Monthly Archives: Feb 2018

It's an automation slaughter with Lee Coulter

February 27, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Lee Coulter: One big automation fish...

One character who will light up our New York HfS FORA Summit next week (and not just with a cigar) is the irrepressible Lee Coulter.  While Lee could have hung his hat on leadership roles at GE, Kraft and Ascension Health (where he still oversees their shared services as his day job), he has taken it upon himself to become one of the leading voices behind the Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) movement, as Chair of the IEEE's working standards group on IPA and Founder of Agilify, a newly launched automation services business, already boasting 32 clients. 

With so much going on in Lee's world, I thought it high time to catch up with him before we hear his dulcet tones next week... 

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HfS Research: You've been the self-styled Godfather of Intelligent Process Automation, brandishing a cigar, as opposed to a Kalashnikov... why did you take on this mantel, how did this evolve during your recent years with Ascension into this new firm, "Agilify"?

Lee Coulter,  CEO, Ascension: That’s quite an image. I think my role chairing the IEEE Working Group on Standards in Intelligent Process Automation was probably what did it. We started over five years ago on our automation journey. The hype and confusion was literally driving me batty. So instead of getting into a war of words, I decided the best answer was to get the competitors to not want to be left out of a standards effort. It was in everyone’s best interest to work together. That first standard (IEEE 2755-2017) was really a hallmark and the next one (P2755.1), coming this year, will have a far greater impact. That work has created great relationships across the continuum that have been helpful in bringing automation to Ascension.

The idea for Agilify came about during a conversation with a GBS colleague when he wanted to bring his team on site for a third full day to meet with my team. I told him, “Hey, I think you’ve

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Posted in: Robotic Process Automation

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#NASSCOM_ILF 2018: An industry stuck in #fakenews limbo, desperately needing to change the channel

February 22, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Stability and modest growth should be the best thing that has happened to this industry:  companies can plan for the future with greater predictability and make smarter investment decisions.  Instead, we’re suffering from a culture of endless hype, copycat marketing and an addiction to hypergrowth. 

NASSCOM’s annual India Leadership Forum is always a good bellwether for testing the temperature of the global services industry – and the 2018 rendition this week in Hyderabad served up some real pearls of wisdom (yes, Hyderabad is the world’s leading refiner of pearls).

Getting to the point, the services industry has never found itself in a worse state of bewilderment and confusion.  After last year’s sense of looming disaster with President Trump’s proposed Visa reforms, at least the industry has something collective to hang onto – a common fear of being politicked out of business.  However, with that panic pretty much diluted, what has been left is a conflicting range of moods, ranging from confusion to depression to uncomfortable modest growth, alarmingly untrue #fakenews, and a never-ending plethora of meaningless buzz words, which have become so deepset in the fabric of our industry, most of us are resigned to using them, as it’s the only language left to communicate basic sentences to each other.

So let’s try and shed some light on the confusion, based on some of the terrific conversations we had this week:

The Indian IT industry is struggling to cope with “modest growth”.  With NASSCOM bravely predicting something in the 7-9% range, most credible analysts are predicting 4-5% for the short, medium and long-term.  The reality is, the whole DNA of Indian IT has been borne out of hyper-growth, offering genuine riches to ambitious executives who could project-manage their way to a very nice condo in Bangalore or Gurgaon.  The gravy train has now firmly ground to a halt, and most of the lovely folks remaining are still coming to terms with their salary increases slowing down, or disappearing altogether.  And many are just pleased to cling to their jobs. The level-headed executives have accepted they are now looking at a more modest outlook for their firms and their own futures, and are making some adjustments, while others are still clambering around trying to find the next hype bandwagon to hitch to their next career move (and payrise).  Did I hear the words AI, Blockchain, or RPA anyone?

“Digital” provides a sugar frosting for restating revenues as something that is not traditional IT.  While we managed to have about 30 structured meetings with service providers, GICs and tech firms, the term “digital” has become so meaningless, it now ceases to be used in any coherent sentence. It seems to be purely a term now for convincing investors and Wall St analysts that, somehow, traditional services revenues have become something mysterious and new that will set services firms on a new pathway to returning to hypergrowth… and very soon. In reality, "digital" is all about designing new revenue channels for customers using emerging interactive technologies.  It’s all about collapsing internal silos within business operations to service customers’ emerging digital needs.  If you’re telling me that 50-75% of IT services revenues are now “digital”, then please tell me where all the billions of dollars of app testing, app management and IT infra revenues mysteriously disappeared? 

Services has fallen hook, line and sinker for its own #fakenews.  Suddenly, every services provider has developed the industry’s leading competency for delivering automation, artificial intelligence and blockchain… overnight.  While, barely a year ago, exactly the same firms were the industry’s leading maestros at serving up “digital transformation”.  Amazing how they could source thousands of experts, and convince so many clients to make this all possible in barely a few months.  Until recently, most providers declared they were adopting a “wait and see” attitude to approaching some of these areas, but now are in there fully-fledged and firing on all their lovely blockchain cylinders.  Puhlease ladies and gents!  At least, in days gone by, most providers would be relatively honest about their core areas of focus and expertise.  Now it seems perfectly acceptable for many just to stare you in the eyes and just lie… what on earth has driven us to this place?

DXC continues to baffle everyone.  Can someone please explain what DXC is supposed to be doing?  I love the Accenture-esque TV ads, but I am still clueless as to what this firm is actually doing to be the next big thing in the industry.  While I was very happy with the DXC branded gifts for writing notes and charging my phones, I would rather just get a little postcard explaining what on earth this new-fangled services business is supposed to be doing that is so special…

Sourcing advisors have just fallen off a cliff.  Yeah – they just weren’t present.  Barely a couple of years ago they still trawled these halls with their promises of big deals (or would try and sell you some “research” to make a few bucks).  Now they have all but disappeared from the equation.  Maybe their absence is the most notable sign that the good ol’ days are firmly gone forever, and it’s high-time to wake up to something approaching a normal, stable industry?

The Bottom-line: There are some seriously cool things going in in the world of technology services; we just need to unearth them and change the narrative

There is a lot of goodness this industry is capable of achieving if we can just get out of our own way.

For starters, we're seeing the fastest revenue growth from several middle-tier providers who are big enough to go after some large complex deals, small enough to work on new concepts with clients and lack the legacy business to focus on going after greenfield disruptive opportunities that the big guys cannot consider.  We are seeing some of the major providers unearth new gold by taking ambitious clients to new places of business value, with a high-risk / high value mindset, using technology that is here today and working with them as a trusted long-term partner.  We’re seeing real advances in automation, machine learning and digital enablement that are here today – they are now a reality, not some future innovation that is still some years away.  We are also seeing a feverish desire from many clients to experiment with blockchain, despite the fact it’s still a long way from providing many meaningful business applications today. 

The present is now the future and this should be the most exciting time ever to be innovative, courageous and entrepreneurial.  So let’s stop trying to pretend to be something we’re not and focus on the real potential that is staring us in the face.  Everyone’s tired of the #fakenews… it’s time to change the channel!

Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)IT Outsourcing / IT Services

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There's no FTE hell with Chris Caldwell

February 19, 2018 | Phil Fersht


The good old customer BPO business has taken quite a battering in recent years, where the same old usual suspects have embarked on selling predominantly the same old voice services, with most choosing to compete with ever-cheaper global locations to prop up their fragile profit margins. While many of the services majors have chosen to steer clear (or quietly exit the market), the importance of creating an amazing customer experience has never been so critical to customer-facing businesses.  Something has gone sorely wrong here...

In an era where every firm aims to be "digital" (and has a Chief Digital Officer to boot), the focus on engaging customers with both digital and voice communications has taken center stage... yet, these legacy call center practices continue to hound the services industry as most of the call center firms continue to fight it out to the lowest common denominator: who can delivery average customer service as cheaply as possible?  But you can't just blame the service providers alone for this behaviour:  many of the FORTUNE 500 propagate this behaviour by playing everyone off to squeeze every last drop of cost (and subsequently value) out of their delivery capability... preferring to talk a big digital customer experience game than truly investing in one.  

One leader in the space who has taken it upon himself to declare war on these legacy practices is Concentrix President Chris Caldwell, who has masterminded the impressive growth of the firm over the last 12 years, which has included some major acquisitions, notably, the IBM contact center business, BPO firm Minacs and the Australian digital outfit, Tigerspike.  The company today boasts annual revenues greater than $2bn with over 100,000 employees globally.  Having observed this rapid rise, I thought it high time to invite Chris on here to share a bit more about his story and his views on why this industry needn't be an FTE hell any longer...

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HfS Research: Good morning Chris. It's great to finally get you here on HfS. I would love to hear about your journey on how you wound up running the Concentrix business.

Chris Caldwell, President, Concentrix Corporation: Of course, Phil, It's bit of an interesting story. I’m not sure if anyone starts out saying that they are going into a career to beat your business, or a call center business. But I worked for a parent company, SYNNEX where I was looking after M&A and the diversification of their business model from the core distribution business. One of the businesses that we bought, very small at the time, was a BPO business, about 30 people which was barely doing over $1m a year and had begun to lose money after some time. And my boss who was the CEO of the other company, said to me, 'you bought it, you fix it.' That was the start of the BPO business and that's when I took over Concentrix at the time. I then had to learn the call center business very quickly; figure out how to grow it and do something with it, which happened in approximately 2005.

Phil: Chris, you then went through this much, much larger acquisition of the IBM call center business in 2013. Can you talk a bit about how Concentrix got to that point, the relationship with SYNNEX, and how things have really progressed since you made that major acquisition?

Chris: Sure, It’s interesting. When we originally invested in Concentrix it was to provide additional services to SYNNEX vendors. SYNNEX is an IT distributor and I can still remember

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Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)CRM and MarketingDigital Transformation

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The digital worker survival guide: it's much more about attitude than skills

February 12, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Yes, people, as we inch towards the dreaded singularity, we will continue to be bored silly with arrogant diatribes describing how “humans can stay relevant”.

Do we really need to hear this daily splurge of pontifications from business leaders in Davos about reskilling the workforce, without any real practical advice on what that reskilling is?  I would argue this is more about culture and attitude, than training students to learn new programming languages and data analyst skills. The latter will come naturally as the needs of the workplace change, my view is that it’s the former which poses the real challenge: how can we enlighten people to change their working attitudes to make them much more valuable and irreplaceable to their employers?  Anyone can fix a line of code within hours, or slam in some new software, it’s what you actually do with the tech that really counts. 

It's what you do when your boss isn't looking, that makes you less predictable and more valuable 

It’s not just about performing predictable tasks, it’s also about helping your firm devise new ways of doing things – that is the magic that makes staff valued.  The truth is the singularity is

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Posted in: Design ThinkingDigital TransformationSourcing Change Management

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Automation to impact 750,000 low skilled Indian jobs, but create 300,000 mid-high skilled jobs by 2022

February 03, 2018 | Phil FershtJamie Snowdon

A lot has changed in the last year... especially when it comes to automation: it has now become the broadly-accepted efficiency tool for cost leverage with operations.

Every customer has RPA project managers and automation leads hungry for data, advice, and ideas. Every service provider has RPA embedded into their service delivery models, and every credible advisor has a practice that is working with multiple clients to make this happen. The Armageddon days of talking about robots taking our jobs are over - these are now the reality days where we can see exactly what's going on with automation and AI, and accurately estimate how it's going to impact the services industry in the next few years.

There will be impact, but it's manageable provided we focus on new skills and value.  

In short, the global IT and BPO services industry employs 16 million workers today.  By 2022, our industry will employ 14.8 million - a likely decrease of 7.5%* in total workers (see our research methodology below).  This isn't devastating news - we'll lose this many people through natural attrition, but what this data signifies is this industry is now delivering more for less because of advantages in automation and artificial intelligence.  The new data also shows how job roles are evolving from low skilled workers conducting simple entry level, process driven tasks that require little abstract thinking or autonomy, to medium and high skilled workers undertaking more complicated tasks that require experience, expertise, abstract thinking, ability to manage machine-learning tools and autonomy.

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The low skill routine jobs are getting increasingly impacted, and our new demand data shows an acceleration in RPA tools (a 60% increase over the next year) where service providers are the largest adopters into their own service delivery organizations.  We expect to see a more rapid impact on routine job roles which is most notable in 2022 as companies take time to build the impact of RPA into service contracts and figure out how to turn work elimination into hard savings than merely soft efficiency savings.  With barely a 50% satisfaction level, this will take 4-5 years to see the real cost benefits in terms of job elimination.  Most of the short-medium term benefits are being seen in increased efficiencies and more digital process workflows.  All major service delivery locations are expected to be impacted at the low-end, but the higher the wage costs, the higher the expected role elimination (750,000 roles in India and a similar number in the US):

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Medium skilled roles are picking up across the board, especially in roles that are customer/employee facing with the need for more customized support, the ability to handle

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Posted in: Cognitive ComputingRobotic Process Automation

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