Phil’s 2018 Disruptor Awards!


What better than to hand out some awards to people who have absolutely no clue they are going to win one… and for actually doing something in 2018 to impact the world of IT and business services that actually shook up the rules of the game?  And what better to offer up zero prizes beyond a fleeting recognition that they actually did something impactful?

No, they did not pay me $10K to sponsor a table at a penguin-suited gala dinner, and no, they did not coerce a bunch of analysts to sift through hours of painful “innovation submissions”.   These are purely based on my personal experiences of 2018 and my judgment on ten folks who deserve some recognition for shaking things up in 2018!

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The “They just didn’t see us coming Award”,  Daniel Dines, CEO UiPath

When HFS introduced Robotic Automation to the world in 2012, the industry was transfixed around Blue Prism – the firm which pioneered unattended back office RPA – and Automation Anywhere, which shot on the scene in 2014 with the industry’s first RPA Maturity Model.  RDA (robotic desktop automation) suppliers such as OpenSpan (acquired by Pega in 2016) were also present in the automation narrative as the worlds of traditional outsourcing, shared services and operations executives got shaken to their very core by the fact that people conducting repetitive work could be replaced/augmented by macros and bots. However, while these firms stole the headlines, one dude in Romania quietly went about building an RPA product that would leap from $10m-$150m in just the last couple of years, while its competitors could only watch on in awe. This founding CEO, Daniel Dines, engendered trust with executives and demonstrated an uncanny skill of being a technologist who quickly grasped how to communicate effectively with business line leaders. He also hired some excellent sales people, including the much-liked Guy Kirkwood, who’s social media skills should not be understated as a key reason for growing a firm so quickly. 2018 was definitely Daniel’s disruptor year.  Now the firm is heavily backed and poised to battle it out for supremacy in 2019.

The “Resurrection award”, Nitin Rakesh, CEO Mphasis

It’s not often you see a company that had almost disappeared from the world, make such a credible and impactful return to the corporate spotlight.  But this is exactly what happened in 2018 as Nitin Rakesh drove his new firm past $1bn in revenues and is likely to post double-digit growth.  How can a company that was acquired by EDS in 2006 (at the time being touted as “EDS’ Bangalore Call center”), then being merged into the HP entity in 2008, before selling off its BPO assets to HGS in 2015, manage to retain its core IT talent and identity to find itself back in play as a standalone IT services business – in its own right – in 2018, as Blackstone bought out the HP shares?  Not only that, the firm has positioned itself excellently as a core transformational IT services firm, with deep expertise in financial services, with many loyal clients always willing to share their experiences. While great Indian-heritage IT services firms, such as Patni and Syntel, have been subsumed into larger Western entities, Mphasis is back swinging punches and poised to give some of the leading IT services firms a run for their money in 2019.  

The “Making Cyber actually cool Award”, Nicole Eagen, CEO Darktrace

While the whole industry seemingly got lost in a stupor of automation and AI, the one core area that will increasingly dominate the narrative in 2019 – and beyond – is cyber security.  And not too many cyber firms have effectively brought together genuine ML and AI algorithms to create an “enterprise immune system for cyber defense”.  Draktrace’s focal point is that enterprises should not require a previous experience (“pre-defined”) of a threat or pattern of activity, in order to understand what it is potentially threatening. It works automatically, without prior knowledge or signatures, “detecting and fighting back against subtle, stealthy attacks inside the network — in real time”.  It sounds great, but this solution actually works, the firm is now valued at close to $2bn with $400m in revenue.  My favorite line from Nicole: “Cyber security was all about keeping the bad guys out. But a lot of time the threat is from an insider, such as an employee, or someone who had managed to get inside the system.” Hiring founding partners from GCHQ and MI5 certainly helps bring the cyber conversation to the boardroom.

The “Approaching Digital the way it was supposed to be, and not confusing everyone Award”, Brian Whipple, CEO Accenture Interactive

The lovely term “Digital” has been distorted by so many people, 2019 will render the term practically meaningless.  The firm which originally oriented the term for the IT and business services industry was Accenture, launching Accenture Digital back in December 2013, where the focus was firmly on helping enterprises “create new sources of value from marketing, mobility and analytics”.  Since that time, the firm has amassed 36 digital agency acquisitions across the world to essentially become the market leader for digital advertising.  While every other IT and BPO services firm under the sun boasts “digital” prowess, only Cognizant has reached double figures with 10 acquisitions and the rest are barely at a handful.  So everyone is really helping companies enable the digital strategies they have already designed. When you look at the evolution of Digital, the core area has been leveraging interactive and social tech to drive new revenue channels and customer experiences, which has been the sole focus of Brian Whipple and his Accenture Interactive group, which has tucked in these numerous digital agency acquisitions over the years, pushed hard to retain their identities and cultures (something Accenture learned the hard way where most of its competitors are still failing).  Brian’s declaration that Accenture is not “looking for Don Drapers” and, rather, is focusing on acquiring talent that focuses much more deeply on the entire customer sphere (than merely crafting ad campaigns) just edges himself into a well-deserved mention for banging the digital drum the loudest for 5 years, while his IT services competitors have failed to get even close.

The “Doing RPA differently Award”, Asheesh Mehra, CEO AntWorks

While we’ve been deluged with (pretty much) the same “bots are everything” monolog from the RPA industry for several years now, it’s been refreshing to see a firm get fully-focused on driving the data ingestion piece that RPA and intelligent automation can support.  And today’s emerging auto/AI firms are becoming styled very much on their founder personalities… so you just can’t avoid the effervescent and colorful AntWorks honcho Asheesh Mehra, who has managed to pop up in every corner of the operations/services/AI space in 2018.  With some funding in the bag, and some really excellent hires joining, expect AntWorks to make one helluva lot of noise in 2019 as they round out their platform and become an increasingly important part of the industry’s intelligent automation conversation. We need more AntWorks to keep shaking it up…

The ‘Doing services with a product mindset Award’ – CVK, CEO, HCL

While most of the IT services industry has resorted to following each others’ strategies of being technology agnostic, having poorly-defined digital strategies and a bunch of platform-things that noone really understands, HCL has quietly forged its own path and focused heavily on embracing its engineering and product development DNA.  Several interesting engineering acquisitions, such as Geometric, Butler Aerospace and H&A set the firm’s stall out as a company which really likes to make and develop things.  It’s eye-opening $1.8bn pick-up of all the IBM workplace software products, including, IBM (Lotus) Notes, Domino and Appscan, while not appealing to the media as relatively “sexy”, will end up creating a masterstoke $10bn new business for the firm, provided it can develop the customer base and improve on products that need a bit of work. The man with the plan is the humble, softly spoken and incredibly smart “CVK” (C Vijayakumar) who has persistently resisted the marketing glitz and the drum-beating to focus his firm on where he sees its differentiation. I anticipate more to come from HCL in 2019 as it rounds out its ability to build products that enterprises are actually using.

The ‘Hail Mary Award’, Ginni Rometty, CEO, IBM

While poor old Ginni has had to hold the fort as IBM went through 23 consecutive quarters of revenue decline, tried persistently to keep the dialog flowing around cognitive and Watson, you have to give her some serious credit for betting the entire bank on the RedHat acquisition this year, setting the firm back a cool $34bn, despite revenues of barely $3bn.  The stark reality is that IBM really wants to out-opensource Microsoft, add some cloud mojo – and also add some serious RedHat management talent to its ranks.  If you forced me to give you my opinion, I’d say that IBM has taken a decided pivot away from poster-boy IA giant Watson, to go back to its enterprise IT core and solve real challenges for real people.  And you can’t beat a $34bn Hail Mary… so Ginni makes the 2018 cut..

The “Superhero CEO who can close a humungous deal Award”, Abid Neemuchwala, CEO, Wipro

Abid took on Wipro at a difficult time, when the company needed to raise its value proposition with enterprise clients, had not been performing particularly well in the market and – to cap it off – have one of its biggest clients, Carillion, go belly-up.  It had many of us wondering why Abid would leave his BPO leadership role at TCS, where he had pretty much created a billion-dollar business, to take up a Wipro hotseat that could drive him even more crazy.  But anyone who knows Abid, knows he’s a workaholic who loves a challenge, and – to cap it off – is one of the most gentle, sincere and nice guys you will ever meet.  Which may explain how he convinced Alight Solutions to drop $1.6bn on a 10 year mammoth IT/BPO engagement that is one of the largest ever known to mankind.  And right at a time when his company needed it.  A terrific win to steer a company in a new direction.  2019 will not be without its challenges for Wipro and its close competitors, but having someone like Abid at the helm is a much-needed advantage.

The “Multi-billion dollar startup Award”, Chris Caldwell, President, Concentrix

Before its merger with IBM’s call center business in 2013, Concentrix was a little-known contact center tech business, which its parent firm, Synnex, put under Chris Caldwell’s charge to grow.  Hence Chris had to take his experience managing a much, much smaller firm and figure out how to play in a fast-commoditizing and consolidating market.  And grow it he has achieved, adding the likes of Minacs and Tiger Spike before surprising the whole industry with the bargain uptake of the Rolls Royce call center business itself, Convergys, pitting the firm just behind Teleperformance at the head of the market.  While his competitors have been scrambling, looking at curious pickups like Intelenet for a billion,  snapping up a heritage global call center firm with flagship enterprise clients, some great technology and people delivery culture for just $2.8 billion, places the firm in a very aggressive position to kick on in 2019 and push hard for overall market leadership.  Chris will need to figure out how to adopt automation at scale, really embrace emerging cognitive solutions, but with the last few years’ track record to bet on, who will bet against Concentrix now?

The “Veni, Vidi, Vici Award”, David Poole, CEO/Co-Founder, Symphony

It’s not often you get to tip your hat to someone you’ve known for a long time and witness them achieve, literally, exactly what they set out to… but David Poole did exactly that. Not many people can boast to launch a consulting firm exactly four years ago and achieve a $69m acquisition to a global provider such as SYKES.  When you compare this with the $74m ISG paid for Alsbridge and the (rumored) $85m KPMG paid for Equaterra, you have to hand it to David and his founding friends David Brain, Ian Barkin and Pascal Baker for catching a wave and finding their desired exit in less than half the time – and a lot more value placed on future potential earnings than merely existing revenues. When David came to visit me to tell me he was “going full on into RPA” in the summer of 2014, I have to confess I was skeptical as I knew the area needed a massive personal commitment, and people prepared to work unpaid for a very long time to get it off the ground. But that is exactly what he and his founders achieved. You may enjoy this blog with David in 2015… where everything he said pretty much came true.  Now am sure Chuck Sykes is hoping for David’s vision to stay as consistent in 2019!

Posted in : OneOffice



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  1. Great observations Phil… Unlike any awards we typically see in IT industry, this post was very engaging and summarized 2018 very well…

  2. Congrats to the winners!! Good observations from Phil, as always! Good representation of New Age Technology firms as well as Traditional IT Outsourcing firms. With 2019 touted to be completely AI dominated, it will be interesting to see how the me-too product cos. in pure play RPA space, transform themselves as AI product vendors or get eaten up by the biggies.

  3. Fabulous article and awards Phil and Congratulations to all + esp my leader Asheesh for being recognized for “Doing RPA differently award” in an industry amass with attention and me-toos

  4. Thoughtful compilation Phil and based on my read on your various articles, this time also you did a wonderful job in identifying the stalwarts. Great to see the names like Abid, CVK, Whipple in the list which shows the class.

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