Phil Fersht
CEO and Chief Analyst 
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Accenture's Allen Valahu: The TOP 10 will allow us to have more regular and meaningful interactions with analysts
August 18, 2018 | Phil Fersht

When you do something to change the status quo, you usually expect those who love the status quo to resist. So why on earth would Accenture's global leader for analyst relations, Allen Valahu, laud the emergence of the HFS TOP 10, when his firm is already hitting top right corners of all the analyst quadrants on a (seemingly) daily basis?  Well, Allen publicly submitted to us his viewpoint:

"Good news. I believe the TOP 10 will allow us to have more regular and meaningful interactions with your team throughout the year. It will put less pressure on our clients as they will have more lead time to talk to the analysts. Finally, the ability to update HFS through timely structured briefings, demos, and reference customers as the opportunities arise throughout the year, is a much more targeted and strategic approach. Look forward to interacting with HFS in a more strategic way going forward."

In short, Allen is seeing the HFS TOP 10 as not only presenting the voice of the customer in a more meaningful way to customers, but it also enables analysts and vendor executives to engage in a less stressful - and political - manner.  Where quadrants force a "lobbying" situation, where the outcomes of the matrix dots are entirely dependent on the analyst getting served up their vendor references within tight deadlines, dictated by the analyst firm, the TOP TEN frees up all parties from these stressful processes and interactions, as the analyst firm isn't 100% reliant on those vendor reference calls. This also refocuses the analyst/vendor relationship more around valuable conversation and strategy, and less around the "he said, she said" tactical bake-off, which the legacy quadrant model forces.  

Bottom-line: Goodbye quadrants...  it was nice while it lasted, but the industry has moved on 

I have been overwhelmed with messages of relief and encouragement from many people right across the industry who are delighted to see a change to a practice that is tainted, tired and viewed negative by all and sundry.  Only one vendor executive voiced objections, based more on the fact that their job is tied to quadrant management, and the HFS TOP 10 threatens to impact their cosy existence.

Full credit to Allen, who runs a tight ship of analyst relations executives to communicate their performance effectively. While the current system works for Accenture, it clearly impacts the quality of relationships with analysts, their own clients and their under-pressure executives. It's too stressful, drives far too many negative, defensive conversations, and, quite frankly, degenerates the whole balance and value of analyst/vendor relationships. While am sure it will take time for many people to fully get used to the more strategic methodology the TOP 10 brings to the table, having the market leaders immediately voice their support (and relief) is heartening. 

Time to kick out quadrants, paralyse peaks and wash away waves. Hello HFS TOP 10
August 11, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Yes, folks - the rumors are true.  HFS is officially out of the quadrant business. 
We're done, the whole quadrant craze is starting to smell pretty bad and we know the industry is fed up with it. Increasingly, many of these 2x2 matrices are missing several of the market leaders (who refuse to participate) and having them all stacked in the top right just smacks of pay-for-play (even if the analyst has fair intentions).  Let's be honest, noone trusts these matrices and they are harming the entire credibility of the analyst industry.  Sure, there are many honest, quality analysts with integrity, but their craft is being soiled by several quacks who are basing their vendor placements purely on vendor briefings, whether they like a particular vendor, and whether some vendors pony up for their research services.  There are many "analysts" out there who do not bother to do sufficient customer research and we all suspect who these characters (and their employers) are... 
If we don't change, we all - as analysts - might as well admit we're no longer in the research business:  we're in the vendor PR business.  Yes, it's that bad... and let's stop sugar coating it.
Enterprise executives tell us all the time they get zero value from these grids - they are purely for vendor marketing sales decks (and I talk to a helluva lot of these enterprise folks). However, enterprises desperately need to be informed on vendor performance - they just need a direct ranking that's relevant for their needs, where a credible analyst puts a stake in the ground.  That's what everyone has told me, so that is what we are delivering:  The HFS TOP 10.
Quadrants, Peaks, NEATS and Waves - and sadly Blueprints - are all sales tools for vendors as opposed to decision support tools for enterprise customers.  At HFS, we are not in that business - we are in the research business to support informed enterprise decisions. At HFS, we are not ending our involvement in covering the hottest markets in the industry and producing the best competitive analyses, we are merely making our research more relevant, more timely and more impactful with the HFS TOP 10 and much more simplified to support the enterprise customer. What's more, when some firms take six to nine months to get a quadrant to market, that market has often already moved on, and the data, despite its credibility, may already be stale.  We are in a world that doesn't stand still, where enterprise customers are thirsty for timely, credible data that clearly shows the winners, contenders and laggards in a given market. 
Customers want rankings where the analyst took a stand, not merely a fuzzy matrix where everyone looks like a winner.  Here is an example of how the HFS TOP 10 ranking looks (the RPA Products in 2018), and here you can download a full report example to see for yourself how we get to the point, how we inform decisions and we clearly profile where vendors are strong - and where they face challenges.

(Click to Enlarge)

HFS TOP 10 reports remove the unhealthy involvement of vendors from the analyst evaluation process and are much more timely, relevant and less cumbersome to produce
The main difference with the HFS TOP 10 is the fact we're running them purely on desk research, support from our research academy and from our vast repository of current user data. We are eliminating the whole laborious vendor lobbying and briefing processes so we can get these reports out the door faster than ever before, without being tied to vendors schedules and relying on references they provide.  This does not mean analysts cannot do vendor briefings to support their research (if the analyst deems it necessary, or if the vendor requests a timely briefing), it just means we do the research in a timeframe that can't be moved.  It means vendors cannot complain that we "did not do reference calls with their customers" or give them a chance to be adequately represented in the market.  Because HFS already has the data!  We have reams of data on service vendor performances, or vertical markets, on RPA products, on blockchain platforms, on analytics firms, on FinTechs etc.  And where we may occasionally not have sufficient customer data in a niche market, we will invest in gathering it using the HFS network.  Yes, we actually set aside funds for user surveys where most of our competitors only perform custom research when their customers are funding it.
Here are some FAQs you probably want answering:
1. How is the methodology of the HFS Top 10 different from the Blueprint? There are several key differences in methodology:
a. We are Ranking vendors, not Gridding them. The HFS Top 10 is presented as a simple and clear ranking of assessed products / service vendors versus the 2X2 Blueprint grid
b. Voice of the Customer, execution success, and innovation capability. The HFS TOP 10 methodology is driven by customer experience with products / services (voice of the customer) in addition to vendor’s ability to execute and innovate. 
c. Powered by HFS G2000 network. The primary source of data for the HFS TOP 10 reports is HFS’ extensive network of G2000 enterprise customers. HFS will gather information via surveys, analyst interviews, and ongoing dialog with customers versus relying on data inputs from service vendors.  HFS conducts over 5,000 interviews a year with enterprise customers right across the six change agent areas of our research coverage: RPA, AI, Smart Analytics, Global Sourcing, Blockchain and Digital Business Models.
d. Not reliant on vendor RFI responses. The Top HFS TOP 10 report methodology does not rely on the use of old-school traditional approaches of collecting data through vendor RFIs. We welcome vendors to augment our analysts’ knowledge base through structured briefings, demos, and reference customers, but this not a necessary component in the process.  We will not allow vendors to slow-down our research processes.
e. No opt-out. There is no opt-out for leading vendors given HFS is relying 100% on its own network and data sets.  We never produce vendor landscapes where half the leading players are absent.
2. Will there still be fact checks with the vendors? 
Yes, vendor profiles, including strengths and development opportunities will be sent for fact-checks. However, rankings will not be shared in these fact-checks. An embargoed HFS TOP 10 will be released one-day prior to the actual release of the report, intended to be an FYI versus any negotiation on ranking etc.  We are not in the lobbying business, we are in the research business.
3. What data will populate the HFS TOP 10 reports? 
The data will be populated from multiple sources of information:
- The primary source of data for the HFS TOP 10 reports is HFS' extensive network of G2000 enterprise customers. HFS gathers this information via surveys, analyst interviews, HFS roundtables and summits, and ongoing dialog with enterprise customers, versus relying on data inputs purely from service vendors.
- Providers can augment our analysts’ knowledge base through structured briefings, demos, and reference customers.
- Note that we will minimize the use of old-school traditional approaches of collecting data through vendor RFIs (unless covering a nascent / emerging market where most of the solutions are still in beta mode).
4. What is the minimum customer data-set needed to be able to guarantee a voice of the customer? What happens, if for whatever reason, there is not enough customer data? 
A statistically significant sample set is 30 datapoints for a report across reference checks, our existing data sources, and our own customer conversations. While most of our current research has a significantly higher sample set than 30 there is rarely a lack of available data to use to source the rankings.  Where a lack of customer data does occur, it may result in delays of the research publication as we make extra efforts to source customer data.
5. What can vendors do to maximize customer data access? 
Real value usually comes through engaging with HFS analysts throughout the year by providing HFS analysts the opportunity to speak with more of their customers, sharing and collaborating on customer stories.  As mentioned, we make it our business to do our own customer research - that is our purpose in the industry, but those vendors who can persuade many of their customers to showcase their experiences will benefit.

Fired by DXC for refusing to be a nodding dog. Ugh.
August 09, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Yesterday, you may recall we discussed the comments made by Nigel Barron, who spend 13+ years at CSC before the merger with HP (when DXC was formed).  After nine months at DXC, Nigel was sacked.  I was sad to see him go because he was one of the few folks in CSC who pushed hard to persuade its executives to spend time with HFS analysts (as opposed to Gartner, IDC etc).  I remember Nigel would frequently share our work with his team and would put out some pretty cool insights. 

Firstly, I would like to thank Nigel for excusing the behaviour of many people for acting like "nodding dogs" to keep their jobs. Secondly, I would personally like to apologize to Nigel for inadvertently portraying him as one of the nodding canine family, when, in fact, he is anything but.  Nigel asked me to publish his explanation that he was actually sacked by DXC because he was fired for refusing to conform to the nodding brigade, daring to challenge a firm that (let's face it) is in danger of drifting into insignificance. 

"Hi Phil, thanks for the mention. I was the antithesis of the nodding dog at CSC/DXC, so much so that it probably contributed to my being laid off last December. I was a top five company internal blogger on the company’s collaboration platform writing blogs such as ‘The end of management’ and ‘Nowhere to hide’. My bosses kept the faith until the second round of layoffs occurred after the merger. My then boss had an easy choice to make when told to find someone to cut, although there were other circumstances that I won’t go into here (Mike Lawrie refers to ‘Pyramid corrections’ in earnings calls). I do sympathise with analysts who have become nodding dogs for the reasons I mentioned in my comment, but that doesn’t mean its the right thing to do. I’ll be 54 in a couple of weeks, I’ll never, ever be a nodding dog but I’ll always be a supporter of HfS, you and your team. Nigel"

If anyone from DXC is reading this, you need a few characters like Nigel who can shed some light on what your firm is trying to accomplish, as we - at HFS - are flummoxed with the whole premise behind this merger.  Why remove the only people who can challenge you, just because you can? Good luck Nigel - feel free to share any of your views with us in the future, you are developing quite a sympathetic following.  DXC is poorer for your absence and you deserve better, my friend. PF

Don't dog nod your way to unemployment. Read this and get on your soap box
August 08, 2018 | Phil Fersht

After yesterday's slightly risqué rant, I received an interesting comment from Nigel Barron (pictured) this morning, an avid follower of HFS over the years, who spent much of his career with CSC and subsequently DXC before recently going independent (and clearly off the leash and wagging his tail!):

"Since 2008 every job has become a hustle and analysts are no different. Authenticity is not a winning attribute. To survive, being the nodding dog is the difference between having a paycheck and not having a paycheck and when they’ve got mortgages to pay and kids to put through college truthful, honest and clear research might not be the best bet. That’s not to say its the right thing to do, just an observation. I speak from experience also."

I refused to become a nodding dog. It's simple if you keep at it...

Nigel Barron:  Nodding Dog Sympathizer

Well, Nigel, I also speak from experience here. I used to work for Deloitte Consulting back in the day, and my lead Partner demanded I take my blog offline (having initially been fine with me continuing with it, during the interview process).  The firm literally could not tolerate one of its consultants having freedom of thought and bypassing its painful thought police (aka "risk") process.  I eventually left the firm after that... I just couldn't stomach an employer putting the muzzle on thought leadership.  Especially mine!

A couple of years later, I was working for AMR Research (now part of Gartner) and a huge debate ensued among management whether "Phil should keep his blog up".  Many of the clients insisted one of the reasons they stuck with the firm was because of my blog, so money eventually spoke - they felt they got some real views of the industry and wanted to call me to discuss as part of their research contract. In fact, our Chief Research Officer, Bruce Richardson,

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Rant Warning: Nodding dogs and vendor marketing – this is all our industry deserves
August 06, 2018 | Phil FershtOllie O’Donoghue

As an analyst, you spend your time with a lot of other analysts - for better or for worse. And, recently, worse is taking up more than its fair share. It just seems like, as an industry, we've lost our collective teeth, our ability to question, challenge and find out the truth.  We'd even go as far as questioning whether we've lost out soul.  

When HFS launched ourselves  onto the market over eight years ago, the cornerstone of the firm was a blog that was revered as one place you could get the real truth about the industry, where people were safe to make a (gasp) controversial comment where we could all call a “spade a spade”.  One industry leader (from IBM of all places) even went as far as describing this blog as the “Wall St Journal editorial section of the industry”.  More recently, we've been called “Blue Collar” research, which I guess we’ll take as a compliment.  Anything is better than being seen as fully paid and played by the dirty vendor dollar... which is sadly how so many recent pieces of "research" have been described.

Today, most analysts and advisors use hype as their comfort blanket – even if they don’t understand it, they just circulate it because it makes them feel relevant

Sadly, at HFS, we doubt we’d have succeeded with our honesty and bluntness if we launched today.  The industry is too controlled by vendor marketeers who shower their lovely budgets at analysts and advisors alike to keep them all in line… where most just regurgitate the same hype as each other because they just don’t care anymore.  Most barely understand the hype, but

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Passionate about #AI? Then look no further...
August 05, 2018 | Phil Fersht

1. #AutomationAnywhere, 2. #BluePrism, and 3. #UiPath make up the top three in the inaugural HfS Top 10
August 01, 2018 | Phil FershtSaurabh Gupta

The rise of RPA is nothing short of spectacular as the market closes in on $2bn this year. It has captivated the attention of the digital operations executives with the promise of cost-savings beyond labor arbitrage, cost avoidance by extending the life of legacy IT, quicker implementation than traditional IT projects, business-user friendliness, auditability and compliance, straight through processing, and let’s be honest – terrific marketing!

And here is the actual report:  Completely free to celebrate our first "HFS TOP TEN REPORT"

However, confusion around RPA deployments is also rife. There are growing questions whether RPA can deliver on the promised ROI and outcomes. Most RPA initiatives continue to be small and piecemeal. Truly scaled RPA deployments are rare. The industry is still struggling to solve challenges around the process, change, talent, training, infrastructure, security, and governance.

With the mission to demystify this confusion and uncover the truth to successful RPA deployment, we conducted a first of its kind RPA CX research to develop the list of “HFS Top 10 RPA Products” (See Exhibit 1). The research is based on interviews over 350 clients and product partners across the ten leading RPA products across:

  • Ability to execute based on product functionality (Ease of integration with legacy IT, Unassisted automation functionality, OCR functionality, Scheduling functionality, Development tools, Exception handling, Required set-up coding, Ease of product configuration); integration and support (Service extensions and connectors, Documentation, Certification program, Training and customer support, Experience in serving multiple geographies, Adoption across multiple industries, Required IT skill-sets), and security and governance (Uptime and SLA commitments, Version control and upgrade management, Centralized controls, Regulatory compliance, Enterprise security, Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity Planning (BCP))
  • Innovation capability based on flexibility and scalability (Accommodating process / environment changes, Licensing model flexibility, Ability to handle multiple processes, Workflow templates and library of processes, Handling multiple inputs) and embedding intelligence (Processing structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data, Operational Analytics, Dashboards, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities)
  • Voice of the customer based on the RPA products ability to drive business outcomes (Realizing cost savings, Speed-to-market, Overall satisfaction, and Client reference ability)

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Key highlights from the HFS Top 10 RPA Provider assessment

  • Overall RPA Client Experience has been 'Good.' The aggregated average CX scores across all assessment dimensions is three on a scale of 4 implying a good overall experience. For most clients, RPA has created value in addition to reducing costs (just not as much and as fast as they heard in the first sales pitch!). For almost all the RPA products assessed, security, controls, accuracy, integration, and out-of-the-box functionality performs as promised. Basically, RPA works!
  • Getting RPA “production ready” is not as easy as promised. The client experience with the amount of coding/configuration required is rated amongst the lowest. Management of version control and upgrades as well the training and support offered by RPA providers was also sub-par. The primary reason behind this is a classic expectation mismatch – the RPA providers oversold and overpromised, raising the client expectations beyond normal, that then resulted in less than required client investments towards process and change management. The disappointment associated with RPA is not about the technology itself.
  • RPA is not very smart (at least as of today). The dimension around embedding intelligence in RPA was rated amongst the lowest by clients. There is considerable confidence in RPA’s ability to process structured data but drops down significantly when asked about unstructured or even semi-structured data. Clients are not convinced about the Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities of their RPA products. The good news is that most RPA providers recognize this and are investing in building out capabilities especially around Machine Learning (ML). At HfS, we believe that the holy grail of service delivery will be at the intersection of the Triple-A Trifecta – Automation, AI, and Analytics

Bottomline. RPA works but is not a magic wand. Best practices are emerging

Based on our in-depth conversations with the RPA clients, we developed a set of best practices that you need to keep in mind when implementing any of the RPA products:

  • RPA is not a silver bullet. Keep expectations realistic
  • RPA cannot automate everything. Choose the use-case wisely
  • RPA success is not about technology. Treat it as a change agent
  • Automated processes are still processes. Invest in documentation, especially as for complex automations
  • RPA vendors are product companies. Do not expect them to behave like service providers
  • Do not side-step your IT folks. RPA success requires IT-business collaboration
  • RPA products are still nascent. Do not short-change security and testing
  • RPA is not a one-time exercise. Change management and ongoing governance and the keys to continued success
  • RPA is not the holy grail. Business outcomes driven by integrated solutions are
  • RPA does not solve your data issues. Data-centric mindset is the key
  • RPA offers more than cost savings. Think beyond cost-reduction and figure out how to measure success

And here is the actual report:  Completely free to celebrate our first "HFS TOP TEN REPORT"

The Cambridge University FORA Summit recap...
July 31, 2018 | Phil Fersht

It's time to give these poor Millennials a break
July 28, 2018 | Phil Fersht

What is wrong with us old timers these days?  We go to conferences where we make sure no one under age of 40 comes near the place, and we spend half our time bemoaning the lack of a "digital mindset" from our colleagues because we all have these world-class digital mindsets ourselves. And can someone please explain what the f*** a digital mindset actually is?  And can someone explain why everyone blathers on about their company's inability to change with the times, but never admit they don't really want to change anything either...

But let's be honest, we treat our beloved Millennials like some sort of obscure species whose members only communicate digitally with each other, like to wear these really big expensive headphones, drink far less than we did at their age, and no longer go to bad discos to find romance. Not to mention an unhealthy love of avocado toast that helps their quest for a purpose in life because of failed parenting strategies leaving them permanently depressed because of low self-esteem.  

In addition, we're now accusing them of lacking ambition and only caring about their next vacation. But how can we blame these poor folks from feeling like we stitched up the world before they came along... as most cannot come close to affording the cheapest shoebox in any half respectable neighborhood, the poor folks in the UK are going to get cut off from working in Europe soon, and the lost Millennial souls in the USA had to choose between two septuagenarians as their president, who hardly represent the emerging mindset of the digital youth (even though you do have to be impressed with the President's twitter skills...).

So imagine the refreshing impact when HfS analyst Ollie O'Donoghue, a proud representative of the Millennial race when he's not trying to annoy Amazon, piped up on LinkedIn with the following staunch defense of his species:

Click here to Enlarge

Click here to join Ollie's LinkedIn discussion

The Bottom-Line:  Love them or loathe them, Millennials are the Future

So to quote Ollie directly: "Entitlement goes both ways. It's just previous generations got what they were entitled to. They worked hard, bought a house, paid a mortgage, got relative financial and social security. The reason so many Millennials are checking out of the economy is because they work hard and get, well, nothing. Home ownership is the stuff of legend, even job security is a thing from a bygone era - and something a lot of 'future of work' commentators are making worse."  So let's use this opportunity to bring Millennials into our inane conversations about a future of work with less need for people, about our businesses being persistently disrupted by imaginary digital competitors, about blockchain's emergence to destroy whatever we have left... because if we don't, we'll have a big hole left in our corporate legacies that we'll struggle to fill, as all the talent will be checked out on the beach dreaming of their next avocado latte.

Clear communication to leadership has never been more critical in today's business environment
July 24, 2018 | Phil Fersht