Phil Fersht
 
CEO and Chief Analyst 
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Wipro needs a bold and differentiated strategy to elevate its middling market position post-Premji
June 12, 2019 | Phil FershtJamie SnowdonSaurabh GuptaTapati Bandopadhyay

We all remember when Jack Nicklaus played his last Masters, and when Sir Alex Ferguson managed his last game for Manchester United. These guys were godfathers of their trades, not unlike Azim Premji has been for IT services, the man who oversaw a firm which diversified from diapers and vegetable oil into one of the largest IT services firms in the world. However, when they retired, they left a legacy that enabled many to follow in their footsteps (albeit noone has come close yet). Premji's legacy, which forever is written into the annals of IT services folklore, is still unfinished, which may be a good thing for his successors... there is still a lot of work to do to get Wipro to the place Premji always envisaged. 

The current market situation facing Wipro's leadership

To recap, Wipro’s Executive Chairman, Managing Director and philanthropic champion Azim Premji is retiring by end July. His son and Wipro’s Chief Strategy Officer, Rishad Premji will

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When did you earn the right to stop learning new skills and abilities?
June 02, 2019 | Phil FershtOllie O’Donoghue

When you have to listen to literally hundreds of people a day spouting advice about reskilling, unlearning, change management, relearning etc., I am going to respond with “great, so what are you doing yourself to stay ahead of today’s digital environment and increase your value as a superstar worker?”  You may love to pontificate constantly weird definitions of digital transformation on twitter and harp on about today's digital talent needs, but do you truly practice what you preach?

Is it just me, or have we entered an environment where everyone loves to talk about change, but most aren't actually doing anything (themselves) about it?

I mean, if your accountant hadn’t bothered to brush up on the latest tax changes, or your personal trainer didn’t know how to use a Fitbit, you probably would seek to replace those relationships in your life.  So what gives IT professionals the right not to learn Python, or learn how to deploy data management / automation tools?  And what gives business executives the right not to learn how to use non-code analytics tools to help their decision-making, or social media products to help them communicate in the market?  And operations executives the right not to learn low-code automation and AI apps that can help them free up people-hours on work that adds no strategic value to the business?  And who told sales and marketing executives it was fine to ignore really learning the products / services they were selling because all they had to do was to follow a set of pre-defined processes to do their job effectively?

Why have so many of us become so complacent?

It just seems that the majority of workers today just think they need to learn to follow a few processes and that’s all they need to do to command a tasty salary and remain employed for years and years…. so few people actually realize that the whole nature of people value is changing for enterprises – they just love to do things the same old way they have always done them, and simply cannot be expected to learning anything new.  "We just don't have the talent in-house to do that" is the constant whine we hear from enterprises; and "our IT managers are project managers, not consultants" is what we hear from service providers.  Then why don't you train them?  Is our agonized response.  Why does everything have to stay paralyzed in this constant vacuum of sameness

Much depends on the approach our enterprises take to driving change

The biggest problem with enterprise operations today is the simple fact that most firms still run most of their processes exactly the same way as they did decades years ago, with the only “innovation” being models like offshore outsourcing and shared service centers, cloud and digital technologies enabling those same processes to be conducted steadily faster and cheaper.  However, fundamental changes have not been made to intrinsic business processes – most companies still operate with their major functions such as procurement, customer service, marketing, finance, HR and supply chain operating in individual silos, with IT operating as a non-strategic vehicle to maintain the status quo and keep the lights on.

As our Hyperconnected journey illustrates, many industries have now reached a place where they have maximized all their delivery methods for getting processes executed as efficiently and cheaply as possible.  They have tackled the early phases of digital impact by embracing interactive technologies to help them respond to their customer needs as those needs occur, whether electronic or voice.

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In short, most enterprises have been able to keep pace with each other without actually changing the underlying logic of processes.  Simply doing things the same old way has been enough for many, until a competitor comes along with an entirely unique way of servicing your

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The Life of Brian: Prettying up a baby that's got a bit ugly
May 11, 2019 | Phil FershtJamie SnowdonOllie O’Donoghue

What has happened to the Indian-heritage IT service provider that stoked fear into every Accenture client partner?  “They think like we do” was the declaration one of Accenture’s leaders made at an analyst briefing in 2016.  Well, the slide from grace has been alarming, leading to the appointment of a new leader to stem the bleeding. 

However, when the problems cut this deep, you can’t just apply lipstick to the pig, you need to reconstruct the whole farm, or you can quickly find yourself in the zombie services category alongside the likes of Conduent and DXC, where finding any sort of direction and impetus would be a major accomplishment.

Yes, it could really get this bad, as Cognizant has posted its slowest revenue growth and worst dip in profit margins. Ever. A mere 5% annual revenue growth, when in its heyday it was posting well over 40% (and slipping below double digits was unthinkable until last year). Yes, declining revenue growth is one thing, but declining profit margins is when the panic button gets pressed.

Frank should have left when Elliott came along to poison the well

It’s clear to see why Francisco “Frank” De Souza, the poster boy CEO of the emerging power of the Indian IT Services industry, jumped ship (or more accurately was made to walk the plank a burnt out husk due to the unenviable pressure Elliott Management placed him under to keep the gravy train on the tracks and kick back billions to shareholders.)  If anything, Frank should have considered making a move in 2017 as Elliott started squeezing Cognizant’s margins at a time is needed to keep pace with Accenture’s aggressive digital investments.  He’d grown the firm to over $15bn by then and could have exited with a legacy no one could rival in the tech business. 

And in his place comes IT Services newbie Brian Humphries – well we’re sorry to say this Brian, but the baby you just adopted has got a bit ugly, and is screaming for attention. Let’s just look at the numbers– now we’re going to be generous and forgive Cognizant’s dip in margin, a likely result of a reclassifying activity to meet fresh regulations. But the sinking revenue growth is much harder to look past:

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In 2012, Cognizant invented the Digital concept before everyone else jumped on it.  They were that cool...

In a punishingly competitive market, it looks like Cognizant has started to lose traction. Back in the good old days, the firm could do little wrong by challenging Accenture’s strategy – driving a hard-digital bargain and bringing in design consultancies along with their pony-tailed

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15 initiatives UiPath and its competitors must take to prove they are serious about transformation
May 07, 2019 | Phil FershtSaurabh GuptaElena Christopher

We've been pretty vocal regarding the unfocused direction the industry which has called itself "RPA" has taken, and the obsession some of the firms are having with their self-declared valuations. So let's change the story from how much these firms actually believe they are worth to where they need to invest their funding to show they are serious about being part of a transformative industry.  

Don't get us wrong, in software world, it's common practice to get attention that your company is valuable and investors are falling over themselves to hurl money at it - this is common practice in markets that are very focused on selling to IT executives.  And we've seen far more ludicrous "valuations" than the 35x earnings ones the robotic software firms are claiming (just look at Blockchain and AI). 

So why aren't we seeing firms like UiPath shift the focus to the investments and changes they intend to make to propel a truly transformational value proposition with their products?  Especially where the prime target for growth is the business executive who is far less accustomed to a world where his/her suppliers are obsessed with how much they're worth, as opposed to how they can help you take your business through painful change.

It's critical now to shift the vision to reality of making these bot dreams come true

UiPath, more than its competitors, has always pushed the vision of democratized IT. Literally, RPA or a “bot for every worker” and not just a sanctioned crew of IT professionals (or even a sanctioned crew of enterprises) is a brilliant marketing gimmick. However, with UiPath’s hypergrowth and rapid-fire funding, the time has come to connect the dots between a folksy vision and how UiPath can truly enable the transformation of work.

As HFS recently articulated in our blog “RPA is dead. Long live integrated automation platforms”, RPA is being used to automate tasks and prop up legacy processes. Broad business transformation is decidedly lacking and arguably cannot be achieved without supporting tools like artificial intelligence and analytics as well as digital change management to address how change is driven, managed and perpetuated. The one perhaps notable shift in the change winds is the on the democratization front – RPA is being bought and consumed primarily by business units not central IT. However, as enterprises push towards integrated automation, with a higher order of technical complexity of tools and data challenges, IT once again becomes essential. Integrated automation may drive the ultimate democratization – the balance between IT and business operations.

Despite its growth and funding, UiPath is a very long way from achieving this vision

Our recent survey work with "power-users" of robotic software products (what we were calling RPA and RDA) clearly highlights the top three strengths and challenges of the UiPath solution (with sampled comments):

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The Bottom-line: To democratize technology and drive business transformation beyond task-oriented robotics activities, here are 15 key initiatives UiPath (or its competitors) must take on:

1. Must bring IT and business visions together as one integrated approach. Education must focus for technical and non-technical resources – into communities and educational institutions globally

2. Must shift focus to integrated automation – expansion of functionality beyond RPA/RDA to AI and smart analytics. Badging everything as RPA is definitionally incorrect and gives clients no roadmap to follow to advance beyond basic repetitive task, desktop and document automation

3. Must drive digital change management – help enterprises grapple with transformation with its services investments.  Relying purely on Big 4 advisors and service providers for change management will cost clients a fortune and drive many away.  This is a key area UiPath needs to take the lead on.

4. Must include unattended and attended processes (not just focus on attended)

5. The developer ecosystem must be expanded to extend functionality, libraries etc.  Commit to specific goals for how much of the UiPath codebase will be available on Github to build an industry solution skewed against technology-vendor lock-in

6. Demonstrate commitment to building a stronger QA team, and fully transparent local customer support and customer success teams to drive customers (as per the number 1 challenge outlined above)

7. Commit specific sums to meaningful partner relationships with leading service providers and consultants, including opensource partner technical support systems, events, education resources and people to help the industry grow

8. Commit to funding UiPath local academies (building on their online academies) especially in blighted neighborhoods near its biggest offices to bring young coders and potential customers together with UiPath employees for on the job real-world training

9. Must get focused on core business processes by industry, such as supply chain in manufacturing, core banking in BFS, underwriting in insurance, billing in telecom etc

10. Revisit its client engagement model to ensure it is best serving its customer base – its rapid growth in salespeople may expand capacity, but if sales lacks vision, then clients may not be well served (as per comments in our recent survey above)

11. Commits to drawing down technical debt (Every SW company has it, some more than others.  As illustrated above, our customer surveys point out which elements of the UiPath platform and solution are known to need immediate re-engineering and investment

12. Identify and subsidize hands-on automation industry experts and influencers whose independent thinking deserves funding and not just focus on checking boxes with legacy analysts.  The automation industry is being impacted by many unique stakeholders.

13. Kick off an enduring and sustainable initiative modeled after Salesforce's 1-1-1 program (of which the Notre Dame announcement by Daniel Dines was a great a start) 

14. Invest in cross-technology customer events that will expand overall value creation, for example partnering more aggressively with the likes of Salesforce, Microsoft, Amazon, Google etc.

15. Spearhead an Automation Industry Manifesto that shows a clear path for enterprise clients to progress from basic robotic task automation through to integrated automation and then to achieving genuine AI value

RPA is dead. Long live Integrated Automation Platforms
May 02, 2019 | Phil FershtSaurabh GuptaElena Christopher

The biggest problem with enterprise operations today is the simple fact that most firms still run most of their processes exactly the same way as they did 20/30/40 years ago, with the only “innovation” being models like offshore outsourcing and shared service centers, cloud and digital technologies enabling those same processes to be conducted steadily faster and cheaper.  However, fundamental changes have not been made to intrinsic business processes – most companies still operate with their major functions such as customer service, marketing, finance, HR and supply chain operating in individual silos, with IT operating as a non-strategic vehicle to maintain the status quo and keep the lights on.

Enter the concept of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), introduced to market in 2012 via a case study written by HFS and supported by Blue Prism, which promised to remove manual workarounds and headcount overload from inefficient business processes and BPO services.  However, despite offering clear technical capability and the real advantage of breathing life into legacy systems and processes, RPA hasn’t inspired enterprises to rewire their business processes – it’s really just helped them move data around the company faster and require less manual intervention.  In addition, most “RPA” engagements that have been signed are not for unattended processes, instead, most are attended robotic desktop automation (RDA) deployments. Attended RDA requires a loop of human and bot interplay to complete tasks.  These engagements are not the pure form of RPA that we invented – they are a motley crew of scripts and macros applying add band-aids to messy desktop applications and processes to maintain the same old way of doing things. Sure, there is usually a reduction in labor needs - but in fractional increments - which is rarely enough to justify entire headcount elimination. Crucially, the current plethora of “RPA” engagements have not resulted in any actual “transformation”. 

The major issue with RPA today is that it is automating piecemeal tasks.  It needs to be part of an integrated strategy

Real research data of close to 600 major global enterprise shows just how not-ready we are to declare any sort of robo-victory. In our recent survey of 590 G2000 leaders, only 13% of RPA adopters are currently scaled up and industrialized. Forget about leveraging RPA to curate end-to-end processes, most RPA adopters are still tinkering with small-scale projects and piecemeal tasks that comprise elements of broken processes.  Most firms are not even close to finding any sort enterprise-scale automation adoption.

RPA provides a terrific band-aid to fix current solutions; it helps to extend the life of legacy. But does not provide long-term answers. The handful of enterprises that have successfully scaled RPA across their organizations have three things in common:

  1. A unifying purpose for adopting automation,
  2. A broad and ongoing change management program to enable the shift to a hybrid workforce, and
  3. A Triple-A Trifecta toolkit that leverages RPA, various permutations of AI, and smart analytics in an integrated fashion.

So HFS is calling it as we see it. RPA is dead! Long live Integrated Automation. And by integrated we mean integrated technology, but also, and all importantly, we mean integration across people, process and technology supported by focused objectives and change management. Integrated Automation is how you transform your business and achieve an end-to-end Digital OneOffice.

Integrated Automation is not about RPA or AI or Analytics. It is RPA and AI and Analytics.

Business problems are not entirely solved by one stand-alone technology but by a combination of technologies. While only 11% of the enterprises are currently integrating solutions across the Triple-A Trifecta, there is emerging alignment. The supplier landscape is also starting to realize that clients will buy integrated solutions (see Exhibit 1) and examples below:

  • RPA products are seeking to underpin AI and data management capabilities. WorkFusion was arguably the first to combine RPA and AI with its “smart process automation” capability. Other subsequent examples include Automation Anywhere with its ML-infused IQBot, Blue Prism announced its AI Lab to develop proprietary RPA-ready AI elements, and AntWorks embeds computer vision and fractal science in its stack to enable the use of unstructured data. What these products having in common is their use of robotics to transform tasks, desktop apps and pieces of processes.  Hence, we need to refer to these "RPA" products as Robotic Transformation Software products which is a far more appropriate description.
  • AI and analytics focused products are starting to embrace Robotic Transformation Software, instead of undermining it. IPsoft launched 1RPA with a cognitive user interface. Xceptor’s data-led business rules and AI-based approach to automation leverage RPA to help extend its functionality. Arago is starting to go to the market where it can help orchestrate RPA capabilities within its platform.  
  • Enterprise software products are integrating the triple-A trifecta capabilities in their products. SAP Leonardo aspires to harness the emerging technologies across ML, analytics, Big Data, IoT, and blockchain in combination. It also acquired RPA software company Contextor (late 2018) similar to Pega when it acquired OpenSpan in 2016 adding RPA functionality to its customer engagement capabilities.
  • System Integrators are orchestrating the Triple-A Trifecta across multiple curated products. This typically combines some of their IP and service capabilities. Accenture launched SynOps in early 2019, offering a “human-machine operating engine.” Genpact’s Cora, a modular platform of digital technologies, similar to HFS’ Triple-A Trifecta, is designed to help enterprises scale digital transformation. IBM’s Automation Platform includes composable automation capabilities that orchestrate responses and alerts between Watson and Robotic Transformation Software solutions. KPMG’s IGNITE brings RPA, AI and analytics tools together with KPMG IP and services.

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Integrated Automation is not just about Technology. It is Technology + People + Process.

The real point of Integrated Automation is actually to move beyond the tools. Yes, the Triple-A Trifecta offers more functionality, but it still does not work unless you change your business, your people, your processes.  Integrated automation is the effective melding of technology,

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Why is UiPath obsessed with this "Funding Arms-Race" when it should be focused on scaling its clients?
May 01, 2019 | Phil Fersht

 At the HFS Summit this week, we asked 200 enterprises if they cared about automation software vendors bragging about self-inflated valuations.  Not a single person did.

The robotic transformation software industry has three problems right now:

i) Defining itself;

ii) Scaling Bots and being Transformational;

iii) Obsessing with this "Funding Arms-Race"... so let's dig in

1) Defining itself correctly... "RPA" is not correct. Most of "RPA" in its current form is incorrectly defined, and this market is dying if it doesn't have a radical overhaul. Only a small portion of "RPA" it is actually “process automation” - most of it is desktop apps, screen scrapes and doc management. RPA in current form is incorrectly labeled and the way forward is to integrate these tools. When we introduced the term RPA in 2012 (with Blue Prism) the focus was on unassisted automation, it was self-triggered (bots pass tasks to humans) and centered on increased process efficiency. Only a small portion of "RPA" today is actually “process automation". Most “RPA” engagements today are not for unattended processes - they are attended desktop automation deployments, a loop of human and bot interplay to complete tasks (not processes). These engagements are not the pure form of RPA that we envisioned back in 2012 – they are a motley crew of scripts and macros applying band-aids to messy desktop applications and processes to maintain the same old way of doing things. We need to refer to these "RPA" products as Robotic Transformation Software products which is a far more appropriate description. Now if these firms cannot partner with their clients and the services ecosystem to support transformative automation as part of an integrated automation platform, this market balloon will burst as dramatically as it got inflated...

2) Scaling bots and finding a transformation story versus a "fixing legacy" one.  The more these robo tools can be used by clients - not only to do things better and more automatically - but also to help re-wire their operations, then we have lift-off to something fr more strategic than merely getting crappy tasks working better and moving data round the company better. If you just work on steady-state fixes without focusing on the real changes needed, we will see many firms stuck in legacy purgatory, unable to switch out bots in the future. Sure, there is usually a reduction in labor needs - but in fractional increments - which is rarely enough to justify entire headcount elimination. Crucially, the current plethora of “RPA” engagements has not resulted in any actual “transformation”. 

As our global study of 590 leaders of Intelligent Automation initiatives, supported by KPMG 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.  There needs to be a much stronger melding of enterprises with implementation and consulting capability to fix these issues.  Just like we realized that throwing bodies at a problem does not solve the problem, we need to recognize that merely hurling software at business process will not drive transformation. The real genius lies in understanding what to use when and how. The software also needs to come with support and services. Otherwise, we’re just selling more snake oil and magic. 

3. End this "Funding Arms-Race" obsession nonsense.  Now.  While Automation Anywhere was busy with its Imagine conference in London, on 20th March, "news" about UiPath's self-proclaimed valuation, based on its much-discussed future Series D funding round, was conveniently released the day before, claiming the $3 billion touted last year was now a whopping $7 billion.  It was also widely rumored that UiPath was pushing to announce their Series D during Automation Anywhere's New York event last week.  Here are some snippets from the Business Insider news publication, which was also picked up by Tech Crunch:

So what, pray tell, is the point in all this?

UiPath is putting the whole automation industry under unnecessary pressure. If the UiPath Series D round has yet to be signed, these antics could be placing the negotiating power into the hands of the investors, who can clearly see UiPath's management is obsessed with embarrassing its hated rivals as opposed to focusing on the first 2 items discussed above.  Fortunately for UiPath, they have officially secured Series D this week, but these antics and obsession with fictitious valuations do the industry no favors and put incredible pressures on the automation software companies and enterprise to deliver genuine scale and results on months when the reality is this integrated automation journey will take years.

UiPath is creating the perception that this whole industry is after a short-term cash bonanza.  Our automation industry cares about making these solutions work, and this ridiculous noise about inflated funding isn't adding any value anywhere - this valuation noise only makes most people think these software firms are obsessed with a quick IPO or a quick sale, as opposed to a true long-term journey that will help enterprises enter the hyper-connected age.  I can guarantee you all - right now - that none of today's enterprise operations leaders are basing their robotic software selections off these crazy media-fuelled "valuations".  It is also an entirely separate debate about why robotic software firms with revenues under $200m can claim 35x valuations... stay tuned for that.

I can only hope UiPath CEO Daniel Dines' classy announcement (in Paris) to contribute 1m Euros towards the reconstruction of Notre Dame is an about-turn in this behavior.

Forget Brexit...Immerse yourself into the Hyper-Connected Economy at the HFS European Summit
April 24, 2019 | Phil Fersht

 

Date: April 30th, 2019

Venue: Chartered Accountants Hall, 1 Moorgate Place, London

Topic: The Hyper-Connected Economy... How do we immerse ourselves in it?

Key Message:  Until we get Brexit sorted, what else should we do to kill the time?

Info on the superstar line-up and how to apply: click here

 

RPA is still dead. We talked, you all listened... now smell the integrated automation roses
April 21, 2019 | Phil Fersht

Well, you can't beat a good headline, and you really can't beat it when 50,000 people read the "RPA is dead. Long live Integrated Automation Platforms" blog article in just 48 hours, spending a whopping average of 6.5 minutes actually reading it. Yes, most of you made it further than the headline! 

For those of you familiar with google analytics, I thought I would take the unique step of actually sharing some readership stats from our blog this week, just to show you how the extent of impact our plea to the industry is having to "wake up to enterprise integration and stop festering in obscure RPA":

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So where do we all go from here?

RPA as a term just doesn't make sense anymore, but these terrific brands will thrive as Robotic Transformation Software. We re-badge RPA as Robotic Transformation Software (RTS) because that’s what it is (or what aspires to be). Only a small portion of "RPA" is actually “process automation”... most of it is desktop apps, screen scrapes and document management fixes.  Most “RPA” engagements that have been signed are not for unattended processes, instead, most are attended robotic desktop automation (RDA) deployments. Attended RDA requires a loop of human and bot interplay to complete tasks. These engagements are not the pure form of RPA that we invented back in 2012 – they are a motley crew of scripts and macros applying band-aids to messy desktop applications and processes to maintain the same old way of doing things.  

Integrated Automation Platforms are the Holy Automation Grail (HAG*) if we can make it there.  Automation ultimately needs to support transformation, not legacy. The more these RTS tools can be leveraged by clients - not only to do things better and more automatically - but also to help them re-wire their operations to achieve their outcomes, then we have lift-off.  These tools also need to make enterprises more agile - if you just work on steady-state fixes without focusing on how to make real changes down the road, we will see many enterprises stuck in legacy purgatory, unable to switch out bots in the future. 

*HAG is not an official acronym, I just made it up.  Peace out robo-warriors ✌

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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The mid-cap service providers are killing it and LTI, Virtusa and Mphasis are setting the pace
April 09, 2019 | Phil FershtJamie SnowdonMartin GabrielSam Duncan

These are unique times for IT services - at the big-ticket end of the spectrum you have the mega-scale and competitive-cost propositions of the tier 1s vying for greater wallet share within their enterprise clients, while at the other, we have specific technical needs that warrant a lot of close attention that grabs the focus of the "mid-caps", which are much more flexible and can operate at smaller scale, while turning an attractive profit. 

The mid-caps are catering to the "build" needs of enterprises where the Tier 1s often struggle to deliver top talent

I recall just a couple of years ago how many of the big boys arrogantly called time on the smaller providers, but the exact opposite is transpiring; many clients are less brand obsessed as they once were and are more focused on accessing the skills they need with the attention they deserve.  Why settle for a B- team, when you can get a B+ team that's going to go the extra mile and work with you to figure out how to deliver complex requirements?  And the numbers, simply, do not lie:

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 All these providers, with the exception of Luxoft, grew their employee base and 7 out of the leading 10 grew revenues by double-digits 2017-2018:

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The mid-caps can rely on dynamic personalities to win deals

Remember the good ol' hyper-growth days of IT services where the likes of Chandra (TCS), Frank (Cognizant), Nandan (Infosys) and Shiv (HCL) would fly around the world to close deals? Well, those days are long-gone as the top tier providers are simply too large and clients know they can't just pick up the phone to scream at the CEO anymore.

However, they can still do that with most of these mid-caps. We conveniently forget that services is still largely about people and that personal touch from the top is still what most clients really want. One such eye-catching success story has been that of Mphasis, where the impact of CEO Nitin Rakesh (read the interview here) has been nothing short of remarkable:

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Bottom-Line: The success of the mid-caps was not in the script... new rules of services are being written

In the last few years, Capgemini acquired IGATE and Atos acquired Syntel. In both cases, the company being acquired was the leading mid-cap on the market, and both provided some crucial resources for European-centric service providers lacking strong Indian delivery capability.  However, what transpired since has been the door opening for the next tranche to step up up - notably LTI, Virtusa and Mphasis - all of whom have blown past $1billion. While LTI and Mindtree are embroiled in a less-than-friendly merger and Luxoft has already been bolted into the DXC empire, it would be of little surprise if any of the successful ones in this list are snapped up in the coming months as enterprises grapple with their needs for close attention to their creaking IT infrastructures and the dire need to develop agile capabilities, take better advantage of automation and AI tools... and find more sophisticated help to sort out their cloud messes.  And as the latest ones are picked off, it's simply the time for the next wave to step into the void... firms like Zensar, NIIT and Hexaware are routinely discussed these days as strong providers in their own right, and are also potentially attractive acquisition targets, provided the fit is right(despite decades of heritage).  

These are the new rules of the services game... because the simple fact is that there are no rules and we're all writing new ones as the need for rapid, personalized IT salvation becomes more and more a critical part of the C-Suite agenda.