Monthly Archives: Feb 2020

Why on earth would IBM buy an RPA firm now?

February 02, 2020 | Phil Fersht

UiPath's "Chief Evangelist" Guy Kirkwood (who once famously proclaimed "AI is bollocks") has predicted that new IBM CEO Arvind Krishna will soon turn to RPA and make an acquisition

Of course! Ginni was driven out because she failed to get the Blue Prism deal over the line, and Arvind is now in the hotseat to make damned sure they don't miss out on UiPath...

Of course!  All this "hypercloud" nonsense and the $34bn of loose change they dropped on Red Hat was just a diversion from their real intention... to make IBM the Big Blue RPA monster!

In all seriousness, we were speculating about IBM and Blue Prism during RPA's infancy in 2016 (see blog)... and while it made sense back then (and at a far cheaper price tag), it sure doesn't make any sense now. SAP, Microsoft, Pega, IPSoft and Appian have all made modeinvestments to have their own RPA capability, and all of them chose either very small scale acquisitions or developed it themselves (in Microsoft's case).  I also fully expect Salesforce and Oracle to tick the RPA box at some stage, but it is highly unlikely to be with one of the big three with a nine-figure price tag.

Now there is a small chance I could be wrong and IBM has suddenly decided to take the plunge several years too late, but it really makes no sense at this point. 

Posted in: IT Outsourcing / IT ServicesRobotic Process Automation



IBM changes leadership just in time to survive in today’s punishing IT services market

January 31, 2020 | Ollie O’DonoghueJamie SnowdonPhil Fersht

Gini Rometty, the queen of Big Blue is stepping down after a turbulent few years at the helm, where her “imminent” retirement has been one of the industry’s most discussed topics since the failure of Watson to reach its early potential.  However, the rapid shift in direction towards hybrid cloud - with the Red Hat acquisition just over a year ago - has rapidly paved a new direction for Big Blue and, perhaps, leaves Gini with a lasting legacy that won’t be all about her supercomputer that found fame on Jeopardy!

The appointment of Arvind Krishna, the architect of IBM / Red Hat, signified its full-throttle scramble to take the Global 2000 into the hybrid cloud

And in here place steps up the head of the firm’s cloud business, with Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, moving in as president, but more significantly, Arvind Krishna, IBM’s architect behind the deal, being voted in as the new CEO.  With Krishna being the brain behind the Red Hat double-down, he knows how to take the calculated risks which IBM must take if it’s going to turn the aircraft carrier around.  Moreover, he can move fast, with the Red Hat play being barely more than a year old and the emerging IBM cloud business quickly becoming the most coherent and unified of all its business units that HFS has encountered.

This speed and clarity of direction speak to Krishna’s ability to pull what was a rapidly evolving team together with a clear mission and vision.  Again, if he can replicate this at scale across IBM, it might be able to solve the firm’s biggest challenge - rationalising a sprawling estate that has been left to grow wild for almost a decade.

Hybrid Cloud is where IBM has made its bed, and the new IBM leadership team is determined to take full advantage

New HFS Research shows this market is expected to ratchet up by more than 20% this year to $72 billion as the market for hybrid private/public cloud becomes the most vital progression corporation need to make to scale and survive in today’s global digital business environment:


Source: HFS Research 2020,  Click to Enlarge

While all the cloud talk has been about the rampant growth of the digital juggernauts Microsoft, Amazon, Alibaba and Google, no one has stepped up to support complex hybrid public/private cloud transitions better than IBM in recent times.  It’s one thing providing the capacity, containerization and scalability, but another to layer on all the global support to tackle the complexity of integration with corporate legacy IT systems, along with all the ongoing support and security needed to manage this transition effectively.

The new leadership must unite the warring factions within IBM

IBM’s new leadership team has a wealth of experience and can reverse the fortunes of the firm – but they have their work cut out for them. It may have been the king of the services market a decade ago, but the firm has been too pre-occupied with siloed business units scrabbling around on their own initiatives trying to be the next big thing. Over the years, IBM has moved from a trusted dominating force to a whale gradually bleeding out as IBM Watson became somewhat less relevant in a world where business leaders were struggling to make RPA work, and newer faster rivals in the mid-tier started eroding their market share with competitive pricing and flexible delivery. Above all, IBM needed a clear vision, one that cuts through the digital drivel that pre-occupied buyer mindshare. And sadly, that just didn’t come under Rometty.

Battling the complexity of IBM is something clients of the firm tell us is a major inhibitor to contract growth. Disparate sales and delivery teams make it, at times, impossible for clients to expand engagements into new areas and as analysts, we’re often told ‘seriously? I didn’t even know they did that?’ when we talk about IBM’s broader capabilities. If the new leadership team are going to reverse the fortunes of the leaking oil tanker, they’ll need to address this first. And can do so by implementing the following:

  1. Incentivizing sales teams to cross-sell across the whole of IBM’s services. Clients dont care which business line recognizes the revenue or which sales team gets the commission.
  2. Build a layer of consulting as the window to the rest of IBM. Simplifying a complex and sprawling empire will take time, and while important won’t change quick enough to match buyer expectations. Building genuine service-agnostic consulting capabilities to lead engagements across IBM will go along way to plastering over the cracks while the rest of the business is modernized.
  3. Loosen the purse strings and be prepared for flexibility. The services ecosystem has changed rapidly, and IBM’s now competing with firms willing to take a gamble on client engagements and offer flexible pricing models. IBM can’t rely on its reputation alone to compete anymore, and must be willing to invest in clients and take risks – at least to a greater extent than it has in the past.

IBM has a powerful reputation – but this is no time to be complacent

The phrase ‘nobody got fired for bringing in IBM’ has been a boon for the firm and isn’t far from reality. The firm’s reputation for delivery and innovation proceeds it which means sourcing teams get off the hook, even for disastrous engagements. But over time even this lofty position has become hard to maintain as a new generation of buyers pours into senior positions and competitive pressure force enterprises to look for partners outside of the usual suspects.  

The new IBM leadership team has a unique opportunity under Krishna, to re-position IBM in the market as a dynamic and modern services firm, leveraging its heritage brand and reputation to push a clear message. If you pulled a representative sample of the market and asked them what IBM’s strategy is, its vision for the future is, or even what their big bets are, you’d be met with stony silence. IBM must urgently figure out what its story is, and what it wants to be in the future if it’s to claw back its position as the IT Services firm of choice.Is the new leadership team a warning shot for the hyperscale cloud giants?

In cloud, however, IBM has always had a relatively consistent story, supported by an enviable track record of delivering complex infrastructure services to clients. While the emphasis on public cloud pushed IBM out of the limelight as executives piled into hyperscale, IBM has made a killing pulling together the full-stack enterprise infrastructure. The Red Hat acquisition showed IBM was ready to put its money where its mouth is and commit to targeting the hybrid cloud market – a rapidly growing segment as the lure of ‘cloud only’ and ‘all-in-with-AWS’ became recognized for the fantasy that it is for most enterprises.

The debate will no doubt rage on over whether IBM has a place amongst the hyperscale firms – AWS, Google, Microsoft, and more recently Alibaba Cloud. Whether born-in-the-cloud purists like it or not, IBM’s infrastructure and enterprise cloud business puts it firmly in with the biggest of the bunch on PaaS revenues alone. The Red Hat acquisition in 2018 bolstered this even further and fired a warning shot in an already punishingly competitive cloud war.

The new leadership team can bring a level of focus and commitment to cloud – with senior representation from IBMs Cloud Business in Arvind, and Jim from Red Hat as President. With this combined experience and a commitment to hybrid cloud, there’s every likelihood IBM is in a position to bite a huge chunk out of one of the fastest-growing enterprise services segments. And while it’s unlikely IBM will need to go to war with the major cloud giants to make its mark – the hyperscalers would be wise to watch the new strategy market out by IBM’s new leaders – this may be the most valuable partnership they ever have.

Bottom Line: The change in leadership will provide the jump-start IBM desperately needs to survive this punishing services market

Gini stepping down is a big moment for IBM – She has had her hand on the tiller for close to a decade. But IBM has continued to struggle to return to growth, even with a reputation and trust in the market that it’s peers envy. The new leadership must leverage this reputation, and return some meaning to the brand – by swiftly unifying disparate IBM functions and modernizing the structure of the sprawling business. IBM simply cannot survive another 8 years of tumbling revenues.

Posted in: Cloud ComputingIT Outsourcing / IT ServicesCloud and Business Platforms



Automation Anywhere leads the RPA market as the industry transitions to the Triple A Trifecta

January 29, 2020 | Phil FershtElena ChristopherMiriam DeasyErica Bisognano

We can finally draw a line under the market that was RPA as we transition to the broader value of integrated automation, AI and analysts solutions (the "HFS Triple A Trifecta" - see definition below): 

Our analyst team conducted the most exhaustive research process ever conducted in this space... here's the overview:

RPA Customer Experience Survey.  HFS fielded a detailed RPA satisfaction study with 255 super users of RPA (enterprise clients and product partners) that yielded 311 product ratings across 30+ CX dimensions

Detailed References. HFS conducted reference checks with 75 active clients of RPA product companies, including detailed interviews with ~20% of the sample

RFIs.  Each participating vendor completed a detailed RFI

Vendor briefings.  HFS conducted briefings with executives from each vendor

Download your copy of the 'HFS Top 10 RPA Software Products 2020'


So without further ado, let's hear from our lead analyst, Elena Christopher, for this Top 10 exercise:

Phil Fersht, CEO & Chief Analyst HFS Research: Elena... 7 years on, is the RPA bubble bursting or is something else happening?

Elena Christopher, SVP HFS Research: In 2012, HFS launched the concept of robotic process automation (RPA) to the world via a seminal report and blog. In the seven years since, the ugly truth is that we’ve simply succeeded in using RPA to move data around enterprises faster with less manual intervention rather than to rewire our business processes and create new thresholds of value. We are largely missing the opportunity to transform business operations. RPA gets loads of guff for creating technical debt. But the reality is that it has the potential to clear enterprise decks of years of process debt! Process transformation is the still unfulfilled mission. As we said last year, RPA is dead, long live integrated automation platforms. RPA alone is a great tool. But no singular tool can deliver broad transformation. As I’ve been saying of late, RPA needs friends. Sort of my own weird children’s show – RPA bot, cognitive capture, machine learning algorithms, APIs etc all work together to reinvent processes and create value. But honestly this is just another way of reflecting our Triple-A trifecta of automation plus analytics plus AI. Powerful alone, but better together.

With transformation on the brain, we focused our 2019 RPA Software Product Top 10 on how the RPA product companies are supporting and enabling their clients to scale their automation programs and drive real change. We looked at our normal mix of execution, innovation and voice of the customer criteria with special emphasis on factors such as customer scale, richness of ecosystem partners, product roadmap and R&D, embedded intelligence, and ability to drive business outcomes.

We expect that vendors can talk well and compellingly about their capabilities, thus we also conducted deep due diligence with their customers to get a straight story

What stood out during the Top 10 analysis? Who are winners and who needs more development, Elena?

Well before getting specific, the most important point to make is that no single RPA software vendor is truly leading compelling process transformation at scale. Those that are headed in the right direction have clear roadmaps and deliver enhanced product functionality that clients need to grow their automation programs, have strong ecosystems of well-trained implementation partners and technology partners that extend functionality, and they focus on driving success beyond the sale. Technology may be the enabler, but getting companies to change how people work and processes are executed is tough business.

Now for specifics – Overall, the big three (Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath) all had a strong showing. Automation Anywhere prevailed overall buoyed by a decent base of scaled, or perhaps more fairly, scaling customers. Of the big three, they offer the most native capabilities and have actively been working to address unstructured data for a few years. UiPath, who was the media darling of 2019, came in second overall. While they are doing many things right, its lower level of scaled customers and unrealized vision for the future of RPA set them back. Blue Prism took the three spot. While it exceled at execution, it fell behind in innovation criteria after a year of major announcements but limited actual impact on clients.

While we share overall rankings, the goodness is really in our subcategories where we showcase different facets of each provider’s strengths. This is our “choose your own adventure” approach to rankings. Consumers of this report can leverage the overall rankings or review the subcategories that are most important to their business needs. For example WorkFusion and AntWorks were recognized as leaders for their embedded intelligence. Kryon and Softomotive were recognized for their ease of use, NICE and Pega snared the top spots for delivering business outcomes, and EdgeVerve was a leader in security and governance.

So what's your expectation for this market as it matures? Are we settled with the key players, or do you expect this market to turn upside down?  What must these current firms need to do to survive?

RPA really is the gateway drug for AI and cognitive tech. As we move deeper into 2020, we expect to see more examples of Triple-A trifecta integrations emerge. Right now most enterprises are Frankensteining these, piecing together various tools and components to create the solutions they need – either directly or with service partners. We’ll see more integrated platforms come to fruition - some natively developed and some acquired a la Appian’s acquisition of Jidoka earlier this year. We’re also keeping a close eye on enterprise software vendors like Microsoft who announced Power Automate as its entry into RPA and let us not forget SAP bought Contextor in late 2018.

Meanwhile, enterprises can take a gander at our RPA Manifesto for Success for the Next Seven years. Among the recommendations, it reminds us that technology alone cannot drive business transformation.

Great insights Elena... Now have a stiff drink =)

Damn dry(ish) Jan!!!



The Trifecta elements intersect with each other. While each element of the Trifecta has a distinct value proposition (RPA drives efficiency, Smart Analytics improves decision-making, and AI can solve business problems), there is increasing convergence between the three elements. For instance, smart analytics are increasingly reliant on AI tools such as NLP to conduct search-driven analytics, neural networks to do data exploration, and learning algorithms to build predictive models. In fact, the Holy Grail of service delivery transformation is at the intersection of automation, analytics, and AI

The Trifecta is nonlinear without a definite starting point. Transformation is not a linear progression. Enterprises can start anywhere across the Trifecta. It is not necessary to start with basic automation and then advance to AI-based automation. However, it is critical to understand the business problem that you are trying to solve and then apply the relevant value lever or a combination of value levers.

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent AutomationArtificial Intelligence



RPA isn't having a renaissance, it's catalyzing broader White Collar automation and AI to top $16bn

January 23, 2020 | Phil FershtJamie Snowdon

So it's taken seven years since HFS introduced RPA to the world, lots of blown investor cash, many failed careers, so many great parties and declarations of death for the industry that is, in reality, White Collar Automation and AI, to find a rhythm and a real sense of purpose.

While we can argue the oddities and vagaries of what is essentially attended desktop automation (which isn't really robotic as you need someone there to keep it functioning), plus the original concept that was real back office unattended robotic process automation, we can celebrate the fact that "RPA" is a $4bn industry today, that has helped drive a further $9.6bn in incremental internal and external expenditure on what we are terming "Intelligent Process Automation".  IPA caters for the process transformation, discovery, mining, data ingestion, computer vision, NLP etc that truly supports that broader automation and AI strategy across business silos:

Ultimately, what we are talking about here is the whole digitization, automation and self-learning data intelligence that is changing how white collar employees conduct their jobs.  So how is this burgeoning white collar automation and AI market redefining itself?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA): RPA is inherently capable of recognizing and adapting to deviations in data or exceptions when confronted by large volumes of data. In effect, it can be intelligently trained to analyze large amounts of data from software processes and translate them to triggers for new actions, responses, and communication with other systems. RPA describes a software development toolkit that allows non-engineers to quickly create software robots (known commonly as "bots") to automate rules-driven business processes. This includes Robotic Desktop Automation (RDA) which is essentially surface automation, where desktop screens (whether desktop-based, web-based, cloud-based) are "scraped", scripted and re-programmed to create the automation of data across systems.  A well-designed RDA solution can automate workflows on several levels, specifically: application layer; storage layer; OS layer and network layer.

Intelligent Process Automation: is the use of technology to allow a business function or part of the operation of a process workflow work automatically that is not enabled by RPA technology.  It includes the use of process mining and discovery, BPM suites, data ingestion, machine reasoning, cognitive machine reading, automated chatbots, OCR, IVR, document process automation, and related technologies.

IPA comprises of two core elements:

  1. i) External professional services: Relates to all external spending focused on developing business process automation strategies / roadmaps and the use/ implementation of automation with business functions.
  2. ii) Internal operational spend: Includes internal and external spending on automation – change management, IT and operational teams focused on process automation and automation use as part of existing business process management initiatives.

Artificial Intelligence (AI): refers to the simulation of human thought processes across enterprise operations, where the system makes autonomous decisions, using high-level policies, constantly monitoring and optimizing its performance and automatically adapting itself to changing conditions and evolving business rules and dynamics. It involves self-learning systems that use data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing to mimic the way the human brain works, without continuous manual intervention.  It includes cognitive (digital) assistants, AI Watson-type reasoning apps, Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning and Computer Vision.

The Bottom-line:  RPA has opened the gateway for augmenting White Collar roles, now we're progressing far beyond that

C'mon folks, it's time to quite the 'bot for every desktop' claptrap and focus on the real what next.  With firms like Microsoft, SAP, Appian, and co now offering RPA and much cheaper prices, the value is shifting firmly to the broader automation driven transformation that is enterprise-grade, involves both business and IT leaders, scalable in the cloud, and truly capable of augmenting human workers.  Yes, RPA provided a gateway to many new possibilities... and now the gate is firmly open, the horses are bolting!  Now catch them, tame them and ride them to the AI promised land =)

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent AutomationArtificial Intelligence



Big 3 RPA vendors: it’s time to show your strengths in co-opetition because Appian just bought Jidoka for full stack automation

January 09, 2020 | Miriam DeasyElena ChristopherPhil Fersht

The recent HFS predictions for 2020 boldly state that none of the big three RPA vendors will get acquired this year. By logical extension, this means smaller and less expensive RPA vendors have a higher chance of exiting to the comfort of bigger players with broad shoulders and deep pockets, especially where they fit a pressing market need and round out an existing integrated automation proposition. HFS also predicted the continuance of technology convergence as low-code / no-code platforms continue their surge.

Barely days into 2020, Appian, a low-code development platform vendor, announced the acquisition of Novayre Solutions SL, the developer of the Jidoka RPA platform. Appian recognized relatively early the complementary nature of BPM and RPA, establishing partnerships and agnostic no-code integrations with Blue Prism in 2017 and later with Automation Anywhere and UiPath. Now it has its own RPA and it’s talking about a compelling pricing strategy for its enterprise customers to boot. We’re curious to see how the dust will settle here with the “big three” RPA leaders.

Appian probably snagged a bargain here, in comparative RPA vendor purchase terms

Financials were not disclosed, but it’s likely this acquisition is at a very favorable price for Appian as compared to the astronomical valuations of some of its RPA brethren. Despite being on HFS’ radar in recent years, it was becoming increasingly hard to see noticeable progression in terms of Jidoka’s customer base and ecosystem development. So, it comes as little surprise that Jidoka was keen to sell. Appian is one of the low code players that actively embraced RPA as part of the overall conversations they have with customers about process automation. It describes Jidoka as the platform it would have built itself if it were building an RPA platform, citing its proven strength in unattended automation coupled with attended (albeit nascent) capabilities, along with its cloud-native development and java architecture.

Hailing from Seville Spain, with less than 20 employees, Jidoka’s customer are mostly small and midmarket firms spanning financial services, outsourcing, utilities, consumer products and other broad markets in Spain and Latin America (Jidoka robots operate in Spanish and English). A notable big logo client, Pepsico, uses Jidoka’s RPA in its finance department.

Appian RPA will come as an additionally priced feature of the Appian platform

Appian will rebrand Jidoka as Appian RPA once the acquisition dust settles. Much of rebranding effort has in fact been completed before this acquisition announcement in the months since the letter of intent was issued. There are no plans to launch it as a standalone feature or product, so don’t anticipate a pureplay RPA product coming from Appian. Existing Jidoka customers will be supported whether they are using Appian’s other products or not. One of its immediate integration priorities is with its recently launched Robotic Workforce Manager.

Appian RPA will be offered as an add feature for Appian Cloud platform customers for $5,000/month maxing out at $60,000 / year for unlimited use. This should be attractive at the enterprise level, especially to those looking to use RPA extensively. More importantly Appian can’t lose out with this pricing strategy as it is guaranteed the license revenues from the Appian platform itself, which are applied per user, per application.

The Bottom Line: Long live integrated automation. Appian’s acquisition of Jidoka is the latest example of the push towards full stack automation.

Low-code and RPA are a solid tool combination to tackle process automation, with each hitting their own sweet spots. Appian has born this out via partnerships over the past couple of years. We expect to see more examples of it in action as organizations progress their journeys beyond initial RPA-in-isolation piecemeal attempts into organization-wide impactful automation programs. While RPA has been dominating conversations around process automation for the past several years Appian is seizing the opportunity to bring low-code and RPA together. Its inherent process automation capabilities are complemented by RPA for hard to reach systems and as an alternative route instead of API development when speed is needed.

We see this acquisition as evidence of push towards what HFS terms the Triple-A trifecta of automation, AI and analytics into integrated automation. The BPM and low code players were super sane about embracing RPA rather than fighting it. And we see a lot that makes sense in this purchase if everyone can play nice and get along.

This acquisition has similarities with SAP’s acquisition of Contextor in 2018 as a technology tuck in and is closest in direct competitive terms to Pega’s Infinity platform encompassing RPA as a standard capability since Openspan opted to become part of something bigger in 2016. The essence of each is a holistic approach supplementing the rigor of low-code and APIs with the flexibility and speed of automation at the surface level as a tactical tool.

However, Appian will be bumping up against RPA vendors, and how this plays out remains to be seen. Appian says it does not intend to supplant its partners’ (e.g. Blue Prism) technology, but RPA vendor partners will have to make a call on how these relationships work moving forward with an all-important eye on avoiding customer disruption. Coopetition isn’t for everyone. Appian has been through this scenario before with Mulesoft before developing its native integration capability. The integration and shared standards live on but not the formal partnership.

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent AutomationArtificial Intelligence



HFS predictions for 2020. Oh lord, not more... but you know you'll read them anyway

January 05, 2020 | Phil Fersht

Lord, do we hate predictions.  But as analysts we get treated like robots sometimes and are expected to churn them out like some pre-defined analyst chatbot algorithms.  So, in robotic fashion, here is a splurge of stuff we think could well happen from the HFS analyst team…

1) The consequences of taking out Soleimani may make all the following predictions moot

This really matters. Just as we were hoping for another year of investor money sloshing everywhere trying to find a meaningful home, the trigger we were dreading that sparks a dramatic finale to this unprecedented 11 years of economic growth may just have been pulled. 

Iran's regime there has little to lose, with its economy in tatters, being reliant on Russian and Chinese imports, it's people close to desperation. But this is no Venezuela, North Korea or Iraq that can be pushed around at whim... this is a country with a 500,000 strong army now united in this act of war.  Iranians for and against the current regime have now united in their desire NOT to have outsiders determine their fate. More dangerously, pro-Iranian and anti-Iranian factions in Iraq who were fighting each other are now bonded together in their one desire that America not decide their fate and get out. ISIS grew out of Iraq the last time we stepped away, and I fear what will grow this time. If intelligence exists that showed an attack was imminent, this needs to be shared now to break this blind unity the US move created. The main point is that the middle east, particularly Israel, Europe and the US are all less safe than they were 3 days ago. We need to learn from the messes we have created in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan that if there is not a viable option to form a government backed by the people and the military, then military conflict leads to a situation of less stability for the world - not more. 

We must also not underestimate Iran's cyber-terrorism capabilities - we know they've been throwing money at it. They also have good links with North Korea and Russia - both experts at using it (they are also looking to grow their empires in the region, so it's possible they will lend a hand). Iran knows it couldn't win a conventional conflict with the west - it will look to fight their war in a way that means it doesn't risk invasion. We think they will follow in the footsteps of North Korea and look to inflict financial damage, with sophisticated attacks, which will likely further come in combination with the small raiding boats that will look to target shipping.  Of course, this may well lead to a ground invasion in any case if the US (and any allies) decide to go for regime-change. 

Net-net a major global downturn, which is a likely outcome from a messy widescale conflict where oil prices rocket, confidence tanks and our digital lives get violated, will have a huge impact on how enterprises decide technology and people investments.  We're not even sure many businesses will know how to handle a rapid downturn and simply fold.  The global economy sits on the precipice right now as geopolitics and other political agendas dictate behaviours that could have a savage threat on the health of the world... let's pray this all gets resolved quickly. 

2) The Rise of Process Orchestration will fill the void RPA never really filled

2019 marked the year the 7 year RPA hype journey hit a major roadblock after UiPath’s $8m Vegas party culminated in half the firm getting canned the following week.  What was left was the void of promise unfulfilled and a market that needed urgent redefinition and a new manifesto.  Almost going unnoticed was the iconic process mining firm Celonis raising a colossal $290m series C finding round and Automation Anywhere raking in $290m as part of its series B, notably with Salesforce dabbling in the investment.  “Why is this different?”, I hear you cry… well, the discussion noticeably switched to end-to-end process and workflow optimization rather than the whole “bot for every desktop” nonsense.  RPA was even touted as “bridging the gap between front and back offices” by Automation Anywhere… clearly a message to excite its new romance with Salesforce and an effort to steer the conversation into more a meaningful, realistic place.

2020 will see a new narrative emerge as smart enterprises explore a broader tool box of process discovery, process mining, process automation and data ingestion to help them orchestrate true end-to-end processes that actually bring an enterprise’s customers, employees and suppliers closer together.

3) The OneOffice progression will bring customer and employee 'human' experiences much closer together

We’ve droned on for years now about “Bringing the front and back offices closer together”.  2020 will see this narrative move beyond nice graphics and a narrative that makes back-office people feel more customer-centric, with the focus shifting to enterprises driving an employee experience similar to that of their customers.  This entails the use of digital associates for internal needs in addition to “humanizing” digital customer interactions.  Customer Experience (CX) will increasingly be considered an umbrella term for the experience interacting with an entire organization, whether it’s the customer, partner, employee or any other entity:


Click to Enlarge

An employee experience (EX) culture is one where people work together shifting from transactional interactions to deeper relationships. Organizations need to ensure they get the balance right; which includes optimizing the use of emerging technology with a robust business case to improve CX to the long-term benefit of the business, getting the right information flows in place, eliciting strategic advantage and ensuring exceptional CX. The HFS OneOffice Experience typifies how customer, partner and employee experience are coming together to drive a unified mindset, goals and business outcomes.  

Rolling out technology and hoping “box ticked, job done” will suffice, is unlikely to end well. Only customers, employees and key partners can judge the success of an enterprise's endeavors,  and smart firms will start measuring what matters: sentiment, preferences, engagement levels, propensity to consume, customer lifetime value, employee satisfaction and experiences of key partners and suppliers.

4) Digital Associates become a real part of our work-life

We’ve become very comfortable with using digital assistants as consumers, and 2020 is the year that we’ll start to see them more actively in our work lives.  Companies that are pioneering cognitive assistants in the workplace, like IPsoft, have been quietly implementing them to assist with IT tickets, HR queries, and as a whisper tools to help customer service agents resolve problems.  Next year we’ll see these become more commonplace as an enabler of the OneOffice within our organizations, helping us do our jobs more efficiently and intelligently.  What’s more, the conversation around cognitive assistants will start to mature, with less of a focus on how “human” the assistant can be, and more of a discussion about how it can accomplish tasks and understand people to help them rather than mimic them.

5) Technology convergence continues as low-code / no-code platforms continue their surge

While each element of the HFS Triple-A Trifecta (Automation, AI, and Smart Analytics) can be deployed individually, there is increasing convergence between the three elements to solve real business problems. For instance, smart analytics are increasingly reliant on AI tools such as NLP to conduct search-driven analytics, neural networks to do data exploration, and learning algorithms to build predictive models. Process mining and discovery is increasingly emerging as the front-end means to best assess automation potential and the post-automation means to track progress.  Low-code platforms will allow enterprises to deploy the Triple-As to quickly and easily create modern enterprise apps. While the speed implication is massive, so too is the potential impact on business enablement. Low code technologies will enable greater participation from business operations constituents. However for this to work, as we have seen played out on the RPA stage, there has to be tight partnership between IT and business. We expect an increasing intersection of other emerging technologies like IoT and blockchain to this mix over time. 

6) DXC and Cognizant will be the most acquisitive IT service providers as the market tightens

We predict DXC to be the most active in the market as it sheds some business and adds new ones into its portfolio.  With Mike Salvino at the helm do not be surprised to see him looking at sharpening his firm’s business process teeth with an eye at Genpact.  Cognizant could also spring a surprise or two after years of rampant growth and now shifting to a more disciplined focus under Brian Humphreys.  Perhaps a foray into a high-growth banking-centric provider like Mphasis could be in the cards?

7) Most of the Indian-heritage providers will be dull as dishwater in the M&A market

As the big founder-driven firms seek to maintain margins in this flattening market, do not expect to see much at all of note from any of Infosys, TCS, Wipro, HCL or Tech Mahindra.  The odd “tuck-in” service play may occur, but nothing that will raise eyebrows or drive the Times of India wild.

8) None of the big three RPA’s will get acquired

It just won’t happen – everyone’s looked and noone’s biting… the Salesforce interest in Automation Anywhere will be a big test as to whether one of the software big-runs make a major play.  We thought Microsoft would make a play with UiPath, but clearly got sticker shock and dusted off some old tech to tick that itchy RPA box for a while.

9) Google and Amazon could make big plays into enterprise IT services

Yes, we could well see a Wholefoods style Amazon play into enterprise IT at looks at ingesting Big Blue – just think it completely solidifies cloud supremacy in one go (if it ever needed it) and has a household American name to go after the enterprise in a very big and ugly way.

Meanwhile, Google is trying to make a very enterprisey play adding the likes of Thomas Kurian and Robert Enslin to its expensively assembled enterprise catch-up team.  If they take the plunge, expect them to move for the more affordable DXC or Cognizant to fill out their services portfolio. 

10) Alibaba Cloud will leapfrog Google and Microsoft in PaaS and IaaS Revenues

We can expect to see the hyperscale applecart upset by Alibaba cloud. Alibaba Cloud will leapfrog Google and Microsoft in PaaS and IaaS Revenues.  With Alibaba Cloud, Google and Microsoft all boasting limitless investment potential, it's hard to call who's winning the battle. But if we were to put on our more speculative 2020 prediction hats on, we'd turn our attention to Alibaba Cloud, which has been quietly gaining significant ground over the past two years, doubling revenues between 2017 and 2018. While Google has developed a compelling long-term strategy for substantial growth, in the short-term we can expect to see Alibaba come up through the ranks as it consolidates it’s control in APAC and significant 2019 investments start to pay off in 2020.

11) Quantum leaves the lab and moves into the modern enterprise

We believe the cloud giants will spend more time and money on the emerging technology, having already seen quantum offerings delivered via the cloud from IBM and Amazon. Given the current levels of investment from Google and Microsoft we expect them to have quantum capacity on their cloud platforms by the end of 2020.

HFS expects to see Quantum make waves more broadly as it leaves the lab and moves into the modern enterprise in 2020. 2019 was an amazing year of progress for Quantum computing. Googles claims of quantum supremacy, some success with commercial quantum experiments, VW’s battery development tests and the growing investments from enterprise organizations, particularly those with existing high-performance computing. Although we haven’t changed our long-term forecast for full quantum computing, we expect genuine business use cases to emerge over the next 12 months. As current experiments start to bear fruit.

12) 2020 will see more record GDPR breaches, IoT cyber-security investments and cyber-insurance products

All of these clouds and qubits will need protecting from those grinch-like hackers and regulatory killjoys desperate to harsh the Christmas buzz of CISO’s everywhere. We can expect a rise in nation state hacking – with naughty national bodies targeting private enterprises with euphoric abandon in 2020. HFS also warns that this new threat will come in lockstep with strengthened regulatory bodies, and we’ll see a record breaking fine for GDPR… you might have thought the British Airways £183.4 million fine was bad – but that won’t be the last mega-fine to be handed out by regulators. 2020 will also see an increase in ransomware and hackers targeting enterprises who have been quick to stump up cash to unlock data in the past.

The increased sprawl of IoT networks will see the provider community race to embed cybersecurity into offerings and open up the warchest to buy what they need and look out for massive purchases in this space, alongside startups and SMEs partnering with service providers.

As data breaches, hacking, and all-round cyber-nastiness continues we can expect cyber-insurance products to increase in value and prevalence – we suppose we’ll need someone to pay BadDog1998 the bitcoins he wants to hand back our world of warcraft accounts.

13) Close to half of Enterprise AI engagements will shift from pilot to production as investments in explainable and interpretable AI boom

we’ll see more AI engagements move out of pilot to production environments with 80% of enterprise AI projects sitting in POC stages, and barely 20% in production. We expect this to flip in 2020 with close to 50% now making it into production.  The areas we can expect to see the most value come in will include autonomous invoice processing, legal document validation and extraction, fraud detection, and similar business and process areas.

HFS also predicts a significant increase in R&D spend on explainable and interpretable AI as enterprises push vendors control and transparency. Most SP's and AI technology vendors will invest more than 50% of their AI related R&D and CTO funds into the areas of explainable & interpretable AI, and also in building frameworks and solutions for AI governance, audit, lifecycle management, security, ethics and maintenance.

14) Supply chain will overtake financial services in terms of blockchain adoption and we will also see more public initiatives

Global supply chains are becoming increasingly complex and opaque—and less trustworthy. The multi-fold increase in product variants and the drive for speed to market, a shift toward mass personalization, growing logistical complexities, and increasing globalization necessitate a more connected and nimbler, yet flexible, supply chain. Supply chain problems are not new, but solutions were not forthcoming until distributed ledgers and blockchain began making inroads into the world of supply chains. The financial services sector was the first mover in enterprise blockchain adoption, but supply chain initiatives leveraging blockchain (especially provenance tracking) are  catching up quickly. Global giants (like Walmart, Maersk, AB Inbev, and Nestle) as well as smaller and emerging players across logistics, CPG, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and retailers are more interested than ever in applying blockchain technology to solve supply chain issues. The TradeLens ecosystem started by Maersk and IBM today is comprised of over 100 diverse organizations including carriers, ports, terminal operators, 3PLs, and freight forwarders. The power at the intersection of blockchain with other emerging technologies (IoT, AI, and advanced analytics) is making supply chain aficionados salivate!

2020 will bring more public blockchain initiatives, however, as firms like EY continue their investment into ZKPs, announcing in the final month of 2019 that they could offer private transactions for $0.24 per transaction, it’s possible that public blockchains could see favor, as they offer the scalability required alongside the previous missing ingredient; privacy.

15) 3D Printing and Drones will really come of age to drive manufacturing 4.0

HFS also looks forward to other exciting technologies – particularly 3D Printing and Drones – which will move off of the faux industrial racking at the sides of every vendor ‘ideation lab’ and out into the real world. While both 3D printers and drones are still at the periphery now, we predict that leading service providers, vendors, and manufacturers will continue to innovate and partner to set the groundwork for a future when technology bugs and market barriers have been removed. Many will find it too late to catch up, while the pioneers will either leverage existing solutions or partner with vendors to co-develop the technology.

16) Sustainability will come back into vogue as our environment decomposes further – and the UK gears up to host a critical COP26

HFS anticipates growing demand for sustainability services. And while most of the market is chewed up by the major consultancies, by 2020 we’ll see a move as providers take leaning from internal initiatives to professionalized customer facing offerings.  We advise everyone should watch the space for one big legacy provider making the jump – whether by partnership, acquisition, or leveraging their existing internal sustainability expertise.

Moving to 2020's COP26 (the UN’s latest climate summit – to be held in Glasgow): a lot of key decisions from this year's COP25 in Madrid were delayed to 2020, and a a result there's going to be a lot of hype surrounding COP26. Keen sustainability providers like KPMG, Accenture, and friends – alongside consulting giants like McKinsey and sustainability boutiques – will ramp up their CSR and sustainability services/consulting activity... while many legacy providers who’ve not yet moved whole-heartedly into this space will have to struggle to cut through by only marketing CSR projects and a few LED lightbulbs.

The EU could also play a massive part if they can get some climate clause into the UK’s Brexit withdrawal agreement – and everyone’s eye’s will be peeled to see if Boris Johnson will decide to unveil some big commitment given the UK is hosting COP26... whether or not that is a tangible commitment that spurs action is another matter… be he might yet surprise us by going beyond an arbitrary net-zero deadline. Any businesses residing in or dealing with the EU should watch the space surrounding November’s COP26 with a great deal of interest and scrutiny!

17) The S4 HANA migration deadline will get postponed

Now this one’s a real risky bet – and given we have five years to see if we’re right it’s more for fun than anything else. The S/4 HANA migration date is set for 2025 in a bid to drive clients to bite the bullet and stump up for the new technology. But we’ve been doing some digging over the last year and it’s fair to say, sentiment from business leaders is lukewarm at best – and even some of the most bullish proponents of migration in the services market have cooled off. In part, we think the appetite isn’t there to make plans for something so far off – when there’s so much quantum and blockchain to pay for. But there are also real logistical issues around getting trained professionals in to help do the work. And an already dicey talent pool is keeping prices high, a rush as the deadline gets closer will only push costs higher. Making those all-important business cases much harder to get passed the board. Something business leaders are already telling us is like banging their heads against a wall as they justify an upgrade on a system they’ve only just finished implementing. Our bet is as the deadline approaches – SAP will acquiesce and offer clients a rope rather than risk lifelong clients heading off to Oracle or Microsoft

18) Transactional F&A will start to become “invisible” to elevate finance as a strategic business partner

Enterprises have always wanted far more for far less from their F&A function. But the old days of finding cheaper labor and some better packaged software have pretty much been exhausted. The new thinking is to change how finance is delivered, where the routine F&A work becomes invisible to focus completely on the strategic value finance brings to the organization. HFS defines “Invisible F&A” as the state of an F&A function where accounting transactions run like water and finance professionals focus on driving strategic objectives. Leading F&A service providers like Accenture and Genpact are starting to take their clients on a journey towards continuous accounting requiring no waiting to close books, effortless payables and receivables with near-zero cycles, and real-time analytics capabilities enabling proactive decisions. In 2020 we will start hearing more success stories about pioneering enterprises achieving a near “invisible” transactional F&A.

19) The boundaries between finance, procurement, and supply chain start to blur

Back-office operational transformation journey started nearly two decades ago with the rise of shared services and outsourcing around payables, receivables, and general ledger management. These mostly siloed tasks evolved into end-to-end processes as payables became procure-to-pay (P2P), receivables evolved to order-to-cash (O2C), and general ledger expanded into record-to-report (R2R). Finance was already expanding into procurement and sales organizations; however, it was still mostly back-office focused. The future calls for a boundary-free organization where silos around the front, middle, and back offices collapse to create a “OneOffice” — the office that caters to the customer. To create this Finance OneOffice, P2P needs to expand into source-to-pay (S2P), O2C needs to expand upstream into the CRM space (lead-to-order) and downstream into after-sales services, and R2R should extend into enterprise planning management (EPM).

20) 2020 will mark the start of a new decade where we focus on the “How”

A new year and a new decade is upon us. The last 10 years were dominated by digital everything! As we enter the next decade, the “why” is relatively well understood. Data explosion, digital disruption, and customer experience emerged as the three most important drivers impacting business operations. Clarity around the “what” is emerging. The promise of emerging technologies across the Triple-A Trifecta (Automation, Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence), cloud, IoT, and blockchain is unquestionable. But the “How” continues to be a black hole. The talent question needs to be resolved. Siloed and piecemeal technology solutions need to get more integrated. Stakeholder alignment across business and IT is crucial. Success needs to be defined by digital change management versus digital adoption. And transformation needs to increasingly be driven by better experiences – customer, employee, partner – not faster and cheaper. 2020s will be the decade of the “How.”

21) .... and finally the 2020s will see the start of a debate to understand the "New why”

The focus on business outcomes helps us do the same things better, faster, or cheaper (often in a ‘pick two’ mode) but is that sufficient to succeed in today’s world? Some of the most highly valued companies are not even profitable. Investors are replacing price to earnings ratios with price to sales ratio. This often creates “hyper-hype” because the reality is, we no longer know “why” we are doing digital! We are just doing it because others are and we are in the rat race for better, faster, cheaper – none of which actually means “transformation!” The new “why” will be based on a value algorithm that combines traditional definition of business impact (better, faster, cheaper) with:

  • The Social impact (values, sustainability, and diversity/inclusion)
  • The OneOffice impact where internal silos cease to exist and there is only One Office that matters which caters to the customer
  • The Hyperconnected Ecosystem Impact (can a car manufacturer even aspire to deliver ultimate customer experience without its ecosystem of insurers, government and other supply chain entities?)

Or will the “WeWork” debacle push us back to unfashionable but tried and tested methods of creating shareholder value?

Happy 2020 folks... and Peace Out 

Posted in: Digital OneOfficeRobotic Process AutomationSustainability



Welcome to the world of the modern-day 'do-nothing' employee

January 04, 2020 | Phil FershtOllie O’Donoghue

We all know a few "do-nothing" employees, don't we?  Those lovely people who somehow slither around within their organizations and somehow retain employment... despite never really doing anything.  But, in this new decade, surely this is the time they get found out, with all this AI available to out the scoundrels?  Or maybe they can continue to hone their do-nothing craft in the cyber age to keep that do-thing ship sailing nowhere in particular...

Here are a few master 'do-nothing' tactics:

1. Insist on attending every meeting. If only to deflect actions on to people who didn't attend.

2. Insist you 'have some thoughts' about other people's projects. Make sure the thoughts never materialize, but you get credit for participating in the project.

3. ALWAYS insist your inbox is 'hectic' and you were 'just about to get to it' when called out for ignoring an urgent issue for two weeks.

4. If you're asked a question you don't know the answer to, insist you do know the answer but they'll need to go through the proper channels to get to it. If you're the proper channel, send them to marketing for 'approval' first.

5. Use the phrase 'at capacity', 'snowed under', 'bandwidth-constrained' and 'keeping my head above water' as often as possible. It'll add credibility for when you want to shirk off work later. Pay it forward. 

6. Occasionally drop in the 'drinking from a fire hose' line, but don't overdo that one. Save it for an avoidance emergency.

7. Say thought-leadership. A lot.

8. Use the phrase 'let's not boil the ocean' when scary workload is threatening to land on your plate.

9. Pay very close attention to what your job description is. Ambiguity is good - if it doesn't explicitly say something, don't do it.

10. If in doubt, cite 'hostility', 'toxicity' or whatever else Oleg on LinkedIn says. After all, the fact that you'd rather pretend to be on the phone than actually speak to someone isn't your fault, it's the lack of inspiring leadership.

11. Don't be afraid to book extra meetings if it's a quiet day and you might have to do some work. Pre-meeting meetings are a must. And don't be afraid to schedule a wrap-up meeting after the initial meeting. 

12.  Oh, and don't forget to pop a few fake meetings in there for good measure (mark some as 'private' to make you seem important).

13. Above all, find genuinely busy people to hang around. It'll make it seem like you're also a go-getter, when actually you've been trying to get passed stage 10 of angry birds since February.

14. Have your Out of Office on as much as possible citing 'business travel' and slap a load of names down to contact.

15. Only ever respond to any request to do 'anything' from your boss, or your boss' boss. Otherwise, just ignore it.  This is why you need your OOO on...

16. When you actually get cornered into DOING something, make sure the whole world knows you just split the atom.

So there you have it, can you help us get to twenty for 2020?

Happy New Year =)

Posted in: Absolutely Meaningless ComedyHR StrategyGlobal Workforce and Talent



1964 predictions: By 2020 we'll be breeding apes and other animals to perform menial work

January 01, 2020 | Phil Fersht

According to RAND's website, "For seven decades, RAND has used rigorous, fact-based research and analysis to help individuals, families, and communities throughout the world be safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous. Our research spans the issues that matter most, such as energy, education, health care, justice, the environment, international affairs, and national security."

So let's take a look at how our public money was being used to help their predictions back in 1964:

The Bottom-line:  Today's analysts aren't that bad!

But why didn't we think of breeding apes and other animals to perform menial work before wasting all this time and money on RPA?

Posted in: Absolutely Meaningless Comedy



BORN again... it's Ritesh Idnani

December 20, 2019 | Phil Fersht

Have you noticed how business process management (BPM) services has quietly risen in value in recent years as the need to redesign processes that can take full advantage of emerging technologies intensifies?  As technology increasingly augments human-driven processes through digitization and automation, the need for business process management services at scale is increasing at a healthy clip.  Just look at the double-digit(ish) growth enjoyed by Genpact, InfyBPM, EXL, WNS etc and you will quickly see that human-driven services are driving the next wave of the industry.

One man in the center of this trend is Ritesh Idnani, one of the founding brains behind InfosysBPM back in the day, who returned to the BPM industry to inspire Tech Mahindra's BPM business in 2016.  Since then, he's created the highest growth division in the firm and worked tirelessly to bridge traditional BPM with automation technology by integrating front-to-back processes with contact center services and CX-related capabilities.  To that end, he oversaw the recent acquisition of digital agency BORN, where he will seek to drive a full OneOffice offering experience for TechM clients.  So let's hear a bit more about where Ritesh is taking the firm...

Phil Fersht, CEO HFS Research: Hi Ritesh - welcome back! It's been quite a few years since we heard from you since your days at InfyBPO... what are you up to these days? What's getting you up in the morning?

Ritesh Idnani, President, Tech Mahindra: Good to be back, Phil! The last few years has been quite a journey for me personally both as an operator in private equity-backed portfolio companies and as an advisor to private companies and investments that private equity funds are looking at in technology and technology-enabled services. I’ve now been with Tech Mahindra (for the last 3 years), a $5 billion revenue company which is the only non-US company that is part of the Forbes Digital 100 list. I wear a few different hats at the firm ranging from driving the Business Process Services organization globally, a 60,000+ digital human workforce, our software products and platforms business as well as leading a number of strategic corporate initiatives.

I know we all like talking about technology, about the complicated strategy and technologies that will disrupt the BPS business, but my priorities are slightly different. Technology is moving crazy fast in so many different directions simultaneously. We’d be lucky if your prediction or mine about the future has a better probability of coming true than a toss of a coin. In that kind of environment, the biggest differentiator for any organization is speed, simplicity, quality and ease for everyone. Whatever technology we discover, and I promise we will be at the leading edge of discovering the applications of new technologies, we have to be agile to solve customer problems as quickly as possible. If we do that quicker than our competition, our customers do it better than their competition, they succeed, and so do we. That doesn’t mean we have to invent everything. We have to be fastest to market and fastest to creating value for our customers. If we do that consistently, we remain the partner of “relevance” to our clients. The interesting thing of the current technology shifts is that our clients don’t know what they don’t know and the service providers also don’t know what they don’t know because the pace of change is rapid. The opportunity to help our clients navigate through the shifts is what gets me excited everyday.

So my focus has been to build an organization that is entrepreneurial and cutting edge and solves problems for customers. It’s something that I think will be a big differentiator between success and failure in the 2020’s. Forget long term plans. Can you execute fast enough?

So we hear a little rumor that you were instrumental in acquiring the Digital agency BORN.  This is quite the coup for Tech Mahindra... So how will this fit with your current businesses? 

I did have a role to play along with our corporate development team to help acquire the BORN Group. I’ve known Dilip Keshu, CEO @ Born Group for a few years now and have been mighty impressed with what he was creating as an industry leading and differentiated organization. So when we got the opportunity to look at opportunities to collaborate more closely, we certainly jumped at the prospect of the combination.

 I’ve been spending a lot of time with the BORN leadership team, and we’re incredibly excited to welcome the BORN Group to the TechM family. The Born Group is an iconic global agency with end to end capabilities across creative, content and commerce. In fact, just recently, they won the e-commerce agency of the year in Asia for their industry leading commerce capabilities.

We’ve been building out our Customer Experience capabilities over the past few years. Our strategy is to build an end-to-end CX offer that means we can help our clients design and deliver really innovative customer experiences, underpinned by cutting-edge technologies that both differentiate and strip out cost.

What we have realized is that in the traditional contact center business, bulk of the existing business is dealing with failure demand. Something goes wrong with customer’s business, more customers contact you, more FTEs to deal with that volume, and more revenues. I hate that business model. Because it’s at cross purposes with our customer’s objectives. Running downstream operations limits us in addressing this issue. The only way to help our customers is to get engaged upstream in CX design, and get closer to marketing. When processes are designed for right first time, our customers need less of our services and we are happy with that. BIO, Mad*Pow and now BORN help us with these capabilities across regions and verticals.

The other trend is how contact center and online are virtually coming together. Sales and service journeys often start in one channel and end up in the other. We are industry leaders in the front office today. We are making giant leaps with these acquisitions in the online world.  What we now have is a portfolio that addresses the needs of CMOs, CDOs, CIOs and heads of customer experience to help achieve their objectives. In addition to that, it now allows us to offer a whole suite of offerings across the brand experience, behavioral experience and the book of records as an end to end provider.

And how do you see the services industry converging across business process and digital delivery?  What sort of conversation will we be having in another couple of years?

Interesting question Phil! We’re definitely seeing convergence. Take the case of a 13 year old kid who is into online gaming. He knows what it takes to succeed there. He needs the lightest gaming controller or mouse. It’s so interesting to observe how he goes about his business. He does an online research. He goes to the store for a hands on experience. Then he checks online, store and contact center offers and pricing and tells me this is where to buy it from. It’s not a choice. Consumer behavior will drive it anyways.

Consumers (and our clients!) want seamless omnichannel experience across their journeys, and that means joining up the business processes and digital assets that deliver CX

Equally, businesses are waking up to that fact that Brand and Marketing investments are secondary relative to CX investments. If your customers aren’t happy, marketing investments won’t bring returns. So we’re also seeing convergence across Marketing and Customer Operations, with CMOs taking on an extended remit on Customer Experience.

I’m personally quite focused on seeing how we can emerge as the catalyst for One Office transformation. I know that’s a topic close to your heart but I do see the digital delivery changing the rules of the game between traditional silos across the front, mid and back office.  We have just launched a one office experience framework (OFX) that brings all the IP we have as a firm as well as third party ecosystem that we partner with to bring seamless, frictionless experiences and reimagine the way we do traditional processes. We are taking our role of being the orchestrator or the “stitcher in chief” as I like to call it very seriously to ensure we can bridge the gap between business processes and digital delivery.

You've also been very vocal, Ritesh, about the way your BPM team has embraced automation to drive the customer experience - can you share a little about how what is faring?  What are the successes and challenges of the services model as you do more of these deals?

To be honest, Phil, we’re only just keeping up with demand on Automation. We have now reinforced our 60,000 strong digital human workforce in the BPS business with over 6,000 Bots, with a transformational impact. Automation doesn’t just mean cutting time and cost; it leads to consistency, improved resolution, better employee experience… and ultimately better customer experience.

In almost every case, our automation journey with clients has quickly accelerated; we now have automation factories on every continent. But that in itself leads to challenges. We had to learn how to maintain and service our army of Bots to ensure they keep functioning as the world around them continually changes. This is a challenge we’ve overcome, but one that we’re keeping an eye on as the Bot workforce increases. We are also actively leveraging AI/ ML where appropriate in our existing operations to eliminate work and improve cycle time.

Perhaps, the biggest thing to address here is the associated change management within the workforce. Traditionally, the BPO industry has seen people use traditional proxies of power – the number of folks you manage or the revenue you control. Automation, AI and analytics are challenging the traditional bastions of power. We had to change the way we measured people by asking them about the transformation they drove and the impact it had. Initially, we had anticipated a challenge from our workforce: we thought our people might see Bots as a threat to their jobs. But we quickly found that our people love them when they see that . Bots eliminate routine and repetitive tasks, and make it easier to find the right information at the right time. This has enabled our staff to spend more time engaging with customers, and the result is more satisfied employees, and better staff retention.

On the other hand, it also means change management at the customer end. Most customers want the right things, but ultimately it comes down to someone who used to do a repetitive simple task, whose job will be done by bots tomorrow. I am encouraging my teams to help customers deal with the change too. A classic example is customers asking for an SDLC for a simple RPA project. I see it as an employment guarantee scheme. We have to get better at influencing that.

At the same time, I would hasten to add that a big focus area for the industry as a whole is going to be the work to be done on crafting the “messy middle” – the new roles that get created on account of the interplay between machines and humans.

And finally, what's your advice for emerging talent in the services industry... what would you do differently today if you were 23 again? 

I would advise young people joining the sector to carefully navigate their career path to ensure they have deep-dive exposure to Technology, Analytics and AI. The 4th industrial revolution is well underway, and to become a leader in our industry you need to be able to stitch together the right capabilities to deliver client outcomes – and practical hands-on experience is invaluable. At the same time, professions are going to evolve over the course of a career. The average youngster entering the industry is probably going to see atleast 2-3 technology-led disruptions so the ability to unlearn and re-learn skills has never been more important than today. Critical thinking and dealing with ambiguity is going to be important so the sooner you seek out experiences that allow you to get out of your comfort zone, the better.

And if I were 23 again? Seriously, I entered the workforce when I was 23 joining a global bank and in hindsight, I would probably have expanded my horizons, travelled across the globe, spent more time on the beach, picked a few new hobbies/ interests … but that’s another story!

Well thanks for reconvening with us... and a terrific lunch too, Ritesh!

Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)Digital OneOfficeCustomer Experience Management



Your people are your brand… how HFS made it through its first decade

December 10, 2019 | Phil Fersht

Unlike the large analyst houses where analysts can be swapped in and out like cogs in a machine, HFS has been built on people, their expertise and their personalities.  This is a company where people can shine as individuals and aren’t simply turning corporate widgets to grow revenues and meet targets.

With the 10 year anniversary of HFS coming up, I keep getting asked: “what does it take to build a successful brand and company”.  Well, the first thing I will tell you is I never set out to build a company this size, it just happened as our reputation grew and more quality people wanted to join our firm. The second thing is that this is all about the people you bring in, as they are part of your brand (and your brand becomes their brand too).  You won’t always get it right, but as you get more experienced you will learn from your mistakes and “trust your gut” a lot more… so here are some learnings I wanted to share with everybody.  And am pretty sure this applies to any business where people are core to your success.

13 lessons learned when building a firm:

  1. Get past your ego. Decide why you want to run a business.  Do you really want the stress and responsibility, the 20 hours days and no real vacation for many years, or do you just crave power?  If it’s the latter you will likely blow up and fold…
  2. Have faith in yourself. I’ll never forget when my (then) prime competitor declared “I give Phil 18 months and he’ll be gone”.  10 years later, and we don’t even consider that firm competition anymore.  People will snicker and laugh that you think you can build a business, but remember they are just jealous they never had the cojones to do it themselves.
  3. Have faith in people who share your vision. When you start out, there’ll be some good friends / former colleagues who will consider throwing their lot in with you… but you’ll likely have to pay them.  But people who believe in you are irreplaceable, especially when you are small and building up the brand.  But you have to bring in people to help you, otherwise, it’s a very lonely experience when it’s just you and a few stringers…
  4. Don’t dwell on those who do not…. There will always be people who don’t respect you, but they may be desperate and hit you up for a job. Shy away as they are only out for themselves and will bail on you’re the minute another gig comes along.  They need to believe in you, not just their bank balance.
  5. Invest in talent to support your people. As you grow you can’t rely on your loyal warriors to hold the fort forever… they’ll eventually burn out and reluctantly go somewhere else for more money and less hours. So make sure you are constantly evaluating and hiring good junior folks to support them, with a defined career path. You must have a support system for your key breadwinners or you will fail and end up with a broken firm to hold together.
  6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. The best part of being the boss is being able to f*ck up - and there is no one to blame bar yourself… and you can’t get fired for it either =)  Just make sure you always make a point of learning from your mistakes.
  7. Trust your gut and never regret the odd screw-up. If you can’t trust your gut, then give up now.  Your instincts are your life-blood and are those things which will make or break you.  If you sense you need to invest in a certain area, or take a punt on a person you think may be awesome, then just trust your gut.  When evaluating my decisions on business and people, I think I have about a 70% success rate… we have some brilliant people at HFS whom I know I took a “gut feel on” and we also made some wild decisions – and some turned out great.  There have also been some decisions that bombed too… but never regret them. You can't be right all the time...
  8. Don’t push people to try things that aren’t their core strength. I learned this the hard way, but don’t ask people to do things they are lousy at, or uncomfortable trying out.  There is nothing more valuable that your loyal “swiss army knife” colleagues who can wear several hats, but these people are few-and-far-between.  Asking people to do things they are bad at will always spectacularly fail.
  9. Don’t hire people with a “big company” mentality. Some people are so used to hiding away from doing actual hard work, flying first class and playing “upward management” politics.    Avoid.  Avoid.  Avoid… they will never adapt to a small company “roll your sleeves up” attitude.
  10. Avoid job hoppers. Running a small growing firm will expose you to the perennial job hopper who will see you as their next escape route form their current misery.  Trust me, job hoppers are miserable people who are trying to find some sort of “happiness” when they take on a new job.  And they are amazing at feeding you kilos of succulent bullshit at interview. However, as you watch their careers, their honeymoon periods get shorter and the hops get faster… They like the buzz of the new gig, the ego-stroking, the whole romance of “being recruited”, but as soon as it’s time to roll their sleeves up and do some serious work, they fold and start looking around again… and they will bail as soon as their next loving employer gets starry eyed at their wonderful interview technique.  I would add that you can give someone a job-hopping pass in their 20s, but those folks who still try this in their 40s and 50s are far too gone to ever succeed.  Sadly, there are a lot of primadonnas out there who will always consider themselves too wonderful for any work environment...
  11. Eliminate toxic people… fast. This is imperative, but you will always hire the odd toxic personality, and it can take a while to figure them out.  Some people will always play both sides, can make outrageous lies… will try almost anything to get what they want.  And the more they fail to get what they want, the more toxic they become. Sadly, these people exist and we have all come across them.  All I can say is get them out as fast as you can as they will harm your business more than anything else.
  12. Don’t fail fast… learn fast! To quote the great Jamie Snowdon, “Failing is vital to any business, but simply failing and moving on to the next idea? Throwing your business thoughts against the wall and seeing what sticks, like some perverse infinite monkey approach, is not smart. Failing and limiting the damage from a dead-end pursuit is a good idea, but the real value of failure is what you learn, and how your subsequently apply that learning experience to your business. This is what provides the value.” 
  13. Try not to take things personally. This is one of the hardest things to master, and I am still working on this.  End of the day, this is business and people will ultimately look out for themselves.  Clients are only loyal to a certain extent as are your staff… don’t get too excited when things are great and too miserable when bad things happen… try and stay measured and pragmatic as much as is humanly possible.  Otherwise you’ll burn out or drive yourself crazy.

Bottom Line: Be honest with your people and always look yourself in the mirror

Never get carried away with your own success… it’s really just a combination of good judgement, good business senses, good relationships and a lot of luck.  Celebrate your success where you can, but never get too carried away… remember, you’re just a mere mortal like everyone else who somehow became an entrepreneur.  As a business leader, the more you keep your feet on the ground, the more success you will likely experience.

Posted in: Outsourcing Heros



The New RPA Manifesto: Follow HFS’ Ten Laws of Robotic Process Automation to create a Thriving Industry

December 05, 2019 | Phil Fersht

A cross-section of founding customers, analysts, and advisors assembled in London on November 13th 2019 to debate the key areas the RPA industry must address

Exactly seven years ago, HFS launched the concept of robotic process automation (RPA) to the world via a seminal report and blog. We described a Blue Prism technology offering that “appears best suited for processes that are highly rules-driven and the requirement for which is too tactical or short-lived to justify development by IT organizations that favor service-oriented architecture (SOA) and tools like business process management (BPM) suites.” This was the first time a low-code tool gave business professionals a means to bypass traditional IT protocols to fix and digitize tasks—and potentially entire process chains.

The ugly truth surrounding the first seven years of RPA adoption is that we’ve simply succeeded in using RPA to move data around enterprises faster with less manual intervention rather than to rewire our business processes and create new thresholds of value.

The industry is in desperate need of a renewed vision for RPA—a manifesto for the next seven years focused on long-term value, not short-term land grabs, if we are to realize the potential of a truly digital workforce.

HFS, supported by Blue Prism, assembled a cross-section of founding customers, analysts, and advisors (see above) to refresh and reinvigorate where the RPA value proposition is heading at a critical time when investors are getting nervous with high-profile startups struggling to meet demand. Simultaneously, the systems integrators, BPO providers, and consultants—critical to driving this market—are noticeably losing their voice. In short, the industry known as RPA runs the risk of fading into enterprise insignificance if we cannot communicate its value to the world, set the right expectations, and re-ignite excitement surrounding the long-term value it delivers.

RPA’s success and longevity over the next seven years hinge on it becoming part of the enterprise digital transformation agenda and emerging digital architecture. Without a digital workforce, many enterprises will fail to support the digital needs of their customers, employees, and suppliers, and RPA’s capabilities to support these fundamental process transformations are of utmost importance.

What follows is the result of extensive thinktank brainstorming on what needs to be true to enable the success of RPA. Here are the new rules:

HFS’ Ten Laws of Robotic Process Automation

1. IT and business must work together and share the responsibility to digitize processes, or digital business models will likely fail.

In short, this is the first time many operations executives have dabbled in low-code solutions to improve process flows, and IT is a critical partner to make it work long-term. The two factions cannot succeed without each other. They must agree on the roadmap and operating model for the future because the business must design process flows that support the core business outcomes that IT can enable and deliver. Businesses often love RPA, but IT often misunderstands it because RPA doesn’t fit IT’s logic. Business units must remember that IT has responsibilities far beyond business processes, including security and resilience. Furthermore, IT often bears the brunt of troubleshooting automation gone awry and maintenance, too, whether it was involved from the outset or not. RPA often starts in shadow IT, purchased by the business through an unsanctioned side door. But it’s difficult to get to scale from the shadows. The age-old corporate holy war between IT and business must find its peace if the next-generation digital architecture and workforce of the future is to be achieved.

2. Mutual respect between IT and business massively improves your chances of success.

If one side is not ready for change, then there will never be the required balance to succeed. This maturity is essential to match risk and determine eligible processes. IT must ideally be open enough to accept that their business ops colleagues could work differently, and their forays into RPA are helping change their mindsets. The business needs to respect and embrace IT’s process, risk, and governance capabilities. Anything less relies on luck and hope, and that is not a strategy.

3. Automation and strategy must be led by an overarching business strategy.

If automation is not part of the overall business strategy, senior leadership will not focus on delivering automation projects because of their risk of failure—or at least mediocrity. Most businesses can only deliver against three or four strategic initiatives at a time, so they should stop any automation projects that are not directly contributing to one of them. Automation’s focus always needs to be on the desired measurable business outcomes of these high-level initiatives; otherwise, they become too tactical and will lack management commitment. The short-term targets and KPIs need to have a clear and logical relationship to the bigger picture.

4. Treat RPA as an enterprise application.

If you view RPA as a widget or productivity utility, then it has no chance of supporting broader digital change. Part of business and IT alignment is recognizing RPA as part of the canon of digital change agents that are helping advance how companies are run. No tool alone can ever do the job, but the exponential power of “and” is compelling.

5. Establish meaningful and measurable KPIs.

HFS and the event’s brain trust vehemently oppose the use of numbers of bots as a measure of value or success, and we advise against it as an incentivization metric. Look to what the bots can achieve and the impact they deliver—not how many you have; there is no consistency in bot definitions and functionality, so that number is meaningless. Better measures of value include how many hours bots saved and what they accomplished and alignment with core strategic business metrics like contribution to operational efficiency and employee retention. Ultimately, many enterprises will measure successful initiatives with numbers of FTEs freed-up (or eliminated), but it can take years for soft-savings to become hard-savings as enterprises learn how to best apply the technology.

6. Treat RPA as a gateway to embrace process mining, process discovery, machine learning, data ingestion and advanced analytics to achieve real artificial intelligence for enterprises.

For most business process executives, RPA provides the first toolset on the road to full artificial intelligence (AI) adoption. In short, this is the first time many business process experts have learned to use low-code solutions to remove manual workarounds and correct workflows, and the benefits are naturally driving them to explore advanced process mining and discovery applications, advanced data ingestion and analytics tools, and also learn how to manage machine learning initiatives that pave the way to the ultimate goal of full AI and end-to-end process automation.  Moreover, learning to change the logic of processes to delivery business outcomes is driving ambitious executives to look at the world and the desired experience from the user perspective. Users can be customers, employees, partners—anyone. Manual work is not the enemy; poor user experience is. Improve or reinvent processes before you automate them. You must have an opinion on whether a process is good or bad before you automate it. Failing to evaluate processes is arguably RPA’s most glaring missed opportunity. Cultivate these capabilities through Lean Six Sigma programs, process mining and discovery tools, or other means. Then, track the pipeline opportunities. For automated processes, use the baseline to help measure and determine whether you made the right automation choices. There is nothing wrong with trialing RPA with legacy processes to fix manual workarounds, keep older systems functioning, and learn how the technology works, but, ultimately, maintaining legacy will never reap long-term benefits. Go broader than cost and piecemeal process automation. Work toward a desired “to be” state, don’t just automate parts of sub-optimal processes. RPA will never be part of the broader digital agenda if it’s just a band-aid.

7. Automation must orchestrate end-to-end processes across both front and back offices.

New research clearly shows that most automation dollars have been plowed into the back office of companies, notably to improve finance and IT processes. Ambitious enterprises must align investments in automation, AI, and other digital technologies with driving the customer experience, improving the top line, and aligning business operations with customer-driven outcomes. Exhibit 5 details how the ‘’OneOffice” experience is dependent on process flows spanning the customer at the front end of the organization with the supporting operations at the back. Being able to stay ahead of competitors relies on anticipating customer needs, often before the customer even knows them, and RPA can provide capabilities to stitch together applications, activities, systems, documents, screen-scrapes, and other touchpoints. Naturally, this entails the enterprise leadership to break down silos between business functions to design end-to-end processes and craft full-scale automation solutions (Exhibit 5).

How RPA can orchestrate end-to-end processes that deliver the OneOffice experience

Source: HFS Research, 2019 (Click to Enlarge)

8. Bring new talent and perspective into the automation market.

We are generally unaware of our own biases. Despite the rallying cry to drive change, loads of business operation and IT leaders looking for ways to do the same things faster and cheaper are powering the automation market. We must raise awareness and cultivate new talent through schools and universities, reskill workers of all ages and skills, and generally strive to bring new experiences and talent into the conversation. Diversity and new perspectives are proven to drive change and thwart the status quo.

9. Don’t forget hearts and minds.

RPA facilitates the creation of a digital-enabled workforce that concentrates and enhances the human skills and capabilities of the analog-based workforce. RPA does this by taking repetitive tasks offline, which results in more fulfilling work, or by creating substantially enhanced real-time access to data or computational skills, both of which increase productivity and quality of outcomes. It augments humans, which may eventually result in requiring fewer people, but it also provides the opportunity for growth and better customer and employee experiences. Unless we continue to educate humans about the power and potential of RPA and automation, no amount of IT and business alignment or well-intentioned strategies can make it work. Invest in ongoing education about the value and benefits of automation, and use simple language.

10. Consider dropping the word “robotic” from RPA.

There is no doubt that the term “robot” was the catalyst to driving unprecedented interest in RPA since its 2012 inception. However, most RPA engagements today are largely attended desktop processes that constitute barely more than five robots, as opposed to the unattended engagements that were the true initial intention when the solution was invented. So, why persist in using a word that is deeply associated with job elimination, has confused many, and has added little but confusion and ignorance into the market? Related areas, such as process mining, machine learning, and data ingestion, do not need the term “robotic,” so why use it when we are really talking about automating processes and tasks?

The Bottom Line: RPA is dead unless business leaders align it with their broader digital transformation agenda.

Today’s business leaders are inarguably those that prioritize speed-to-market and top-line impact through sales. The laggards continue to focus on cost reduction and efficiencies. Appropriate use of RPA and automation capabilities is no different. RPA must support enterprises’ digital transformation agendas.

Enterprises and the RPA ecosystem must make RPA part of something bigger—part of transformation, strategic initiatives, and broader goals for user experience. Stakeholders must align RPA to other digital enablers: complementary change agent brethren such as process mining, low-code BPM, elements of AI and smart analytics, APIs, and microservices.

The RPA we’ve known for seven years is dead. The fate of RPA for the next seven years is contingent on collaboratively supporting something bigger.

The New RPA Manifesto can be downloaded here

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationArtificial IntelligenceRobotic Transformation Software



The real issues behind #Brexit explained...

November 28, 2019 | Phil Fersht

Posted in: None



Maybe RPA is a gateway drug after all, as AI takes the number one spot for investment focus

November 19, 2019 | Phil Fersht

There haven't been too many better debates since RPA fever took over the world of process executives whether the toolset was the first step on the road to full artificial intelligence (AI) adoption. The consensus has largely been that RPA provides some great process orchestration experimentation that can eventually help us enjoy that ultimate AI high.  However, the only way to truly get on that Intelligent Automation Continuum is to redesign processes that drive specific business outcomes, where RPA is an enabler to achieving the desired process flows.  If you're just using RPA to make a crappy old process run better, you'll struggle to achieve much more than a mild buzz:

Click to Enlarge

However, what really brings home the emerging ambition of enterprise operations leaders is the new data from the State of Operations study that shows AI leaping ahead of RPA as the most significant area of focus for investment in 2020.  This clearly means that achieving AI effectiveness is clearly the larger enterprise-wide goal, and experimentation with process automation is encouraging many executives to think about broader business outcomes as the potential of machine learning and other AI facets become more and more intertwined with process digitization: 

The Bottom-line: Automation and AI strategy must be led by overarching business strategy, and RPA often provides the first testing ground 

If automation is not part of the overall business strategy then senior leadership should not be focused on delivering automation projects as they run the risk of failure or at least mediocrity.  Most businesses can really only deliver against 3 or 4 strategic initiatives at a time, so if automation projects are not directly contributing to one of them they should be stopped.  The focus of automation always needs to be on desired measurable business outcomes of these bigger initiatives, otherwise, they become too tactical and will lack management commitment. The short-term targets and KPIs need to have a clear and logical relationship to the bigger picture.

In addition, RPA must be treated as an enterprise application. If RPA is viewed as a widget or productivity utility, then it has no chance of supporting broader digital change. Part of business and IT alignment is recognizing RPA as part of the canon of digital change agents that are helping advance how companies are run. No tool alone can ever do the job. But the exponential power of “and” is compelling.

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationArtificial IntelligenceRobotic Transformation Software



Most automation strategies are failing because they aren't impacting customer experiences. We must broaden beyond the back office...

November 06, 2019 | Phil Fersht

After the recent RPA circus acts, the process automation industry has reached its lowest ebb.  Simply put, dollars were being put behind a value proposition that simply wasn't realistic - but that doesn't mean the market doesn't have amazing potential.  We just need to refocus (and fast) on a direction that is real and sustainable for the long-term and rally everyone behind it.  And the fault lies as much with the enterprises buying the solutions as it does those selling and implementing them.

Far too many enterprises are paying lip service to CX - they love to ''big it up'' but aren't putting their money where their mouths are

We can bemoan over-eager investors and over-hyping marketeers all day long for over-cooking the market, but the reality behind the sluggish uptake of scaled deployments is the simple fact that intelligent automation initiatives and investments are firmly rooted in the back office, according to 590 major global enterprises, where nine times as much investment has gone into the back office versus the front:

Click to Enlarge 

So why is such paltry investment being made in the front office, when improving the customer experience and making front office function more efficiently are the biggest drivers?  Is the CMO/CDO completely distrusted to spend on technology-enabled initiatives?  Is automation simply an activity not worthy of the CMO's attention and the CFO has to be the one to get his/her hands dirty?  Because when you talk to digital leaders on both the buy and sell-side of the equation, they will all confess that both the potential and capability of RPA to fix the gargantuan mess that is marketing and customer service process is massive.  Yes indeed people, improving customer experience is the ultimate objective of the majority of enterprises' intelligent automation strategies. Because you can't get the full benefit from customer analytics and AI if your processes are glued together by spaghetti code and manual workarounds:

Adoption of intelligent automation solutions is painfully slow because enterprises are failing to define their ideal "to-be" states

When you consider it took a decade just for the finance function to grapple with the seismic shift from Lotus 1-2-3 to Excel, why are we expecting the same people to embrace much more complex technology tools like RPA and Watson as voraciously as ice cream ion a hot summer's day?  Sure, the levels of investment in intelligent automation have already surpassed an average of $50m for the function, but the pace of adoption is still desperately slow, with barely a third of enterprises moving beyond pilots for any Intelligent Automation technology:

Click to Enlarge


The Bottom-line:  The process automation industry needs to rebuild the trust of enterprise leaders and investors.  That means we need to approach this from an enterprise-wide perspective and quit paying lip-service to the customer experience

The only way to focus on successful automation is for clients to define their ideal "to be" state and then work on solutions to help them get there.  For many enterprises, this may be to drive down cost / improve efficiency, but the majority are focused on improving customer interactions and customer delivery execution (see above).  

What software vendors need to do: Quit all the marketing fluff and focus your solutions on supporting clients reaching their desired "to-be" states.  Just trying to sell licenses as aggressively as possible has only resulted in mass disappointment - and has hurt the market and lost a lot of customer trust.  Who cares which brand came higher in the latest analyst report (written by some analyst who has never written a script in his life) or whether Microsoft actually has any clue what it's doing, making a play into this space with some dated technology?  Instead, focus on engaging customers to solve their desires - which are clearly outlined above.  This means making sure you have evangelists who can educate clients (not just amplify the same old cardboard marketing fluff from some turgid conference) and invest in a support division which can build a world-class partner ecosystem and support clients directly during their early phases to get this all on the right track.  Sure the tech is important, but if it's not purchased with the right mindset it's all one big fat waste of time and money - and costs many their careers into the bargain.  

What enterprises need to do:  Design and define your "to-be state" and use that to flesh out which partners can actually listen, understand and deliver.  The first thing you need to do is get past all this "bot for every employee" nonsense and focus on what you need, not how many licenses to buy to keep your local RPA sales rep happy. Most of these products can deliver basic RPA, document processing, screen scraping etc (and you can get deeper into which one performs best to meet your need in time), but you really need to get familiar with the whole concept and potential of intelligent automation technologies before throwing wads of cash at new kit.  I've already seen several people lose their jobs because they squandered fortunes on licenses they didn't need and were left carrying the can for a dog's breakfast of an automation program...  Then you need to explore all your critical process flows across the front-to-back offices.  While your operations folks in the non-customer facing areas will undoubtedly be more enthusiastic about develop competencies in intelligent automation, getting the frost office executives on board will reap considerable benefits down the road,  Marketing workflows are awash with manual workarounds, legacy apps and silos of data... customer services are a real mixed back of good and bad process habit and don't even get me started on sales.  So think OneOffice... think about how the real customer-centric organization needs to operate and you can work backward from there.

What service providers and consultants need to do:  get your heads out of the back office and reel in the marketing/sales leads.  Simply put, you need to be the vehicle to help your enterprise clients align effectively with what the software vendors are selling.  If you are not that vehicle then get out now, as you will be dead in the water.  While the CFO and COO (and often the CIO) have budget to spend on software-driven process initiatives, they are often too rooted in stove-piped projects which operate at a snail's pace with little enterprise impact.  You need to drive the intelligent automation discussion with the Chief Digital Officer / CMO to understand, listen and demonstrate the huge impact that these technologies can have in enabling a well-designed customer process and integrating with the operational areas of the firm to support unified data efforts.  You have to help join the front and back-office pieces together for your clients if they are ever going to get past task optimization to genuine end-to-end process automation.

Posted in: Digital OneOfficeRobotic Process AutomationIntelligent Automation



UiPath hyped a market that simply wasn’t there. Now we must build one that's REAL - one we can TRUST

October 26, 2019 | Phil FershtElena ChristopherSaurabh Gupta

Let’s make no bones about it, this has been one sorry saga.  All we could do was warn the industry that cheesy marketeers, some lousy paid-for analysts and poorly-informed investors were forming a vicious web of bullshit that would take a solution with real potential and fake a market that bore no reflection of the one we originally dreamed up seven years ago.

And don’t say we didn’t warn anyone over the past year that the RPA market was in grave danger of being hyped out of existence:

So how can UiPath recover from this capitulation, a week after drawing the entire attention of the industry with its $8 million extravaganza in Las Vegas?  The trust is wafer-thin (or pretty much evaporated), people are worried, and some fired employees are sharing their agony and disappointment freely.  

10 ways UiPath's leadership can recover the trust of an industry that trusted them

1. Treat the market you help build with more respect.  Customers, prospects, partners, and the 500+ employees (or whatever number ultimately turns out to be real) you just sacked who believe(d?) in the vision and the brand.  Read from some of the employees who have risked their careers and families' livelihoods, just to see it all blown away in a few months.

2. Ask for help. Scaling a company and a scaling a relatively new software category are distinct challenges, made harder by them existing within the same company. Don't imperil a fledgling industry with your lack of experience in the former while you trailblaze the latter.

3. Be honest. We should not have to say this.

4. Stop taking schoolyard potshots at competition. Competition gives your brand context and creates a healthy market.

5. Stop counting customers. We will repeat this forever. Start showcasing scale of customers. We are all still learning.

6. Charge for what's valuable. Giving your product away or undercharging for it to create stickiness (while touting obnoxious customer numbers) is a road to nowhere. No one values free.

7. Apologize. Daniel's belated, smug response is insulting to anyone who's done business or is considering doing business with UiPath. Relationships are based on openness. That Daniel letter looks like an attorney wrote it.

8. Stup f-ing up the company and execute on the product roadmap because it's good. Elena's in progress POV after ForwardIII complimented the focus on enabling customers to do more with RPA - enabling functions like process identification and pipeline management, business benefit analytics, and more meat on the AI backbone. 

9. Quit the arrogance.  Releasing a Forrester Wave as the news of its layoffs broke, simply to drown out its layoff noise, where the analyst is clearly biased towards the firm (which also employs his son) just served to anger people who are craving some humility and less bragging.

10. Quit the "robotic butler nonsense". Let’s define what we mean by RPA scale versus counting number of bots.  "A bot for every employee" simply means "buy loads of our licenses". 

The Bottom-Line:  It's a marathon, not a sprint

Let’s build the white muscle capability to run the marathon versus red muscle capability to run the 100m dash.  A few key takeaways for all of us from this:

RPA vendors:  Not all of you are completely innocent of the same behaviors that have led to UiPath's troubles.  Be relieved this didn't happen to you, and make sure it still doesn't.  Focus on value, not potshots and hype.

Service providers and advisors:  Really be careful how you approach RPA alliances, as your choice of partner also reflects on you.

Analyst firm leaders:  If your analysts don't understand this space, then please stop bringing down the analyst industry with clearly flawed research and analysis. I've never seen analyst credibility reaching these depths before.

RPA users:  Use this as a segway to evaluate a multi-product integrated product strategy and do not throw all your eggs in one basket.  There are several excellent RPA, data ingestion, process mining and ML tools out there you need to embrace and integrate into your roadmap.

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationArtificial IntelligenceRobotic Transformation Software



Is UiPath prepping for a Microsoft sale?

October 24, 2019 | Phil Fersht

We've been speculating for years about who will eventually buy who in this robotic software world.  However, when it comes to "outright" RPA acquisitions, so far it's only been bite-sized stuff like Pega/OpenSpan, SAP/Contextor, Blue Prism/Thoughtonomy.  While there have been a lot of strategic partnerships and development initiatives between "Big Iron" software and emerging RPA firms, noone has - as of yet - made a concerted move to outright acquire one of the "Big Three" of Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism or UiPath.

However, if you happened to catch Microsoft's earnings call last week:

"Now let's turn to our workflow cloud Power platform. Automating workflows across every function will be key to productivity gains for every organization. We are building Power platform as the extensibility framework for both Microsoft 365 inclusive of Microsoft Teams, as well as Dynamics 365. It brings together low-code, no-code app development, robotic process automation and self-service analytics, enabling everyone in an organization to build an intelligent app or workflow where none exists.

Power platform already has more than 2.5 million monthly active citizen developers. Power apps helps domain experts, those closest to the business problem to design, build and publish custom apps fast. And 84% of the Fortune 500 have already created Power applications."

Oh, the mind boggles when you think where this conversation is heading... so

Is it any coincidence that UiPath is rightsizing itself?

One of the Big Iron software houses has to take the plunge soon. Firstly, we have long-speculated that Microsoft may be the likeliest endgame for UiPath, while IBM may be the ultimate home for Blue Prism.  Meanwhile, AA has been fluttering its eyelashes at the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce and Workday.

UiPath is popular with developers, which appeals to the Microsoft culture. One of the major reasons UiPath has experienced such popularity is its Ui alignment with developers' needs.  Blue Prism has always been the darling of the business process executives who hate code, while the low-code appetites of developers eager to learn RPA have drawn many of them to UIPath.   AA hopes its new platform A2019 is a bridge between both worlds.

Daniel Dines (UiPath CEO) came out of Microsoft, understands the technology overlaps and how they operate.  While one can argue that much of the UiPath tech is already present in the Microsoft UI automation ecosystem  Microsoft clearly lacks the know-how to pull it all together into one coherent platform that puts AI+OCR+Workflow+RPA+BI in front of both the business and IT C-Suite.

The RPA market "standalone" isn't where the broader opportunity lies, but it is a critical piece of the jigsaw.  As we pointed out over the weekend, the market UIPath (and others) has been hyping up is far bigger than what RPA is currently addressing. It's the whole discovery, analysis, mining and management of processes and transformation.  The recent acquisitions of ProcessGold and StepShot are clear moves in addressing the broader process automation opportunity.

The Bottom-line - After seven years of robotic love-affairs, is it time for the market to get serious?

Let's face facts, it's taken an awfully long time for the tech majors to understand what RPA is all about.  Low-code software that business users can operate to fix creaking workflows and tasks?  Actually digitizing manual workarounds instead of using APIs?  Heaven forbid...

But the world of enterprise software is bored, there's only so much you can bleat on about AI without actually delivering anything real.  Rolling your sleeves up and actually using technology to help you redesign processes has always been the Holy Grail, long before ERP came around over two decades ago.  RPA is the first time the worlds of real business processes and IT have come together where both business and IT professionals have no choice but to lock heads and figure out solutions that address highly competitive markets.

The tech purists will tell you that Microsoft does not need UiPath - that they have the tech already.  However, what Microsoft does not have is a 1000+ customer base purchasing RPA specifically because it is RPA.  A customer base where the prime customer is not sitting in the CIO's organization.  It's also clear that the tech majors are all waiting to see who blinks first with RPA.  Just buying up some kit (i.e. SAP/Contextor) isn't going to do much.  Partnering only really works when there is real skin in the game and a colossal global services network to implement and support the product.  UiPath can claim is has built a pretty decent global delivery infrastructure and channel to market - and its huge show in Las Vegas was clearly designed to show that off to the world

The bigger issue is money, and how much these big guys are really prepared to spend on this.  Sometimes a few billion add weight to an area to get attention, but the $7bn number UiPath was declaring was probably turning them all off.  Maybe a little more realism, a little belt-tightening will reinvigorate the desire to take the plunge and make this market real... And there's also Blue Prism, whose market cap is well under $1 billion these days, and Automation Anywhere who's CEO likes to talk about IPO a lot these days.  All three provide a plug-in infrastructure to the likes of a Microsoft which has ambitions in the process automation world.  But - again - who is going to blink first, and did we just see UiPath blink?

Posted in: #CrazymergerideasRobotic Process AutomationEnterprise Integration Platforms



Daddy's back to shape Blue Prism's technology roadmap for the next iteration of the RPA kingdom

October 22, 2019 | Phil Fersht

Three of the original RPA pioneers (left to right):  Some grinning idiot, Pat Geary (Chief Market Maker, Blue Prism) and Jason Kingdon (returning as Executive Chairman of Blue Prism)

So almost exactly seven years to the day that RPA was invented, Blue Prism's major shareholder Jason Kingdon has scratched a huge robotic itch to make a return to active duty leading Blue Prism to drive its AI roadmap as RPA prepares for its rebirth in the industry.  Current CEO Alastair Bathgate (interviewed here), who has overseen the IPO and evolution of the firm in recent years, stays on as CEO, but Jason will be driving much of the technology roadmap and vision with Alastair more focused on the business side.

Jason has a PhD in AI from University College London (UCL) and has been commercializing AI for over 25 years. He was co-founder of the Intelligent System Lab at UCL and Searchspace where he was CEO between 1993 and until its highly successful exit in 2005, when he sold the business to US private equity.

Blue Prism must now grasp these three critical challenges and opportunities 

1) Carefully position itself in the industry as the heritage RPA inventor now taking the industry into a new AI-driven phase.  While AA and UiPath have been publicly biting chunks out of each other, Blue Prism has soldiered on with its business with minimal noise and hype.  In fact, the reverberations from Las Vegas and New York only help drive more attention to the industry and Blue Prism hopes to capitalize... not dissimilar to the amazing work IBM Watson did creating an AI industry for everyone.

2) Roll out a technology roadmap that takes RPA into the AI era.  While both its competitors have focused on what Blue Prism calls an "RPA butler service", proving bots for everyone's' desktops, Blue Prism wants to focus on its years of heritage RPA experience managing robots and aligning them with AI capabilities to make them self-remediating and aligned with transformative process roadmaps for its clients.

3) Recreate market energy around itself and its technology roadmap.  In typically British fashion, Blue Prism has ignored the noise generated for its high-impact competitors, but now needs to come back aggressively into the market with a laser-focused technology roadmap that is unique to clients and aligned with their deep-set needs.

Bottom-line:  This is a marathon, not a sprint and Blue Prism has every chance to reaffirm its former leadership position

Blue Prism did UiPath and AA a huge favor by going public when it did a few years ago, as it exposed the challenges of having its activities open to public scrutiny.  However, Blue Prism, under Bathgate's stewardship, has survived it well to be in a position to make critical investments in its platform that many of its large client base will be delighted to embrace.  While its competitors will continue to toy with IPOs and increased private investment, Kingdon and Bathgate now have the luxury of greater certainty with clients and their respect as the original pioneer of low-code technology for business operations professionals.  Having Kingdon's impressive technology passion and prowess at the helm will significantly benefit Blue Prism's standing in the market and help propel the firm's offering into the AI era... 

Now let's get ready to rumble, folks =)

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationArtificial IntelligenceRobotic Transformation Software



Genpact gets Right to the Point to bring the front and back office together... as OneOffice

October 20, 2019 | Phil FershtMelissa O'Brien

Did you hear the one about the GE finance captive spinoff which ended up as a Top 6 AI Services firm before making a bold move into the front office with the acquisition of the respected Right Point Group?  And did you hear it broke into the world of digital service capability without ever succumbing to the delights of acquiring an IT services shop?  Welcome to Genpact, folks, the former BPO firm which has been breaking the mold of business services for the past two decades.

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This is a serious digital acquisition that brings Genpact right into the customer paradigm

Genpact has been slowly but steadily building thought leadership and capabilities around “experience innovation” over the last few years.  Genpact’s 2017 acquisition of Design Thinking consulting firm TandemSeven was its first demonstration of the firm’s appetite to develop a OneOffice capability, aiming to move beyond its back office roots and help its clients develop more holistic experiences.  It has now announced an agreement to acquire digital consultancy Rightpoint, with a focus on digital transformation, with capabilities for CX, commerce, and mobile application development.  

A highlight of the acquisition and one of Rightpoint’s most distinctive features is its expertise for designing and implementing digital workplaces – its work with Aon, for example, demonstrates Rightpoint’s capability to reimagine the workplace.  This is such an important element that many companies need help with, as they struggle to connect experiences across the organization and align to the customer. 

While TandemSeven gave the firm a flavoring of customer experience design, the sheer size and scale and depth digital tech implementation across North America puts Genpact right on the digital map, with a unique value proposition of leading with process transformation, enabled by AI and digital capability where we can expect a significant jump from its current position, which we assessed earlier this year in our 2019 Design, Sales and Marketing Services Top Ten report.  Genpact landed at #14 in the rankings, largely as it just begun developing

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Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)Digital OneOfficeCustomer Experience Management



Day One Fund… Day Two Bummed... Bezos sets a chilling example for the future of work

October 13, 2019 | Ollie O’DonoghuePhil Fersht

In 2018 Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos (and his now former wife MacKenzie) announced they would commit $2billion to fund existing nonprofits that help homeless families and to create a network of preschools in low-income communities. They called their project the "Bezos Day One Fund”.  Barely one year later, the same man slashes basic healthcare insurance to 1900 of his lowest income part-time workers

Today’s emerging young workforce cares deeply about the values of their business leaders – and those who pay lip service to their staff will be those who fail to create long term loyalty, passion and productivity from them.  Let’s discuss how the successful companies’ of the future are going to be those where leaders follow through with their promises, and staff are motivated to take responsibility because they have trust in the leadership to deliver on the mission.

Leaders can’t keep getting away with rhetoric and fail to follow through with their promises

The challenge with most equations and narratives predicting what the future of work looks like is that they are built primarily from two assumptions:

  • The labour pool will acquiesce and comply with whatever the future demands and
  • Corporations and their leaders will show unprecedented philanthropy.

History tells us neither will hold true.

And we don’t need to look too far back – literally a couple of days – to see the failings of this equation laid bare before us. First off, a few weeks ago, a group of business heavies and CEOs from the G2000 got together and declared an end to shareholder supremacy. Throwing Milton Friedman’s leafy tomes into the furnace, perhaps replacing them with the more ethically focused Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth (a fantastic read).

Freeing themselves from the tawdry world of stockholder returns, these captains of industry could now work to please all stakeholders – from employees to environmentalists. All good so far. But fast forward a few days, and it’s clear to see that once the marketeers and journalists

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Posted in: HR StrategyGlobal Workforce and TalentPolicy and Regulations



Crunch time is here for UiPath, AA and Blue Prism... Here are the 25 tenets which will decide who wins this bot war

October 07, 2019 | Phil FershtSaurabh GuptaElena Christopher

Well what a week that was in the world that is automation software... while 11 automation leaders at the HFS New York Summit pretty much all agreed that the world that was called RPA is stuck in the mire of making legacy tasks work better, we then were treated to Automation Anywhere's launch of its new platform upgrade A2019 right afterward at the Nasdaq center, where CEO Mihir Shukla declared he wanted a "Digital Assistant for Every Worker".  A2019 claims its ease-of-use in the cloud, its new plug-ins into Microsoft Word and Excel, and its ability to be run from a mobile device make it the best task support tool in the business.  Oh, the timing!  Will UiPath stay safe with its status as the "developers favorite", will Blue Prism stay true to its "friend of the business pro", or will AA's focus on bridging a solution for both business and IT with the day?

So all eyes now turn to UiPath's flagship Forward III event in Vegas next week, where CEO Daniel Dines and his team are under intense pressure to drive an even more powerful narrative for the industry to keep itself at the forefront of robotic software. The onus is on the UiPath leadership, more than ever, to seize the initiative, especially as their noisy competitors are unlikely to keep the brakes off the PR Newswire next week... (Oh and HFS mega analyst Elena Christopher is there speaking, who co-authored the now-infamous "RPA is Dead, Long Live Intelligent Automation" blog. And Kudos to the UiPath folks for having the courage to bring in an untethered analyst viewpoint after some of the recent utter mush we've been subjected to at these things.  Oh and a woman too, thank God! 

Here are the 25 key tenets where UiPath, AA and Blue Prism must draw battle as they look to cross that chasm from RPA to a true digital workforce

Consultants, fellow analysts, here's everything you need to advise your clients... steal away as HFS is just giving it allll away....

1. Stop counting customers. Start counting and showcasing growth with accounts/scale...  40% of engagements are still in pilot mode, so these cannot be considered long term clients until they get into some form of live usage.

2. Stop hiring armies of salespeople who have no idea what they are selling.  Sorry, but we really needed to say that one...

3. Stop amassing as many partners as possible. Prioritize quality not quantity (which would require well thought out partner programs).

4. Stop referring to SaaS as cloud. Seriously just stop. Now.

5. Make the gap between unattended and attended seamless because customers don't actually want to decide what flavor of automation they need, they just want automation.

6. Start addressing governance and meaningful management of bots in the context of broader workflow. Don't let massive attended automation and freedom to automate shift from democratization to chaos. address how attended is managed in a way that does not make the IT shops in all of their clients want to abort mission

7. Bring IT and business visions together as one integrated approach. Education must focus for technical and non-technical resources – into communities and educational institutions globally.

8. Shift focus to an integrated automation roadmap – expansion of functionality beyond RPA/RDA to AI and smart analytics. Badging everything as RPA is definitionally incorrect and fails to give clients a roadmap to follow to advance beyond (legacy) repetitive task automation, desktop and document automation.

9. Provide proven scale and depth of professional service to support the SI/advisor channel.  This is the battleground where the winners and losers will be decided... if you have the support available to train the channel and your major direct clients, you will get your clients into double-bot figures.

10. You must drive digital change management to help enterprises grapple with transformation with its services investments.  Relying purely on Big 4 advisors and service providers for change management will cost clients a fortune and drive many away.  This is a key area UiPath needs to take the lead on.

11. Prove it has the lowest-code capabilities of all the bot players.  The shift from low-code to no-code is on... proving real no-code abilities is becoming increasingly critical as frustration build with the ease-of development of some of these solutions. This is the real key to proving "one bot for every employee" is truly possible.

12. Really demonstrate you can win in the cloud.  This is the impressive push from AA that UiPath and Blue Prism needs to counter... the ability to create public, private and containerized solutions for large automation is one of the main avenues to moving out of pilot mode into a fully industrialized approach.

13. Have the most mobile-enabled bot solution.  Moving bot development into the hands of code-hating business professionals is key and having really cool mobile interfaces is becoming increasingly important.  

14. The developer ecosystem must be expanded to extend functionality, libraries etc.  Commit to specific goals for how much of their codebase will be available on Github et al to build an industry solution skewed against technology-vendor lock-in.  Much of this RPA functionality is not rocket science or any trade secret.

15. Commit specific sums to meaningful partner relationships with leading service providers and consultants, including opensource partner technical support systems, events, education resources, and people to help the industry grow

16. Commit to funding local academies (building on their online academies) especially in blighted neighborhoods near its biggest offices to bring young coders and potential customers together with employees for on the job real-world training

17. Must get focused on core business processes by industry, such as supply chain in manufacturing, core banking in BFS, underwriting in insurance, billing in telecom etc

18. Revisit its client engagement model to ensure it is best serving its customer base – its rapid growth in salespeople may expand capacity, but if sales lacks vision, then clients may not be well served (as per comments in our recent survey above)

19. Commits to drawing down technical debt (Every SW company has it, some more than others).  As illustrated above, our customer surveys point out which elements of their platforms and solution are known to need immediate re-engineering and investment

20. Identify and subsidize hands-on automation industry experts and influencers whose independent thinking deserves funding and not just focus on checking boxes with legacy analysts.  The automation industry is being impacted by many unique stakeholders.

21. Kick off an enduring and sustainable initiative modeled after Salesforce's 1-1-1 program

22. Invest in cross-technology customer events that will expand overall value creation, for example partnering more aggressively with the likes of Salesforce, Microsoft, Amazon, Google etc.

23. Spearhead an Automation Industry Technology/Business Roadmap that shows a clear path for enterprise clients to progress from basic robotic task automation through to integrated automation and then to achieving genuine AI value

24. Provide sensible RPA pricing options. A “bot” is not a standard unit of measure. It is an abstract measure and a UiPath bot is different than AA and not the same as Blue prism. Yet most continue to price RPA as some of the function of “bots”

25. Focus on actual business transformation. We are using RPA to run ineffective processes cheaper and faster. That is not transformation and is a short term game.

True leadership will come from those who make the most advancements in these versus fancy rhetorical statements and press events. If you want to be a leader.... then bloody act like one!

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent AutomationArtificial Intelligence