Monthly Archives: Sep 2020

There is nowhere to hide in the Pandemic Economy

September 20, 2020 | Phil Fersht

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As the industry churns Tom Reuner returns

September 13, 2020 | Phil Fersht

There aren't many more exciting professions to be in these days than the analyst industry... you're right at the heart of all the key industry stakeholders absorbing a level of disruption, volatility and confusion we'll likely never experience again (we hope).  When everyone is stuck at home fretting about their futures, what better to do than talk to analysts plying their trade unraveling the current scenarios?

As an analyst firm, we need analysts who thrive in this scenario, with the experience and foresight to help us define our Vision2025, who understand this technology convergence of the hybrid cloud and containerization with data and digital technologies, all made possible by automation, AI, digital workers and - most importantly - people.  So when my old friend, colleague, and fellow Tottenham sufferer Dr Thomas Reuner agreed to return to the HFS family after a two-year sojourn in the AI software world, we knew we had the right person to lead our tech services vision...

Tom - so why did you choose to come back to the analyst community?  What really makes you get up in the morning?

Funny that you ask that, Phil. I am definitely not a morning person. If anything, I am intolerable in the morning, just ask my long-suffering lovely wife. On a more serious note, what drives me (professionally) is to understand technology evolution and how it helps organizations to advance their delivery of services. I get a real kick when I see in meetings and projects that I can help clients to better understand the dynamics of the market and achieve their strategic objectives. Working with the brilliant folks at arago has helped me to gain a more nuanced understanding of all the issues around AI, but also to appreciate more the many challenges and opportunities that innovative startups face. As such, I hope I have gleaned a much more rounded view of the industry. But deep down I always had an inkling that I would return to the analyst fold at some point. When you guys came knocking at my door that point came perhaps earlier than I expected, but being an analyst has always been my passion, so I didn’t have to think too long to make up my mind.

It must have been quite the experience working for an AI software provider during the hype-overload phase and then to experience the sobering reality of COVID where the rules of the game went out of the window.  Can you share what you learned from it all?

arago is a unique organization, both in terms of a highly differentiated technology but equally culturally. Working with one of the best development teams in AI has given me a much better comprehension of where the development of AI is really at. Not surprisingly, there is a fascinating life beyond just Machine Learning and Chatbots. However, on the negative flipside, being at the cusp of innovation that can’t be squeezed into pigeonholes provides significant challenges in engaging with the broader market. All too often we were asked “how are you different from RPA?”, “how are you different from Machine Learning?” And even where we made progress in discussions, we often got “show us the magic” as if the automation platform was a smartphone that can transform processes in a similar way to manipulating pictures.

The sobering reality of COVID was intriguing in many respects. On the one hand, the notion of a Digital Workforce took on a completely new quality as companies never really envisaged that employees literally couldn’t get to work. Thus, arago’s end-to-end automation became a have-to-have as you tend to call it. On the other hand, arago was at the forefront of providing a technology solution to trace COVID that would be interoperable between many countries. It was a rollercoaster ride starting with a groundswell of positivity as everybody wanted to engage with us but culminating in informal pressures and fickle politicians derailing much of the brilliant work my colleagues had done. I suppose much had to do with the various COVID apps being seen as a key to getting access to healthcare systems and consequently contracts. What saddened me about this journey is that the arago team worked pro bono on all of this and our CEO Chris Boos worked tirelessly day and night trying to get the project off the ground while engaging with the public about the implications and merits of the approach. To witness the headwinds and some of the public discussions on all of this makes one only more cynical. If anything, the experience has reinforced for me the importance of not losing sight of informal dynamics when analyzing the industry.

So where next for intelligent automation?  Will we see the phoenix rising from the ashes?  We talk a lot about the "have-to-have" economy at HFS... how much of this is really a have-to-have? 

I have fond memories of the early days of Intelligent Automation. It was a small community and we all had no clear idea of where the development would be heading. At least for me, the context was always about how do we progress to end-to-end automation and how can we decouple routine services delivery from labor arbitrage. To help clients on their digital journey, collapsing the many siloes was top of the agenda. Yet, the current hype around RPA appears to be confining the goals more and more to task automation and employee productivity. And in my view, the discussions on “Hyperautomation” are not helping either because they are re-enforcing an RPA-centric view of the world.

Therefore, we should re-focus the discussions back to the outcomes we had in mind at the outset, take a more holistic view and focus on how we finally can scale deployments. If we succeed with that you could argue we would see a phoenix rising from the ashes, but I am not holding my breath. The breath-taking valuations for some of the RPA providers are masking many of those discussions. At the same time, the blurriness as to what constitutes AI is adding to the confusion.

As with the discussion on COVID, Intelligent Automation and a Digital Workforce should be have-to-haves to guarantee business continuity in these pandemic times where organizations have to plan for the unknown. But talking to clients they increasingly realize the limitations of RPA and that we need new approaches to really succeed with a Digital Workforce. It is here where I see HFS continuing to be the leading authority of guiding the market.

And how much will enterprises depend on services to make their have-to-haves happen for them?  As you scope your research agenda across the tech services domain what areas are you going to cover that will help HFS clients and readers?

You always give me the easy tasks (laughs). Services remain, or more precisely, build the cornerstone in most organizations as they are accelerating the journey towards the OneOffice (or call it truly digital organizations) and are trying to find ways to survive these pandemics times. But crucially, success is about the outcome, not the technology itself. As such, the research agenda will be aligned with the various HFS frameworks, the OneOffice being the most relevant one. With that in mind, it is about how best to orchestrate and configure cloud offerings as the market is shifting from multi-cloud to hybrid-cloud. Crucially, this includes change agents such as RPA and AI as legacy environments have to work together with all those innovations. As we are touching on the change agents, of course, Intelligent Automation and AI will remain close to my heart, but I hope I will bring new insights to the discussions having benefitted from working with the brilliant folks at arago. In the context of applications, we are likely to expand our coverage on distributed agile. What are the best practices to make it work in complex engagements, including outsourced engagements? Similarly, looking at our coverage on testing, I could imagine focussing more on the testing of innovation, especially around the big change agents. I hope you can see, Phil, that this is more about aligning our research to our sweet spots rather than reinventing the wheel. But as I have the privilege of working with a hugely talented team, I am sure we will be able to move the goalposts at least a bit.

Now you're officially an analyst veteran (hehe), what do you see next for the analyst industry?  Are we still going to get the same old vendor grids and turgid vendor-driven messaging, or will we finally see a change in how the industry consumes research and engages with analysts? 

Thanks for reminding me that time is flying, Phil. If I am honest, I am seeing at best a marginal change in how the industry deals with the wondrous world of analysts. Too many AR folks spend the majority of their time dealing with Magic Quadrants, notwithstanding any other grids or activities. We have seen more consolidation of analyst firms, yet we haven’t really seen new firms with new ideas breaking through. There are many wonderful analysts out there, but if you look at the industry, I would argue it has gone a tad stale. Smart AR folks reacting to that by working more with individual analysts. Take some stalwarts like Gurvinder Sahni at Wipro, he is building deep relationships but then orchestrates those relationships according to his requirements. And if I take my experience on the vendor side, which represented more innovative startups, I was struggling to get relevant advice. The guidance was often templated and you were encouraged to engage with ten other analysts to glean relevant insights. My “favorite” piece of advice, was: “Tom, you have to reinvent RPA for your space”. But I would love to see new firms emerging as this is the most challenging but also the most intriguing time to be an analyst.

And finally, Tom, what will you do to set your own research apart as we venture into this murky future ahead?

To be honest, the quality of my research will always be in the eye of the beholder. But I would hope by leveraging HFS’s vast network of buy-side organizations and by continuing to build deep relationships with stakeholders, I can provide value to my clients. It was always the collaboration with some of those outstanding industry veterans that has helped to shape frameworks like the Intelligent Automation Continuum. Folks like Boris Krumrey at UiPath and Wayne McQuoid at Credit Suisse are top of the tree. By exchanging ideas, challenges, and working together on projects, the most relevant research pieces have come up. You keep challenging me to revamp the Continuum and revamp our IT Services research. To do that I really look forward to engaging with many of the brilliant folks in our network!!

Well it's terrific to have you back in the HFS family Tom and looking forward to hearing your new ideas

Posted in: IT Outsourcing / IT ServicesDigital OneOfficeIT Infrastructure

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My five learnings leading a company through a pandemic: Just be human, be smart and you’ll find your way

September 06, 2020 | Phil Fersht

Having founded a successful analyst firm 10 years ago, nothing seemed to derail us from continuous growth… every obstacle could seemingly be overcome by throwing smart people at it or investing time with your clients.  Net net – if you were good at what you did and had some smart people who believed in what you were doing and saw your value, you would always find a way.  You were always a safe bet, a sure thing, something to invest in for the future. 

You could ride out prosperous times and tough times because you influenced sales cycles and validated multi-million (even billion) dollar decisions. Whatever was going on in the world, you thrived off the one thing that kept the wheels on everything:  certainty.  Enterprise leaders, investors, politicians alike all banked on one thing – they had a reassuring view of the future, of where things were heading.  They could always make decisions to keep pushing in the right direction.

We’ve been given the worst corporate disease possible:  Uncertainty

Then along came something no one accounted for which caused the one thing that can destroy the status quo:  uncertainty.  Suddenly everyone is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with their environment – their certainty has dissipated and the rules for conducting business have gone out of the window.  Unless your business is something they have-to-have you may find yourself out in the cold so quickly by the time you realized your perilous position, it may already be too late.

And the scariest part of all this is the immediacy of your potential demise.  If you’re not Zoom, Microsoft, Amazon, Nintendo, Instacart or Occado - who have immediate opportunity to exploit the situation – your whole business model is immediately wracked in uncertainty.  Whoever you may be.  How do you sell the same stuff when you can’t meet your clients, when many your key staff are surely too busy home-schooling their kids to commit to extra work, when your clients’ bosses are suddenly demanding things form your clients that don’t include your products or services?  What do you do if you are suddenly deemed irrelevant?  

As much as pandemics suck (yes, they really bloody do!) they give you a once-in-an-era chance to make changes you never thought possible, or never even realized you needed to make.

Five things I have learned about leading in these times:

  1. Moving everything to digital is not some crazy expensive investment – it’s the best thing you’ll ever do to your business. Seriously, can we please stop this bullshit that “digital transformation” is some insanely expensive cost that is just too much for your firm to handle. Shifting your core products and services to digital results in them being cheaper to deliver, cheaper for your clients, more efficient, faster and give you much, much better data to make better decisions.  If you can’t move some of your services to digital, then they were probably ready for the analog scrap-heap in any case.
  2. Choose your team you need to take with you on this journey – and do it fast.  This is where it gets hard, but deep down you know what you have to do.  This is probably the only rare time you can make painful – and sometimes unpopular - decisions to shape your business around your digital present and future.  Now you can make decisions and take actions that could have resulted in a rebellion pre-March 2020.  Just make the changes and move on fast, you just gotta do it - and be honest about them.  Sure, they’ll probably paint you as one huge asshole and write something about your “toxicity” on Glassdoor, but you know you made a painful - but professional - decision – and so did they deep down. 
  3. Invest in trust with your chosen team. The old rules about managing people are all over the place.  Once you have decided who you need and who you want, this is the motley crew that is going to get you through this.  So don’t just select the people you know you have-to-have, select those who will be up at 3.00 am with you thrashing out proposals and executing for your clients, listening to your quasi-insanity as your turn over every damned stone to keep the wheels on into 2021… Just make sure you have people who know what they have to do, who you trust, who trust you, who are on this road to somewhere with you.  This means you will need to share a level of transparency with them which made you uncomfortable in the past.  This means the old metrics need to be sacrificed for a simple “we just need to get this shit done”.  That’s what real trust is all about.
  4. Family comes first, business second. Then business wins.  These times will define you forever as a leader. This isn’t about being nice, or kind, or even generous – this is about being human.  If anything good came out of 2020, it’s the value of our families around us as stabilizing forces and responsibilities. We may be breadwinners, but we are also mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, sisters, and brothers.  We have to make every possible accommodation for our fellow workers to look after aging parents, home-school their kids, support their spouses, etc.  Clients can wait an extra day or two if they need to – they have similar pressures and will understand.  The old 9.00-5.00 is pretty much gone for now… so trust your team to prioritize family needs and find the time later to finalize their critical work.  We all find the time when we are committed, when we feel trusted, when we feel good our family is finding their way through this with us.
  5. Manage extreme emotions with humility and forgiveness. If you are not flying off the handle in this environment on the odd bad day, you are definitely not human.  We are all mentally drained, we are all operating at the edges of our tolerance, and emotions are frequently being stoked.  But that’s not all bad – we get to see the human side of each other a lot more than we ever expected. And arguments are not always bad if we resolve them – that what families do, and that’s what colleagues can do too… just be cognizant that people are human and we’re just seeing everyone function with less of the emotional filters on. I guarantee when this is all over you will have better and closer working relationships than you ever thought possible.

Bottom line:  Staying relevant means staying energized, staying committed, and being damned smart.  And being very human.

Roll on 2021 when we slowly pick up the pieces of 2019 and before, coupled with the experiences of 2020 which changed the world ever (and are still not over).  There are new rules for almost everything: how we treat our clients, our staff… and most importantly our families. And there are other changes emerging we have to figure out, such as how we shape our approach to politics, to endemic racism, to inclusion and diversity, to climate change.  My main hope is we are just more human, more pragmatic, more tolerant, and more transparent as our future unravels around us… there is already enough for our aching brains to handle. 

Peace out =)

Posted in: HR Strategy

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