Monthly Archives: Oct 2019

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 have worn themselves out, nothing has changed.

When even Amazon shows its callous side, what hope is there?

One of the flagship signatories of the declaration, Jeff Bezos –  the world’s wealthiest person with a sprawling business empire – decided it was presumably in the benefit of all stakeholders, not just shareholders ravenous for profits, that 1900 part-time staff from recently acquired Wholefoods should be stripped of basic healthcare. Who needs healthcare after all, in a world populated by benevolent CEOs?  Do Wholefoods customers really care if the person bagging up their $15 slabs of cheese have access to the same healthcare they do?  Probably most won’t, but many Amazon employees who care about the welfare of their less privileged colleagues, are surely shocked by this recent act of corporate greed and insensitivity. And what’s preventing Amazon from putting many it’s 600,000-plus employees across its warehouses, logistics, call centers and admin centers on flexi-time to slash more health benefits and wage commitments? Starting with its poorest supermarket workers is surely only the start...

While we should laud the intent of the declaration of our business overlords, to us, it just seems to prove how out of touch or just plain hypocritical many are. The last year has seen unprecedented political upheaval across the globe, in many instances on the precipice of war. We’re facing unprecedented global and corporate inequality and increasing unrest from workers, tired of bearing the brunt of corporate excess since the 2008 financial crisis and their bailouts, at the expense of the taxpayer. We’re not fortune-tellers, but we suspect signing a bit of paper just isn’t going to cut it.

In corporate leadership we trust: the belief we can rely on humanist and philanthropic business leaders is - and will remain - false.

We can kick around Bezos’ appalling placement of profit above all, despite his appetite to jump quickly on the pledge for broader stakeholder value all day long. But the critical part of this story tells us exactly where the hearts and minds of business leaders are today,  and have been to a greater extent in the past. Pledges and declarations of employee rights follow us through the history books, and we’re usually just a few short pages away from the same statements being declared null and void by those who drafted them. So what’s to say the future will be any different?

And after all, that’s what we’re relying on here – you can shout Luddite for as long as you like, but in many cases, we’re a few licenses away from having droves of employees pushed into corporate servitude by bots. And those are the ones that aren’t shoved straight onto the scrap heap. ‘Jeff wouldn’t do that to us, we’re too valuable, he promised he’d look after us’ they’ll cry as they’re ushered out of their offices. But he would. And he has. And he’s not the only one prepared to do it.

Keeping a business running and profitable, of course, is technically healthy for employees – in almost all cases, difficult decisions will need to be made as we plug in more digital technologies. If we don’t move forward, businesses may go bust, and then everyone’s out of the job. And to an extent, disequilibrium in the global economy is incentivizing this mindset – in a mostly negative-interest economy; investors are piling in on equities in the hope of returns. C-Level executives have never needed to focus on shareholder value more, as activists look for any sign of weakness to force a change of leadership. The cynical amongst you may draw the inference that the reason so many senior leaders signed the declaration pushing back against shareholder primacy are doing so only as a defense mechanism against an increasingly punishing investor environment.

In any case, pragmatic business management isn’t what needs to come under the microscope – it’s the number of times optimistic future of work pundits place corporate philanthropy at the center of their vision. History tells us it doesn’t exist at scale, so why do we continue to be slaves to the human condition of unshakeable faith in something we have no evidence for?

Bottom Line: The Future of Work isn’t going to be a Utopian paradise if we sit by the sidelines hoping good ol’ CEO Jeff will take pity on us

The reality of the future of work is it’s going to be a painful process for many. Not because people despise change, but because the change will happen too fast, and at such a scale that many will slip up. Like a horde of inebriated youths trying to run up the wrong side of an escalator, people will fall over, get hurt and get left behind – while a few of the quickest and, most importantly, first to start running, make it to the top. If you’re a business leader with an anti-Bezos approach – and you genuinely want to help your teams prepare and succeed, the time to start is now.

The future of work is as much about employees arming themselves with the skills and technologies, they need to become successful – not out of ambition but the unfortunate realization that in many of the big firms that dominate city skylines don’t care about your development or career. You are valuable to them right up until you’re not anymore.

We cannot keep relying on the fallacy that someone higher up the chain as a clear and picturesque vision that we can all be a part of. We need to drive change together or risk falling behind and never being able to catch back up. Like those who missed out on highly lucrative jobs in the bay area and have been squeezed out never to return to the multi-million-dollar studio apartments. Or the bankers who… well, actually bankers always tend to be fine. Maybe we should all just become bankers.

Posted in: HR StrategyGlobal Workforce and TalentPolicy and Regulations

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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

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Live from New York! Scaling automation and AI most impacting business stability and growth

October 03, 2019 | Phil Fersht

Posted in: Intelligent AutomationArtificial Intelligence

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