Monthly Archives: Dec 2019

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