Infosys Looks to Fill Critical Gaps in Use of Design Thinking Through Acquisition of Brilliant Basics


Infosys has announced the acquisition of the UK-based design-thinking firm, Brilliant Basics, and if it plays out according to the name, it is exactly what Infosys needs to bridge design to execution and impact.  The acquisition brings in a digital, strategy, and customer experience design capability, a global studio network, and brand name credentials including HSBC and INSEAD (online education experience) as well as new startups like CBI bank (business strategy and omnichannel touchpoints).  These are all valuable resources to Infosys and its clients, but what the service provider has had real challenges with is addressed in this quote from the Brilliant Basics web site – a framework and resources for scale:

“Our deep experience in working with talented people in the areas of service design, user experience and technology has allowed us to create repeatable processes for building digital products and services.” – Brilliant Basics


Source: Brilliant Basics web site

Infosys committed to training internal resources and using design thinking but faltered in scale and consistency

Influenced by CEO Vishal Sikka’s interest in design thinking, Infosys introduced human-centered design into its digital transformation methodology called AI KI DO, which receives positive feedback from clients. And, through Zero Distance, Infosys provides a framework for account and service delivery teams to work on getting to know their customers, ask questions, and make suggestions for change. Infosys is also using design thinking to help companies identify new growth opportunities and to change its own operations as the company grew fast and got a bit stuck in the “old ways” of hierarchical, process-centric decision making. (Read further: Is Infosys Stretching Past the Growing Pains?)

However, while Infosys partnered with Stanford, brought in leaders with deep design expertise, and aggressively trained its leadership team and workforce on the concepts of design, it has not been able to address three challenges that stood out in the evaluation we did earlier this year on the use of design thinking to help reorient and/or transform business operations for impact on business outcomes:

(1) project management;

(2) moving from design to execution, identifying opportunities for reusable assets to scale; and

(3) unifying into single Infosys versus a technology/digital/product-focused Infosys and Infosys BPO. (HfS Blueprint: Design Thinking in the As-a-Service Economy)

It looks like the design approach of Brilliant Basics and the influx of design and customer experience experts could help address the gaps.

This type of acquisition is overdue by Infosys but it is not too late and shows its commitment to integrating human-centered design

Even though Infosys was one of the first to appreciate the value of design thinking for human-centered service design, other service providers moved faster to acquire and integrate design firms into their companies to bring in skilled resources and re-orient their methods and cultures (see: How design thinking plays an integral role in outsourcing, service design, and delivery). This work is still underway, though, with only early results and impact. It’s still not “par for the course” with any service provider yet. Infosys needs to focus on integrating Brilliant Basics into the organization, the culture, and the sales and delivery, quickly. This will be a challenge as Infosys has not done many acquisitions, and this one is very different from the traditional Infosys.

Bottom line: Brilliant Basics could be exactly what Infosys needs – the ability to manage and scale innovation. It appears to bring the kind of project management capability and design-to-action methodology that has been a missing link between the design expertise Infosys has hired and the solid engineering and service delivery capability it’s developed over the years. Infosys needs to put a strategic focus on bringing this one into the fold in a way that builds on and out these capabilities that can help realize its vision to partner with its clients in a more consistent innovative and meaningful way.

Posted in : Design Thinking


How a Healthcare Insurance Company is Bringing RPA and AI into Business Operations


At HfS, we hear quite a bit about the challenges of incorporating RPA and AI into business operations, so when I spoke with a healthcare operations leader about his experience at a U.S. healthcare payer recently, I wanted to share it… but can only do so anonymously. Here’s how RPA first – and AI down the road – is being incorporated into the business operations, by defining appropriate scenarios, thinking outside the box, managing proactive communications with staff, and looking to get people excited about the positive impact on jobs, relationships between payers, providers, and patients and healthcare consumers and on health, medical, and financial outcomes.

What is the use of Intelligent Automation in your organization today?

We are building momentum from our business case into implementation with robotic process automation (RPA) and defining a conceptual “bridge” to get into artificial intelligence (AI) – what is the use case and how to use to impact financial and medical outcomes.

Where and how did you get started?

Started by looking at RPA to drive additional efficiencies from labor and financial perspective and then realized that the organization needed to be considering a broader strategy. It isn’t just about the technology but how does it change the experience of the internal employees and the health plan members directly? We have a plan that we are iterating as we go… as we learn more about the capability and the potential impact. Using RPA and AI can change our internal processes and free up talented staff. We can change the way our employees interact with members, providers, and patients in a way that changes their experience and medical and financial outcomes.

How will employee roles change when RPA is introduced?  

RPA – and eventually AI too — will free up our employees to engage more directly and interactively with our stakeholders such as healthcare consumers and clinicians. For example, today, the provider office has to fax authorization and wait for response. How can we use RPA and AI to ingest the form on a front end web site, have an algorithm that runs to identify “we always provide authorization for this service” and flip it back in seconds; or if not, route it for the appropriate review. This kind of intelligent automation frees up the care management team to do something more important; and hopefully, that translates into relationship and outcome uplift for the provider, member, or both.

Employees who are processing claims and reviewing authorizations, for example, have interactions and engagement with members, providers, and patients that are reactive and responsive. We could get in front of these same people more proactively if those processes and reviews were automated and only potential denials or exceptions were flagged. These employees could be reaching out, instead, to discuss a pended claim or questions about authorization. Our hope is that “in a year or two, we can shake our heads and say, wow, we used to have hundreds of people who are now creating personal interactions instead of processing behind the scenes.”

Who in the organization do you need to work with and how does that play out?

First, we had to go through a process with the enterprise architecture team and get approval to proceed. We are working with a service provider who helped define the scenarios and evaluate the technology. We then moved forward with a proof of concept that showed what we could deploy around claims payment and pended claims, the business story for our business unit colleagues. Then we laid out what is RPA and AI and demonstrated how it works—how you could address a claim that 15 people used to work on full time just for one fall out. It resonated. Over the years, I have had to advocate for software that we were excited about – rarely have had to sell a product or idea where the senior level is buying into it before the grassroots technical effort. That was the case here. The executive team could see the opportunity and get enthused about it.

How is the move to intelligent automation and “digital labor” impacting your workforce?

From a technical perspective, our CIO team is working through the details.  As the senior leaders get excited and then go into the team to talk to subject matter experts to codify RPA based solutions, the employees are concerned that their job is going to be automated and eliminated. You have to be able to tell the story to help employees understand that what is being automated is this routine action you do in the back shop today – that here is an opportunity to parlay your experience into interaction and impact with the members, providers, and patients. It’s a dialogue that is playing out pretty well.

We believe that as we move services people to working more directly with the providers and members, they will be performing work they will find more enriching. We also realize that we need to understand what skills and capabilities are needed for this. We are building out a robotic operating committee and working with business leaders to talk about – as we deploy these solutions and staff becomes available for different roles, what are those roles and what capabilities do people need for them. And we don’t want to move them into doing work that will be automated “next.” We are in early stages here. So far our efforts with intelligent automation have been grassroots with excited senior executives how have said, go into my organization and show me how it works. As we get scale, we will work through retooling.

Tell me about how the funding and business case development is coming along.

Our organization is quite rigorous around investment. When we talk about RPA and provide evidence of 4:1 and 5:1 return on investment the story becomes easier. We are always focused on continuous improvement and how that parlays into impact. Again, the story of using automation to free up skilled staff is powerful. For instance, in finance, changing manual reconciliation at the close of month with large team to be automated and the more complicated work being the focus of the human effort, the logic becomes more apparent and the investment, obvious.

From these “early stages” of about 12 months in, the momentum and excitement is gaining, and I anticipate that we will pick up speed with RPA and into AI over the next year with top down sponsorship.  What excites me most is the possibilities of what we can do to free up our own employees and at provider offices to anticipate and be more proactive about issues and concerns and eliminate bottlenecks and slow downs for higher quality service and interactions.

Bottom line: While this interview is a bit like the old dating game where one person asked questions and the other sat behind a black curtain, it helps shed light on how enterprises that have been working one way for so long are making progress in moving forward with RPA and AI, considering talent and technology and how it changes the way we need to work going forward in healthcare operations.

Posted in : Healthcare and Outsourcing, Robotic Process Automation


The Latest HR Power Tool … IoT!


Now available in select “HR supply stores”: IoT (Internet of Things), one of the five tools discussed in my latest POV – “The HR Power Tools 6-Pack for High-Impact Service Delivery.” Much like the double-edged sword nature of its companion power tools, IoT in workforce management can usher in unprecedented and significant business benefits, but only when the right capabilities are selected and potential risks and adverse outcomes are accounted for. 

IoT is a process in which people, machines, and devices are connected to one another via a single network in order to automatically exchange data without any manual involvement. IoT can, for example:

  • track the productivity of workers in the field
  • confirm overall fitness or fatigue when relevant
  • assign tasks based on the nearest worker
  • tie scheduling real-time to customer flow
  • offer real-time training based on an employee’s time on job, credentials or performance

All of this sounds pretty compelling, but a couple words of caution. The first word: Volkswagen, whose engineers illegally programmed IoT-like software to sense when the car was being tested during an emissions inspection, which then activated more costly equipment that reduced emissions. This resulted in a roughly $3B fine this year. Additionally, IoT solutions will generate lots of new, often very valuable data related to people and how they perform their jobs, and not every HR Department is adequately staffed to handle the current explosion of people data or supported by data scientists.

Cause for Optimism with Early Adopters of IoT in HR

While not many HR Technology solution providers are occupying the IoT market category just yet, one company caught our attention: Triax Technologies, and specifically with their “spot- r” solution for companies with workers in the field, particularly on constructions sites. Certainly, accidents are more common there. My briefing from Triax’ COO Peter Schermerhorn enlightened me that U.S. construction companies pay out $1 billion annually for claims related to slips, trips or falls; that the construction industry pays more than twice the national average for workers’ compensation insurance; and that an estimated $7.2 billion in fraudulent workers’ compensation claims are filed annually in the U.S.

spot-r by Triax provides data-driven, real-time visibility into construction operations and safety incidents, leading to an improved safety culture on site and can result in reduced insurance costs. Automatic, geo-tagged “slip, trip, fall” alerts improve response time to accidents and record surrounding conditions (temperature, height, location of witnesses in the area, etc.), self-alert buttons empower construction workers to stop working due to unsafe conditions and alert supervisors to hazardous conditions, and high-decibel evacuation alerts are included in the mandatory wearable devices used on many of the company’s pilot projects with customers. Peter also offered a glimpse into the near future when the company’s sensors will be used in new ways to promote safety and visibility on the job site. Imagine knowing in real-time where your workers, equipment, machinery, and tools are onsite and how they’re interacting with each other.

Who said technology innovations related to HR and workforce management usually lag other business areas?

Bottom Line:  As with all the other power tools (i.e., sophisticated capabilities) recently added to the HR practitioner tool belt, IoT’s potential to be a game-changer cannot be overstated, but neither can the surrounding considerations for avoiding possible misuse or sub-optimal deployment.

Posted in : HR Strategy, The Internet of Things


The Dark Side of Shareholder Value: Its impact on the very people it’s designed to benefit


Our industry requires a shift in mindset from providers, buyers, AND investors. We need to rethink shareholder value and the integral link it has with the very element it seems to be bent on eliminating – people. In a thought-provoking post, my colleague Phil Fersht called out the fact we are in the people elimination business, wondering how it got so bad. My take: there are two key aspects in this debate; the way we view talent and the (unintended) consequences of decades of shareholder value doctrine.

The importance of talent for the future of services

Buyers need to deal with their cost reduction obsession and recognize talent is still the differentiating factor for their business success – and will be for the foreseeable future. Domain expertise, talent, and local people are critical components of the value service providers produce. This is true in any industry, but for example in oil & gas and the utility industry, the service providers that are perceived as delivering the most value by buyers are those that invest in talent, local people with deep industry expertise, and innovation prowess. These folks are not the cheapest, but bring exponentially more insight and impact on results. Buyers have shared ample examples of service providers that help them tackle the sticky industry problems by bringing the talents of industry experts, data scientists, technology experts and the client’s domain experts together. This teaming leads to multidisciplinary cross-pollination to design and deliver solutions that combine technology, industrial process and ideas and proven concepts from other industries.

We are on the verge of a shift in the way we work, and the outcomes we produce

The future value delivered by the outsourcing industry won’t be people running the accounts payable process, but in knowledge-intensive, decision-rich processes. You need the talent to make the technology work effectively – to drive the results and business outcomes. If we again look at the oil and gas and utility industry, organizations are starting to recognize the talent they need to compete in the new economy aren’t smitten with the work and reputations of the oil & gas industry or utilities. The reality is that the competition for data scientists, for instance, is not Shell versus Exxon Mobil, but Exxon Mobil versus the likes of Apple, Google, Facebook and a host of start-ups. Service providers can offer more interesting career paths and are a source of talent that can plug the quantitative and qualitative skills gap these industries face. Long story short; focusing on talent, continuous education and business value creation is the viable path forward for service providers. 

The creed of shareholder value and its disconnect from reality

Too many people are still worshipping the totem of shareholder value, a theoretic and flawed notion from its conception. We are in a slow transition to more stakeholder value focus, more fitting our interdependent world that needs more cohesion and inclusiveness.

Ever since the invention of the term shareholder value, it was adopted as the dominant discourse by Wall Street and institutional investors. It, among other factors, has led to a short-term, myopic circus that reduces the horizon of executives to 90 days, de-humanizing our enterprises. It’s a fact that we are richer than ever before and there is less sickness, famine, and war (you wouldn’t say it if you watch the news). But there are still large swaths of the world struggling to improve the standard of living. And even in the world’s richest countries, large groups of people don’t feel better off. They feel left behind, disenfranchised and powerless. This is about half the population in countries like the US, the UK and France, evidence Brexit, Trump and Marine Le Pen’s rise. 

We need to go full circle on shareholder value
Coming back to shareholder value; it’s time to go full circle. Take a minute to think who is behind the vast pools of capital institutional investors manage… It’s us, the people saving money for their pensions. Shareholder value is a construct that served the money managing industry well but forgot to look at the wider interests of the actual owners of the money…. those shareholders are also your employees. Shareholders are not the clever folks on Wall Street, they are the representatives of the ‘normal people’ in your neighborhood and your company, the people who save their money in a pension fund or 401k.

If you take a narrow interpretation of ‘fiduciary duty,’ you can get away with the fallacy that returns on investment is the only metric of interest. But what if you fail to let that money you invest create prosperity for the people you invest it for in their real life? If your addiction to dividends and higher share prices is ruining the jobs of your future beneficiaries? It is time to bring the financial economy and the real economy closer together. 

We can’t ignore the externalities of business any longer. People elimination is one of the challenging externalities that is a short-term lever executive in our industry seem to see as the inevitable answer to competitive pressures and new technologies (RPA, AI). 

The Bottom Line – Taking social responsibility seriously is a critical and foundational aspect of doing business anno 2017

Only ten years ago, when I was doing research about investment preferences of pension fund beneficiaries and their ability to influence pension fund investment policy, corporate social responsibility and socially responsible investing were a theoretic discussion, often painted as the domain of idealistic, money-hating tree huggers. Not anymore. Since the 2008 financial crisis, everyone understands CSR is a real thing, a source of durable value creation, competitive advantage and not a fad you only use as window dressing. CSR has come a long way since. It’s time for service providers and buyers, along with governments, to come up with credible policies to make sure talent is up for the new tasks at hand, to truly augment people with the new technologies instead of using this as an excuse for the next round of layoffs.

Posted in : Talent and Workforce


Off-Shore-Based Service Providers Look to Develop “Meaningful” Presence in the U.S.


The pendulum is swinging back. Over the past year, we’ve seen the increasing focus from India-based service providers to invest in building on-shore presence and capability in the U.S.  While spurred on by H-1B visa limitations and in-flight policies regarding minimum wage and the politics of “protectionism,” the long and short of it is that the U.S. citizens should benefit from local investments. U.S. governments and economic development entities are offering incentives for partnering with these service providers as they seek out “hubs” central to current and potential clients. Two recent examples are Indianapolis, Indiana with Infosys and Jacksonville, Florida with Genpact, where the cities offer tax incentives and colleges and universities can provide a talent pool.

It used to be “too expensive” for service providers to set up on-shore service delivery centers, but with the increasingly integrated and intelligent use of robotic process automation and cognitive computing and the motivation of politics and protectionism, this argument is fading. What is also relevant is when the partnership changes focus from outsourcing a task or point solution such as “collections” to business outcomes such as providing a better patient experience and increasing upfront payment (thereby reducing the need for collections), the service provider needs to be more integrated into the end-to-end process and business operation. That means having a local presence and interaction to provide relevance and create meaning and insight. (See “Recasting the patient billing experience” as an example). 

Our research (see Exhibit) shows the there is a significant drop across the board in the move to “offshore” business and IT work – finance and accounting and HR, in particular.  Case in point, we recently heard from a client about how Sutherland helped set up and recruit into a local service center for F&A services in a matter of a few months for a company that was separating from its parent.

Exhibit: Changing use of offshoring – shared services and outsourcing


Source: HfS Research in Conjunction with KPMG, “State of Operations and Outsourcing 2017”  Sample: n=454 Enterprise Buyers 

Click to enlarge

How service providers are expanding local, U.S.-based presence

Investments by service providers in having short- and long-term U.S-based capability for clients include local service delivery centers and increasing co-location delivery teams as well as work-from-home options; education support through curriculum development in local colleges and universities as well as programs for K-12 to “entice” and enable interest in STEM (e.g., and Girls Who Code) to create the workforce of the future; and transitioning workforces from clients to their own organizations.

Examples include:  

  • Genpact: In July, Genpact will add to its network of 12 U.S.-based service support and delivery centers by opening one in Jacksonville, Florida. This one will focus first on mortgage service support with processing, underwriting, and closing services for residential mortgage loans for a leading financial services institution 
  • Infosys: A new entry into this discussion, Infosys has far outstripped other service providers in pursuing H-1B visas to date and is now refocusing on building local presence and brand recognition. Infosys intends to develop four locations in the U.S., centered in “client clusters” and focused on particular capability areas such as artificial intelligence, user experience, and enterprise cloud. Its approach is to partner with local colleges and universities and offer incentives such as investing in student tuition and curriculum development. Infosys is also preparing for more long-term needs by looking at ways to entice a broader interest in STEM. The first partnership in this effort is in Indianapolis, Indiana, the heart of the U.S.
  • Cognizant: Its recent acquisition of Health Care Services Corporation’s TMG Group adds Medicaid and Medicare support in offices in Texas and Pennsylvania. This move provides its clients access to more local resources – people with knowledge and depth in government health as well as infrastructure.

Bottom line: Indian-based service providers have been building near-shore and onshore presence for a few years now, but it takes on new meaning and significance now as the context changes – politics, the impact of technology, objectives for partnering, and changing priorities around the skill sets that are needed. As a service buyer or government, university or economic development organization, be creative and also take a long-term view as to how these service providers can funnel the investments they are increasingly willing to take to have value locally to grow their businesses.   

Posted in : Uncategorized


HCSC’s Sale of TMG Health to Cognizant Shows A Move to Focus – and Partner– for Better Outcomes


Earlier this week, Cognizant announced its intention to expand its footprint to support U.S. Government health operations through the agreement to acquire the TMG Health subsidiary of Health Care Services Corporation (HCSC).  On the flip side of that announcement, HCSC has carved out its Government health support function to be run by a partner – Cognizant. HCSC can benefit from Cognizant’s dedicated, prioritized, and leveraged (cross-client) resources to manage the operations services. However, to impact the health, care, and financial outcomes of its healthcare consumer base, HCSC will need to partner with Cognizant in a way that creates the OneOffice™ – a seamless flow of data, insights, and infrastructure for the front, middle, and back office. 

TMG Health’s relationship with HCSC started back in 2005 when HCSC selected it to provide BPO services in support of its entry into the Medicare Advantage market. At the time, TMG Health provided some measure of enrollment, eligibility, claims, and billing support to a total client count of 30 plans covering 2.8 million lives. In 2008, HCSC acquired TMG Health for $100m, tucking in the BPO provider as a subsidiary. TMG Health has since added support for Medicare and Medicaid claims processing and member services and has local resources in Pennsylvania and Texas – for 32 health plans (+2 since 2009) and more than 4.3 million lives. TMG Health has not really grown its portfolio of clients although the footprint of services has expanded over time.  And public health programs continue to grow – in numbers and complexity as the industry moves to greater coverage and value-based care. The changes in the healthcare market driven by consumerism and compliance are driving healthcare plans to “rethink” their business and operations strategy.  

By exiting the “back office business,” HCSC can focus its investment and resources on becoming a more consumer-oriented company.

While retaining a partnership with Cognizant for its support/back office services, we expect HCSC to focus on becoming more consumer-oriented; to channel its resources to becoming insightful, tech-enabled, and overall “savvy” to impact health outcomes for its constituents. In the meantime, it can rely on Cognizant to provide a steady and increasingly optimized rules-based foundation. We expect Cognizant to tap into the Medicare/Medicaid COE it told us about in our last Healthcare Operations Blueprint research. The consolidation of its subject matter expertise, IP, and tools in the COE is to help manage the tricky business of complying with government policies and the continued growth of Medicare, Medicaid, Medicaid Advantage, and Dual-Eligible consumers – providing support for eligibility, enrollment, billing, claims, and applying its solutions around quality and reporting (e.g., STARServe). Cognizant has the right experience plus industrialization and scale and has the Trizetto and RPA capabilities to drive increased efficiencies and free up resources to support new growth in the Government Health operations business.

The Bottom-line: HCSC and Cognizant will need to partner to keep – or establish – integration between front and back office to impact health, care, and medical outcomes.

One place this arrangement could break down is if the back office support that Cognizant provides is not integrated with the front- and middle-office of HCSC (and its other clients). In order to impact health, care, financial, and quality outcomes, healthcare payers need to be healthcare-consumer oriented – understand the health, financial, economic, and social determinants of their constituency. A lot of that data is part of those back office systems and processes, so HCSC and Cognizant will need to be partners in defining workflows of the future that will support an insightful, consumer-oriented business that complies with government standards and also enables HCSC to better manage the health, care, medical, and financial outcomes of its public health base.

Posted in : Healthcare and Outsourcing


America Last: Why Trump’s running away from ‘Paris’ is so foolish


I have refrained from political commentary since Trump took office because so much has been unclear. Not that his stated views during his campaign that climate change is a Chinese hoax and climate rules are designed to hurt American businesses or his appointment of staunch climate change-deniers to the EPA and Department of Energy, promised anything good. But now the long awaited, reality TV decision about the Paris Climate Agreement showed the real Donald Trump meant what was really going to do what he promised: The United States will “withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord,” “seizing all implementations right away.”

Trump frames the climate change fight, not as one of our world’s biggest challenges but an economic zero-sum game of the US against the rest of the world. In his speech, Trump tried to tie leaving ‘Paris’ to the protection of the American people. This is a narrative weaned from reality.

Here are some sobering facts to put Trump’s decision in context

  1. Withdrawing from Paris doesn’t impact much in the medium term, regarding real climate policy and action. Withdrawing from the agreement will take a full four-year period. Ironically the US can only officially withdraw the day after the 2020 presidential election.
  2. Paris is a voluntary agreement, of which many critics claim lacks teeth. Every nation sets its own goals. Obama pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 26 percent during the 2005 – 2025 timeframe. The US could have simply adjusted its ambitions and goals if it felt Obama’s goals are unattainable. Trump has already gutted the Clean Power Plan, an essential part of Obama’s efforts to reduce emissions by fossil fuel burning electricity plants and increase the use of renewable energy and energy conservation.
  3. Many “legacy” energy jobs are already gone. Coal jobs won’t come back, nor will the jobs in Oil & Gas that were lost in the downturn over the last three years. Coal has lost its ground and competitive edge to natural gas, solar and wind. Mostly for competitive pricing reasons, not policy reasons. Coal companies acknowledge this, saying they don’t see a future for coal and jobs will continue to diminish. The production of oil and gas has rebounded from the slump of 2014-2016, but jobs have not. This is due to new efficiencies in the field, primarily driven by automation.
  4. The new jobs re in clean energy and Paris promotes their creation. The jobs Trump is so eager to create are not in the fossil fuel industries but in clean energy. The solar industry is the biggest engine of job creation in America. In 2016, one in fifty new jobs was in the solar industry. Grid modernization driven by renewable energy has created 100,000 new jobs in 2016, according to the Department of Energy. The Paris Agreement created a lot of momentum for the adoption of clean energy. For the first time in history, the world united to curb emissions and set a framework to act against climate change. The Paris Agreement provides a big push for the energy transition that is underway across the globe, a transition that some experts expect to create a ten-trillion-dollar economy for renewable energy and is already creating large numbers of blue-collar manufacturing, installation and service jobs in the US.
  5. Any deal on climate change is terminal while Trump is in power. There won’t be a new deal of a re-negotiation of the current agreement, as Trump alluded to in his Rose Garden spectacle.

Will it change US progress in the inevitable move to renewable energy?

The simple answer is no. Besides the damaging effects of Trump’s actions at the federal level, for businesses, states, and cities, the only common sense course of action is to continue down the path of renewable energy.  Directly after Trump’s decision, California, Washington, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Minnesota, Delaware, Virginia and Puerto Rico – representing roughly 35% of the US economy – formed the United States Climate Alliance, vowing to uphold the Paris Climate agreement within their borders. Eleven other states, including Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina and Illinois, have also supported the Climate Agreement.

The historic Paris Climate Agreement has already been ratified by most parties to the treaty and was signed by all countries except Nicaragua, who find the agreement not far-reaching and aggressive enough, and Syria, for obvious reasons. The Paris agreement is an agreement with intentions, not with automatic actions. The interpretation and subsequent actions heavily rely on industry and civil society. And they are now further encouraged to take action. While the Trump administration is doing everything to shut down forward-looking energy policy and climate change policy on a federal level, such as overhauling Obama’s Clean Power Plan, on a state and city level, the majority is acting; investing in renewable energy resources, adhering to the Paris Agreement guidelines. Since Trump’s announcement, governors, mayors and business leaders have spoken out and showed their intentions to stick with ‘Paris.’ California’s governor flew to China to sign an agreement with the Chinese to collaborate on climate and clean tech, emphasizing the resolve from states to act and move forward.

A symbolic policy shift with diplomatic and reputational impact first and foremost

The announcement to withdraw from ‘Paris’ is a symbolic move more than anything. And it is symbolic for all the wrong reasons 

  • The backlash is starting to show; there is a negative impact on the reputation of the US – the rest of the world effectively sees Trump’s move as the withdrawal of the US from the world stage. The diplomatic backlash will be felt beyond the climate realm.
  • Impact on American businesses – US businesses fear they will be at a disadvantage seizing the opportunities in the renewable energy market, while they, until Trump’s decision, where well-positioned to lead in the global clean energy market.
  • It highlights the missed opportunity to jump on the renewable energy train. Trump is missing a great opportunity to make a concerted effort on infrastructure and the job creation in the renewable energy market. Last year, one in fifty new jobs in the US was created by the solar industry. Think about that. And only 50.000 people work in coal. Pick your battles, Mr. Trump. Instead of trying to save a small number of coal mining jobs with the red herring of ‘clean coal’ and withdrawing from Paris, focus on re-training coal miners for the manufacturing, installation and service jobs in the wind and solar industry.

The bottom-line: Trump will be gone when Mar-a-Lago is swallowed by the sea

As Oscar Wilde famously said: “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Trump’s announcement was short-sighted and removed from reality and science, catering to a small fraction of people with extremist and ancient views on climate and energy 

The good news is that the clean energy transition is well underway and won’t be stopped by the Trump administration, not in the US and certainly not abroad. But, as many critics of the climate agreement emphasize, it might be too little too late. The Paris deal was a strong message from all nations, coming together in the endorsement of curbing global warming and the impacts of climate change, but the climate fight needs more ambitious goals and most importantly actions. The world can’t wait any longer and play an economically motivated game of chicken, with the well-being of our planet at stake. 

Posted in : Energy


Training for jobs that don’t yet exist: the AT&T story


Let’s turn that common lament we hear of a “talent shortage” on its head. What if you created a pipeline of talent that fit the needs of your business as it is growing and changing? While at the Infosys Confluence event recently, I heard about how AT&T has been taking steps for the last two years to create the very workforce it needs to achieve its vision.


First, determine what skills and capabilities your workforce will need in the future

“Based on industry and corporate direction, we chose six areas, including big data, IP networking, and software-defined networking, that we specifically want to attack as the skills of the future,” shared Candy Conway, VP, Global Managed Services Operations, Business Solutions and International at AT&T.

AT&T defined a set of roles that map to these areas, determined the associated competencies, and evaluated employees against the future landscape. They identified over 100,000 employees who will need to have a different or a more varied or developed set of competencies than they have today. “We then developed a roadmap and plan for getting these professionals into a relevant and meaningful career path that maps to the future of the company and the industry,” said Candy.

AT&T is a little over two years into this program. At this point, each employee has a prescriptive program managed through a learning portal – it identifies the role they are in currently, the one they target the future, the associated competencies for each role and the learning and education path to get there. For example, an employee could be in the network center and want to be a software engineer, and has a learning path mapped out.

The nuances of the skill areas also change quickly. “It used to be that skills would change a decade at a time, and that’s now accelerated,” said Candy. AT&T designed a program that would offer a number of options and flexibility – from internal designed and led courses, to “nano-degrees” in niche areas like web development and virtual reality to online master’s degrees from Georgia Tech and social-media based programs with badges (157,000 options) awarded as people complete courses. 

Investing in future skills is of value to the employee and the company

This plan is mapped to what roles that AT&T believes it needs to have in the future…. so employees can look for open roles and bid on the ones they want to fill. There are no guarantees that these roles will be filled by employees desiring them at AT&T, but the program still provides an advantage to the employee since AT&T is defining these roles (such as data scientist) with a forward-looking view, and therefore helping employees develop these competitive and marketable skills. Certainly, having invested in the person’s training, AT&T has an interest in keeping these people in-house and this is a way of creating loyalty, stickiness and a workforce of the future.

This kind of investment can help a company attract and keep the “best and brightest” with the most potential for helping grow a company. Individuals who feel a company cares enough to invest in their talent development, keep their skills relevant (and competitive), and give them options in a career are more likely to stay with that company.  AT&T also will have skills relevant to the future – the future workforce – without having to go out and ‘find them’. 

The bottom-line: Become a learning organization in order to be relevant to your customer base, stay competitive, and grow.

Take a look at the vision for your company. What do you want to be able to deliver to your customers? What experience do you want to create for them? What outcomes matter over time? Determine what roles and competencies, and what training, education, and mentoring will develop your workforce to achieve it.

Businesses need to be increasingly agile to address the rapid changes driven by consumer expectations and digital technologies. That means employees also need to be agile – and managed in a way that encourages and rewards-based learning.  The market is increasingly competitive for candidates who have future-oriented “soft skills” like critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity, and the ability and interest in learning. This program provides a model for how a well-established, “legacy” brand can embrace a  learning culture to enable an agile workforce relevant for competitively positioning the company for growth long-term.

Posted in : Talent and Workforce


Blockchain’s Potential To Overturn The Way We Operate The BackOffice


My colleague Steve Goldberg recently wrote about artificial intelligence finally getting incorporated into payroll processes. And I recently spoke with IBM about how they’re working to reinvent finance processes using blockchain. Intra-company processes present an interesting use case for blockchain, although they don’t actually have many of the common characteristics of the most popular use cases. Why?

Typically, we talk about blockchain being best for processes and operations where there is:

  • Low trust among participants
  • Lower existing technology investments
  • Low transparency or visibility into the process
  • Long cycle times in completing transactions

In contrast, finance and HR tend to be:

  • Medium to high trust (business partners tend to be known and therefore trusted by finance, for example, and certainly employees are known and vetted by the employer)
  • Relatively strong on investment in technology (although worse for HR than finance)
  • Decent transparency for internal aspects of the processes, but still poor for the parts of the process that interconnect with third parties – such as purchase orders, confirmation of delivery of products/services, etc. Transparency of data is less in HR, where the data starts at the individual level and then rolls up to the divisional and corporate levels.
  • Respectable cycle times for transactions. Understanding that companies always want to close the books faster, etc., cycle times aren’t as bad for internal processes as for multi-party processes.

So, if finance and HR don’t meet the general criteria for blockchain use, why would companies consider it as a viable option? We recently heard from IBM and Infosys about blockchain’s potential in finance, and our other research also shows the following likely benefits:

  • Security. A blockchain-based application tends to be more secure. Currently, it’s considered impossible to hack the data in a block, although it’s possible to hack at the edges, such as someone’s access point. However, the security for blockchain transactions and recording are much better than many of the systems companies use today. Consider the risks of letting employee or applicant data being hacked and blockchain becomes more attractive.
  • Immutability. When transactions happen quickly and permanently, then companies reduce the likelihood of duplicate payments for the same invoice and double spending (using the same money twice because it looks like it’s still available for a period of time after it’s actually been spent.) It also helps with employee data such as payroll information and benefits distribution.
  • Smart contracts. The business logic of transactions can be encoded into a blockchain app so that the rules get implemented automatically, taking out human error and increasing the accuracy of the transactions. For example, a contract between a client and a materials vendor can be coded into a blockchain, then the payment of the invoice gets made automatically after data about the materials’ quality, timeliness of delivery, and other terms of the agreement are incorporated.
  • Speed. While finance processes are ok today, any increase in speed helps the company. For example, if international payment transactions can be shortened, it improves the company’s operating margins by getting revenue quicker. The speed improvements will be particularly noticeable in processes that touch third parties.
  • Auditing and compliance. When the data are in a blockchain, there is complete transparency of that data. As a result, searching for records and validating data in order to audit and prove compliance becomes a faster and more accurate effort. Many believe that the reduction in cost and time of auditing and compliance are enough to justify the investment in blockchain for the back office.

Also, it’s important to note that we’re not advocating replacing ERP and other systems right away – you can record data on blockchain without doing the transaction on the chain. So in the interim blockchain can supplement rather than replace.

Bottom Line: Back-office processes may not be as world-changing as other blockchain use cases, but there is still significant potential for finance and HR to get reinvented with the technology.

Posted in : Blockchain


How EXL is taking a “grassroots” approach for incremental digital transformation – for itself and clients


EXL is going broad and deep from its core strength in analytics. At its recent EXL Client, Industry Analyst, and Advisor Day, the service provider showcased its theme of “Accelerating Digital Transformation” driven by “look deeper” with analytics.

We heard from both EXL and clients during the day that while clients appreciate that “digital” can help “transform” their staid businesses into one seamless capability that is more flexible and responsive, it doesn’t feel real or short-term. Their businesses are too siloed, risk averse, and focused on the day to day. The sense I got from the day was that EXL is “right there” with its clients facing these challenges – meaning, it is not behind, and it is not way ahead and looking over its shoulder. EXL is working shoulder to shoulder with its clients — at the grassroots level– to figure out the vision for a more customer-centric, insight-driven, and agile business, map it out, and take the steps to get there. The service provider is doing this by keeping its focus on the core strength of analytics, and addressing gaps it has had in data management and automation in particular.


The front office is only as effective as the middle and back allows it to be

EXL’s traditional strength is in the middle office with industry-specific services support and analytics and in the back office with finance & accounting BPO. The front office cannot be effectively customer centric—responsive and personalized—if it doesn’t have a flexible data infrastructure through this middle and back office to drive context and act with speed, precision, and fluidity. EXL is working with clients where it sits – in that middle and back office, particularly in insurance, healthcare, and financial services.

For example, with one client that started as a headcount-based cost reduction BPO play in F&A, EXL proposed a number of workflow process and “digital” enablers such as RPA and chat to have a more interactive and responsive function. The client has been able to remove itself from a fairly heavy-handed “oversight” of the day-to-day and EXL has been able to find and implement efficiencies for faster processing, fewer errors or points of confusion, and greater satisfaction all around. A key solution element here was the human-centered approach: the team took the time to interview people involved in the current process at the client and at EXL, understand what was not working, and design and test out solutions that were people, process, and technology oriented (a.k.a. design thinking).

Building out the data chain

Over the past couple of years, EXL has hired, acquired, and developed a broader spectrum of capability in analytics modeling and reporting to build out this core strength. It’s been a differentiator for execution, but not across the full analytics spectrum and not at scale. Now it’s expanding upstream into data and data management, built-in proprietary technology and partnerships for “bots,” and supplementing the shift through its data acquisitions such as RPM Direct and Datasource.

Its viewpoint of the impact of data and analytics was demonstrated through an example in the middle office of an insurance client. EXL created a digital interface for customer acquisition, combined it with its LifePro policy admin system and data analytics. The client uses the database to target and segment customers for campaigns. Interested customers can use mobile or internet portal access to apply. Based on the back end integration with the underwriting and pricing engine, the customer gets a quote and the company can bind the policy online.

The role of robotics

The conversation around robotic process automation and artificial intelligence (the latter less of a focus and still a point of view to be developed, it seems) is constantly tied to analytics.  EXL’s observation is that “clients now seem to be taking a more pragmatic approach to intelligent automation” – how to institutionalize it, not just use it. One client example was of setting up a COE in a “build, operate, transfer” approach where EXL initially builds out the automation strategy, governance, use cases, service orchestration layers and bot skillsets. If you are interested in this approach, it’s one that we haven’t heard quite as clearly articulated from other service providers, and an area that we do hear is a challenge for global business services centers, for example. Some companies like Ascension Health and SEI Investments have to take the leadership on their own, but others may appreciate this kind of support to get RPA not just used but infused into the organization. I do get the sense this is a newer offering for EXL, so do your due diligence on the availability of skills and capabilities across different suites, but we often hear from clients that EXL makes a responsive, transparent partner.

Another place EXL is building scale is in its library of function- and industry-specific bots and partnerships with third parties including WorkFusion, Automation Anywhere, and Blue Prism. With automation, the service provider is willing to guarantee productivity and cost benefit, and change the traditional BPO engagement model. As you consider how you want to partner with EXL, take a look at its bot library, its subject matter experts, and consider the balance with your own capabilities. When you look at solving a problem and impacting an outcome and then designing the solution in between, rather than the previous outsourcing approach of lift and shift, you have more flexibility in your business.

Bottom line: Rethink your partnership style and challenge EXL.

Tap into these areas where it is investing: analytics; platform-based services; “advanced automation”; and human-centric digital transformation.  What to watch: the need to scale in these focus areas and become a more credible powerhouse in consulting to lead the charge.

Posted in : Design Thinking, Digital Transformation