see in our (below) "voyage to hyper-connected, interactive enterprise" we have leveraged digital connectivity to drive productivity and innovation across both the back and front offices of our organizations. Offshoring and outsourcing became a huge bi-product of digital connectivity to run business processes and apps remotely to save Western businesses huge costs through global labor and centralization of resources.

However, until recently, most of these activities have been restricted to improving efficiencies and reducing costs.  At the front end of the business, the advent of ecommerce hit its stride in the late '90s, where customers could communicate digitally with organizations to make purchases, make genuine inquiries and get connected with others with like-minded business interests. Where automation comes into play is being able to pull together these disparate front and back office activities into one single office (aka the HFS Digital OneOffice), where customer needs are placed front and center across all business processes, where staff performance can be measured on delivering customer driven outcomes, where the entire business operations are in-tune with their customer needs... and superior to those of their competitors to stay ahead of the game.  

The urgency to be Hyper-Connected dictates why we have to drive Automation with real Intelligence

“Basic digital” capabilities (where most companies are today) make it possible for business operations to respond to their customers as those needs happen.  Emerging capabilities in data analytics tools, machine learning and cognitive computing are making it possible to anticipate changing customer needs before they happen, where shifts in global supply chains, market and competitive dynamics, economic or political changes, compliance or regularity issues, all combine to change customer behavior. 

The more intelligent your business operations, the more you can stay ahead of the game, but none of this is possible if your processes are not automated effectively to create this knowledge for your business operators:

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Once the digital baseline is created, enterprises need to create more intelligent bots to perform more sophisticated tasks than repetitive data and process loops. This means having unattended and attended interactions with data sources both inside and outside of the enterprise.  

From Experimenting to Disrupting:  Cracking the Intelligent Automation code in Four Stages

The industry is struggling to solve challenges around the process, change, talent, training, infrastructure, security, and governance. There is deafening noise and hype around Intelligent Automation, but there are very few enterprises that have cracked the code of driving transformative impact by leveraging Intelligent Automation at an industrial scale. Why?

Our research and ongoing conversations over the last six years (remember our ‘Greeting from Robotistan’ in 2012?) in the automation space has allowed us to interact, help, and follow automation initiatives at several global 2000 enterprises. And we leveraged this extensive experience to develop HFS’ Intelligent Automation Maturity Model (see exhibit below).  Our experience suggests that the organizational maturity and the resultant impact from intelligent automation typically follow four stages of evolution:

  1. The experimenter – trying out new ideas, methods, or activities. The intelligent automation journey often starts with some maverick individuals in some corner of the organization playing with different technologies. There is no real strategy at this stage, just passion. The objective is simply driven by automating a particular task that is innately boring or transactional but still time-consuming and inefficient. Different experimenters start at different places across the Trifecta. It is not necessary to start with basic automation and then advance to AI-based automation, but experimenter’s automation solutions are typically piecemeal.  
  2. The tinkerer – trying to improve something in a casual or desultory way, often to no useful effect. The early successes from experimentation often result in the most frustrating stages of the intelligent automation maturity model. The tinkerers start to copy and paste what worked in experimentation for everything else. But if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Failures are widespread at this stage, but tinkerers who don’t give up are the ones who eventually succeed to move to the next step. This is the stage where enterprises are trying to find some method to the madness but often with limited success. The tinkering stage is exemplified by rhetoric winning over reality!
  3. The explorer – charting out new territories. As reality dawns after extensive tinkering, enterprises start to realize the different pieces of the puzzle. They start investing in organizational management (often through COEs and a hub-spoke model), recognize that they need to invest in multiple technologies across the trifecta to solve problems and start tackling end-to-end processes versus individual tasks.
  4. The disruptor – radically changing the status quo. Intelligent Automation transcends from a program and becomes an enterprise-wide movement at this stage. Disruptors can bring to bear integrated solutions that combine the power of automation, analytics, and AI. Several automations at this stage are scaled up, and there is a high degree of confidence in scaling up others. It is only at this disruptor level when the promise of intelligent automation starts to become a reality.

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The Bottom-Line:  The more hyper-connected we get, the more this is about people, purpose, and planning - and less about whichever shiny new gadget is the flavor of the month

While the industry is busily adding fancy new words to their résumés and job titles, we have to remember that our technological journey is gradual.  Change comes slowly and incrementally and you can't just rip off the proverbial BandAid, hire a bunch of Millennials and Gen-Z kids... and it's mission accomplished. As the Hyper-Connected journey illustrates, it took 30 years to get where we are today - and that's because both front and back offices needed to go through major, secular changes to become efficient and digitized.

But the next phase is not a trade-secret - this "Future of Work" is merely a phased transformation of the present.  Dumb robots evolving into intelligent assistants... ineffective supply chains plagued with manual breakpoints becoming fluid, autonomous and intelligent - with the ability to interact with other supply chains.  Quantum computing and blockchain emerging to challenge the very logic of TCP/IP and computing architectures. But to get there, we need to be experimenting, tinkering, exploring and disrupting with the kit that available today to get our organizations in a place where all these far-flung innovations can have some real possibilities.  

So let's have less talk about the future of work and focus on the present... we know where we are and what we need to do.  So let's do it!

Posted in: Digital OneOffice

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Have you got your #fakenews strategy figured out yet?

August 22, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Posted in: None

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Accenture's Allen Valahu: The TOP 10 will allow us to have more regular and meaningful interactions with analysts

August 18, 2018 | Phil Fersht

When you do something to change the status quo, you usually expect those who love the status quo to resist. So why on earth would Accenture's global leader for analyst relations, Allen Valahu, laud the emergence of the HFS TOP 10, when his firm is already hitting top right corners of all the analyst quadrants on a (seemingly) daily basis?  Well, Allen publicly submitted to us his viewpoint:

"Good news. I believe the TOP 10 will allow us to have more regular and meaningful interactions with your team throughout the year. It will put less pressure on our clients as they will have more lead time to talk to the analysts. Finally, the ability to update HFS through timely structured briefings, demos, and reference customers as the opportunities arise throughout the year, is a much more targeted and strategic approach. Look forward to interacting with HFS in a more strategic way going forward."

In short, Allen is seeing the HFS TOP 10 as not only presenting the voice of the customer in a more meaningful way to customers, but it also enables analysts and vendor executives to engage in a less stressful - and political - manner.  Where quadrants force a "lobbying" situation, where the outcomes of the matrix dots are entirely dependent on the analyst getting served up their vendor references within tight deadlines, dictated by the analyst firm, the TOP TEN frees up all parties from these stressful processes and interactions, as the analyst firm isn't 100% reliant on those vendor reference calls. This also refocuses the analyst/vendor relationship more around valuable conversation and strategy, and less around the "he said, she said" tactical bake-off, which the legacy quadrant model forces.  

Bottom-line: Goodbye quadrants...  it was nice while it lasted, but the industry has moved on 

I have been overwhelmed with messages of relief and encouragement from many people right across the industry who are delighted to see a change to a practice that is tainted, tired and viewed negative by all and sundry.  Only one vendor executive voiced objections, based more on the fact that their job is tied to quadrant management, and the HFS TOP 10 threatens to impact their cosy existence.

Full credit to Allen, who runs a tight ship of analyst relations executives to communicate their performance effectively. While the current system works for Accenture, it clearly impacts the quality of relationships with analysts, their own clients and their under-pressure executives. It's too stressful, drives far too many negative, defensive conversations, and, quite frankly, degenerates the whole balance and value of analyst/vendor relationships. While am sure it will take time for many people to fully get used to the more strategic methodology the TOP 10 brings to the table, having the market leaders immediately voice their support (and relief) is heartening. 

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Time to kick out quadrants, paralyse peaks and wash away waves. Hello HFS TOP 10

August 11, 2018 | Phil Fersht
Yes, folks - the rumors are true.  HFS is officially out of the quadrant business. 
 
We're done, the whole quadrant craze is starting to smell pretty bad and we know the industry is fed up with it. Increasingly, many of these 2x2 matrices are missing several of the market leaders (who refuse to participate) and having them all stacked in the top right just smacks of pay-for-play (even if the analyst has fair intentions).  Let's be honest, noone trusts these matrices and they are harming the entire credibility of the analyst industry.  Sure, there are many honest, quality analysts with integrity, but their craft is being soiled by several quacks who are basing their vendor placements purely on vendor briefings, whether they like a particular vendor, and whether some vendors pony up for their research services.  There are many "analysts" out there who do not bother to do sufficient customer research and we all suspect who these characters (and their employers) are... 
 
If we don't change, we all - as analysts - might as well admit we're no longer in the research business:  we're in the vendor PR business.  Yes, it's that bad... and let's stop sugar coating it.
 
Enterprise executives tell us all the time they get zero value from these grids - they are purely for vendor marketing sales decks (and I talk to a helluva lot of these enterprise folks). However, enterprises desperately need to be informed on vendor performance - they just need a direct ranking that's relevant for their needs, where a credible analyst puts a stake in the ground.  That's what everyone has told me, so that is what we are delivering:  The HFS TOP 10.
 
Quadrants, Peaks, NEATS and Waves - and sadly Blueprints - are all sales tools for vendors as opposed to decision support tools for enterprise customers.  At HFS, we are not in that business - we are in the research business to support informed enterprise decisions. At HFS, we are not ending our involvement in covering the hottest markets in the industry and producing the best competitive analyses, we are merely making our research more relevant, more timely and more impactful with the HFS TOP 10 and much more simplified to support the enterprise customer. What's more, when some firms take six to nine months to get a quadrant to market, that market has often already moved on, and the data, despite its credibility, may already be stale.  We are in a world that doesn't stand still, where enterprise customers are thirsty for timely, credible data that clearly shows the winners, contenders and laggards in a given market. 
 
Customers want rankings where the analyst took a stand, not merely a fuzzy matrix where everyone looks like a winner.  Here is an example of how the HFS TOP 10 ranking looks (the RPA Products in 2018), and here you can download a full report example to see for yourself how we get to the point, how we inform decisions and we clearly profile where vendors are strong - and where they face challenges.

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HFS TOP 10 reports remove the unhealthy involvement of vendors from the analyst evaluation process and are much more timely, relevant and less cumbersome to produce
 
The main difference with the HFS TOP 10 is the fact we're running them purely on desk research, support from our research academy and from our vast repository of current user data. We are eliminating the whole laborious vendor lobbying and briefing processes so we can get these reports out the door faster than ever before, without being tied to vendors schedules and relying on references they provide.  This does not mean analysts cannot do vendor briefings to support their research (if the analyst deems it necessary, or if the vendor requests a timely briefing), it just means we do the research in a timeframe that can't be moved.  It means vendors cannot complain that we "did not do reference calls with their customers" or give them a chance to be adequately represented in the market.  Because HFS already has the data!  We have reams of data on service vendor performances, or vertical markets, on RPA products, on blockchain platforms, on analytics firms, on FinTechs etc.  And where we may occasionally not have sufficient customer data in a niche market, we will invest in gathering it using the HFS network.  Yes, we actually set aside funds for user surveys where most of our competitors only perform custom research when their customers are funding it.
 
Here are some FAQs you probably want answering:
 
1. How is the methodology of the HFS Top 10 different from the Blueprint? There are several key differences in methodology:
 
a. We are Ranking vendors, not Gridding them. The HFS Top 10 is presented as a simple and clear ranking of assessed products / service vendors versus the 2X2 Blueprint grid
b. Voice of the Customer, execution success, and innovation capability. The HFS TOP 10 methodology is driven by customer experience with products / services (voice of the customer) in addition to vendor’s ability to execute and innovate. 
c. Powered by HFS G2000 network. The primary source of data for the HFS TOP 10 reports is HFS’ extensive network of G2000 enterprise customers. HFS will gather information via surveys, analyst interviews, and ongoing dialog with customers versus relying on data inputs from service vendors.  HFS conducts over 5,000 interviews a year with enterprise customers right across the six change agent areas of our research coverage: RPA, AI, Smart Analytics, Global Sourcing, Blockchain and Digital Business Models.
d. Not reliant on vendor RFI responses. The Top HFS TOP 10 report methodology does not rely on the use of old-school traditional approaches of collecting data through vendor RFIs. We welcome vendors to augment our analysts’ knowledge base through structured briefings, demos, and reference customers, but this not a necessary component in the process.  We will not allow vendors to slow-down our research processes.
e. No opt-out. There is no opt-out for leading vendors given HFS is relying 100% on its own network and data sets.  We never produce vendor landscapes where half the leading players are absent.
 
2. Will there still be fact checks with the vendors? 
 
Yes, vendor profiles, including strengths and development opportunities will be sent for fact-checks. However, rankings will not be shared in these fact-checks. An embargoed HFS TOP 10 will be released one-day prior to the actual release of the report, intended to be an FYI versus any negotiation on ranking etc.  We are not in the lobbying business, we are in the research business.
 
3. What data will populate the HFS TOP 10 reports? 
 
The data will be populated from multiple sources of information:
 
- The primary source of data for the HFS TOP 10 reports is HFS' extensive network of G2000 enterprise customers. HFS gathers this information via surveys, analyst interviews, HFS roundtables and summits, and ongoing dialog with enterprise customers, versus relying on data inputs purely from service vendors.
- Providers can augment our analysts’ knowledge base through structured briefings, demos, and reference customers.
- Note that we will minimize the use of old-school traditional approaches of collecting data through vendor RFIs (unless covering a nascent / emerging market where most of the solutions are still in beta mode).
 
4. What is the minimum customer data-set needed to be able to guarantee a voice of the customer? What happens, if for whatever reason, there is not enough customer data? 
 
A statistically significant sample set is 30 datapoints for a report across reference checks, our existing data sources, and our own customer conversations. While most of our current research has a significantly higher sample set than 30 there is rarely a lack of available data to use to source the rankings.  Where a lack of customer data does occur, it may result in delays of the research publication as we make extra efforts to source customer data.
 
5. What can vendors do to maximize customer data access? 
 
Real value usually comes through engaging with HFS analysts throughout the year by providing HFS analysts the opportunity to speak with more of their customers, sharing and collaborating on customer stories.  As mentioned, we make it our business to do our own customer research - that is our purpose in the industry, but those vendors who can persuade many of their customers to showcase their experiences will benefit.

Posted in: Digital OneOffice

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Fired by DXC for refusing to be a nodding dog. Ugh.

August 09, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Yesterday, you may recall we discussed the comments made by Nigel Barron, who spend 13+ years at CSC before the merger with HP (when DXC was formed).  After nine months at DXC, Nigel was sacked.  I was sad to see him go because he was one of the few folks in CSC who pushed hard to persuade its executives to spend time with HFS analysts (as opposed to Gartner, IDC etc).  I remember Nigel would frequently share our work with his team and would put out some pretty cool insights. 

Firstly, I would like to thank Nigel for excusing the behaviour of many people for acting like "nodding dogs" to keep their jobs. Secondly, I would personally like to apologize to Nigel for inadvertently portraying him as one of the nodding canine family, when, in fact, he is anything but.  Nigel asked me to publish his explanation that he was actually sacked by DXC because he was fired for refusing to conform to the nodding brigade, daring to challenge a firm that (let's face it) is in danger of drifting into insignificance. 

"Hi Phil, thanks for the mention. I was the antithesis of the nodding dog at CSC/DXC, so much so that it probably contributed to my being laid off last December. I was a top five company internal blogger on the company’s collaboration platform writing blogs such as ‘The end of management’ and ‘Nowhere to hide’. My bosses kept the faith until the second round of layoffs occurred after the merger. My then boss had an easy choice to make when told to find someone to cut, although there were other circumstances that I won’t go into here (Mike Lawrie refers to ‘Pyramid corrections’ in earnings calls). I do sympathise with analysts who have become nodding dogs for the reasons I mentioned in my comment, but that doesn’t mean its the right thing to do. I’ll be 54 in a couple of weeks, I’ll never, ever be a nodding dog but I’ll always be a supporter of HfS, you and your team. Nigel"

If anyone from DXC is reading this, you need a few characters like Nigel who can shed some light on what your firm is trying to accomplish, as we - at HFS - are flummoxed with the whole premise behind this merger.  Why remove the only people who can challenge you, just because you can? Good luck Nigel - feel free to share any of your views with us in the future, you are developing quite a sympathetic following.  DXC is poorer for your absence and you deserve better, my friend. PF

Posted in: Outsourcing Heros

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Don't dog nod your way to unemployment. Read this and get on your soap box

August 08, 2018 | Phil Fersht

After yesterday's slightly risqué rant, I received an interesting comment from Nigel Barron (pictured) this morning, an avid follower of HFS over the years, who spent much of his career with CSC and subsequently DXC before recently going independent (and clearly off the leash and wagging his tail!):

"Since 2008 every job has become a hustle and analysts are no different. Authenticity is not a winning attribute. To survive, being the nodding dog is the difference between having a paycheck and not having a paycheck and when they’ve got mortgages to pay and kids to put through college truthful, honest and clear research might not be the best bet. That’s not to say its the right thing to do, just an observation. I speak from experience also."

I refused to become a nodding dog. It's simple if you keep at it...

Nigel Barron:  Nodding Dog Sympathizer

Well, Nigel, I also speak from experience here. I used to work for Deloitte Consulting back in the day, and my lead Partner demanded I take my blog offline (having initially been fine with me continuing with it, during the interview process).  The firm literally could not tolerate one of its consultants having freedom of thought and bypassing its painful thought police (aka "risk") process.  I eventually left the firm after that... I just couldn't stomach an employer putting the muzzle on thought leadership.  Especially mine!

A couple of years later, I was working for AMR Research (now part of Gartner) and a huge debate ensued among management whether "Phil should keep his blog up".  Many of the clients insisted one of the reasons they stuck with the firm was because of my blog, so money eventually spoke - they felt they got some real views of the industry and wanted to call me to discuss as part of their research contract. In fact, our Chief Research Officer, Bruce Richardson,

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Posted in: Global Workforce and Talent

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Rant Warning: Nodding dogs and vendor marketing – this is all our industry deserves

August 06, 2018 | Phil FershtOllie O’Donoghue

As an analyst, you spend your time with a lot of other analysts - for better or for worse. And, recently, worse is taking up more than its fair share. It just seems like, as an industry, we've lost our collective teeth, our ability to question, challenge and find out the truth.  We'd even go as far as questioning whether we've lost out soul.  

When HFS launched ourselves  onto the market over eight years ago, the cornerstone of the firm was a blog that was revered as one place you could get the real truth about the industry, where people were safe to make a (gasp) controversial comment where we could all call a “spade a spade”.  One industry leader (from IBM of all places) even went as far as describing this blog as the “Wall St Journal editorial section of the industry”.  More recently, we've been called “Blue Collar” research, which I guess we’ll take as a compliment.  Anything is better than being seen as fully paid and played by the dirty vendor dollar... which is sadly how so many recent pieces of "research" have been described.

Today, most analysts and advisors use hype as their comfort blanket – even if they don’t understand it, they just circulate it because it makes them feel relevant

Sadly, at HFS, we doubt we’d have succeeded with our honesty and bluntness if we launched today.  The industry is too controlled by vendor marketeers who shower their lovely budgets at analysts and advisors alike to keep them all in line… where most just regurgitate the same hype as each other because they just don’t care anymore.  Most barely understand the hype, but

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Passionate about #AI? Then look no further...

August 05, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Posted in: Intelligent Automation

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The Cambridge University FORA Summit recap...

July 31, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Posted in: Outsourcing EventsRobotic Process Automation

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It's time to give these poor Millennials a break

July 28, 2018 | Phil Fersht

What is wrong with us old timers these days?  We go to conferences where we make sure no one under age of 40 comes near the place, and we spend half our time bemoaning the lack of a "digital mindset" from our colleagues because we all have these world-class digital mindsets ourselves. And can someone please explain what the f*** a digital mindset actually is?  And can someone explain why everyone blathers on about their company's inability to change with the times, but never admit they don't really want to change anything either...

But let's be honest, we treat our beloved Millennials like some sort of obscure species whose members only communicate digitally with each other, like to wear these really big expensive headphones, drink far less than we did at their age, and no longer go to bad discos to find romance. Not to mention an unhealthy love of avocado toast that helps their quest for a purpose in life because of failed parenting strategies leaving them permanently depressed because of low self-esteem.  

In addition, we're now accusing them of lacking ambition and only caring about their next vacation. But how can we blame these poor folks from feeling like we stitched up the world before they came along... as most cannot come close to affording the cheapest shoebox in any half respectable neighborhood, the poor folks in the UK are going to get cut off from working in Europe soon, and the lost Millennial souls in the USA had to choose between two septuagenarians as their president, who hardly represent the emerging mindset of the digital youth (even though you do have to be impressed with the President's twitter skills...).

So imagine the refreshing impact when HfS analyst Ollie O'Donoghue, a proud representative of the Millennial race when he's not trying to annoy Amazon, piped up on LinkedIn with the following staunch defense of his species:

Click here to Enlarge

Click here to join Ollie's LinkedIn discussion

The Bottom-Line:  Love them or loathe them, Millennials are the Future

So to quote Ollie directly: "Entitlement goes both ways. It's just previous generations got what they were entitled to. They worked hard, bought a house, paid a mortgage, got relative financial and social security. The reason so many Millennials are checking out of the economy is because they work hard and get, well, nothing. Home ownership is the stuff of legend, even job security is a thing from a bygone era - and something a lot of 'future of work' commentators are making worse."  So let's use this opportunity to bring Millennials into our inane conversations about a future of work with less need for people, about our businesses being persistently disrupted by imaginary digital competitors, about blockchain's emergence to destroy whatever we have left... because if we don't, we'll have a big hole left in our corporate legacies that we'll struggle to fill, as all the talent will be checked out on the beach dreaming of their next avocado latte.

Posted in: HR Strategy

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Clear communication to leadership has never been more critical in today's business environment

July 24, 2018 | Phil Fersht

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Is Syntel worth $3.4bn? And does this bring Atos to the adult’s table?

July 23, 2018 | Phil FershtJamie SnowdonOllie O’Donoghue

Syntel brings to Atos a larger platform into the North American market, stronger IT automation capabilities to augment its data management and analytics heritage and, above all, access to quality long-term engagements. And not to mention a mighty Indian offshore IT depth that fills a lot of delivery holes for the firm.  And don't forget, this firm tends to know what it's doing when it comes to acquisitions and making them work:

However, even with all this combined, $3.4bn seems like a hefty price to pay, albeit a price that will likely set both industry valuations, and other acquirable mid-tier service provider hearts’ racing. Not only that, competitors with banking pedigree, such as Capgemini, Cognizant, DXC and IBM will not welcome a stronger Atos being welcomed to the dance at a time when competition is already reaching a cut-throat breaking point.

We haven’t seen any meaty M&A in IT Services for over two years... So why now?

We’ve been predicting an increase in merger and acquisition activity across the business process and IT outsourcing space for some time, but these IT services monster marriages are like London buses – you wait ages for yours to arrive, and suddenly several appear right behind it.  

To this end, the only real action of late has come in the call center realm with the feasting of Teleperformance on Intelenet and Concentrix on Convergys.  Not since the dinosaur mating noises of HPE and CSC in 2016, or Capgemini’s nuptials with IGATE in 2015, have we had anything much to chew on in IT services bar lots of digital agencies being round up for slaughter.

Let’s be realistic, there really aren’t too many “heritage” mid-sized offshore-centric IT services providers left in existence which can get you an immediate seat at the adults’ services table, which explains Syntel’s fantastically lucrative exit, and the disappointment of several other suitors which had been eying picking the firm up on the cheap for several years.  Moreover, providers like Atos are feeling the pressure like never before to force their way forward in terms of growth and breadth of offerings and believe the pressure point has been reached and it’s time to act.

A drought in traditional client wins for some firms is literally pushing them to acquire as a way to drive market share.   The IT services industry is no stranger to firms buying out rivals to gain short-term respite from the market in the face of poor market performance – buying time to regroup/transformation, an injection of new clients and scale.

Atos’ recent announcement of its intentions to acquire Syntel has already set tongues wagging in the industry, but before we get caught up in the inescapable hype, let's dig into the facts!

At $3.4bn this could be the start of the M&A silly season where “Everyone’s up for Sale”

It’s hard not to get lost in the number of zeroes in this deal and, frankly, the price tag has left us all scratching our heads a little. At a recent press conference, an investment analyst asked whether Syntel was happy with the deal…why wouldn’t they be? And it’s this sort of seller's market that’s getting a lot of the mid-tier firm’s excited about a potential takeover from a major firm in the space.  “Everyone’s up for sale” proclaimed the CEO of the of the leading service providers recently in a private conversation.  

With some of the world’s biggest IT services firms looking to shore up revenues, capabilities, and access to clients, a lot of firm’s are adjusting pricing expectations, setting the bar far higher than they would have a few years.

And the market is undeniably tough right now, and many firms are struggling to find their way. Recently, brighter horizons have been on the cards for some firms as the HFS Digital tipping point theory started to yield results, with enterprises investing in technology to drive their transformation ambitions. But the same theory argued that many firms would struggle to pivot their business models and offerings to meet the changing demands of the market. In this winner takes all market, it stands to reason that firms will shore up their capabilities through acquisition, at the same time that smaller firms that struggle to gain market traction become more attracted to the idea of a buyout.

Is chasing a “$250m a year synergy target” realistic, or just merger charm?

But, according to Atos, the hefty price tag is supported by some strong arithmetic. The firm stands to gain access to a lot in the deal, including strong long-term banking and financial services engagements and a decent launchpad into North America – a geography the firm has struggled to position itself in from its European stronghold – in spite of its 2014 acquisition from Xerox. But let’s start with what the firm has championed as the main selling point to investors, a $250m boost to annual revenues by 2021 from the synergy of the two firms.

On the face of it, this seems a challenging target to hit. Revenues in Europe have been hit just as hard as everywhere else in the IT Services space, more so in Atos’ strongest line – infrastructure and enterprise cloud. And Syntel’s revenue growth has disappointed financial analysts for years – even if its operating margin is aspirational to many. If the firm can export Syntel’s processes and embed them across Atos, it may stand to drive greater operating margins. Moreover, if it can leverage Atos’ Syntbots RPA technology in new and existing engagements, it could drive out some serious costs. But an increase of $250m a year is perhaps a little more ambitious than the numbers can accommodate. Even with Atos assuring investors that if its current bookings stay put, it should be more than capable of reaching its objectives.

The real motivation behind the price tag is likely to be tapping into Syntel’s existing client base and cross-selling between the two firms. In the current market, where new deals are few and far between, the adage of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ has never been truer. For the princely sum of a few billion dollars, Atos has gained access to some major financial institutions and enterprises that Syntel has managed to keep on its books for years (over 30 years in some cases). And many of these are big spenders, Syntel is always pleased to mentions that it has grown a handful of its clients to build out up to half of its overall revenues.

However, the challenge for Atos is to keep these clients happy. We’ve chewed over the pitfalls of some of the major M&A activities in recent research. And in many cases, these clients may be even tougher to please. Syntel’s ‘customer for life’ no questions asked approach has built a fervent loyalty among its client base – while its too early to say now, the sentiment from this client base may prove to be less than enamored with the recent announcement than either Syntel or Atos are willing to admit. 

It is also worth pointing out that the oft-stated criticism of Syntel has been its overexposure to a small handful of large clients, should one get acquired or kick them out.  However, with a massive new owner in Atos, surely there is now some air cover from this long-discussed risk.

A nice deal for Syntel's shareholders, but what’s in it for the clients?

As usual, the bit that’s often missed from the narrative when a big deal like this rears its head is ‘what’s in it for clients of both firms?’ At an early stage like this, we can only be speculative, but there are a few things that enterprise clients of both firms should be cautious and excited about. First of all, for Atos clients, there is the opportunity to get your hands on some real RPA capabilities. Atos has struggled over the past few years to find its place in the market, but Syntel has positioned itself nicely with Syntbots – an intelligent automation platform that while lacking some of the bells and whistles of the others has proven itself time and time again to be a solid cost-reducer. Existing financial services clients can also look forward to more verticalized expertise, and a stronger proof-point around delivery as Syntel brings in its considerable experience to engagements. Finally, Atos’ multinational clients can consider leveraging some of Syntel’s North American and Indian delivery capabilities to expand engagements or move work closer to home or further offshore dependent on the circumstances.

For Syntel clients, it’s a different kettle of fish. Foremost on their mind must be the protection of the partnership culture they have become accustomed to. That’s not to say Atos is miles from the culture of Syntel, but long-term partnerships have been the building block of the mid-tier firm since its inception and may be a tough hurdle to overcome after the firm’s combine. But they can expect some of the benefits that the firm will bring, such as strong credentials in the enterprise cloud space, and the scalable heft that a larger provider can offer over mid-tier players.

Bottom Line: Market conditions and appetite for acquisition mean we’re sure to see more activity like this in the future

Ultimately, there’s a lot of areas where the two firms can create synergy, and cross-sell offerings into each others client bases. But there’s also a huge amount of risk that this engagement is akin to the appetite of the day, which is to stop trying to outbid rivals for engagements and simply buy up rivals. In some of these engagements, clients may come out on top, with access to more experienced and capable delivery partners – but equally, they could lose out on the cultural alignment, and agility that they looked for in a smaller partner.

However, Atos management has a historically strong track record for acquiring and integrating business in both the long and medium term. The firms have a long history of large acquisitions across borders and huge integration challenges, starting with Origin in 2000. Plus we see relatively successful integrations of Siemens Business Services back in 2010, Bull and Xerox IT Services in 2014. Indeed you can trace it’s acquiring prowess back to decent purchases of SchlumbergerSema in 2004 and UK and Dutch KPMG Consulting business in 2002. 

The issue as ever for successful acquisition is making the most of synergy – so that the whole organization is greater than the sum of its parts. This is always a hard trick to bring off measured financially, by the value it can deliver clients and increasingly important, culturally. If the financial boost is only $250m on a $3.4B investment let’s hope gains in the last two are worth it.

What does this say about future mid-tier IT services acquisitions?

The fact remains that in spite of the turbulent market we’re now in, Syntel has attracted a big price tag. This can only mean many of the larger firms are on the acquisition trail. Which means this is unlikely to be the only major M&A activity we’ll be seeing in the coming months. Possible mid-tier targets we can expect to come under the spotlight of some of the big players (if they’re not already) include:

Hexaware – possible price tag $1.50 / $1.25bn: Hexaware is gaining ground quickly and building a narrative that seems to resonate well with clients – however the firm remains small enough for some of the bigger players to see it as a valuable route to inorganic growth.   Has good hybrid BPO and IT capabilities, a strong specialization in HR Tech and promising potential in RPA services. 

Mindtree - possible price tag $1.75 / $2.25bn:  Mindtree has had a scratchy few quarters at the start of 2017, but since then have posted rapidly improving revenue growth – over 20% in Q2 2018. The firm’s strong digital offerings make the firm a good prospect for bigger firms looking to shore up capabilities as well as build out market share.  Has managed to make a strong shift from BI and analytics to adding digital prowess and has a capable suite of offerings and loyal clients to boot.

Mphasis - possible price tag $2.25 / $2.75bn: Has made a strong market impact since freeing itself from a decade-long HP hell... plus CEO Nitin Rakesh is credited a lot for his fine work at Syntel, getting the place in better shape financially.  Strong financial services presences could make this firm the next IGATE/Syntel-esque pick up.  

Virtusa Corporation - possible price tag $2.00 / $2.50bn: Virtusa’s strong consulting background – gained from the acquisition of Polaris – puts this firm as a valid target for large providers looking to build up talent and onshore delivery capabilities in North America.  Very strong offshore business built from the ground up by the irrepressible Kris Canakeratne, with deep presence in insurance IT.

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