Melissa O'Brien
 
Research Vice President - Head of HFS Academy 
Learn more about Melissa O'Brien
Getting chatbot fatigue? Then upgrade to digital associates...
April 17, 2021 | Melissa O'BrienPhil Fersht

Let's cut to the chase folks... chatbots have struggled to gain much of a foothold in the corporate tech innovation stack.  However, our analyst Melissa O'Brien has spent the last few years studying how these engagement technologies are evolving deeper into the enterprise where they can truly augment staff and reduce a significant amount of their time, while driving a whole new digital way of engaging for both employees and customers... from the back office right through to the front. So let's take a look at which services firms are getting good at creating these digital associate workers for enterprises...

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Melissa, we've been observing the evolution of "conversation AI" for a good decade-plus now, so what's new?  has the pandemic driven more uptake?

The demand for conversational AI has exploded over the last year.  The automation tools we call digital associates were one of the digital superheroes of the pandemic, as conversational tools picked up the slack in handling volumes of interactions when human associates were not available due to a lack of work-from-home preparedness. Reduction in staff coupled with spike in volumes of interactions in many industries such as ecommerce created a burning platform. For many companies, this rapid and massive disruption resulted in accelerating digital

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The 9-to-5 job is officially dead... Work-from-Anywhere becomes our new reality
February 18, 2021 | Melissa O'BrienPhil Fersht

With companies the size and stature of Aetna, Amazon, Nationwide Insurance, Microsoft, and Unilever committing to the hybrid work model well beyond Covid-19, where home working is encouraged, you know a seismic shift to the corporate work culture is firmly underway.  Simply put, most firms are enjoying the lesser reliance on expensive corporate real estate, combined with the novel environment to design and automate processes in a cloud model – because there is simply no choice but to embrace digital head-on if they are to survive.

The true benefits of digital are all about scaling your business at a speed and cost-efficiency that keeps you ahead of your customers’ needs.  It’s all been about breaking the cycle where you had to keep adding people to ensure growth – for today and tomorrow, it's about doing more business from the same (or less) resources. 

OneOffice is the mindset to put real digital transformation into action, and there has never been a burning platform like the Work-From-Anywhere (WFA) revolution to force this change

Some of the world’s largest enterprises still have up to 100% staff working from home and have managed as a remote workforce for a year now.  A recent HFS study of 400 Global 2000 enterprises reveals that barely more than a third of enterprises intend to return to an office-based corporate model:

Office-based environments will never return to pre-COVID levels: We will have a significant Work-from-Anywhere workforce

 

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It is very unlikely that most enterprises will return to full-time office work, and the ramifications are plentiful and we evolve into Work-from-Anywhere

This is a complicated puzzle to solve, especially for large enterprises with a wide breadth of business functions and roles.  This essentially leaves us with four pivotal questions to answer:

  • The 9-5 workday is dead, but what does the new workday (and workforce) actually look like?
  • How can businesses prevent burnout while ensuring productivity at the same time?
  • How can workers adapt their skillsets that will stand them in good stead in this emerging environment?
  • And how do they ensure employee satisfaction while making the right decisions for security and business stability?

The new mentality is all about measuring outcomes from getting work done, as opposed to the inputs of resourcing for work

The nature of work is fundamentally changing, and if companies manage this shift effectively, it will change the work environment for the better for ambitious enterprises.  What’s needed is a solid grasp on what the long-term pivot to a ‘work from anywhere’ means to businesses, and a plan to make the remote workforce a part of the Digital OneOffice mindset.   Ideally, these changes switch the mentality to an outcomes-focused model where all that really matters is that work gets done and customers and employees are satisfied, regardless of where either is physically located.

The why, the what, and the how of Work From Anywhere in 2021... and beyond

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HFS Vision 2025 is here: The New Dawn to become a OneOffice Organization
December 07, 2020 | Phil FershtReetika FlemingMelissa O'BrienTom ReunerSaurabh GuptaElena ChristopherSarah Little

Without a Virtual OneOffice Organization, you won’t survive this Pandemic Economy
August 30, 2020 | Phil FershtMelissa O'BrienSarah Little

OneOffice is no longer a pipedream – almost overnight it has become a “have-to-have” business environment to operate and compete effectively in this virtual Pandemic Economy.  There is no waiting around for things to revert to the analogous way we used to run things in 2019.  Especially when new HFS data shows only 37% of the Global 2000 intends to revert back to the same office-based environment in the future.  If you can survive on a third of your client base in the future then good luck to you!

Creating a true OneOffice experience is the very foundation of operating as a digital or virtual organization, where there are no stovepipes, no silos, no breakpoints that prevent processes functioning end-to-end, and data to flow freely across the organization.  A virtual OneOffice experience will give you a huge chance of thriving in this new reality, provided you have figured out how you are pivoting your business.

Digital is the only language operations now understand

OneOffice is where automation becomes a native competency, where human performance is augmented by unleashing creativity and personal interaction, where the immediacy of data creates insights to support decision-making that can make or break the firm. In fact, if you can’t operate your organization as one integrated unit where data flows freely back and forth across your process chains from your customers to your employees, from your front office to what you used to call your back office, then you probably won’t survive much longer in today’s brutal Pandemic Economy, where digital is the only language operations now understand.

 

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The Virtual OneOffice Organization is the foundation of the virtual workforce that encompasses both physical and digital entities

Our Virtual OneOffice Experience is the foundation of the ‘virtual workforce,’ where automation tools augment the employee’s digital capabilities and the workplace becomes a “plug-and-play,” work-from-anywhere scenario . It is all about creating touchless, frictionless digital experiences and connecting the front and back offices to facilitate them within a virtual setting.

Increasingly important to HFS’s OneOffice Experience is that any business strategy must align and equally consider both employee experience (EX) and customer experience (CX). Even more so in this virtual environment, the lines blur between who the customer is and who is servicing the customer. Leaders need to focus on the positives they will glean from this Paradigm Economy by putting customers’ needs at the core of their strategy.

Focus on human experiences to unleash people and drive business results

There is an evolution of thinking about experiences underway, from the traditional thinking in siloes --- customer, partner, and employee --- to a more holistic human experience-focused strategy. Based on the premise that human connections generate satisfaction and loyalty, aligning the goals and experiences across all of your company’s stakeholders will serve to create an impact on business growth and success.

OneOffice Experiences require EX and CX alignment to elevate the human experience

While the concept of ‘CX’ has had most of the fanfare in recent years, your employee experience is just as important and inherently tied to CX (whether or not you’ve made efforts to align them.)  The HFS Virtual OneOffice Experience is all about how customer, partner and employee experiences are coming together to drive a unified mindset, goals and business outcomes.  Organizations need to ensure they find the right balance of optimizing the use of emerging technology with a robust business case to improve CX to the long-term benefit of the business.  This means getting the right information flows in place, eliciting strategic advantage and ensuring exceptional CX to drive loyalty and growth.  The OneOffice approach centers on the optimization of the all human experiences involved in an enterprise ecosystem and in improving the use of technology in support of these experiences.

The more connected workers are to their organization and its values, the more empowered they are to support customer and partner experience

The OneOffice approach has become even more important as companies navigate these new virtual workplace experiences with blended physical and virtual environments. Technology change agents that augment and support people can be the glue that connects employee and customer experience, by making data and insights easier to access and decisions easier to make.   When so many decisions are made based on emotion, it's critical to ensure that people have the best data and information aligned to the shared values to support decision making.   The more connected workers are to their organization and its values, the more empowered they are to support customer and partner experience. 

The Bottom Line:  OneOffice is first about your talent and your business model.   Then it's about how successfully you deploy digital technologies to make it all happen

OneOffice illustrates what true digital transformation is all about – pivoting your business model around your customer’s needs (and anticipated needs) and ensuring your whole organization designs its processes right across the operations to achieve these goals with your staff motivated by the common outcomes. This means making similar investments and priorities to ensure your employees are as engaged digitally with your organization and your customers.  You can't get away just focusing on an exemplary customer digital experiences if your employees are not embedded into the same experience.

OneOffice is not just about improving engagement and productivity, but fundamentally about ‘unleashing people,’ and enabling passion and creativity for a new world of work where different skills are required.  At HFS we have categorized these skills into the following:

Being a Virtual OneOffice Organizaton will give you a huge chance of thriving in this new reality.  It's about pivoting your desired business model around your people an bringing them all together with your customers and partners in one virtual environment.  

Digital Associates finally have their flaming platform
April 12, 2020 | Melissa O'BrienEmily CoatesPhil Fersht

Sometimes platforms smolder, sometimes they burn, and sometimes they even rage with flames... and one example that's genuinely flaming in this current paradigm shift is the world of chatbots and their more sophisticated cousins, Digital Associates.  With this urgent need to augment customer-facing services with the locking down of call centers and corporate offices across the world (or even just keep them functioning at all), to keep IT help desks operating, or even internal needs such as basic finance,  procurement HR and payroll services, the opportunity to have digital "workers" with whom to engage is in high, high demand.

Our analysts Melissa O'Brien and Emily Coates have released introduced our first Digital Associates top ten products report, which ranks and analyzes 13 of the leading tools on the market for creating these conversational tools we call digital associates.  

Melissa, which products have the capabilities to develop really effective digital associates, and quickly? 

Our recent report analyzed voice of the customer feedback on the most important elements of enterprise products and platforms for developing digital associates, from functionality to the ability to embed intelligence. The 13 software products we have included in this study highlight the vendors that play in the three most important ecosystems for digital associates: developer tools and platforms, enterprise products, and niche products:

I am assuming, in today’s environment, ease of deployment trumps intelligence?

At this moment, the most important element for digital associates is the ease of use and relative ability to get up and running quickly. Google’s Dialogflow scored at the top overall and also is #1 for ease of use and functionality.  Our VOC survey respondents indicated that the ease of implementation was a major strength for Dialogflow and its “out of the box” capabilities that are able to be quickly plugged into communication channels like Slack and Twitter.  Runners-up for ease of use were Conversable and IBM Watson, where pre-trained modules and solid UI make it easier for users to stand up the DA’s in shorter amounts of time.

The pandemic will drive adoption of digital associates in the short term, and enable a greater acceptance of them as communication tools as part of business strategy in the future

Since the outbreak, there have been a plethora of chatbots that stood up in varied use cases.   Perhaps the most felicitous ones we’ve seen have been the Coronavirus ‘self-checker’ bots created, which are actively in use in chat functions by major health organizations.  We’ve also heard of digital associates being deployed by HR departments to run through work from home ‘checklists’ with employees.  And as the rush to work from home begins to stabilize, we’ve also been hearing a lot more about customer-facing bots being deployed for contact deflection in customer service functions.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll continue to see companies of all shapes and sizes rustle up some digital bandaids to throw on a very big wound.  At some point when the dust settles and a new normal emerges, companies will be re-assessing and designing everything from their customer engagement models to BCPs to internal processes.  And that’s when it will become clear that a digital-first approach is likely the easiest, most sustainable and least “disrupt-able” approach for many processes and communications.

And, it’s also the time that the ease of use for digital associates will become hygiene and digital associates tools will need to be agile and intelligent. This is where vendors’ investments in creating digital associates tools that can adapt quickly, learn and apply more advanced techniques like sentiment detection.  A standout in the innovation category is IPsoft, which ranked at the top across the board all innovation categories of embedding intelligence, scalability, and flexibility.  Dialogflow is well poised to rise to the challenge as well, with powerful abilities for modeling large and complex flows using intents and contexts.

The Bottom Line:  A ‘digital first’ approach could become the post-pandemic new normal.  The tools that are being quickly developed now need the potential to become more intelligent.

As companies start to move out of survival mode, we will start to see a much more strategic use of emerging technology.  People need to start thinking in new ways – not just about today’s problems at hand – but also about responding to future disruptive events in a way that uses important technological tools like digital associates in effective ways.

HFS Research premium subscribers click here to download your copy of the Digital Associates top ten products report

Genpact gets Right to the Point to bring the front and back office together... as OneOffice
October 20, 2019 | Phil FershtMelissa O'Brien

Did you hear the one about the GE finance captive spinoff which ended up as a Top 6 AI Services firm before making a bold move into the front office with the acquisition of the respected Right Point Group?  And did you hear it broke into the world of digital service capability without ever succumbing to the delights of acquiring an IT services shop?  Welcome to Genpact, folks, the former BPO firm which has been breaking the mold of business services for the past two decades.

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This is a serious digital acquisition that brings Genpact right into the customer paradigm

Genpact has been slowly but steadily building thought leadership and capabilities around “experience innovation” over the last few years.  Genpact’s 2017 acquisition of Design Thinking consulting firm TandemSeven was its first demonstration of the firm’s appetite to develop a OneOffice capability, aiming to move beyond its back office roots and help its clients develop more holistic experiences.  It has now announced an agreement to acquire digital consultancy Rightpoint, with a focus on digital transformation, with capabilities for CX, commerce, and mobile application development.  

A highlight of the acquisition and one of Rightpoint’s most distinctive features is its expertise for designing and implementing digital workplaces – its work with Aon, for example, demonstrates Rightpoint’s capability to reimagine the workplace.  This is such an important element that many companies need help with, as they struggle to connect experiences across the organization and align to the customer. 

While TandemSeven gave the firm a flavoring of customer experience design, the sheer size and scale and depth digital tech implementation across North America puts Genpact right on the digital map, with a unique value proposition of leading with process transformation, enabled by AI and digital capability where we can expect a significant jump from its current position, which we assessed earlier this year in our 2019 Design, Sales and Marketing Services Top Ten report.  Genpact landed at #14 in the rankings, largely as it just begun developing

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Fishing for digital dominance... meet Brian
April 11, 2019 | Phil FershtMelissa O'Brien

Brian Whipple, CEO Accenture Interactive, describes the evolution of the world’s premier experience agency

The term “digital” has become overused, diluted and - in many ways - rendered useless.  After all in 2019, what ISN’T digital, and what’s the point in distinguishing? We have instead moved to a world that’s comprised of integrated and immersive experiences – as consumers, or as patients, as employees, etc – experiences that shape our buying habits and our quality of life. The recent announcement of Accenture's acquisition Droga5 has raised the stakes of creating immersive customer experiences to a whole new level (read our POV here). 

Companies that are really seeking to align themselves to experiences need to break down their silos and better understand what their customers want... and really execute on that.  We caught up with Brian Whipple, Accenture Interactive’s CEO (and recent winner of an HFS Disruptive Award), to learn how his firm’s massive acquisition appetite has helped build a company embracing an entirely new philosophy, helping its clients align to customer needs in the post-digital world.  Accenture is integrating technology, design, commerce and content to help clients develop “living” experiences that meet customer needs today and are ready to evolve in the future – requiring a wide breadth of talent, expertise and even cultures within cultures to deliver on those experiences.  The bits and pieces that have come together at Accenture Interactive over the last several years, most recently with Droga5, are all adding up to Accenture’s mission to “create the greatest customer experiences on the planet for our clients.”

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HFS Research: Can you talk to us a little bit about how digital came to be, and how Accenture Interactive came in to the space? Because you were really the first of the service providers to coin the "Digital" phrase, and really put it together, industrialize it, etc. Could you give us a brief history about how it came to be, how it got started, and what the original philosophy was, and how that may have changed in the last five or six years?

Brian: Sure. There are three distinct phases to date, for Accenture Interactive. The original philosophy was that the world needed digital diagnostic tools that work in the arena of digital marketing; things like online campaign optimizers, A/B testing it, “I’m going to present offer A, with this creative treatment online, and I’ll test it against offer B,” or, “I’ll move it on a placement

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Are call centers cool again? Teleperformance, Concentrix and SYKES lead the first Top Ten for customer engagement operations
March 16, 2019 | Phil FershtMelissa O'Brien

Ever since IBM sold off its Daksh business to Concentrix in 2013, "call center" has been something of a dirty word to traditional service providers and software aficionados alike. 

Since then, traditional IT services have flatlined as the focus has shifted to digital solutions, where the customer is front and center to emerging interactive ("digital") technologies. Having that ability to lead the customer front line and support those customer needs with real-time speed and intelligence is core to business operations.... and service partners which can deliver this has never been so crucial.  So are call center providers back in vogue, or is this merely a blip as we transition to a world where we don't need many human beings anymore?

The contact center operations (BPO) services industry is growing at 4% globally, despite razor-thin margins and intense competition. So, why do pundits declare the call center on the brink of implosion into a piece of software, while the stagnant IT services market escapes criticism for perpetuating a “people-centric” model? While contact center BPO growth is hardly setting the world on fire, it’s been steady over the last several years, even though the majority of contact centers worldwide are still in-house. The fact that there’s still a $65 billion market for outsourcing this work begs the question why these investments are simply going away. Contact center leaders like Teleperformance and Concentrix have recently made sizeable investments in bolstering service delivery (acquiring Intelenet and Convergys, respectively), reflecting the relative importance of this market segment. The recent development in which SYKES acquired Symphony demonstrates the optimism that automation can grow, not cannibalize, the contact center business. The latter, in particular, signals a promise that contact centers can use RPA expertise to scale and complement traditional contact center services business as they pivot to become more strategic providers.

Other large business services firms are gravitating into the customer engagement market, sensing an opportunity to disrupt deals with a hybrid intelligent automation/global talent approach. Most of the Indian-heritage IT services firms with strong BPO delivery arms are gravitating back to contact centers, as they see the potential for aligning intelligent automation and cognitive assistant solutions with their global base of talent for supporting their enterprise customers. Some examples of this are with the likes of Tech Mahindra in telecoms and Infosys with order management. Cognizant, Wipro, and HCL - for example - are also competing for call center work. BPO firms that have been more focused on non-customer centric areas are gravitating aggressively back into the market, such as WNS, EXL, Hexaware, and Genpact. Even IBM has recently flirted with a few opportunities, despite selling its call center business, and we even cam close to featuring Accenture in our new Top Ten, but the firm was very adamant that is did everything but the contact center piece.

Contact centers are ripe for a renaissance, and automation is a big piece of this transformation. The common retort that a contact center with automation is an oxymoron is false. Perhaps it’s our legacy view of contact centers and automation that is oxymoronic—and it’s time to let go of that legacy. When “digital” is ultimately about new ways of doing things, the contact center is in a more precarious and important position than ever. The contact center for companies that want to stay competitive in a hyper-connected economy must learn how to embrace intelligent engagement, using the key change agent of automation to become a strategic hub that empowers both customer service professionals and the customers they support.

Enterprises must navigate the changing of the guard for intelligent customer experience services

There is a changing of the guard happening, as HFS analyst Melissa O'Brien analyzes in her new report Top 10 Front Office Customer Engagement Services, 2019.

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As the dust settles on our latest Top Ten, an assessment of the Customer Engagement Operations market, we’ve been fielding lots of questions about what this ranking means from a competitive standpoint.  Our final top ten chart was chock full of what you might consider to be the usual contact center suspects, but also sprinkled with some interesting up-and-comers, as well as familiar names that aren’t necessarily known for competing in this space --  the intelligent customer engagement services that are evolving out of the contact center. The

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SYKES acquires Symphony becoming the first call center provider with significant automation capability
October 22, 2018 | Phil FershtMelissa O'Brien

Disruption is more ripe in the call center space than any other corner of the services industry, and $1.6bn provider SYKES just upped the ante to feverish levels by becoming only the second-ever service provider to acquire deep RPA and intelligent automation expertise, since Accenture picked up Genfour 18 months ago. And $70m cash is a not insignificant sum to invest in consultative talent in this fast-emerging space in desperate need of experience and scale.

More significantly, Accenture is not a call center provider, SYKES actually is one - and now has the unique capability of attacking the market with automation-led customer experience engagements. While the market recently cogitated on the impacts of Concentrix/Convergys and Teleperformance/Intelenet,  neither of these mergers had a genuine focus on intelligent automation (IA).  And our new global study on AI covering 590 Global 2000 firms worldwide (conducted with KPMG), clearly shows  intelligent automation is in unique demand across IT and customer service areas more than any organizational function:

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So why is SYKES acquiring Symphony meaningful? 

None of the "traditional" call center providers have upped the ante with automation. Until now.  We have found this bizarre, as there are so many opportunities to improve broken processes, speed up customer response capabilities with both Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Robotic Desktop Automation (RDA).  There's no surprise many of the Indian-heritage providers are jumping back into call center, sensing an easy opportunity to take business from vulnerable traditional call center providers with a disruptive automation-centric approach.

SYKES is not beset by legacy enterprise deals choking the life out of it.  Call center providers that got too beholden to legacy clients with dinosaur FTE pricing models are really struggling.  This was one of the prime reasons Convergys (despite being one of the industry's finest purveyors of customer care) struggled to maintain market growth and ended up being acquired for an extremely attractive price by Concentrix earlier this year. SYKES is currently the 7th largest player in the contact center space (3% market share) with revenues of $1.7bn - enough to compete at the high-end, but still nimble enough to build a base of automation-led clients, chase strategic deals and be a disruptive nuisance in a market with razor-thin profit margins.

The OneOffice is here and Symphony can link the front to back office with its approach to digital operations.  Digital organizations must have an operating framework that maps out how they have to operate in the future. Traditional operating models, while creating some incremental productivity value, if managed effectively, struggle to drive the unification of digital business models with emerging technologies across a business's operations. The only true way to create a OneOffice experience is to be able to integrate the front office processes and interactive technologies (most of which are embedded in the call center) with the operations of the organization:

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The Digital OneOffice is where teams function autonomously across front, middle and back office functions to promote broader processes with real-time data flows that support rapid decision making. It’s where front, middle and back offices will cease to exist, as they will be, simply, OneOffice.  SYKES has a unique opportunity to consult to enterprises to make these front to back connections and weaves these capabilities into their managed services offerings.  The merged entity can offer real expertise to provide automated processes as-a-service and help their clients through the journey. The only missing pieces, in the short-medium term, may be to diversify further into the middle office areas and analytics to add some real end-to-end process value, but much of this can also be accomplished through some smart partnerships.

SYKES has already been making serious investments in digital capability. The Clearlink acquisition gave SYKES capabilities in the digital marketing space, which is complementary to its core business and also a differentiator from its peers in the contact center world.  SYKES’ strategy here is to connect across the customer lifecycle for an “omnichannel” solution— really digital CX. Qelp is another acquisition that expanded SYKES’ value proposition outside of core contact center services — a call center software firm specializing in self service on mobile phones, a real boon for its telecom clients.

SYKES has a sizeable WAHA delivery workforce (acquired through Alpine Access in 2012) which is a particular strength for its retail clients. The scalability and virtual training of this program is particularly effective. OneSYKES, its cloud delivery and WFM platform enable this capability. The platform also enables customer interaction analytics.

SYKES' strength in the retail and telecom businesses.  These are two of the most prime industries for automation-centric offerings, and where demand is very high (see earlier post on vertical focus in RPA).  Added focus in the financial services sector would also be beneficial post-merger.

What does a SYKES/Symphony really bring to the table?

One of the last remaining automation services independents with credible global scale.  With Genfour long out of the picture (and submerged somewhere inside Accenture) there are very few independent automation consultancies left worth evaluating that can impact a business the size of SYKES.  Sure, there are some boutiques, such as Virtual Operations, Mindfields and Roboyo, that add some domain expertise, but nothing close to the scale of Symphony, which has 200 FTEs across Europe, North America, India and Mexico.  It will be hard for any of SYKES' competitors to respond in kind, and we are quite amazed that only one of them had made a serious move to acquire Symphony prior to SYKES' interest.

Skill+Scale. Enterprise clients want the skill of the small guys (but not the risk), the scale of the big guys (but not the baggage).  This sends out a shot across the bow to the likes of Accenture, Capgemini, Cognizant, Deloitte, EY, Genpact, KPMG etc., all competing in the quasi-consultative / managed service market... that is automation-led capability.

Appeals to the RPA software firms. The likes of Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and UiPath will welcome any deal like that that takes them more into the front office of enterprises.  This will also attract the attention of Nice, which has a strong call center automation focus.  Other aspirational RPA firms, such as Pega, WorkFusion and Kofax, will also take notice and want to engage with this new entity.  

Streetwise expertise. The four founders all bring a "hands-on" credibility to the table, which most organizations like to deal with:  David Poole, Ian Barkin, David Brain and Pascal Baker.  Many enterprises are already frustrated dealing with some of the usual suspects and may be tempted to switch to this new entity to take its OneOffice play to a new level. Obviously, much depends on SYKES leadership's ability to retain the Symphony talent and engage them with a compelling global story.

Hands the Symphony team significant enterprise access.  This will catalyze growth and disruption by giving Symphony access to a unique portfolio of 200+ enterprise clients including more than 50% of the world’s top 100 brands.  While the Big 4 RPA experts struggle to convince their global partner colleagues to let them near their deep-pocketed clients, SYKES should have no problem opening the kimono to its finest differentiator that none of its competitors can (currently) boast.

Can start to heal the 'scale disease' threatening to derail the RPA and Intelligent Automation industry. As our (soon-to-be-unveiled) global study of 590 leaders of Intelligent Automation initiatives reveals, barely more than one-in-ten enterprises has reached a place of industrialized scale with RPA - and the word from so many clients is loud and clear that they need help:

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This struggle to get to a point beyond pilot exercises and project-based experimentation could prove to be a serious point of failure for the whole industry drivthese solutions.  There needs to be a much stronger melding of enterprises with implementation and consulting capability to fix these issues.  This has to be an area where a SYKES/Symphony can profit.

The Bottom-line: Kudos to SYKES for making a bold bet, which has real potential.  But it needs to move fast and aggressively post-acquisition to make this bear fruit

If I had to count the number of truly successful services / consulting mergers over the past decade, it wouldn't take me very long, or require too many fingers. In so many cases, the acquiring firm is checking a box before moving onto the next shiny new object. What excites me about this move is the size of SYKES to make this really significant for the firm, the fact Symphony gives it a capability truly differentiating and hard for its competitors to replicate, and the fact it becomes the first customer-centric service provider to tackle the unquenched thirst for automation across customer processes to drive genuine OneOffice endstates.

But this is a market that simply refuses to stand still... this has to be a merger that both parties fully embrace with the verve and energy that took Symphony from a great idea in 2013 to one of the most disruptive and exciting consulting businesses in the business operations industry. That means SYKES needs to do a much better job of articulating to the world what it brings to the table, especially in the cut-throat world of customer experience BPO. SYKES leadership needs to make Symphony front and center and refuse to blunt its edge in driving narrative - staying ahead of the curve and forging great industry relationships.

In addition, SYKES needs to add to the OneOffice capability, search the globe for expertise in regions such as China, Philippines, Japan,South America and Canada. This can be with further tuck-in acquisitions and smart organic talent acquisition. It will also need to work extremely hard defining its brand and articulating the new generation of OneOffice solutions to industry.  This is an exciting merger, but the hard work really starts now...

It's Bots-in-Seats as IBM, Cognizant, Accenture, TCS, Infosys and Tech Mahindra lead the HFS TOP 10 Cognitive Assistants
September 07, 2018 | Phil FershtMelissa O'Brien

The word "Chatbot" is officially banned:  they treat conversations like they're a game of tennis: talk, reply, talk, reply.  There is little to no context and zero intelligence, just pre-programmed responses only set up to deal with a pre-set finite number of frequently asked questions.  It's a  legacy customer experience that most of us go out of our way to avoid.  To be blunt, it's easier to be redirected to an FAQ page, or even some online Q&A forum than try and engage in a dumb one-dimensional conversation.  I've had more intelligent conversations down my local pub after a 3.00am "lock-in"... So let's shift the entire conversation towards chatbots with some form of intelligence...cognitive assistants.

HFS Research sees cognitive assistants as the combination of conversational interaction and process execution capabilities; they combine characteristics of smart analytics and artificial intelligence. These services can include front-office facing elements (e.g., conversations with end customers) and internal employee use cases (e.g., help desk, HR onboarding, assisting contact center agents).These cognitive assistants can self-learn, self-remediate, and execute business processes. They can also often understand structured and unstructured data and then use natural language processing to learn, comprehend, and recommend next steps. Advanced cognitive assistants can also enable predictive decision making using real-time analytics. This distinction is significant as many people use the terms “cognitive agents” and “chatbots” synonymously. While cognitive agents are a less mature capability, interest and adoption are growing rapidly—and their impacts are far greater than traditional automated tools.

So who's delivering these services most effectively today?  Well, who better to consult that HFS customer experience connoisseur Melissa O'Brien, who's just launched the industry's first deep-dive report on the services market for these cognitive assistants:

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We based this research on interviews with 300 enterprise clients of IT and business services from the Global 2000 in which we asked specific questions about innovation and execution

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