HfS Network
Tom Reuner
 
Senior Vice President, Intelligent Automation and IT Services 
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Infosys gives up its American Dream
August 18, 2017 | Phil FershtTom ReunerOllie O’Donoghue

Once dubbed the “Indian Accenture”, being the Indian heritage outsourcer with the high-end reputation, the firm now finds itself enduring, perhaps, the most difficult period of its history – and it could be poised to get a hell of a lot worse. 

Vishal Sikka brought energy, fresh ideas, hope… and a Silicon Valley mindset to its leadership when he came aboard amidst his Design Thinking and jeans-to-work attitude just three years ago.  However, all Sikka’s energetic ideas and innovations have been largely forgotten over the past year, as the public spat with Founder Narayana Murthy gathered irritating momentum and completely slammed the brakes on the momentum Sikka had sparked.  Sikka had woken Infosys up to its potential and the Founders were more obsessed with his use of the corporate jet than making the acquisitions the firm needs to be competitive.

From the poster boys for innovative offshoring, epitomized in Thomas Friedman’s seminal “The World is Flat” through to the constant public interventions in corporate affairs by Murthy, Infosys has had a bumpy ride over the last decade of its short history. And to magnify its issues, all of Murthy’s interventions have been played out in public, with the Indian press the grateful recipient of endless reams of news fodder being provided by this corporate soap opera.  

Vishal Sikka’s resignation grinds to a halt this public transition from the Founders' generation to becoming a “normal” corporate company. Without a doubt, this episode will find its way into economics textbooks for future students to learn the lessons in strategy, corporate governance and beyond. However, at least decisive action has been taken, and Murthy and his founders can try and restore a stability that ends this public drama. This is just a bad time to go through such a strategic leadership nightmare, when competition is at its most severe, with too many suppliers chasing too few contracts and margins under extreme pressure. This is especially troubling when you consider Sikka has kept the revenue and profitability ship progressing well, maintaining profit margins close to 25% and revenue growth over 5%, even at a time when the industry growth is flat and political stances towards offshoring are heated, with several US deals being awarded to "Western" suppliers:

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So what are the lessons that can be learned from all this?

Murthy is the dominant father figure of Infosys and he has made that very clear with his actions. As founding CEO, he is synonymous with the early success, the culture, but more crucially, with the decision-making at Infosys. When SD Shibulal, another of the founders, took over it was difficult for him to step out of Murthy’s shadow. Shibulal’s “Infosys 3.0” strategy was designed to address the over-dependence on the US market (see interview) and rebalance the portfolio by building out IP-based platforms, namely the EdgeVerve portfolio. But he took also the bold step to sign the first Intelligent Automation partnership with IPsoft at the time. Yet, the sales engine continued to stutter which remained the dominant feature of Infosys recent history.

This provides the background to the stage on which Vishal stepped, when he was appointed CEO in June 2014 (see post). Vishal was not only the first “outsider” but more importantly not part of the Founders' generation to take over the reins at Infosys. Being Indian, yet working in California with a strong product background from his time at SAP he ticked a lot of the boxes in order to return Infosys to its erstwhile glory as the beacon for innovation that Thomas Friedman had so eloquently and prominently described. Vishal’s strategy focused on aligning Infosys around automation and AI to re-emphasize the heritage in innovation and Design Thinking, but also to boost the balance sheet as the industry is going through the secular shift towards non-linear growth and outcome based offerings. This was underpinned by an influx of executives from SAP meant, in particular, to help drive the platform and product business.

However, the narratives around automation and AI were never succinctly explained and, more importantly, not driven consistently through the organizations. For instance, the teams at EdgeVerve were waiting for guidance from the teams at Mana and vice versa. Without consistent narratives, it was difficult for the sales teams to leverage those capabilities in client discussions. Similarly, Mana was announced with great fanfare as the answer to all automation challenges. What Mana actually is, is a compelling analytics engine. It took another Confluence (Infosys’ main customer event) this year to finally launch a holistic automation framework called Nia. But at this year’s Confluence, Vishal appeared to HfS as being despondent and at times disconnected leaving us to speculate that he might resign or be pushed to step aside. Yet, when he did at this conference an AI tutorial, he appeared to have his old sparkle back. Innovation and discussions with thought-leaders seem to be his passion. And his passion offered something different to an often guarded corporate world.

Undoubtedly, current clients will have questions about where this leaves them. Not only was the firm's latest CEO the driving force behind the firms shift to analytics, automation, and AI, but Vishal’s appointment also saw the CEO’s office take personal responsibility for key clients in a bid to strengthen relationships and develop and solidify revenues from current client engagements. The whole corporate strategy will change dramatically, should the new incumbent come in with different ideas, and in the process likely shake and disrupt progress to solidify client relationships.

The Bottom-line: Re-igniting the sales and marketing engine is critical

Infosys has to reignite the sales and marketing engine and prove it has genuine distinctiveness when competing with the likes of Accenture, Cognizant, TCS, HCL and Wipro. Clients need to know what Infosys stands for, and why they should pay the top dollars to invest in this company, when there is so much intense competition making more impressive noises at present. While Vishal Sikka hit the ground running with a whole suite of ideas and innovations, these have largely dissipated over the past year amidst the public infighting. Without consistent financial performances, all the innovations will more or less evaporate and Infy will be left battling it out for low-margin transactional IT contracts.  Infosys 4.0 (or whatever it ends up being called) needs a new dynamic CEO, it needs an aggressive sales leader, and a CMO that can articulate what the company is trying to do next and what it stands for. Merely parroting the insufferable fluff about digital and outcomes will not work - Infosys needs to lead India's innovation, not merely to make up the numbers.

On the positive side, any incoming CEO will have a strong set of assets to build on, which have enjoyed significant investment. First and foremost, Infosys analytics and data management prowess, strong products including Finnacle as well as many automation assets integrated into the Nia framework.  There has also been solid investments in its US delivery, most notably in Indianapolis and Texas.  However, Vishal’s resignation is likely to complete the power shift back to Bangalore. Many of the California-based executives will either jump ship or be pushed out very quickly. The crucial question though is whether the group of Founders will continue to interfere in public or whether they finally take a back seat and demonstrate confidence in any incoming CEO and his executive team. If the latter is not being addressed, any new king will wear very old clothes.

IBM partners with Automation Anywhere: Great for AA, but IBM’s cognitive automation strategy just got more confusing
July 14, 2017 | Phil FershtTom ReunerOllie O’DonoghueSaurabh Gupta

If you’ve been covering the legacy world of Business Process Management (BPM) software and the emergence of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software for the past two decades, it’s fascinating to see the two solutions to mesh together, as customers need the full gamut of automation help:  the digitization of manual work, the scripting, and integration of static data that provide the foundation for the automation of the digital processes.

Then you can get to the really exciting stuff of recognizing data patterns, taking advantage of machine learning to make systems self-remediating, and, ultimately, the injection of intelligence to make them absorb everything around them to become predictive and human-like in the way they operate. This is why we’re seeing the likes of Pega peering into the RPA space, Blue Prism partnering with Appian and AutomationAnywhere now partnering with IBM’s BPM software solution.  We’re also seeing some novel approaches, such as intelligent automation provider WorkFusion donate free RPA software to the world to bridge the divide between the manual and the digital quandary.

Yes, people, there appears to be a fair bit of life left in the HfS Intelligent Automation Continuum. Despite some critics who believe RPA is a very separate solution than digital autonomics, machine learning, cognitive and AI, the fundamental thought-process behind the HfS Continuum model still rings true: all the approaches illustrated are both overlapping and interdependent:

Notwithstanding all the feverish excitement on RPA and Cognitive, we still need to include all the less exciting - but critical – activities, like runbooks and scripting, and how these approaches must be integrated into broader digital process workflows. True Digital OneOffice only works when all breakpoints and silos are effectively automated.  If you truly want all touchpoints and processes across your organization focused on executing your vision of customer experiences and building foundational capabilities that support this entire philosophy, you have to address the entire Intelligent Automation Continuum if you want a data backbone that operates in synch across your customers, partners, and employees.

This is the context in which the announcement of IBM’s partnership with AutomationAnywhere comes in.

As part of the agreement, the two companies plan to integrate Automation Anywhere’s RPA platform with IBM’s portfolio of digital process automation software. The main focus will be on integrating Automation Anywhere with IBM’s Business Process Manager and Operational Decision Manager. Crucially, integration is meant to be on code level and therefore goes beyond more loosely integrated partnerships between BPM and RPA players. These enhanced

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Infosys is reaching for the sky with holistic automation strategy
April 26, 2017 | Tom Reuner

Life in Infosys’s board room can’t be easy these days. Founders continue to throw spammers from the sidelines at CEO Vishal Sikka and its fellow board members, the sales engine is stuttering, and the company has to manage the secular shift toward digitization and automation. Macro issues like H1B visas in Trump land must look like gentle bumps on the road in comparison. As Vishal has singled out automation and AI as the key strategic pillars for Infosys, more clarity around these topics will go a long way in supporting their sales teams. If executed properly, Infosys’ broad set of automation capabilities could evolve into a lever to get the stuttering sales engine running again. It is exactly here where the realignment of Infosys’s automation strategy and the acquisition of Skytree, an innovative Machine Learning startup are focusing on.

A holistic automation strategy could put Infosys back in the driving seat

Infosys strategy on automation can be probably be best described as a rollercoaster ride. Having been a pioneer by being the first service provider to publicly announce a partnership on Intelligent Automation with IPsoft back in 2013, the service provider went in reverse and focused its efforts on proprietary tool sets that are difficult to benchmark with the leading third-party tool providers. Only to move to a hybrid strategy that still focused on proprietary tools yet leveraging third-party tools largely on a pragmatic basis where clients were mandating those options. Then back at the last Confluence, Infosys’ flagship event, the company launched Mana as an automation platform that was meant to revolutionize service delivery. However, ever since Mana was launched its capabilities have remained blurred, and in particular, it was never fully explained how Mana was meant to co-exist or even be integrated with Infosys broader automation assets. There was a lack of cohesion but also communication among the different teams driving automation. For example, the EdgeVerve teams were never quite sure or clear how Mana was impacting them, both in terms of branding but also broader delivery issues. Put in a nutshell, the marketing and communication around Infosys’ automation approach were disjointed. But not only that, the value that assets like Mana bring to clients was undersold as the value proposition was never properly explained. This is not to suggest that Infosys has not made progress with Mana as it has engaged in 150 projects with 50 clients, but given the strategic importance the go-to-market and narratives have to be enhanced. And it is here, where the reorganization and rebranding will focus on.

To overcome some those shortcomings, the company launched Infosys Nia, what it describes as “the next generation of the company's Artificial Intelligence Platform which converges technologies previously known as Mana, AssistEdge, DEEP and IIMSS along with recently acquired advanced machine learning capabilities from Skytree.” Thus, Infosys demonstrated that it had listened to its customers and the odd analyst. For the first time, Infosys is offering a holistic and more importantly an integrated automation strategy that is leveraging the following building blocks. Putting this in context, Infosys is catching up with peers as we have called out in numerous instances (for details see: HfS Intelligent Automation Blueprint). Fundamentally, Infosys is leveraging and integrating the following five assets into the new Nia platform:

  • Mana – An integrated artificial intelligence platform incorporating big data/analytics, machine learning, knowledge management, and cognitive automation.
  • AssistEdge – Provides end-to-end RPA. Uses integrated software robots to automate any high-touch, repetitive processes.
  • DEEP – (Data Extraction and Enhancement Platform) a platform that ingests heterogeneous source documents or images containing structured & unstructured information, then uses embedded OCR, NLP, and Machine Learning to extract data, validate the correctness of extracted data, and automatically resolve exceptions with high accuracy.
  • IIMSS – (Infosys Infrastructure Management Services) A unified IT operations command center for datacenter, infrastructure, cloud, applications, security, network and business services. This includes a workbench for lifecycle management and business services assurance. Also, it has an orchestration automation engine for event management, correlation, context-driven recommendations, machine learning & knowledge-based self-learning.
  • SkyTree – Advanced high-performance Machine Learning with automated selection of algorithms and methods to achieve best possible predictive accuracy. This includes advanced tools for feature creation, feature selection, models, training and an entire workbench for creating new models. SkyTree is also to become a Center of Excellence with a team of ML experts to actively evolve ML concepts and technologies for future use cases.

SkyTree is providing the talent to scale Machine Learning

The recent acquisition of SkyTree, a Silicon Valley based startup, focused on speeding up and scaling Machine Learning, is reinforcing Infosys new emphasis on a holistic automation approach. As the market is starting to shift toward transformational projects and an end-to-end process point of view, the notion of data curation increasingly has to become the starting point for transformational projects, not just a by-product or a secondary motivation. As in particular, RPA will start to commoditize, the value creation but also the differentiation has to come from data-centric delivery strategies. SkyTree’s IP will enhance the deep analytical capabilities of Mana. Having said that, Infosys was very clear that the talent of SkyTree was the key motivation for the acquisition, the IP is rather the icing on the cake.

Infosys needs to drive change management as culture eats strategy for breakfast

As management guru Peter Drucker put it, culture eats strategy for breakfast. With that in mind, it is not enough to fix the automation branding and go-to-market issues, but Infosys urgently needs to drive change management through the organization to make automation demonstrably show results. And this change has to happen on different and disparate levels. First and foremost, Infosys needs to develop a narrative (or even better multiple narratives) what automation and AI mean to different stakeholders. Second, it has to demonstrate that automation and AI are are the game changers for Infosys as Vishal tirelessly puts it. Put it other words, is Infosys proactively pushing automation or is it mirroring its peers in being defensive and only push it where a competitive situation requires such change. And lastly, it needs a coherent strategy of understanding automation of being the pivot for innovating service delivery. With Nia, Infosys has done the first step of doing the latter. But having realigned capabilities is just the first, and most likely easier step. Change management if the harder act to follow.

Bottom-line: It is all about sales execution for Infosys

Having realigned its strategy for automation and expanded its AI capabilities is an important step forward for Infosys, but it will only change the fortunes of the company if Vishal can fix the sales execution issues. As he continuously puts automation and AI as the central pillars of his strategy, the narratives need to be more nuanced and most importantly driven through the organization. Both Nia and SkyTree are important milestones of this journey, but to reach for the skies Infosys has to follow through with all the other challenges that we have called out.

Revisiting the Intelligent Automation Continuum
April 21, 2017 | Tom Reuner

Being a trained historian, I was delighted when on a recent HfS webinar on “Beyond RPA”, I got dissed by participants for a slide that I had drawn up four years back for a similar webinar, albeit for a different organization. When I say being drawn up for a webinar I really mean it, as I would never have expected that this slide would still be in use today albeit in expanded versions and some refer to it as an industry model. And to make my smile even bigger, I revisited those old slides and the title at the time was:” Beyond the Hype: Assessing the Evolution of (Robotic) Process Automation”. You can see the original slide above. As HfS is all about facilitating discussions among the industry’s stakeholders, I am truthfully delighted for all those questions and challenges. That being said, it is time to take stock where the industry is actually at!

Why are we still talking about RPA?

On the danger of sounding like a broken record, we have to stop confining discussions on service delivery to the topic of RPA. Last year I wrote a blog that summarized many of those arguments. Yet, despite a lot of noise in the industry we are getting pulled back and end up discussing RPA time and again. Granted, as nothing is defined, for many RPA is just a placeholder for what HfS would term Intelligent Automation. But beyond semantics, why are we paying lip service to broader notions of automation such as cognitive computing, AI, and self-learning as well as self-remediating engines? Service delivery is not just about business processes. If HfS’s contention about the journey toward the As-a-Service Economy and the OneOffice has any merit, we have to overcome those organizational silos and mental stovepipes. But we also urgently need to expand the set of stakeholders educating and talking about automation. While we have to give a lot kudos to the RPA providers and consultancies who singlehandedly educated the market, the reluctance of the IT juggernauts to enter those discussions is leading to distortions of the direction and dynamics in service delivery.

Revisiting the “Continuum” – and a plea for service orchestration

To go back to my academic roots I am tempted to quote the Cambridge English Dictionary which describes a continuum as “something that changes in character gradually or in very slight stages without any clear dividing points”. If truth being told, I didn’t consult the dictionary before drawing up this slide four years back. But from the beginning, the thought-process was the following.

To help overcome the blurred perception and often confusion that I have tried to call out, HfS did introduce the Continuum of Intelligent Automation to start discussions on the evolution and innovation in service delivery. It is not meant to be an answer to the ever-increasing questions. This model is by no means perfect and we have developed additional slideware that is trying to capture the evolution toward more data-centric models. In this context, I would like to call out just a couple of the points that we are trying to get across with this model:

  • First and foremost, the term Intelligent Automation is a placeholder for a set is disparate innovations in process automation encompassing the concepts that you can see on the slide. Intelligent Automation is a critical building block for the As-a-Service Economy as it decouples routine service delivery from labor arbitrage thus supporting the ideals behind the As-a-Service Economy.
  • Second, the main idea behind the notion of the Continuum is that all the approaches you see here listed are both overlapping and interdependent. Despite all the focus on RPA and Cognitive, we still need all the less exciting stuff like runbook and scripting, mostly in the data center. From an operations point of view of particular importance is the integration of data into process chains and workflows.
  • And the third point I would like to call out is the evolution or direction travel for the broad notion of Intelligent Automation. You can see 3 dimensions here on the slide. First, probably less surprising toward unstructured data. Second, probably less obvious toward less well-defined processes. And thirdly, toward the broad notion of cognitive and artificial intelligence as they are meant to overcome the limitations of the first two dimensions. Especially from a business process perspective, AI is meant to integrate semi and unstructured data as well as allowing this data to be routed through less well-defined process chains. But it really is a broad bucket because the boundaries between cognitive, autonomics and AI are not well defined. Having said all that, we shouldn’t look at these segments as binary choices. AI is being integrated into or bundled with RPA tools and all these tools should be discussed within the notion of service orchestration. An attendee at recent conference condensed this to following pearl of wisdom: “Make sure crap doesn’t get into your production and then throw Machine Learning at it.” Although he used a slightly more lyrical language.

Having said all that, the questions and at times challenges boil down to largely three issues. First, the suggestion that there is a linear development from RPA toward notions of AI? Second, the temptation of trying to pigeonhole tool sets into any of chevrons on the Continuum. Third, having the wrong starting point for discussing service delivery. To start to answer those from the end: service delivery is about service orchestration. All the leading service providers and the mature buyers have moved in that direction. It is all about having the right tool sets for the required use cases. Whether this based on microservices, on leveraging orchestration engines or other means: RPA is just a footnote in those discussions. And just to shout from the rooftops, orchestration implies that there is no linear development. In parts, this answers also the issue on pigeonholing. On the recent webinar, Guy Kirkwood from UiPath used the analogy of a golf course with RPA tools being the putter, while AI is more a drone that drops the golf ball into a hole. While thought provoking and entertaining, this analogy implies the old pigeonholing. Moreover, automation is in the eye of the beholder and RPA is no exception. While nothing is defined, all RPA tool sets evolve toward operational analytics and the broad bucket of cognitive. And lastly, the starting point is not how do we sell RPA but how do we innovate service delivery. It all comes down to use cases and requirements. For many of those requirements, RPA is the wrong approach.

Bottom-line: RPA is dead! Long live Intelligent Automation!

Having uttered this plea many times before, I am not overly confidence that I will get more listeners this time. But we urgently need to broaden the discussions from a narrow(minded) RPA mindset. We need the service providers come to the fore and educate the broader market. We need the buyers tell the stories from the trenches. We need new models and ideas to advance the learnings from the deployment and the best practices. Perhaps we should invite stakeholders of the automation community and undergo a Design Thinking process. The goal should be to reimagine service delivery to support the journey toward the OneOffice. The secondary goal should be to get rid of the Continuum. We would love to hear from volunteers and curious minds!!

DXC’s challenges represent a microcosm of a services industry in perilous transition
April 09, 2017 | Phil FershtJamie SnowdonTom Reuner

April 3rd saw the long-anticipated creation of a new IT and BPO powerhouse service provider – DXC.technology. However, DXC’s challenges represent a microcosm of a services industry in perilous transition.

This is a crucial event in the services industry, not only because it isn’t often a “new” $25 Billion services firm is created, but because of what it signifies about the uncertain state of the current market and the huge challenges facing service providers in the near future.

Read our complimentary analysis of the merger on the HfS Research website by clicking here.

Accenture adds European Automation Brains and Brawn with Genfour Acquisition
April 03, 2017 | Phil FershtTom Reuner

As an addendum, many of you have reached out to us since publishing this blog, regarding whether this was the right time for an emerging star in automation, like Genfour, to sell. There is a lot of runway in Intelligent Automation and there is no doubt in my mind that Genfour's architect, James Hall, could have held out for longer and continued along his growth path as one of the few attractive pureplays in the space worth acquiring.

As our recent analysis of them revealed, the current bunch are not very well established, hence some want a quick cash-out and exit, while others are hunkering down to play the longer game.  It is our view that Intelligent Automation and AI will evolve like the digital market, with service providers crying out for "press release buys" that give them credibility.  Hence, this is as good a time as any to establish your own pureplay Intelligent Automation shop and throw yourself into the mix.  But good luck finding the talent... there's a real shortage of it out there!  

So why did Accenture acquire Genfour and does this make market sense?

In times of disconcerting political and macro-economic events, where #fakenews and a traditional outsourcing model officially running out of value, getting predictions right is becoming increasingly difficult for an analyst.  Hence, the more pleasing it is when you can gloat about predicting an acquisition.

Case in point, Accenture’s acquisition of UK-based Genfour, a pure-play automation services provider that will become the cornerstone of a newly formed Center of Excellence (CoE) for Intelligent Automation, located in Wales. Back in December 2016 we did gaze deeply into the automation crystal ball and suggested that similar to the acquisition of Alsbridge by ISG, the

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RPA is finally growing up, though custody is not settled yet
March 29, 2017 | Tom Reuner

Having opened a fair few presentations and blogs with the dramatic proclamation “RPA is dead”, this title of “RPA is growing up” might sound a tad contradictory to some.  Forgive me, I’m analyst and some days my glass is half full, others it’s half empty.

I am consistently trying to hammer home my plea that we approach RPA in the context of quality service delivery in all its naked complexity – not simply this obsession with individual tools, not looking for some sort of silver bullet, not looking for simple answers.

That is what our research and this blog itself are all about. Yet, for many, RPA is code for short term, guaranteed cost take out of headcount. For others, RPA is a broader placeholder, more similar to what I would term Intelligent Automation. Despite a lot of noise in the industry, RPA and Intelligent Automation are still a very nascent market. Thus, we continue to have a blurred perception around RPA that gets aggravated by the amount of smoke and mirrors spawned out by some tool providers and well as service providers.

Against this background of #RPAfakenews, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the management team of RPA solution provider upstart UiPath in Bucharest to discuss all those implications as well as getting a sneak preview of their development roadmap.

Culture, both internally and externally, underpins UiPath’ growth trajectory

Before I dive into the details, what struck me in Bucharest was the energy and togetherness of the UiPath team. Romania might not be the obvious location for an innovative start-up, but the country has been seeing a rise shared service centers, BPO delivery centers, and their entrepreneurs are part of the global village over the last few years. UiPath’ founder and CEO Daniel Dines, one of the smartest, humblest and nicest guys in the automation community, spent years coding for Microsoft in Seattle before embarking on building his own company. And this varied experience is showing, with UiPath being one of the fast-growing RPA providers and perceived by most buyers as a mandatory inclusion in RFPs next to the likes of AutomationAnywhere and Blue Prism. Clients reference the company culture, sincerity, lack of arrogance and the flexibility in commercial terms as a key reason for partnering with UiPath. From a capability side, the stability operating in Citrix environments and the expansiveness of it recorder function – features so critical to the effectiveness of RPA - is often added to those reasons. But the growth is also underpinned and enabled by smart hires. The most recent example is Boris Krumrey, UiPath’ new Chief Robotics Officer, who was won over from Atos where he had built out compelling automation capabilities around the notion of service orchestration.

Service orchestration is underpinned by operational analytics and cognitive computing

Service orchestration is the segway to understanding UiPath’s strategy. Aligned with the notion of service orchestration, UiPath is driving towards an integrated platform approach with end-to-end business process automation in mind. To achieve this, the company aspires to be an RPA eco-system player that integrates capabilities, in particular around operational analytics and the broader notion of cognitive computing. Examples include the integration of Google and Microsoft libraries, and also partnerships with providers, such as AABBYY and Elastic Search and Kibana for OCR integration and Data Analytics.

The capabilities of Elastic Search and Kibana will also underpin UiPath’s effort to advance to robot orchestration. However, the journey toward service orchestration goes beyond just tools and technologies. UiPath is trying to change the mindset in many RPA discussions and the notion of knowledge transfer is central in that regard. Consequently, UiPath is working on enhancements and tools to overcome the knowledge transfer challenges to create RPAs on robots quicker, but also in technical complex settings. At the same time, the company is beefing up partner support, training and certifications to put the evolving partner ecosystem on a much more solid platform. In a nutshell, UiPath’s platform strategy mirrors the orchestration efforts of the leading service providers that we have covered at great length at HfS. (link to the RPL)

UiPath’ platform strategy embraces the principles of the Digital OneOffice

Boris’ experiences at Atos can clearly be seen in other elements of UiPath’ roadmap and are aligned with HfS’ Intelligent Automation Continuum. Two examples for that: On the one hand, the integration of broad cognitive capabilities into the platform not least to lower maintenance costs. On the other hand, the extension of integrating automation capabilities to notions of a Virtual Agents akin to Atos AVA which Boris introduced there during his tenure. This extension to digital channels and intelligent sensor aligns UiPath strongly with our Digital OneOffice framework that suggests provider must enable customers to connect their back, middle and front offices. Thus, it is not about individual tools but about enabling a Digital Underbelly. As my esteemed colleague, Phil Fersht puts it, “Digitally-driven enterprises must create a Digital Underbelly to support the front office by automating manual processes, digitizing manual documents and leveraging smart devices and IoT where they are present in the value chain.  Enterprises simply cannot be effective with a digital strategy without automating processes intelligently.”

Bottom-line: Service providers must educate, not obfuscate the market

The discussions with UiPath reference the increasing maturity in the market with a shift away from rudimentary process automation towards enabling higher value transformation projects. Yet, for those discussions to become the benchmark for the broader industry, the stakeholders and in particular the service providers, have to start properly educating the market, rather than continue to obfuscate it with smoke and mirrors. RPA clearly is growing up and maturing. But the marketing and broader discussions are not yet reflecting this reality. We urgently need a new set of custodians to translate these insights into publicly available best practices. To support exactly that, we would love to extend these discussions with other RPA providers about their roadmaps and insights.

Genpact becomes the first provider to acquire an AI platform
March 14, 2017 | Phil FershtReetika JoshiTom Reuner

While most of the services and operations industry obsesses with Robotic Process Automation to streamline its rudimentary back office processes, one provider that’s never shied away from making bold moves to disrupt illustrious competitors is Genpact, with an imaginative move to integrate true artificial intelligence with its business process service offerings by acquiring the impressive Boston-based Rage Frameworks.

It's almost history repeating itself from a decade ago, when the (then privately held) Genpact turned the BPO model on its head with its disruptive virtual captive proposition that significantly challenged the pricing models and ability to integrate offshore capabilities into the old BPO model. Now, the firm is breaking the mold, yet again, by making real inroads into infusing AI into business processes and introducing these concepts to its huge global community of finance leaders.  

Let’s get to the rub: RPA is all about digitizing the back office, but Artificial Intelligence is where we see the true marriage of business processes with clever technology and self-developing algorithms. We’ve danced for years trying to prophesize when BPO will truly integrate with IT, but we’ve now had reality unveiled: RPA platforms streamline the back office, while AI brings the middle and front together to create that true Digital OneOffice experience. The Digital OneOffice is not about collecting and archiving historical data simply to discover what went wrong, it's about being able to predict when things will go wrong and devising smart strategies to get ahead of them. The Digital OneOffice is about embedding smart cognitive applications into process chains and workflows, it’s about learning from mistakes and new experiences along the way. This is the emerging “organization neural system”, where the needs of the customer can be intelligently supported by real-time, self-learning intelligent operations:

 

Click to Enlarge

Why is this acquisition significant?

In a nascent market where stakeholders stumble through smoke and mirrors to make any sense of the many claims around Intelligent Automation, M&A is a clear indicator that the market is starting to mature. When in December 2016 ISG bought Alsbridge and CA acquired Automic, HfS suggested that Intelligent Automation was at an inflection point and that the focus on automation tools will shift toward the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook around deep learning and the integration of unstructured data. While we have not yet seen the Internet giants play their hand, Genpact’s acquisition of Rage Frameworks is underlining exactly these market dynamics. And this is the first time that a service provider is driving automation capabilities through M&A.

Rage Frameworks drives pre-built automation engines deep into unstructured territory

Whereas the broader market remains misguidedly focused on the intricacies of RPA, Rage’s focus is not on automating specific process steps, often on sub-process level, but on developing a broad ranging platform (RAGE Enterprise) for custom solutions with a deep vertical footprint. While RPA is largely focused on structured information, Rage will take Genpact deeper into integrating semi and unstructured data. Their development effort over the last two years to build enterprise applications for financial industry processes (wealth management, commercial loan processing and financial statement spreading) is shifting the focus from automation tools and capabilities to providing an end-to-end process leveraging a model driven business transformation platform.

In our view, the value proposition of Rage Frameworks is centred on leveraging Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing to build out highly vertical engines in Financial Services, Capital Markets, and Supply-Chain. The functionality of these engines ranges from managing business rules to real-time integrating content to data access and NLP all built around a process assembly engine. These engine building blocks can then be assembled for custom solutions that automate business processes or can be used as one of three pre-assembled financial services industry applications: LiveWealth, LiveCredit, and LiveSpread. In addition, broader capabilities including front desk automation, real-time intelligence, and pricing are transforming how commercial lending, policy underwriting, financial statement analysis, investment research, and multi-system reconciliation can be performed.

RAGE’s industry applications are a big part of the allure for Genpact, which has spent the last few years going deeper into its commercial banking and capital markets operations accounts with data and analytics solutions trying to solve the same client operational challenges as Rage. In our recent HfS Capital Markets Operations Blueprint, Genpact placed in the Winner’s Circle, with an HfS callout about its need to bring more technology enablement to capital markets. The service provider has examples of using emerging technologies such as machine learning, automation, dynamic data extraction, etc., in LOBs as retail banking. What Rage brings to the table for Genpact is a more strategic approach for impacting client operations through technology-led change.

Genpact continues to lead the automation discussion from the front

From Genpact’s perspective, the acquisition is reinforcing the perception of being a pioneer in Intelligent Automation. Having led the market with the first publicly announced partnerships with AutomationAnywhere, Exilant, and Automic around its Rapid Automation program, Rage Frameworks fits in well with Genpact’s holistic approach to automation. Within that context, Rage’ assets will further advance the integration of unstructured data: Genpact has invested heavily in analytics and big data with a dedicated research lab in Bangalore, India. They have developed a Data Engagement Platform using big data technologies, in order to be able to harness structured and unstructured data from multiple sources. Thus, its Lean Digital strategy is aligned with HfS OneOffice concept. But the company has to demonstrate that it is starting to link up back, middle and front-office.

The broader market will follow with accelerated M&A activity

Regulations and risk management requirements are forcing banks to rethink the way in which they capture, store, manage, and distribute the growing volumes of transactional and trade data. Structured data from multiple departments and asset classes are maintained in silos, and unstructured data present new challenges as well as opportunities for automation and analytics.

Despite the continuing noise around RPA, we believe the market will shift toward operational analytics and the broader notion of AI. Not only are the leading RPA tool providers expanding in that direction, but we expect the investment focus to progress toward Deep Learning, Neural Networks, and broad NLP capabilities. While it might sound trite, data really is becoming the new currency. But this currency needs to be integrated into delivery backbones on an industrial scale. Thus, service providers need to reinforce their efforts on service orchestration. We haven’t seen many proof points for a successful expansion into data-centric scenarios, but those deployments will be a clear demarcation between the leaders and the also-runs.

Central to this will be the articulation and delivery of business outcomes for specific industry functions through the use of operational analytics, RPA, BPO and AI. Can Genpact put together a financial spreading function by leveraging its operational expertise in BPO and RPA, the RAGE LiveSpread application and analytics interventions to deliver more efficient and effective credit risk management?

Bottom-line: Genpact is progressing toward True Digital OneOffice capabilities

Genpact’s announcement can be crystalized to its ambition of blending RPA in the back-office with AI in the middle-office, which is why the firm, still regarded by many as a "pureplay BPO" managed to break the top 10 in the recent Digital OneOffice Premier League, despite not dragging a multi-billion dollar IT services business around.

Thus, BPO is ever more changing to becoming technology-led. We expect that this strategy will be increasingly underpinned by neural networks and notions of self-remediation to enhance the Digital Underbelly and the Intelligent Digital Processes of the OneOffice concept. While Rage Frameworks is one of the superior suppliers across the Intelligent Automation Continuum, the more providers that are progressing toward the notion of AI, the more inflated the valuations for M&A will become. Against this background, valuations for RPA providers could look like peanuts very quickly. But then again, M&A is rarely rational in today's foggy market.

Watson and Einstein Sitting In A Tree: IBM-Salesforce join forces to give you more ways to buy AI
March 10, 2017 | Phil FershtReetika JoshiTom ReunerKhalda De Souza

The time for smart partnerships to drive real innovation and new thinking in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive computing is now. This means we need to see the industry’s deep-pocketed innovators become increasingly open – and eager - to working together to help the services industry make the shift to true digital, intelligent, cognitive capabilities.

Recent HfS research shows adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive computing to enhance operational analytics and Machine Learning is strongly accelerating, with 72% of senior operations executives citing cognitive as becoming a critical component of the future operations strategy:

Digital and Cognitive are Driving Enterprise Operations

Click to enlarge

Source: “Intelligent Operations" Study, HfS Research 2016; Sample: Buyers = 371

While the market perception around these topics remains refreshingly blurred, AI is a critical building block as organizations increasingly look to progress from legacy labor-driven service delivery to progress toward notions the As-a-Service Economy and the Digital OneOffice (see link). While AI is capturing the imagination of many PE investors and VCs and is being used to hype up media reporting and conference circuits, the market dynamics are far from clear.

Against this background, the fundamental question being posed is “Who will be in the driving

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NTT DATA speaks with an American accent while eating its own Digital Dog Food
March 08, 2017 | Tom Reuner

Last week, HfS had the opportunity to meet with the NTT DATA leadership team at the service provider’s first major analyst summit in Dallas Texas, since its acquisition of Dell Services last year.  So can the firm live up to its new billing as one of the major tier 1 global service providers?

Making sense of a complex fast growing entity

Analyzing NTT DATA is by no means an easy undertaking, given its complex organizational structure and lower visibility due to its reluctance to invest in marketing.

The CEO of NTT DATA Inc., John McCain, tackled those perceptions head on and vowed to change direction. Much of the purpose of this event was to present the “new” NTT DATA. Building on the acquisition of Dell Services, he pointed to branding campaigns that include TV and broadsheets. This is reflecting that the company has evolved, not least through acquisitions, into one of the largest global service providers. And with these significant investments come higher expectations. So, how should we look at NTT DATA and how does the company stack up in the competitive landscape?

The strategy framework that McCain outlined appeared sound and offers a platform for further expansion. In particular, (re-)packaging the portfolio and industrializing delivery. In the context of the portfolio pillar, McCain was pointing to the aim of deriving greater value from NTT DATA investments and of leveraging the “NTT Group power”. Yet, throughout the two days, we actually did hear very little about the Japanese capabilities and activities that the broader NTT Group brings to the table. When executives actually touched on those capabilities, the differentiation to the broader market appeared at least in contours. NTT DoCoMo, DiData, discussions on how Quantum Computing and Cognitive Computing could solve mankind’s more pressing issues, were providing a glimpse of highly differentiated capabilities. Invariably, the discussion of cognitive evoked strong memories of IBM. However, in contrast, NTT DATA is crucially not constrained by the many legacy deals with which IBM is still struggling. If anything, NTT DATA had hitherto focused on specific project-centric business but is now keen to trade up to larger and broader sourcing deals across multiple domains.

The challenge of bringing together the existing Japanese business units with the newly-acquired international businesses

The marginalization of NTT DATA’s Japanese business points to another crucial issue. The integration of the various business units, including the many acquisitions, is a work in progress. One can point positively to the long-term focus of the Japanese business culture that has seen acquisitions being very carefully integrated over a longer period of time. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling that the cultures of Keane and Dell Services appear to be the dominant reference points in many discussions. Thus, there appears to be a healthy tension between the Japanese core business and the “Global Business” i.e. the multiple acquisitions outside Japan. However, if HfS’ contention that organizations are moving toward to the Digital OneOffice™ (download our POV for a full definition of the Digital OneOffice), where connecting back, middle and front-office is corroborated, then NTT DATA has to eat its own dog food and move toward being a more connected global organization – you can’t deliver true Digital OneOffice capability if you haven’t become a true Digital organization yourself at your core.

NTT Data has real potential to align to the Digital OneOffice

From what we are learning, the seeds for that are already being sown. Around its Digital Services, NTT DATA is suggesting the first focus is through its customer’s eyes. And, similar to our suggestion of a Digital Underbelly, NTT DATA is pointing to the fundamental shift that automation is creating. However, the boldest initiative is to wrap the needs of the customer directly around its delivery priorities through its CUE2, continuous customer experience engineering program.

Let’s start with NTT DATA stance on automation. The prominence in which executives were talking about automation was tangible. Yet, the specifics of the various initiatives might have been lost to many in the audience. Below the radar screen, NTT DATA is running the largest deployments of IPsoft’s IPcenter globally. Tellingly, the Global Management One platform is helping clients with onboarding to NTT DATA’s cloud platform. A task that has been challenged by the many acquisitions that we have called out. Furthermore, the company is helping to adapt IPsoft’s Amelia to the Japanese language and executives were suggesting strong traction. Around more mundane matters, the strategy around RPA was a trifle blurred. While NTT DATA’s BPO business is focused on its proprietary AFTE solution, as executives suggested the solution to be more efficient than any third-party tools, the consulting arm, largely representing the Carlisle & Gallagher acquisition, was pointing to third party tools as the preferred way of engagement. Beyond the nuances of the automation strategy, what really stood out for us at the event, was NTT DATA’s ambitious plan to integrate customers directly into their delivery strategy with the CUE2, continuous customer experience engineering program. This program is not only adapting Agile and DevOps to the requirements of Managed Services but putting the user center stage. In all but name, here it is where the connection to the HfS Digital OneOffice concept is the strongest. Suffice it to say, NTT DATA is still very early in rolling this out across its engagements, but the strategic intent could evolve into one of its strongest differentiators.

Bottom-line: NTT DATA has to eat its own digital dog food to progress toward the OneOffice

As bold as the CUE2 initiative is, in order to catch up with the leading global service providers and to demonstrate its Digital OneOffice credentials, NTT DATA has to advance significantly the integration of its various business units. Only by finding and leveraging commonality across its global delivery units, NTT DATA’s many innovative forays will lead to repeatability and thus margin improvement. In order to reach new clients, NTT DATA should make a virtue of the achievements of the broader NTT Group. While culturally not always accessible, NTT DATA’s strong innovation credentials, often emanating from the Japanese market, provide a platform for a clear differentiation in a market that has been notoriously difficult to achieve a meaningful differentiation. Deep networking and mobile capabilities that can be leveraged in IoT scenarios are jumping to mind. To succeed with the ambitions for the “new” NTT DATA, a broader mix of accents might go a long way, not least Japanese. Then we will start to look at NTT DATA as a truly global heavyweight.