Phil Fersht
 
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Nagendra's agenda: His bullish outlook for the IT and business services industry
July 03, 2020 | Phil FershtSaurabh Gupta

Three serious dudes having a serious conversation –  Phil Fersht, Nagendra P. Bandaru, and Saurabh Gupta

The COVID-19 pandemic shock is possibly (and hopefully) the biggest disruption of our lifetime. This is the time when you need real leaders who can see the light and the end of the tunnel and work tirelessly to unleash their organizational potential. We recently caught up Nagendra P. Bandaru (Nag) to discuss the resilient nature of the IT services industry, his bullish outlook for Wipro, and his sage advice for enterprises to adapt to this pandemic shock. Nag has been a constant in the IT industry for more than 30 years. He is responsible for organically doubling Wipro’s BPM business in the last 4 years and currently manages 40% of Wipro’s revenues, from BPM services to cloud and infrastructure.  I have personally known Nag since 2006, when he was a feisty young sales and marketing leader helping develop Wipro's presence in the US during the year growth years of BPO and it's been great seeing him flourish into one of Wipro's key minds and personalities as he helps shape the business for this challenging future. 

So, Saurabh Gupta, and myself decided it was time to reconnect with Nag to hear more about his views on the current situation and where the industry needs to go to make it through troubled waters to flourish once more...

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HFS Research: We’ve known each other for more than a decade, Nag, so maybe talk to us a little bit about your background and how you ended up running not just Wipro’s BPM business but other big parts of Wipro such as Cloud and Infrastructure Services. Maybe you could take us a bit back to your earlier days, how you got into this, and what you’re doing now?

Nagendra P. Bandaru, President – Digital Operations and Platforms & Cloud and Infrastructure Services, Wipro: First, thank you for setting up this conversation, Phil. It’s been great knowing you, especially since you have been part of nearly one third of my journey in this industry! The

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The world changed.. then it really changed
June 13, 2020 | Phil Fersht

Welcome Sarah T... she likes R&B and has a PhD... in Virology
June 06, 2020 | Phil Fersht

Sarah Thomas is Chief Strategy Officer at HFS (Click for bio)

While this current economy is forcing so many of us to hunker down, hold our nerve and prepare to emerge strongly when growth and confidence returns, it also creates an amazing opportunity to add talent and capability we may never have considered when the world was a very different place.  Sarah Thomas and I have enjoyed a great working relationship over the years - she was always an avid consumer of my research when I worked at Everest and Gartner (AMR) and when I founded HFS in 2010 (as a virtual research boutique) she helped bring Accenture on as one of our first clients.  Fast forward 10 years and HFS is making a rapid pivot back to our virtual roots - and with a massive global community to boot.  So what better timing than to bring onboard a super-talented strategist and marketer (with a doctorate in virology) who truly understands the culture of HFS and how to help mastermind our digital push to help us emerge from the current crisis as the leading digital analyst firm covering IT and business services and the technification of business operations.

Before we get to all the work stuff, Sarah, can you share a little bit about yourself….your background, what gets you up in the morning?

So the short answer is that I have had a long and very happy career at Accenture that started in consulting in the Andersen Consulting era, grew into Marketing and involved a minor detour in the early years as a research scientist, working for Novartis where I completed my PhD in Virology. I didn’t have the normal career path for a CMO or head of Industry Analyst Relations but who knew that fast forward to 2020, all my worlds would collide with the Covid-19 pandemic and impact on everyone’s life and business.

In terms of what gets me up in the morning – in addition to a strong double espresso and 90s R’n’B on the radio, it’s the joy of learning something new. I like to always be challenging myself so aside from my new role at HFS Research, I am currently also honing my social media savvy, brushing up the German language skills I had when I lived in Vienna during my PhD and learning to ballroom dance with my very good friend Strictly pro, Robin Windsor.  At the weekend, the one thing that gets me up and out at the crack of dawn is the chance to go sailing. Being by the sea (preferably in the Caribbean!), or on the water is my happy place.

And how did you find yourself at Accenture for such a long tranche of your career?  Was it what you intended after studying science? How did you end up in marketing and strategy roles? What were the highlights?

When I joined Andersen Consulting as was, it was my wild card job application. I fully expected to have a scientific career and growing up I actually wanted to be a pathologist – until my aunt who was a doctor at the time, pointed out it wasn’t as glamorous as on TV and that I’d actually spend my life in scrubs, green wellies and working in the basement of hospitals – oh and probably never get a boyfriend! I didn’t expect to love the consulting world quite so much. I spent my early consulting career working for a series of financial services clients before leaving the company to return to science and complete my PhD with Novartis at their research institute in Vienna, Austria. After a post-doctoral fellowship in London, and a stint at the UK Medical Research Council I missed the pace of business life and returned to what soon became Accenture, in a Marketing and Communication role. I know that is not a natural transition of topic or role, but I convinced them I would be great at bringing my left-side logical thinking to bear alongside my creative flair. I definitely had one of the more unusual career histories and combination of experience but I like to think that brought something unique to my role.

I never intended to stay for so long and certainly not for 20+ years, but the advantage of such a large and diverse company is that there is room to move and grow. I was lucky during those early years to have some great mentors and champions in the business, who remain friends today and as their careers grew, so did mine. My career pivot point really came when Mike Salvino took leadership of Accenture’s BPO business. I was CMO for that business for the duration of Mike’s tenure as CEO, working closely alongside him and a number of other leaders who shaped the industry and am extremely proud of the business we built. We were a young, dynamic leadership team who were all invested in growing the business and in each others’ success. We are all still close now; It was a special moment in time. As a team I think we did a great job of not only growing and repositioning the business in the market, but also changing the meaning of what a business process service provider could be for their clients and also for their people.

One of the things I loved about my time at Accenture was working with so many fantastic people. One of my favorite projects was working with a team from all around the world and parts of the business, including many of the companies we had acquired who brought their unique and specialist skill sets to the table, to redefine and rebrand our consulting methodology. It was a unique project and we ended up feeling like an extended family.  

So what from your vast experience do you think you can apply to the services and tech industry now you are on the “light side”.

Well I hope that my experience as a CMO and head of Industry Analyst Relations for such a key industry player will help HFS Research continue to hone and evolve their offerings, and how they work with their key clients to be even more relevant and effective – and I hope that I can bring my experience to bear for the benefit of all my former peers in client organizations. In my first week in role, I have already had a number of interesting and energizing conversations with CMOs and CEOs of client organizations. Its good to be able to learn from and challenge each other.

And why did you choose HFS, Sarah?  How do you think you can drive things forward for the firm, especially with your many years of experience working with all the leading analyst firms?

HFS is known for having a distinctive voice in the market – for being provocative and for challenging the status quo. As a marketer and someone who likes to be working in “the new”, I want to work with the “disruptor” who is shaking up the industry. Having sat in the client and service provider seat I believe I bring a unique perspective to the team. I am naturally someone who thinks laterally and “connects the dots, so I hope I can bring some fresh thinking and challenge the HFS team to be even more agile and responsive with their insights and research, and to shine a light on those providers and clients across the industry who are really driving value and pushing the industry forward.

How do you see the analyst industry changing, especially with the current economic uncertainty? And what needs to change…and what will change in your view?

The pace of change in the industry really demands an analyst firm can that be agile and responsive to the market.  Nobody can wait six to nine months for insight and a category report to be published any more – the world will likely have pivoted on its axis in that time.  To be relevant you need to be quick to market.

I also think that while a robust and relevant research portfolio remain the foundation of any analyst firm going forward, there is huge value in tapping their strategic talent on a project basis too. I see that as being a service area that will be increasingly in demand. Clients can extend their own strategy team on a project or an opportunity or tap a broad set of experts in a more “think tank” environment for strategic advisory, bespoke research or a competitive landscape. Its deep subject matter expertise, on the topics they need, when they need it.

And how do you see the services industry playing out over the next couple of years? Are we truly entering “crunch time” where only the fittest survive?

Absolutely. To come back to my science background, this is business natural selection in action. Experience tells us though that such circumstances forces people to focus, to spend smarter and to really think strategically about who they are and what their strengths are. It’s going to be a tough for a while yet, but it will be those who are able to adapt quickly, take decisive action as necessary and innovate, who will not only survive but thrive.

From a marketing perspective what is interesting for me right now is the refocus on brand. I speak to my fellow B2B marketers across a broad set of industries on a regular basis and everyone is grappling with the same challenges – how to do the same or more, with less resource, how to engage with clients and recruits virtually but still make the experience one that delights – that delivers on content and builds knowledge and relationships. Customers in both the B2B and B2C world are looking at the organizations that they do business with or buy from with a critical eye – how are they responding? How are they taking care of their people and communities? And are thy the organizations they want to do business with going forward? Brand, culture and purpose have never been more relevant.

So if you have one wish to change our industry for the better…what would that be?

As a marketer through and through, I need to spin it a little. I have two wishes but they both come under the umbrella theme of Leadership, so I’ll count that as one. Firstly, we know that diversity in teams leads to greater innovation and yet when you look at most organizational leadership teams in our industry they are anything but. I’d like to see more women in the big jobs and running the P&L. The talent is there – they just need to be given the opportunity.

And I hope that coming out of this period we will see more authentic leaders. Yes, effective leaders who drive business results, but also those who have vision, empathy and who lead by truly inspiring their teams to deliver for their clients.

Thanks so much for your time, Sarah, and we’re excited to see you make some waves from the analyst side of the fence.

IT and business services is taking a massive 10.2% hit this year
June 02, 2020 | Jamie SnowdonPhil Fersht

There's not much else we can say beyond the fact the impact of the Paradigm Shock on the IT and business industry is seismic.  Suddenly, the core value of services is to address what customers have to buy right now... and at prices they can afford.  This is a cut-throat market unlike anything we have seen before and the survivors are those who have the nerve, the cash, the luck, the immediate ability to support their clients and the strategic nouse to make quick moves to come out on top as the new business environment gradually unravels:

Forecast Assumptions

  • GDP impact from Q2 2020 is expected to be10-15% in all major Western European and North American markets. Economic recovery to pre-COVID levels is unlikely until the second half of 2021.
  • Business not as usual – with a significant amount of work being unable to complete due to local lockdowns and social distancing. Government bailouts will prevent some businesses from failing but will not be universally successful particularly with small businesses.
  • GDP / GVA forecast analysis for major sectors used as a starting point for forecast variation. Given that the economic impact is industry-sector led.
  • Previous major economic events used as a primary guide for impact due to COVID, particularly the long-term impact as the wider economy is impacted. In particular, the impact of the great recession on the IT & business services market.
  • Major decline in professional services new business, most signed agreements go ahead with a larger percentage of delays to existing work (40-50%).
  • Professional services impact is immediate (Q1/Q2) with a return to pre-COVID spend in 8-10 quarters.
  • Operational services impact is delayed – so won’t immediately hit revenues in Q1, but will gradually affect the market as deal signings slow significantly and are deferred to Q1 2022. We have seen deal volumes reduce by a half for Mar and April.
  • Revenue impacts in Q1 small, with the impact of deal signings and slowing discretionary spend, felt in Q2 and Q3.

The Bottom-line: Recessions do end, but this one is going to reshape the services industry more than anything we have ever experienced

We've ridden the traditional services model for 20 years and - let's be brutally honest - while we've had some awesome developments in areas like digital technology, cloud and automation, the underlying way services have been bought and sold hasn't fundamentally changed. Suddenly many clients facing huge survival challenges (such as in travel and manufacturing sectors), coupled with the downward pressure on pricing is sending large parts of the services industry into a tailspin. For those that don't have the cash reserves to weather this, and fail to reinvest in a plan to attack growth opportunities as the crisis subsides, the future is murky.  Customers will demand "as-a-service" offerings, sweetheart deals and all sorts of outcomes in the market that is to come... the old rule-book is being tossed and the emerging situation is putting unprecedented (there, I used the word) pressure on many service providers to survive.

As the lockdowns slowly ease and business returns to a point where big deals can be done, expect some significant M&A activity - and all sorts of "carve-out" deals to take place - as service providers fight to survive, exit or dominate.  We may even get a few surprise entrants into a market where there is no pre-written playbook.  This is where the brave, the smart and the lucky take control.

Who'd have thought... Wipro went for Delaporte
May 29, 2020 | Phil Fersht

As we discussed just before this virus changed our world (see post), Wipro's next CEO appointment after Abid Neemuchwala had to be someone with teeth and a preparedness to be ruthless.  While I know the post upset a few people at Wipro, they clearly read the piece and its Board acted in a similar vein.  If anything, the current economic and health crisis may have even driven the board to look harder at a leader with discipline and financial acumen. They seem to have got one, who was ready to make the move.

Wipro goes for a strong operator to make tough decisions who is ready for the challenge

The Wipro board was clearly determined to bring in an outsider to make some changes to the company leadership team, organizational structure, and culture, even though there are some strong internal candidates such as Milan Rao and Rajan Kohli. The search was extensive, lasting several months, and the pandemic clearly slowed down the whole process. Moving for Delaporte, a dyed-in-the-wool Capgemini man with a strong operations and finance background shows Wipro is keen on playing it safe as the industry goes into a long cycle of volatility as we (eventually) emerge from the Covid crisis and deepening recession.

However, unlike the appointment of Salil Parekh at Infosys, another ex-Capgemini executive, we expect Delaporte to make some aggressive changes to the firm. He has a reputation within Capgemini for being a tough, ambitious leader and he was clearly very upset when he lost out in the CEO battle with Aiman Ezzat. His relatively quick move to Wipro shows he is determined to lead a major IT services business, even at a time when travel is challenging and the business climate highly uncertain.

It's time to break up old fiefdoms, re-energize the leadership talent and make up lost ground to some of the Tier 1 competitors

Delaporte now has a major challenge to break up some of the industry fiefdoms that have plagued Wipro over the years and bring in some new blood to reenergize the firm. He also has to embrace some of the firm's leadership talent, such as Rao, Kohli and Adlakha, to ensure they have fresh motivation and energy for the challenging times ahead. The extended time this search took leaves Wipro needing to play catch-up with the likes of Infosys, HCL and TCS, so Delaporte needs to move fast. He will also need to make some big decisions surrounding potential acquisitions as the industry goes through its biggest-ever shake-up.

The Bottom-line:  A surprise for many, but a leadership decision made with clear intent - and a lot of patience

While the decision to move on Delaporte is somewhat surprising, especially with his living in France and having a lower profile than other potential candidates like Omar Abbosh, it does indicate the determination of the Premji family and the Board to go for outside blood to make some tough changes to the firm.  Being the first non-Indian to lead the firm will be a major change to the firm's culture - especially when you consider only Cognizant opted for a non-Indian to lead their business (from the India-heritage majors).  But maybe... just maybe... this decision will prove to be a smart one for a company with a tremendous heritage and a family-owner who has given so much back to his country.

To conclude, Delaporte is core services and a proven tough leader in the space (and talk to anyone at Capgemini, he is highly respected). The only thing I worry about could be his French base, but it may actually strengthen Wipro's footprints in Europe (esp financial services). Plus he's a good M&A guy and oversaw perhaps the only successful services merger over the last decade: Capgemini + IGATE.

The more you look at this, the more it starts to look like a bold, shrewd appointment.  Give Thierry some time and we can revisit this decision with the lovely power of hindsight...

Low-code or schmo-code? Don't monkey around with enhanced automation
May 17, 2020 | Cyrus SemmencePhil Fersht

HFS analyst Cyrus Semmence (pictured right) gives his view on low-code and enhanced automation

After many years of hearing the term "low-code", suddenly there is an urgency to understand how it can rapidly enhance automation capabilities as we watch the world spiral into madness. In my view, the right blend of low-code platform capability and RPA, alongside process orchestration tools, such as process discovery and mining, will provide the toolbox to create enhanced automation and a much more scalable digital infrastructure... in an increasingly volatile and geographically diverse market.  However, the watchword with RPA over the years has always been "low-code does not mean no-code" and you have to work with your tech folks who understand how all these systems and apps can fit together to achieve our goals (which is where it went wrong recently at the US Small Business Administration).  

So we decided to poke a few questions at HFS analyst and monkey lover Cyrus Semmence,

What is low-code, Cyrus?

Low code development platforms are platforms that allow the creation of automated workflows and software using visual and declarative statements instead of raw code to create the business or software logic.

However - in the hype to whet people’s appetite - some misconceptions about low code / no code need to be addressed, otherwise, in a few years' time, we'll be talking about the failure of low code.  The idea that skilled developers can be replaced by citizen developers is false.  You still need architects, solution designers, developers, testers, etc to build and deploy your whizzy new automation.  The reason is that low code brings to the table the advancement of true rapid application development (RAD) capabilities due to reduced effort and errors as multiple lines of code do not have to be manually keyed in, which is tedious and can be incredibly time-consuming and leave room for errors and bugs. Instead, the logic is created with drag-and-drop types of functionality.  To do this though, you still need people that know what they are doing, how to define the logic, create database schemas, understand the integration requirements with other systems, and to design around non-functional risks and requirements.  

Why low-code matters and why we need to care

The work environment has changed. What worked when we were all in the office together suddenly becomes much harder to do when we can’t easily pop over to another department and ask a question about something or shout across the desk. This slows down processes and highlights previously hidden problems. For companies that have realized their business processes are inefficient, hard to modify, and are only functioning because of human workarounds, low-code platforms offer a great solution.

Nowadays no senior manager is going to sign off on a bespoke software build project.  There is too much risk that some mud might stick to their reputation if it fails and with so many horror stories regarding software development projects who would blame them?  However, sometimes that is the right option.

It is true there are many commercial off the shelf software (COT) solutions that could be purchased and avoid the risk of building from scratch, but despite all the best intentions I doubt there are many large scale enterprise software deployments out there that were bought with the intention of keeping them off the shelf that has stayed that way. Instead, they have ended up being customized to the point there are extremely expensive to maintain and sometimes almost impossible to upgrade.

With low-code, you get the opportunity to automate your business processes in a way that exactly mirrors them, and you only build and pay for functionality you actually need, not all the extras that might sit their dormant with a COTS solution.

 Why will low-code platforms disrupt traditional software markets?

Once people start to get more comfortable with the concept then it’s likely the uptake of new purchases of CRM, ERP solutions will be impacted.  I can’t see large corporates suddenly throwing out SAP or Clarity straight away and replacing it with their own in house low-code version. For smaller organizations that might balk at the cost of SAP and just stick with their old order processing system and excel spreadsheets and make do with the problems, no-code could be the door opener to modernize a lot of their systems.  Combined with RPA where integration with the odd irreplaceable legacy system that doesn’t justify spending a fortune to replace, you have a great way to improve your business efficiency and ability to get to market faster.  For the larger enterprises adding a low-code platform to their toolbox means they can quickly roll out point solutions to solve business process problems at the fraction of the cost of re-engineering existing software.  In conjunction with a longer-term strategy, if planned properly they could be used to gradually phase out existing enterprise systems as a project instead of a major version upgrade on existing platforms.

How do we get started with low-code – do we need to have real experience in developing apps, or can we engage as business executives to get our IT people on the case?

The journey with low code must start with a highly skilled team.  If a salesperson is telling you it’s easy, ignore them.  Why do you need a highly skilled team on a platform that everyone claims is going to change the way we deploy software (and Gartner predicts by 2023 citizen developers will outnumber professional developers by 4 times)?  Because this is not going to happen. Software development is never easy and the last thing you want in your enterprise is a bunch of amateurs building your critical business systems.   So, if you don’t want to fail on the journey to replace legacy systems that don’t quite match your way of working and take a long time to change when your business does, give yourself the best chance of success by getting good people to develop for you.  Over time as you get comfortable with the platform you might consider devolving responsibility out to the business, but the risks in doing this must be carefully weighed up.

Will the current crisis drive adoption? Will firms who embrace low-code be at a real competitive advantage?

The current crisis could well drive up adoption as flawed business processes need to be fixed rapidly and - to do that - you need a flexible platform you can mold into the image you wish to see, not the image the software vendor has for you.

Thanks for the practical tips, Cyrus - to finish, let's share the latest research on where enterprises intend to invest in this current "Paradigm Shock":  You may have a point that enhanced automation is very much top of mind for enterprises:

Click to Enlarge

If Microsoft is buying Softomotive it’s not only beneficial to each party, but also for the RPA market
May 04, 2020 | Miriam DeasyElena ChristopherPhil Fersht

There’s a very strong rumor that Microsoft is in talks to buy Softomotive, unconfirmed by either party which didn’t stop Bloomberg running the story, and we’re happy to wonder what it might mean. There’s lots that’s promising – for Microsoft, for Softomotive and for the RPA category as a whole.  And most likely great timing in a market where rapid digitization is the calling card.

The smaller proven RPA vendors are more attractive acquisitions to fill functionality gaps

At the beginning of this year we cogitated that no one would buy any of the big three RPA vendors when we made 2020 predictions – then within weeks when Appian bought Jidoka we noted that smaller RPA vendors are still certainly likely acquisition targets. We even suspected UiPath was positioning itself to be acquired by MS last year but was clearly far too hefty an investment for Microsoft’s appetite as it eyed ticking the RPA box in its catalog of automation and AI solutions.  However, an acquisition of Softomotive, which could fetch a low nine-figure number, clearly shows MS is serious about adding this much-needed capability to address the space.

In 2018 Softomotive secured funding of $25m (Series A) and we reckon it’s not easy to get funding these days. Although Blue Prism managed to raise $125m to strengthen and protect its balance sheet and Kryon recently finalized a $40m Series C. We expect there are more acquisitions to come. So, we’re not that surprised, and we are hoping there is truth to this tale.

Microsoft has shown up to the RPA party late and it can easily buy its way in

Microsoft has been talking RPA all through the second half of 2019, in multiple earnings calls and announcing the Power Automate launch at Ignite. It recently launched its Power Automate version of RPA to general availability. HFS initial reactions laid out Power Automate (RPA) and its overall fit in Microsoft’s Power Platform. It is mainly what was Flow (close to IFTTT) with some UI screen scraping for the legacy green screens and the ability to record the various keystrokes or clicks. We saw attended automation as per UiPath and Automation Anywhere, but couldn’t help but question the unattended capability as per Blue Prism at that point and called out the need for catching up to RPA vendors’ level of capability.

Softomotive would give Microsoft both attended and unattended capabilities, a significant customer base and real credibility as an intelligent automation solution

What Microsoft could gain here with Softomotive (if this goes ahead) is an RPA veteran with roots in desktop automation, with a solid engineering approach and a decent set of both attended (WinAutomation) and unattended (ProcessRobot) capabilities. It has more than 9,000 customers worldwide and is a longstanding Microsoft partner. For more on HFS’s view of Softomotive and other RPA players see HFS Top10 RPA Products 2020.  Softomotive demonstrates sound thought leadership with its “People 1st Approach” and it made an interesting move last year with the launch of Robin, an open-source RPA language. At HFS, we liked the vision and concept of Robin very much but struggled to see how people (especially competitors) would be motivated or incentivized to play along, and it really needs lots and lots of developers playing along to be successful. Softomotive is hitting the jackpot here though and might find a lot more people throughout Microsoft’s extensive installed base readily incentivized to ensure portability and interoperability of RPA using Robin if it becomes part of the Microsoft empire. If Robin proves popular with that critical mass, competitors have little option but to follow.

Microsoft is well on its way to becoming a one-stop-shop for all enterprise software needs

So, there’s the hardware of course, but the real value of this acquisition would be embedding or connecting robust RPA into Microsoft’s many well-established software product families, from MS Office, Teams, SharePoint and Dynamics 365 for ERP, CRM etc. This is all subject to Softomotive’s technology being absorbed at a technical level into the Microsoft product family – not just in slideware. Microsoft Power Platform is not reliant on only MS software, other software will be in use at its customers’ organizations, so its running with a vast array of connectors (300+ at last count) to hook up to the many large enterprise platforms in common use. Considering how many RPA use cases start with or rely on a trigger like an email (with attachment) or an excel spreadsheet it’s easy to see why Microsoft has a vested interest in picking up the baton itself with RPA extending its value proposition, rather than letting third party vendors come in to carry the data along its process journey. What Softomotive could provide to Microsoft is more much needed connective tissue, to help business users with the complexity of business processes laden with process debt.

The bottom line: Microsoft is just one of many big fish menacingly circling the RPA space

Not only does this move validate the RPA category, it also threatens those who pioneered the category. Other independent software vendors (ISVs) are making moves too. Pega has its Infinity platform low-code, BPM, RPA combination fueled by the Openspan acquisition, SAP’s Intelligent Robotic Process Automation (IRPA) offering is based on a combo of previous internal efforts and its Contextor acquisition. Appian acquired Jidoka. Compelling pricing propositions for RPA as an add-on are visible. And these approaches, including Microsoft’s, are broad approaches supplementing the rigor of enterprise software platforms, low-code, BPM, AI and APIs with RPA.

What’s more, Google is tackling the intelligent part of intelligent automation to structure unstructured data with Document AI, in partnership with UiPath, Automation Anywhere and Appian amongst others. Given Google's intentions to deliver an array of functional and vertical solutions with partners and its technology stack we should anticipate that some of the pain points that RPA addresses will be targeted in these initiatives. And Salesforce is keeping its options open, with MuleSoft in hand already with an API led approach and Salesforce Ventures led Automation Anywhere’s Series B financing.

Other RPA vendors need to pay attention to the fact that while they have undoubtedly proven the market need for RPA, they have no guarantee of keeping hold of the market they created. Their best bet is proving that a third-party layer on top is superior to embedded and connected approaches, and we expect that RPA vendors will make a decent stab at articulating this throughout the rest of 2020.

Pravin Rao will show us how... as he takes on the NASSCOM Chairmanship
May 02, 2020 | Phil FershtSarah Little

As changing winds prevail, few things impact an organization better than a consistent, selfless, and stable tone from the top. U.B. Pravin Rao (known as “UB” by his friends) has been the great constant at Infosys throughout his tenure, combining an understated demeanor with sheer tenacity to build, equip and continue pushing a 240,000-person entity into the future.

Notwithstanding corporate honors as Member of the Board and COO of Infosys, Pravin was well-tapped to serve NASSCOM as industry Chairman for the next year. Quite simply, he has the best of the industry at heart and a comprehensive competence to not only steady the sails through the COVID-19 storm, but to demonstrate rapid response in support of the industry and community at large. With his footing firmly set in the present and eyes fixed on the horizon, Pravin clearly sees an infinite future for NASSCOM and the Indian industry as a resilient, ever-relevant, and trusted partner for the global enterprise.  So now there is no live cricket to watch, we managed to drag him away from his Sudoku puzzles to share his intentions and vision for the Indian IT industry in his role as NASSCOM chairman.

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HFS Research: Good afternoon to you, Pravin. It’s always good to catch up, I enjoy our conversations, and it was good to hear about your new role at NASSCOM. Before we get to that, can you just share a little bit about you, and how you ended up as COO for Infosys?

Pravin Rao, Chairman, NASSCOM: Good to talk to you as well. I am an electrical engineering graduate. from Bangalore University and joined Infosys in 1986. Actually, it was my first job, and this is my 34th year at Infosys. When I joined, we were less than 50 people, and today we are over 240,000 people, so obviously it’s been a great journey.

When I joined Infosys, it was a very small company, and obviously not very well known. I had just two motivations. One is that I didn’t enjoy my electrical engineering stint, and I wanted to get out of it. The second one… In those days and probably even today, for a lot of people in India - and particularly for youngsters - going abroad is always an opportunity, and that was one of my ambitions. In those days, I heard Infosys was sending people to the US, so that was the added motivation.

"In those days in India, if you joined the public sector then you were supposed to be set up for life, but I rejected those offers and joined Infosys. Many people thought I was crazy. I just wanted to see the world, and the rest is history"

Once I’d graduated, Phil, I had a couple of interesting jobs, one in the public sector. In those days, in India, if you joined the public sector, then you were supposed to be set up for life, but I rejected those offers and joined Infosys. Many people thought I was crazy. I just wanted to see the world, and the rest is history. I came from a technical background, I joined as a trainee, and I have played several roles. Since the beginning of 2000, I started heading some P&Ls  [Retail, CPG, Logistics and LifeSciences] with Infosys. In 2014, I was inducted to the Board of Infosys, and, at the same time, I was also elevated as COO, so I’ve been playing that role since then. For a brief period, I was named the Interim CEO before Salil’s appointment.

Phil: So tell us a bit about this role that you’ve been elected to as Chairman for NASSCOM. What does that entail, exactly?

Pravin: Phil, the Indian technology industry is one of the key contributors to India’s economy; it roughly contributes 8 to 9% of India’s GDP. This year, financial year 2020, the Indian IT industry will contribute roughly $190 billion US dollars in revenue, and it today employs about 4.3 million professionals directly. So it’s a sector with a diverse mix of companies: Indian companies, multinationals, global tech centers of international companies, start-ups, and so on, and NASSCOM is the industry body that is representing the sector.

It’s an honor and privilege, Phil, to represent the sector as Chairman, and a great opportunity for me to serve the industry. Within NASSCOM we have a leadership council, which consists of past Chairman, Chairman, Vice Chairman, and President, and this council is tasked with driving the NASSCOM vision and agenda.  From an individual perspective for me, it’s a 3-year commitment - one year as Chairman, Vice Chairman (served one year, last year), and after this year, one year as Past Chairman – it’s a 3-year commitment to the industry. Obviously it’s a part-time role, we have a President who runs the forum full time.  

From a Chairman perspective, my immediate priority is obviously navigating around the COVID-19 situation, and ensuring minimum impact to all the stakeholders, to our clients, to our employees, and ensuring business continuity. In the long term, I hope, once we adjust to the new normal, we will focus on some of the work that NASSCOM has been doing, in terms of transforming the industry and making it relevant in the digital era. Obviously, after the current pandemic subsides, we should also gear up for the post-digital era, which is all about distributed ledger technology, artificial intelligence, AR, VR, quantum computing, and so on.

Phil: So this is probably the most critical juncture in the history of Indian technology, what’s been happening this year with the recent paradigm shock? How do you think you can support this, and respond to this, in your NASSCOM role? What sort of things are you really looking to do here?

Pravin: Yes Phil, these are challenging times for everyone, including the Indian technology industry; however, our industry has, time and again, proven its resilience in the past, and I’m very confident that this time, too, we will emerge stronger and wiser. And, as I said earlier, during this time, maintaining business continuity and keeping in mind the safety and wellbeing of the employees was the topmost priority for the industry. Our industry has been enabling work from home since the first week of March and has been shifting assets and configuring the internal networks to make this possible. Today, roughly 85 to 90% of the workforce has been enabled to work from home – it’s much higher on the IT services side, and on the BPM side, it’s slightly lower. A small percentage of staff is working from our office, typically on mission-critical applications and dealing with sensitive data. And, considering the size of the industry, $190 billion dollars, and the scale, a 4 million-person workforce, the speed at which we have achieved this, I think, is a very remarkable achievement. We are also in regular touch with our clients and going the extra mile to ensure minimal business and service disruption.

"Our industry has, time and again, proven its resilience in the past, and I’m very confident that this time, too, we will emerge stronger and wiser"

The industry has worked very closely with the government during this period, both the central government as well as the individual states. First and foremost, we got IT and IT-enabled services categorized as essential services. That cleared a lot of hurdles. Then we had a lot of policies around moving assets out of campuses and policies around taking calls from home, so we worked with the respective departments and got it enabled as well. We are also working with state governments in terms of enabling ease of people movement, transfer of assets. The industry has actually worked very closely. 

I think what is very heartening is that we have also come together in supporting the government in leveraging technology to fight COVID-19.

What’s more, Phil, I think what is very heartening is that we have also come together in supporting the government in leveraging technology to fight COVID-19. Each of our companies, individually, have been working both at the central and individual state levels, coming up with apps and other solutions. In addition, NASSCOM has created a taskforce with several companies together, working closely with the government in areas of containment, tracking, testing, and recovery. And, in fact, NASSCOM has also published a compendium of all the solutions that the Indian tech industry has put together to help various stakeholders in terms of dealing with this crisis.

Phil: So, as we look through the other side of this Paradign Shock, Pravin, do you think India will come out the other side unscathed? And do you see a different landscape emerging from this?

Pravin: I think, from a global perspective, the situation at this stage is pretty stark. There are still multiple scenarios being debated and discussed in terms of the global economy and the shape of the recovery. People are talking about V-shaped, U-shaped, L-shaped, and so on, and it’s very difficult to predict. Given the complexity and challenges which are unique to India, I think the government has done a good job so far, and the lockdown, as you are aware, has been now extended until May 3rd, although some activities will start opening up starting April 20th. For IT and IT-enabled services, wherever possible, the government has recommended up to 50% return to work. However, our industries will take a very phased approach. We want to be very responsible, so in the first few weeks, we expect only a maximum of 15 to 20% of the workforce back in the office, and it will actually take a few months before we get back to the old ways of working, probably close to 100% working in the office. From a country perspective, I think it’ll take about three, four months for things to stabilize.

The other aspect is that this industry is part of the global value chain, and any disruptions in that will have a ripple effect on both India and the Indian IT industry. Overall, I’ve seen forecasts talking about GDP being lowered by 1 to 2% than what it was forecast before the virus outbreak, and COVID-19 is obviously creating disruptions globally where businesses across countries and geographies are facing major demand-side challenges. For our industry, it will be impacted by the demand-side shifts as opposed to any supply-side issues, so from that perspective, I think that in the short to medium-term we will see some fall in demand, some of the discretionary spend being pushed out, and so on.

However, I believe that in the medium to long-term the industry will bounce back because as we get into a new normal, every enterprise will start looking at reimagining their ways of working. They’ll look at transforming talent and building resilience into their existing business models, and some changes will probably be permanent and be part of new normal, in these cases, technology and technology services will be very integral in all these models. Even today, technology is playing a huge role in enabling businesses to run remotely, and in the new normal this will be only amplified. So, in some sense, COVID-19 is a tipping point of the digital transformation of the workplace. The sudden shift to remote, digital work has the potential to accelerate digitally-enabled environments and workplace transformations.

So, I’m very confident that in the long-run, Indian technology industries and providers will be more relevant than ever to organizations globally. While what is short term, what is medium and long-term are difficult to predict, I think the industry will bounce back and will continue to be relevant.

Phil: We’ve obviously spoken a lot about the potential challenges this is going to cause and impacts on the economy, etc. What good things do you think are coming out of this? Do you think there’s going to be some positive behaviors, positive outcomes that we’re going to take away from this experience?

Pravin: Phil, I think the speed at which we have been able to ensure business continuity given our size and scale and enabling work from home, and without compromising on employee safety, for me that has been the most impressive one. And NASSCOM has worked closely with the government to enable this. That has been extremely positive.

Secondly, all the industry players….are coming together. I think sometimes adversity brings the best of you, and it’s been amazing how people have come together and shared best practices. And even, I talked earlier about some of the tech solutions that they have provided, working closely with the government, in terms of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. So from that perspective, I’m very proud of the way the industry has come together to deal with the crisis. And some parts [of this] will become the new normal. In the past, I think clients were very reluctant to allow work from home; hopefully, this experience will help them look at it differently. If we are able to demonstrate productivity and good quality without compromising security, I think clients will get adjusted to this way of working, and that will also help the industry in the long run.

"Sometimes adversity brings out the best of you, and it’s been amazing how people have come together and shared best practices"

In terms of infrastructure side, the country has to improve telecom infrastructure, particularly the last mile connectivity, I think that many people still don’t have fiber connectivity, so that’s one area where I’m sure government and even the telecom providers will focus. And the second area reflects some of the policies, … the government has to make some changes to enable work from home [to be] more permanent. So these are some of the areas where probably we need to improve a lot, mostly from an infrastructure perspective but otherwise on the ability to do stuff and adjusting to the new model – those seem to be going on well.

Phil: How do you think this paradigm shock is going to impact the role of NASSCOM? What do you think its role should be, as things develop, Pravin?

Pravin: I think NASSCOM will continue to play a critical role, Phil, and more so than ever before. Right? Once the new normal happens, it’s important for NASSCOM to play a leading role, in terms of shaping the narrative around how the Indian technology industry was able to respond and with very minimal impact to the business continuity of clients. So, in some sense, NASSCOM has a crucial role in reaffirming India’s technology industry as a trusted partner for global enterprise. So that’s one role it will continue to play.

"NASSCOM has a crucial role in reaffirming India’s technology industry as a trusted partner for the global enterprise"

Secondly, as I said earlier, the Indian technology industry will continue to be relevant in the global context, post-crisis, so NASSCOM has to continue its role of policy advocacy with various governments, ensuring ease of doing business, articulating Indian tech and the technology industry contribution to the global economy and to creating jobs in the local economies. India technology industry is investing millions of dollars in these economies, how its increasing competitiveness of enterprises. So, these are some of the things which we are doing, and they are some things which we will continue to do.

The third aspect is that the skills gap that is there globally will continue, and so NASSCOM has to play a large role in terms of promoting skilling and reskilling, not only in India but globally as well. So that’s a role it can play, and it can bring the Indian technology industry expertise to that. And, in some sense, NASSCOM, NASSCOM in the future will be much more broad-based. It will probably represent companies across the industry. For instance, in India, when there’s been a debate on data privacy law, data strategy, and so on, the NASSCOM voice is heard. So that’s a role I think it can start playing there, and globally, as well. In some sense, every organization today is a tech organization, and NASSCOM can play a huge role in representing the technology industry voice.

"In some sense, every organization today is a tech organization, and NASSCOM can play a huge role in representing the technology industry voice"

My sense is that NASSCOM’s role will continue to be very crucial and as the Indian industry gets adjusted to the new normal - and we are very optimistic and positive about the future - NASSCOM will have a large role to play in that.

Phil: Good. Well, thanks for this, Pravin. I think there’s one final question I want to put to you. If we meet again in a year’s time when you’re finishing your tenure, what do you think we’ll be talking about?

Pravin: I hope, by then, COVID is done with, though sometimes I get scared when people are talking about two, three cycles of COVID, and things like that. But anyway, jokes apart, I hope at the end of one year, we will probably be talking about looking back at crisis how we dealt and we dealt with the crisis and how successful the Indian IT industry has been able to navigate around the situation, ensuring business continuity for our clients and proving our resilience. Hopefully, with COVID behind us, we’ll also be talking about how seamlessly we have adjusted to the new normal, and we’ll probably talk more positively around the growth prospects of financial year 2021, I think, at the end of this year.

Phil: Well, thanks very much for this time, Pravin. This was really insightful to hear your views, and how you’re going to tackle this. And it’s been very heart-warming to hear how the Indian community, in particular, has come together with the government to tackle this crisis so quickly, and I think you guys will all come out of this fairly unscathed, and actually, in a more robust place. I very much hope we’ll all be together, physically, in a few months at your big India Leadership Forum event in February, so I look forward to it very much.

Pravin: Of course, Phil, thanks a lot. I also hope that very soon this will be behind us, and I look forward to more positive conversations in the future. Stay safe.

Best wishes to you and your colleagues and family.

Phil: Yes, absolutely, Pravin. Same to you guys. Stay healthy. Stay sane! We’ll talk again very soon. Take care.

SBA: Please stop spanking bots
April 30, 2020 | Elena ChristopherMiriam DeasyPhil Fersht

What better to blame - when all goes wrong - than the evil robotic thing you just inserted into your system.  Many of you saw the recent article in ABA Banking Journal where they blamed RPA for the "burden on their processing system and diminishing of its capabilities".  We will discuss this debacle in a more detailed POV (stay tuned) but the crux of the issue here is a poorly run government IT function tinkering with software to try and process a mad scramble for many thousands of small business handouts from the recent Covid-19 stimulus package - and most likely in some weird virtual lockdown vacuum.  And it appears woefully understaffed. 

In short, APIs + humans + bots need to work within system parameters, or we're always going to have failures of scale like this one.  

RPA is a highly useful tool to support this environment, but please let's start deploying it as part of the overall tool-box 

As we’ve said of late, the digital workforce that wasn’t finally has its burning platform chance to shine. Since global lockdown commenced, we’ve been tracking, talking, and learning about the ways in which enterprises and their service and technology partners are using automation to help them function. One of the most prevalent use cases in recent weeks is in the banking and financial services sector where lenders are using automation, largely, RPA, to support loan processing for government-backed loans. RPA is helping lenders grapple with massive loan volumes and get them submitted quickly so loans can be approved and dispersed.

Insert monkey wrench.

The U.S. government’s Small Business Administration (SBA) application and approval portal was overwhelmed with demand as a second tranche of government funds were made available on April 27. The funds are intended to support loans for small and medium-sized businesses (administered via banks) as part of the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) during the Covid-19 pandemic. The SBA E-Tran system receives the loan applications and then the SBA processes and approves them. The system struggled to handle the new surge of applications coming through and repeatedly crashed. As of Tuesday, April 28, the SBA prohibited the use of RPA bots in the application process.

RPA fail, right? Not exactly. It is actually the overwhelming success of a blunt instrument.

The HFS team dug in and spoke with a variety of ecosystem players - banks, software companies, and service providers to get the straight scoop. We also reached out to the SBA, but they have not responded. We view this as a case of RPA being used as a blunt instrument allowing any bank that invested in RPA to automate loan application submissions. RPA very legitimately helped banks and lenders process scads of PPP loans. This presented two immediate issues:

  1. The SBA E-Tran system crashed – it was way overburdened with hundreds of thousands of loan applications.
  2. Banks with automation were potentially able to submit more loan applications than those without thus more effectively accessing a limited pool of stimulus funds.

The SBA responded in a super butt-covering mode with its "NO RPA!!" edict. It will still allow loans to be automatically processed through APIs. So now banks are scrambling to convert their RPA processes to API-led. And the SBA assigned one person. Yep, one person to field all requests for API access. We hope this poor beleaguered contact has some help, but banks have reported the API access option is “very slow”. To address the potential of access bias for those firms with automation – deemed to be the larger banks - the SBA designated an eight-hour window on April 29 for lenders with less than $1 billion in assets to submit loans.

Bottom line: This SBA debacle is why you need nuance and a toolbox approach to automation to get desired results.

It’s too easy to say RPA failed. It’s more complicated than that. Really RPA was a blunt instrument here – for its speed to solution and ability to swiftly process loan applications and it worked remarkably well. Too well. It swiftly overwhelmed SBA’s E-Tran system – which was doomed to be overwhelmed anyway by these unprecedented volumes in a short period of time. But RPA exacerbated it and potentially gave access advantage to automation-savvy firms. While access through SBA’s XML API may allow for more efficient loan submission rather than the RPA model of going through the user interface and clogging the narrow pipes, this did not have to be an ‘either or’ situation. APIs versus RPA is not the point. Automation always lives in an ecosystem with upstream and downstream impacts and these were not adequately addressed. A better approach would have been a toolbox approach that leveraged RPA for loan preparation and access into legacy systems in the lenders’ shops, APIs for submission and humans for oversight with some substantial volume throttling to give the SBA’s system half a chance at doing its job. Automation cannot live in a vacuum.

Welcome Ram... he'll get you out of a jam
April 26, 2020 | Phil Fersht

For those of you who follow HFS closely, you'll know we have a small but extremely focused and competent analyst team in Bangalore. And if one region has shown all of us in the services industry how we can pivot fast to keep the wheels on IT delivery... it's India.  So we couldn't be more excited to add Ram Rajagopalan to the team who will lead many of our consulting studies in addition to getting stuck into our coverage of AI, IoT and supply chain.  And one thing I love about this guy... have can he smile with actually smiling?  Maybe he learned that during his time with IBM, Wipro and Genpact...

Welcome, Ram! Can you share a little about your background and why you have chosen research and strategy as your career path?

Thanks Phil! I am excited to be part of HFS.

I am a professional with 18 years of experience spanning across strategy consulting, market research, business development, and executive program management of initiatives. Most of my experience has revolved around consulting assignments for either opportunity growth or internal issue resolution. I have worked with hi-tech clients in banking, automotive, electronics, public sector, and instrumentation industries in Europe, North America, Japan, and India.  

I have always loved strategy consulting irrespective of the variety of roles that I have done in my career, and have been keen to get back into strategy and research after gaining experience in marketing and business development roles in the industry.  

What are the areas and topics that you’re initially focusing on with your HFS analyst role?

Initially, I am focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on IT companies. This involves understanding how IT/ITES enterprises are responding to the COVID-19, and planning to counter COVID-19 in short to medium term. I will also be working on a consulting project on Automation. This will focus on the future of automation in the new normal situation.

What trends and developments are capturing your attention today in technology and business operations?

I believe that companies will explore automation and security solutions. This is attributed to the adversity due to COVID-19. The large companies will look at an integrated approach to leveraging automation, artificial intelligence and analytics based on their client needs. Permutations and combinations of these activities will result in new use cases to serve the evolving needs of customers. This will take a while as the enterprises are focusing on their impending needs to sail through the stabilization phase of COVID-19 effectively.

How are the India-heritage IT service providers dealing with the current COVID-19 crisis, Ram?  Do you foresee some major issues with clients occurring as a result of moving so many staff into home-working situations?  And do you see this eventually returning to the same delivery model as before when all this is over... is will we see something different emerge?

We should look at this aspect by tiers of IT companies, end-user businesses and the types of services.  Clients in industries such as BFSI, government, and manufacturing will not want this situation forever. They would be keen to see their supplier side employees back in the onshore, offshore and nearshore centers. The nearshore focus might increase as clients would want to stay closer and adopt new ways of working with the suppliers. Secondly, the large companies have the advantage to convince their clients and get more of regular application development and maintenance work transitioned to them. Clients will have a lot to handle after the current situation. IT suppliers can help them by sharing their load in regular IT services. This may not be easy for mid-tier and small IT companies due to the typical challenges around cash flow management and scale of operations.

Secondly, “Work from Home” situation will depend on the level of trust established with the client and the lack of time-tested security solutions.

When the COVID-19 ends, the IT world will be business as usual. This does not mean that the companies will not carry the lessons learned from the current situation. The large and mid-tier companies will start in-house activities to improve the ways of working remotely. Large companies have already started looking at strengthening their security solutions either organically or inorganically. We will get to see Agile increasingly becoming mainstream across the majority of suppliers.

And, what do you do with your spare time (if you have any...)

I watch cricket, specifically test cricket. I also love outdoor jogging, and reading books on a variety of subjects. One thing that I have been trying since my college days is to understand more about this world from a non-linear perspective than just feeling convinced with linear theories.

Well... certainly an interesting time to make a career change Ram... we eagerly await the result of our COVID-19 work and seeing your first pieces!