Monthly Archives: May 2018

Is RPA officially the new outsourcing?

May 10, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Just as many enterprises were running out of places to find more and more hidden costs they could quickly remedy through (yet) more outsourcing, along came their perfect new toy to unearth costs they had never thought possible to eliminate: RPA.  

Yes, folks, this stuff is just the thing to keep you occupied for the next few years to keep your greedy CFOs at bay - and even includes the word "robot" to conjure up images of human work displacement, creating hours upon hours of repetitive (robotic) debate at conferences from people who literally sprung from seemingly nowhere to become lifelong experts in this new dark art. 

And, oddly, most of these new RPA maestros seem to be exactly the same people who were hawking the delights of outsourcing just a couple of years ago.  Maybe the connection between outsourcing and RPA is a lot closer than we think?  So let's have a gander at the new findings from the 2018 State of Operations and Outsourcing study, conducted with KPMG across 381 Global 2000 organizations, where we questioned operations leaders about their intentions to keep investing in RPA and outsourcing. 

This data shows the tranche of operations leaders making significant investments in RPA and outsourcing, sliced by industry sector:

Financial services firms, where outsourcing is most mature, are showing voracious appetites to go down the RPA path

While banks and insurers are showing the smallest appetite (10%) to keep pursuing aggressive outsourcing strategies, they are right at the front of the queue (50%) when it comes to RPA.  Insurers were one of the first industries to explore BPO and offshoring twenty years ago, so it's little surprise that RPA is so appealing to these firms, where they can find completely new ways to mimic highly repetitive, intensive processes, plagued by manual workarounds, using smart software solutions.  In addition, many of these firms have been outsourcing back-end processes that have become very stale over the years, and RPA provides the perfect shakeup to rethink how to rework these. 

Sometimes RPA provides the perfect catalyst to force an outsourcer to get back to the table to reinvest in their client or risk losing them to a hungrier competitor. Banks have always been a bit weird when it comes to outsourcing - they have tended to move massive amounts of IT development and maintenance work to service providers over the years, in addition to infrastructure, but have been very shy when it comes to BPO, often preferring to move process work into their offshore shared service centers, citing issues around privacy and compliance as their reason to keep it inhouse. It's surprising that the appetite to explore RPA is so strong (58% making significant investments this year) when you consider that most banks have to comply with various regulations which necessitate a human to oversee pretty much every process that is conducted within their organization. However, with the sheer quantity of legacy detritus plaguing banking IT systems, such as spaghetti code that began its life several generations of programming languages ago, where some of the original cobol guys who started it have since deceased (no joke), and mainframes that really should be moved to one of Kim Jong's testing sites, RPA can actually help breath new life into fixing some of these processes in a way that can have a massive transformative effect on their operations.  (Read our POVs on Banking and Financial Services RPA uptake here to learn what 80 of them are doing, and read here to deep dive into the insurance sector and its attitudes towards automation.

Industries that just need to shed costs as fast as they can to remain viable are aggressively jumping in

Telecom was always a bit late to the game when it came to heavy outsourcing, partially because its systems are so complex and they are so dependent on microtransactions which are very difficult to outsource.  However, the high throughput, high-intensive nature of telecom processes places the industry right at the forefront of RPA appetite.  With such a strong impetus also on outsourcing, expect to see more of these automation-led outsourcing deals transpire.  Utilities firms, on the other hand, still tend to be very slow adopters of new models, and most are still very focused on getting their outsourcing models operational, after many painful years of dealing with labor unions and archaic IT systems.  Surely RPA beckons soon, but expect this sector to be behind the others.

Retailers have always struggled from decentralization (often growing through many years of painful M&A) and horrific ERP experiences.  With the pressure to adopt digital customer channels more intense than ever, RPA does provide some significant benefits to fixing legacy processes that were simply not cost-effective to outsource in the past.  It's a similar story for travel firms, especially those making major efforts to up their customer digital experience.  RPA can be a huge help linking customer portals with back-end systems that have suffered from manual workarounds and poor integration for decades.

Manufacturers have been one of the pioneers of outsourcing, especially as many focused on core supply chain areas first, before moving onto IT and BPO in more recent years.  Most manufacturers ran out of room to optimize their outsourcing engagements many years ago, and stagnated when it came to improving poorly-integrated supply chain and accounting systems.  These firms are all about driving out every ounce of cost, and if they can do it, while making process fixes they have neglected since the days of MRP and JIT, then RPA is something they really want to get moving on.

Energy firms have always been massive outsourcing customers with a strong SAP underpinning - both for IT and BPO work.  With the massive cost pressures impacting energy firms, and a major impetus to transform their operating structures away from legacy labor-intensive models, it's no surprise that energy firms are among the early adopters of RPA (click here to read more about the transformation issues facing oil and gas firms, and here for a decent case study of NPower and its RPA experiences). 

Healthcare has always been the "odd duck" when it comes to operating models and transformation.  Starved of funding, held hostage by unions, and a culture of never changing anything, healthcare is typically at the back of the line when it comes to being bold and exploring radical new opportunities like RPA. However, with the tumult being created by the impact of Obamacare and whatever is going on with its unraveling, there are pockets of healthcare organizations now exploring more innovative ways of saving themselves, and RPA can be very effective for many (read here for some greats example of how some healthcare orgs have adopted RPA).

Bottom-line: As much as we hate to admit it, this is looking like the new outsourcing.  But the longer term impact is very different....

However which way we were looking at it, the outsourcing space was slowing down, and it's hard to get too excited about a market growing at 1-4% each year.  We have been brought up in a world promising 50% savings, and achieving 30% (at least on paper).  We needed to find the next thing to grab onto that was back-office focused, a bit messy, quirky, and loaded with hype.  I could bore you to tears with a lost of caveats of how to avoid screwing up your RPA, how to focus on "value" and not "cost" (who are we kidding), how you need to align business and IT, how you need to get right on top of change management and cultural impact.  But read the RPA Bible if you want all the caveats, the best practices, the pitfalls... and how to avoid RPA hell

For now, I think this is the "new outsourcing", where deals are spiked with RPA to deliver the numbers.  So time to love with what we have created, and see if we can somehow make it all work... 

Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)IT Outsourcing / IT ServicesRobotic Process Automation

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Sticking to his Nitin

May 06, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Let's be honest, the services business needs dynamic leaders, if we're ever going to step up to being these innovators and true partners we keep claiming we are.

One such character I have enjoyed getting to know over recent years is Nitin Rakesh, who spent a good part of his earlier career at Syntel, eventually taking the CEO mantle for three years, until moving over to Mphasis just over a year ago, to revitalize the $1bn financial services focused IT services firm, which spent many years are part of HP, before being divested. 

Nitin is also very active in the thought leadership sphere as chairman of the IT services council for NASSCOM, and serves on the advisory broad for [email protected] (among other activities). But one of the things you'll get to know about Nitin is his brain typically works faster than most mortals, especially when it comes to his favorite topic about aligning technology to the needs of the customer, and working those desired outcomes right through to the back office, which is a philosophy very close what we believe in at HfS, with our Digital OneOffice conceptual framework

So let's hear a bit more from Nitin about how to get ahead in today's IT services industry, and what we need to do to be effective in the wake of intense competition and the leveling off of traditional IT services...

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HFS Research: Good morning, Nitin. It's great to have you on here. To start with, I'd love to hear a bit more about you personally - you’re a technical guy, you're an engineer at heart. So how did you wind up running a billion-dollar IT services firm? Tell us where this all started and why you've been so successful at it.

Nitin Rakesh, CEO Mphasis: Thank you for that, Phil. I think I am an engineer at heart, I love building stuff. Early on I started experimenting with newer areas - as I came out of college, back in the days in the early '90s looking at how do you apply technology to things like image processing, character recognition. Those were very early days of artificial intelligence because you are teaching the software how to actually recognize handwriting.

So I think early on I got really excited about the impacts technology can have on our daily lives, and how we can change the world surely but certainly. I think from then I’ve never really looked back even though I've done a few stints in financial services. How do you apply technology and innovation? Back in the day, in the mid '90's, there was a field which is now also pretty prevalent called ‘Technical Analysis of the Markets’. And that was nothing but pattern recognition to see how do you analyze human behavior looking at the patterns in stock markets or their price behaviours.

So I think the theme started to get clearer to me over the years, but I've been lucky that I was at the right place at the right time as well. More importantly, I am really passionate about applying technology to everyday problems and ended up running a technology services company.

Phil: We got to know each other when you were at Syntel, but you've since taken over Mphasis, and now it's free of the HP empire (or former empire). So how is that business refocusing itself... and where are you taking it?

Nitin: I think this company has got some unique capabilities despite having gone through both shareholders in the last 12 years. I think we have retained and maintained our focus on applied technology. The company was founded by two ex-Citi bankers, so the focus was always applying tech to financial services and banking.

One of them was a business leader and the other one was a technical leader, a CTO. I think they built a techno-functional mindset into the business more than just a functional approach to applying problem-solving. I think it was always about embedded technology. And I think under EDS and HP, some them flourished, but some of them were impacted due to the overall global empire of HP, and the fact that we were a small piece of their overall business.

But as I came onboard about a year ago, we do have a fairly progressive shareholder who encouraged us to find our footing based on our areas of strength. What we've really been doing over the last 12 to 18 months is, essentially, differentiating ourselves by being an applied-tech firm that focuses on looking at how to apply new technologies to everything that banks, insurance companies and financial services firms do.

This is really about looking at, in the current age, how we make every enterprise customer-centric for their end customers and consumers, and how do you apply technologies to help them get closer to their customer in order to improve customer experience, reduce downtimes, offer targeted products and services with hyper-personalization?  And all of this at a lower cost, with a fast time to market. So that's kind of the mantra that we've set for ourselves.

Phil: A billion dollars in revenue: Surely, Nitin, that should be the ideal size to be big enough to be dangerous, but small enough to be sort of nimble and disruptive. What does this mean though, in reality? Can you share an example or two of how you can disrupt with your clients, while also delivering the bread-and-butter work that keeps the machine going?

Nitin: Absolutely Phil. That's a great positioning statement! We actually use a variation of that quite often. But I think our positioning almost always is that of a 'champion challenger". And from that, one, we obviously have the agility and the customer-centric focus on our side. We aim to give clients a personalized white glove service experience and we continue to invest significantly in our capabilities to stay ahead of the curve. In fact, there are multiple examples where we've been fairly nimble - but also aggressive - about going back to our clients and proposing to them things that challenge how they run their current operations, whether technology or business.

I'll give you a small example: Why should we not apply something like predictive analytics to an offering as standard as infrastructure application management? Why should we not turn AMS or an IMF into a big data analytics problem, and why should we wait for something to fail or break, so that we can go and fix it, which is (let's face it) the traditional IT outsourcing model?

So, I think, from that perspective, it means that we end up shrinking the overall footprint of the ITO team, but that's okay with us because I think that's the right thing to do for the customer. So, I think from our perspective, we've been fairly aggressive in moving clients along this journey of applying technology to traditional services as well.

And given that our scale is normally a fraction of some of the very large players, we are able to go back in and propose something very creative, even if it means that it actually shrinks the core and has an adverse impact on us as well. I just think that's the right thing to do. So that's how we are able to challenge the status quo, and in the process, carve out a position for ourselves.

Phil: One of the big discussion topics we talked about at our recent New York FORA summit centered on emerging technologies like automation, machine learning not being an end - they are just a means to get from one place to another. So, what are these places? What - in your view - is the real end-game for clients these days?

Nitin: Great question, Phil. I think I'm a big believer in the fact that every next technology isn't anything more than a tool, and what you do with it depends on how you are able to align it with one or two objectives. I talked about the fact that one of the biggest reasons why we are seeing fairly high degrees of disruption, especially in consumer-facing industries, is because, over the years, enterprises became so complex in the way they ran their back office systems and operations, that almost every business that's been around for 25-30 years is essentially run back-to-front what that means that the back office determines when you can launch the next product, the back office determines what's the next recycle for you to be able to make changes to your system, so you can have the new functionality.

The back office determines how much flexibility do you have, and so on and so forth. Whereas if you look at the new age, truly digital companies, they actually put the end customer in the middle of everything, and work backward from that. So how do you really pivot the focus of large enterprises from being functionally operationally back-office driven, to being customer-driven. And that's how you should think of applying all new technologies, whether it happens to be analytics, which should give you the ability to understand every customer, or whether

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Posted in: IT Outsourcing / IT Services

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Offshore outsourcing died with Trump. Now value-based partnerships are rising from the ashes...

April 28, 2018 | Phil Fersht

What a difference an election makes.  When we ran our State of Operations and Outsourcing study in 2014 (mid-way through President Obama's final term), Global 2000 enterprises were still planning to increase their short-term investments in offshoring their IT by more than 20%.  When we re-ran the study in 2016, offshoring intent was clearly dropping to a 12% intended increase (which is a realistic number for a saturating market), but this year it has nose-dived to a mere 5% increase, which is a clear result of the anti-offshoring sentiment that has hurt offshore-centric deals:

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I discussed this trend with one of the lead partners at ISG, the offshore outsourcing industry's largest deal advisor, and he shared that Trump's stance against offshoring was considerably slowing down the deal cycle for his firm, and he was even seeing some outsourcing deals going to the likes of Accenture and IBM because it created the façade that work was not being offshored (even though it was).  Yes, this is the kind of stuff that happens when a president likes to get fast and loose with his twitter account! 

However, while Trump's open attacks on American firms using offshoring stoked panic into many paranoid C-Suites, what really transpired was a rapid shift in how US firms are viewing their partnerships with global service providers. Today's reality is technology has become core to business competitiveness by creating new revenue channels made possible by interactive communications technologies with customers, by simplifying business operations to support the business with real-time data, and by supporting broader processes that respond to the needs of customers, as they occur.

Offshoring may be slowing, but the services business is in its best shape for four years

The healthy trend here, for the future of IT and business services, is the fact that the industry finds itself on the healthiest growth footing since 2013 - so clearly offshoring is no longer the primary driver behind IT services investments:

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President Trump merely speeded up the development of global services from a cost-reduction to a business-value proposition

Many enterprise leaders are clearly no longer thinking, "How can we shave some more cost off our annual IT budget by moving more work to India?".  Instead, they are thinking, "How can I get quality services delivered at competitive prices that take advantage of the cloud, automation, and global talent."  The subtle shift here is clearly one from an obsessive focus on low cost, to one of getting quality services as the industry matures, where there are many leverage points to find productivity gains, beyond merely relying on FTE rates.  The more pricing shifts towards outcomes, volumes and KPIs, the less visible offshoring becomes as a cost-lever. 

When you buy electricity, do you care where the supplier houses its generators?  When you use public cloud services, do you bother to question Google, Amazon or Spotify where they house their massive data farms?  It's the same when engaging with IT services firms to get work done: business operations leaders are barely thinking about where they are located anymore - and all President Trump has done is shifted the optics, compelled the leading India-heritage firms to make substantially more onshore staff investments - which they needed to do in any case - as the nature of IT work is driving the need for greater client intimacy and physical proximity between service delivery staff and client staff. 

Traditional outsourcing is being replaced by partnering, and "offshoring" is not even part of that conversation

Our recent study looking at digital transformation to the OneOffice reveals that the majority (57%) of the highest quartile of performers in the Global 2000 (based on revenue and profitability) view their primary service providers as supporting their digital transformation roadmaps, as co-innovation partners helping them achieve co-defined business outcomes.  Only a third viewed their service providers solely as a resource to provision skills and scale via a headcount model:

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This data speaks volumes - enterprises digital leaders need providers which can work with them to achieve outcomes that are increasingly challenging - most no longer requisition 500 developers per year to code in ABAP for strategic initiatives - that is a commodity practice today, usually delegated to lower level manager to lead.  Nearly all G2000 firms, today, have a Chief Digital Officer tasked with taking their companies through significant business model change, enabled by smart technology provided by partners which understand what is required.  Whether the talent for these strategic projects resides in Bangalore, Basingstoke, Bucharest or Baton Rouge is moot - this is about getting results where top talent is hard to source, and the location is just not very relevant anymore.

The Bottom-line: Trump did us a favor and ripped off the legacy Band-Aid for the services industry

Trump's stance on offshore outsourcing sparked two behaviors which have set up the future of services to be far more value-driven and business oriented: All the major Indian-heritage service providers have been aggressive adding 10,000+ staff right across North America and Europe.  Several are also embarking on ambitious acquisitions of niche onshore digital firms (both creative and tech-driven) to engage themselves higher up the foodchain within their clients and be considered for more lucrative digital engagements where there are deeply engaged with their clients redesigning business models that need sophisticated technical support.  So while the industry suffered from a couple of flat years trying to squeeze the last vestiges of life out of a dying body-shopping model, the new reality is a global delivery model that is now embedded in engagements where the focus is much more on business value and outcomes than prehistoric effort-based inputs.  We are also entering an era where the likes of Cognizant, Infosys, TCS and Wipro will cease to be called "Indian providers" and merely be referred to as global IT services firms.  Location is irrelevant... expertise most definitively is not.

Posted in: Digital TransformationIT Outsourcing / IT ServicesDigital OneOffice

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Can Infosys be the one to challenge Accenture's digital services dominance?

April 23, 2018 | Phil Fersht

It took a while, but we've finally seen the cards being played from Infosys' new CEO Salil Parekh - and it's a concerted digital play to offer clients an alternative to Accenture.  Make no bones about it, the intentions are crystal clear to reverse the course Vishal Sikka set with a software-centric "product" approach, and follow the Accenture model of creative digital services supported by technology-agnostic execution.  The firm, once affectionately dubbed the "Indian Accenture", has gone full circle to reclaim its mantle and revitalize itself as one of the key services alternatives to enterprise clients seeking high-value digital capabilities enabled by industrial-scale technology execution. Infosys has never been one to go about its business quietly - the firm likes to make big bold statements and attack the industry with a swagger - and, after a full year of navel-gazing as Sikka's reign fizzled out, amid a very public media obsessed with scrutinizing every private jet excursion and every former SAP executive's departure package, Salil has made his play in typical Infosys style.

With the chest-beating battle cries coming out of the firm's Q1 results, Salil and his new founder friends believe they have the credibility, brand and global presence to slip in front of its rivals, notably Cognizant, TCS and Wipro, and to make up for lost ground and quickly assert their presence in this digital race for client supremacy.  The (surprisingly open) stated effort to sell off their product acquisitions Panaya and Skava (and likely more), the recent acquisition of creative agency WONGDOODY, famous for its Superbowl ads, and its 2017 addition of London-based product design agency, Brilliant Basics, gives Infosys a creative digital footing in both US and Europe.  

So can Infosys break out of the pack to challenge?  Let's take a look at the Digital Services market...

There's been enough noise and confusion regarding what constitutes digital and which providers are truly breaking ground here, but the stark reality is that Accenture has made a relentless concerted acquisition strategy to dominate this market from the onset, and the current race is on from the rest of the service provider community to challenge them:

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Digital services provide the natural evolution of traditional IT and business services firms, while products-plus-services is a struggle

For all Vishal's intelligence and vision, the reality became very clear towards the later stages of his tenure as Infosys CEO: traditional IT services firms will always struggle to become products-plus-services firms as they simply do not have the channel to market, the sales structure or the culture to sell these offering at a one-to-many scale. "SAP has 45,000 clients while we only have 1,200" was his realization.  Services juggernauts like Infosys are never going to scale effectively down to the lower middle market, hence need to deepen their footprints with large clients which are profitable to manage in their global delivery model.  And remember Accenture's aborted attempts to make a mid-market play?  

A one-to-few model may work in very specific areas such as procurement (Accenture and Procurian) or healthcare (Cognizant and TriZetto), but these investments are substantial and require a significant amount of time, focus, and investment to make viable.  This is why Salil made the aggressive decision to abort Panaya and Skava - these require a massive effort to deepen sales and delivery capability to make these investments truly worthwhile and pivot Infosys into a much more specialized direction. The realistic growth for a firm like Infosys is in winning big-ticket enterprise services accounts on long-term deals that require significant scale and transformation.  There is a reason TCS is leading the services industry in valuation - it has its tentacles firmly wrapped around large, multi-year client relationships and is not bogged down in discreet product acquisitions.  

Digital services represent the high-value end of the services business where firms like Infosys can embed themselves for many years if they get this right - the ability to design, manage and deliver the customer engaging front office, supported by a digital underbelly, support organization and predictive analytics (as we at HfS term the "Digital OneOffice").  It is that ability to enable clients to respond to the needs of their customers in real-time: Digital is the wow factor that is setting apart today's services firms.  The reality is most of these providers are competent at delivering IT services at scale to meet whatever KPIs were agreed at the onset of a contract.  So the differentiation is that ability to help enterprise clients delivery the digital experience for their own clients - and you can only really do this if you have absorbed sufficient design and consulting talent at scale. Digital is much more about a services experience than a specific product experience - there are many apps and tools clients can use, but it's how they are aligned with the business strategy that really matters.  This is why Accenture's technology agnostic strategy of the last two decades is the one so many services firms are now following.

The Bottom-line: Accenture created the digital services market and there is no clear contender to take them on from an end-to-end services standpoint.  Infy has as good a shot as any of its key rivals

Three small-scale acquisitions are merely a statement of intent, but the hard work starts now - and it is a serious about of hard work!  While WONGDOODY and Brilliant Basics are very credible firms and get Infy on the map for digital design and media services, Salil and his cohorts need to savage the market with some further significant investments if it wants a place firmly at the big boys' table. Cognizant has done an excellent job taking its SMAC stack into a very meaningful effective digital offering, and currently is pushing Accenture the most aggressively, with focused offerings and marketing.  Wipro has made some admirable efforts with Designit and Appirio to win some notable deals and has been very focused on this space, vastly improving its communication and positioning with clients.  The reality is, no one has come anywhere close to rivaling Accenture's scale with digital and we need to see a lot more than some small agency investments if any of these firms want to make a realistic play at Accenture's dominance.  Firms like Infosys now have to bet big if they want to do more than pay lip service to the new wave of technology-focused offerings.  A major consulting acquisition, such as a Booz or AT Kearney, could make the difference, but will likely be a one-shot deal to make or break their strategy, and we all know how messy these services-plus-consultant acquisitions can get.  

The bolder play is to go after one of the large creative media/advertising agencies that offers clients and scale that get Infosys immediately to the table.  Firms like AKQA, BBH, M&C Saatchi, Ogilvy & Mather, Sid Lee and the Miller Group (to name a few) would deliver immediate credibility and digital design capability to a firm as ambitious as Infosys.  Infosys has the swagger to pull something like this off, but has never faced such a test of focus as it does right now - it has picked its path, now the firm needs to pace some serious, eye-catching investments to stay true to its word.  Most importantly, the Founders needs to stay true to Saili and not have him experience the wheels come off like they did for Vishal - that is not a road Infosys can afford to go down again, as next time there won't be a forgiveness factor from its clients or the industry at large.

Posted in: Digital TransformationDigital OneOffice

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We're becoming obsessive social networkers with a huge appetite to learn from each other

April 15, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Remember that 70's movie "Logan's Run" when, in the 23rd century, the population and the consumption of resources are maintained in equilibrium by killing everyone who reaches the age of 30?  They found a simple fix to solve their problems. Today, we seem to be entering a similar situation with employment and intelligent automation: why not just retire everyone at 40 to protect those valuable employment resources? It sounds far easier than building a ridiculously long wall or pretending all these magical new jobs will appear from nowhere in a couple of years... 

Everyone, seemingly, is obsessing with the current swirl of anxiety infecting our whole career outlook, with relentless discussions raising our stress levels as we figure out how to "adapt" ourselves to a world where bots are going to do so much of our work at some indefinable moment in the future.  

It's just not cool to be normal anymore...

Whether we're mindlessly getting our hourly endorphin rush from those lovely social media sites that keep pulling us in, or dozing through yet another mind-numbing panel on the "impact of intelligent automation" at some horrendous conference we just had to go to (listening to people who previously had nothing to do with "automation" and have since become overnight luminaries), or simply chatting with colleagues in the office... there is now a constant angst that

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Posted in: Digital OneOfficeTalent in Sourcing

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Gartner fails spectacularly with its 180 degree flip on the impact of AI Automation on jobs

April 07, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Whiplash alert: You may have noticed how Gartner recently flipped its core messaging from automation/AI being a seismic job destroyer to being now a job-creator.  And both times, they just can't seem to back up the rhetoric with actual facts.  Plus, they don't even seem to be able to define consistently what they actually mean by "AI Automation". 

Remember when Gartner claimed that automation and AI were not only going to replace a third of jobs by 2025, but many of us would be reporting to a robo-boss at some stage this year?  Well, guess what folks, they've now performed a complete 180-degree flip, claiming that millions of new jobs will be created after 2020, far outweighing their previously predicted gargantuan job losses (courtesy of LinkedIn).  Wow:

Let's dare to look back in time to hold Gartner to account

Peter Sondergaard, Gartner's Head of Research, predicted one in three jobs will be converted to software, robots and smart machines by 2025.  Yes he actually said that at his own Symposium, and even added, "New digital businesses require less labor; machines will make sense of data faster than humans can."  However, unlike the good old days when analysts could get away with all flavors of outlandish grandstanding soundbites to spice up a conference, these predictions tend to hang around the internet these days.  While many people love to keep spinning new headlines everyday, in the hope #fakenews is now the #realnews, some of us still have memory banks that last longer than one week, especially when CIOs spend billions of dollars for this type of council.  

And then who can forget this almighty whopper from Fran Karamouzis, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner:

By 2018, more than three million workers globally will be supervised by "robo-bosses".  Excellent, so Fran's surely keeping her fingers crossed that the robo-boss takeover is even more imminent than Donald Trump's interview with Robert Mueller...

Gartner's new claim why AI and Automation will create this massive net gain in jobs

When Gartner put out this far more positive news, I was so excited, and couldn't wait to hear their new rationale:

Click to read full press release

"Many significant innovations in the past have been associated with a transition period of temporary job loss, followed by recovery, then business transformation and AI will likely follow this route," said Svetlana Sicular, research vice president at Gartner. AI will improve the productivity of many jobs, eliminating millions of middle- and low-level positions, but also creating millions more new positions of highly skilled, management and even the entry-level

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Posted in: Cognitive ComputingRobotic Process AutomationIntelligent Automation

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Fed up with the AI nonsense? Well here's your reality check...

April 05, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Fed up with even the hype being so overhyped, that even The MIT Media Lab is severing ties with a brain-embalming company that promoted euthanasia to people hoping for digital immortality through “brain uploads"?  Yes really. 

Then waste no time as we plan to steer you back to some version of reality next week with an unvarnished, unsponsored, unpuffed view of the world, where any spin if countered with a powerful forehand down the line:

Click here to reserve your virtual seat now!

Posted in: Cognitive ComputingRobotic Process AutomationIntelligent Automation

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It's not all about mindset: The lack of IT talent is the biggest roadblock to reaching the Digital OneOffice promised land

April 02, 2018 | Phil Fersht

If I had a dollar every time an executive bemoaned their firm’s inability to “change their mindset”, to do anything differently to escape their habitual ways of running operations.  And if I had a further greenback for every advisor who bemoaned how idiotic their customers are, because they “just don’t have the deep expertise to fix their underlying data structure", I would have long retired to the Trappist Order to brew very strong beer for connoisseurs with beards (that doesn’t actually taste very nice, but it's just so beardy).

Surely the perfect desired outcome, even if it tastes like crap

It's all about bringing the operations closer to the customer, and lacking IT talent is a major impediment to achieving it

Getting to the point here, it’s one thing demanding your employees change how they approach their jobs to benefit your firm from deploying advanced automation and cognitive tools, but entirely another if you don’t have the technical expertise to put them to work.  It’s one thing to design a leading-edge digital interface with your customers, but it’s rendered pretty useless if you don’t have the capability to integrate it with your operations to provide customer support, get your products and services to them and harvest their data to keep making smart marketing decisions to stay ahead of demand. It’s one effort to redesign processes around your customers, entirely another to redesign your operational infrastructure to make it actually happen

We recently interviewed 100 C-Suite executives from major enterprises and split the discussion across both business and IT leaders.  While the industry obsesses about whether C-Suites know where to where to invest, what are their desired outcomes etc., we don't focus nearly enough on the impediments preventing them from achieving these goals.  We focus far too much on firms' short-term spending on tools, and not enough on defining the ultimate outcomes and drawing up real investment and change management plans to get there. As we recently discussed, if we only focus on the means, we will never arrive at the end. To address this, we presented the OneOffice Concept to understand what is holding back both business and IT leaders from reaching the promised land of perfect real-time symmetry of their business operations staying ahead of their customers’ needs:

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The Bottom-line: The Right Brain only functions when it's in sync with the Left Brain 

As we have widely discussed, four-out-of-ten customers (see earlier blog) going through initial deployments of RPA software are struggling to meet the business cases and cost savings goals.  And when we bring hundreds of enterprise leaders together at our HfS Summits, the story is consistent: business struggling with change, but they struggle even more with aligning the right technical expertise to work alongside their business talent.  Simply put, today's firms are struggling with having IT depth to take their ambitious C-Suites where they want to go.  So where do we go from here?

IT is at the heart of C-Suite strategy - it's a business discussion that only works with the right IT capability.  You only needed to eavesdrop on the many C-level discussions at Davos to know the IT discussion is firmly at the core of the business. Being able to satisfy your customer's digital business needs is where it's all heading.  I was recently talking their the Group Finance Head at HSBC and his whole focus is on two elements - having the best digital app delivery and providing the best customer experience, which is incredibly challenging for any business environment grappling with differing compliance needs across borders, and ever-demanding customers wanting to do all their banking on an iPad.  However, while this is a challenge, it is also a massive opportunity for the ambitious who get their business design and IT skillset equation right.  

Finding the right partners is more crucial than ever.  There is a massive opportunity to lead in the world of IT services, provided you can plug these skills gaps.  The challenge is breaking out of the traditional sourcing model to access niche talent across the globe in areas such as crypto-technology, Python development, Lisp, Prolog, Go and C++.  While most traditional firms still rely heavily on bread and butter IT services delivered at scale from regions such as India, the emergence of talent in Central and Eastern Europe, China and parts of South America also need to be brought into play.  The IT services world will be a very different place in a couple of years as boutique firms offering niche skills come into the fore.  Not to mention the emergence of crowdsourcing for IT talent.  Having really savvy IT leaders who can cobble together crack teams on-tap to solve their IT headaches is already becoming a huge differentiator for many firms.  The will also be a role for the super services integrator, who can pull together teams for clients to work with them on complex projects.

Simplification of business operations is the real key to future success. In short, there is no silver bullet to solve these endemic issues companies are facing to break out of legacy ways of working, but being able to align a determined mindset shift on the business side with smart IT skills to bring it to reality, is the only true way forward for firms who know their days are numbered, if they cannot change their inner workings to get somewhere near a OneOffice end-state.  The future is really all about simplifying operations to bring them completely in line with the world of the customer.  Hence, successful businesses need IT folks who can think logically to simplify business operations through the use of automation, cognitive, AI and digital.  It's not just about software packages and APIs, it's about both business and IT staff learning to understand each other's strengths and challenges better.  It's really not rocket science, it's about learning to simplify business models to stay ahead of your customers' needs and not giving your competitors a window to take you out of your market...because that may already be happening to you.

Posted in: Digital OneOffice

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And there went another April Fools' Day...

April 01, 2018 | Phil Fersht

I hope you enjoyed our little blockchain fools' fun today, but here is possibly the greatest ever from BBC Sport...

Posted in: Absolutely Meaningless Comedy

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How blockchain will change the world in many more ways than you realize. It’s cataclysmic

April 01, 2018 | Phil Fersht

We all know that Blockchain has emerged as the world's leading software platform for digital assets, however, new research is demonstrating its value could go even further than merely digital assets. Blockchain can reinvigorate parts of your infrastructure that have been under-performing for years to have a dramatic increase on the satisfaction of your partners, your customers and possibly even your employees…

HfS research’s new findings indicate that many enterprise back offices are in dire need of a complete transformation in order to come close to achieving the desired outcomes of their partners.  Yes, folks, the impact of blockchains is causing many flagging enterprise assets to stand to attention, desperate to reclaim their former splendor and glory.  According to one automation governance lead from a major consumer products firm, “Why rip and replace legacy assets when you still have plenty of mileage to glean from your trusted old systems?  Ever since we got on the Blockchain Program, we’re rediscovering the ability to perform in a manner I’ve not experienced for at least twenty years.”

As with every technology magic bullet, the conversation always reverts to “hammers finding nails”, as many executives long to revive the glory days of shaving more off their bottom line in order to achieve more attractive results.

To this end, a financial controller of a FORTUNE 20 bank declared, “I had practically given up on ever meeting the demands of my various partners.  Every time we were asked to perform, we just couldn’t connect the pieces.  We tried every solution on the market, every tool off the shelf, even some special robots… we were a hammer trying to find a nail, but the nail just wouldn’t find the hole.  Until we were introduced to blockchain, and suddenly everything changed…”.

There’s something about the nature of a distributed ledger that enables even the most seasoned of industry executives to re-live the days of their youth, a revelation that has put the wind up Pfizer, whose market is the latest to be on the verge of disruption.  According to one disgruntled Prizer executive, “We are very concerned about the impact of Blockchain on our business lines.  We have been warning customers of the serious side effects a Blockchain is going to have, with its sheer processing grunt depleting energy resources to an alarming extent.  We advise affected customers to call their on-demand service provider for urgent support, especially after more than four hours of vigorous non-stop blockchain activity that is showing no signs of slowing down.”

HfS analysts also caught up with a leading executive from IBM, John Holmes, who added, “Thanks to blockchain, there is a huge opportunity to get our firm back on course for some serious straight line growth.” 

And when we managed to get Accenture blockchain guru, Peter North, on the phone who revealed, "Blockchain promises high performance delivered and we aim to deliver that high performance. Delivered."

Even President Donald Trump has confirmed the future potential of Blockchain in a recent series of tweets where he argued ‘It’s the best. The greatest. Just great. I’m so glad I came up with idea before Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. But seriously, Ivanka, is there any way we can delete some of the data on there? Yes those blocks called Stormy, delete them.’

And of course... this was an:

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Posted in: Blockchain

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Automation delivers the means, OneOffice provides the end

March 21, 2018 | Phil Fersht

The biggest issue with most companies, when it comes to planning their operations, is that most do not have an ideal endstate in mind. They struggle to define success beyond finding some shiny new activity that will get them from where they are today to a state of greater productivity and/or lower operating cost.  However, our new research with 100 C Suite execs reveals that their real goals are to get better data to drive their businesses forward while aligning their operations to their business goals.  Technology solutions are enablers to achieve these goals, they provide a means, but they do not provide the outcome, which is where so many enterprises are going wrong these days.  

Without a defined OneOffice endstate, automation strategies will always run out of steam

Even with offshore outsourcing, the endstate was rarely defined – it was simply to meet the next set of metrics before figuring out the “what’s next”. Were companies really envisaging running their operations in a similar way as before, merely with lower cost resources and some standardization of processes? But at least outsourcing was relatively predictable – it was defining how much work to move to the service provider and how many staff were needed to keep the operation ticking along to meet a desired set of metrics. With automation, entirely new metrics are in play, and it’s currently a random crapshoot how most companies are dealing with this. From manhours per year eliminated, to processing time reductions, to actual headcounts being removed, and even improvements in compliance and data accuracy, the "new metrics" that enterprises are toying with to find that next piece of "success" are becoming foggier than

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Posted in: Digital OneOfficeRobotic Process Automation

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The top 5 enterprise blockchain platforms you need to know about

March 16, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Now most of you have finally realized that blockchain means something more than some weird disruptive currency you completely avoided buying when it could have netted you millions, we need to get much more familiar with the actual enterprise platforms being developed, where the true potential of this ledger technology can be unleashed on our enterprises, supply chains and industries.

So we asked our blockchain boffins Saurabh Gupta and Mayank Madhur to take a deeper look at the top 5, namely: Ethereum, Hyperledger Fabric, R3 Corda, Ripple, and Quorum. Please note that Bitcoin does not make it to our list of top 5 platforms. In fact, it does not make the top 10 list when we talk about enterprise application of Blockchain. 

The objective of our research is to understand blockchain platforms that show promise in solving complex business problems:

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#1. Ethereum. Mature Smart Contracting Cross-Industry Platform

“Ethereum is a platform that makes it possible for any developer to write and distribute next-generation decentralized applications.”

-          Vitalik Buterin, Co-Founder, Ethereum

Founded by the 22 year old Russian-Canadian Vitalk Buterin, Ethereum is one of the most mature blockchain platforms available today. Known for its robust smart contracting functionality and flexibility, it is used widely across multiple industry use-cases. It has the largest number of use-cases available today (50%+ in our sample set). Along with Hyperledger Fabric, Ethereum has developed a large online support community as well has frequent product updates and enhancements.

The Ethereum Enterprise Alliance (EEA), a non-profit organization is now over 250+ members strong and connects Fortune 500 enterprises, startups, academics, and technology vendors with Ethereum subject matter experts. Despite its widespread adoption in enterprise use-cases, it’s important to realize that Ethereum is essentially a permissionless (or public) platform that is designed for mass consumption versus restricted access (typical requirement for privacy requirements in enterprise use-cases). It is also PoW (proof-of-work) based which is not the fastest (resulting in potential latency issues) and is an energy-sucker. Though it might change its consensus algorithm to the fast PoS (proof-of-stake) in future versions.

#2. Hyperledger Fabric. B2B-focused Modular Blockchain Platform

“As new technology develops, there is a call for standards. Participants want to focus on time and effort and investment to build solutions versus worrying about the framework. This is the rationale for open standards…we are pulling together the most exciting portfolio with a multi-

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Posted in: Blockchain

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Farewell the Godfather of Time...

March 14, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Posted in: Cognitive Computing

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RPA is officially the shiny new silver bullet: 53% of the Global 2000 are planning significant RPA investments to slash costs in 2018

March 11, 2018 | Phil Fersht

While we were discussing the confusing realities of the RPA hype at the HfS FORA Summit, we got a sneak preview of the interim data from the 2018 State of Operations and Outsourcing Study, conducted in conjunction with KPMG, where 250 interviews with Global 2000 operations leaders have now been completed. 

We asked them where their investment priorities were currently lying when it comes to 2018 cost reduction:

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So it's abundantly clear all the hype about rampant adoption has been warranted, and we can hang our hats on our recent enterprise robotics software and services forecast, which now appears conservative, increasing with 47% growth to $1.46bn this year (click here for full forecast):

The Bottom-line: RPA has succeeded in being positioned as the "easiest silver bullet to target that next wave of cost take-out".  Now let the real fun and games begin...

We have discussed, argued and deliberated the true value, impact and effective ways to run RPA software for many, many hours here on HfS... for over five and a half years.  And you only need to read our recent work to conclude that "RPA often starts out like a teenage romance, with a lot of enthusiastic fumbling around that ends quickly, frequently leading to disappointment".  And you can also read the RPA Bible, which preaches best and worst RPA practices to such an extent, you'll need to visit your local RPA Rabbi, Bhikkhu, Priest or Mullah to find your soul again.

The real issue, here, is that the majority of enterprises are taking the plunge and investing the dollars, with 81% actually taking RPA seriously, and 53% very seriously.  So what's going to happen in a few months when those ambitious CIOs and CFOs ask to see real, tangible demonstrations of the resultant cost takeout?  Can C-Suite leaders quickly learn to love metrics that are tied to growth, value and effectiveness, as opposed to a simple reduction in operating expenses to feel rewarded for those expensive bot licenses? Are operations leaders generally going to be ready to quantify the value effectively?  Can they really convince their superiors that there is true value impact beyond merely offering up headcount elimination? 

What's more, what if headcount reductions were promised to offset investments, and adopters have failed to free up the workload that can enable them?  And can they reward the staff, who cooperated in the automation work, by getting them "retrained"?  Is there really a plan?  While the "one human to oversee every 10 bots" is becoming the latest robo-governance rule-of-thumb, how real is this?  Or are we just all bull*****g ourselves about the future, and merely circling the hype to stay relevant today?  Do we really care about our companies anymore, or are we more obsessed with adding big sexy initiatives to our CVs?  Is this really anything different to yesteryear, where you needed to have an SAP rollout on your CV to be a credible CIO, or oversaw a 1000 FTE outsourcing deal to prove you were worth that $1.2m/ year GBS salary (yes, that's what some get...).  In this world of #fakenews, does anything really matter anymore, when we can spin our realities into whatever shiny new thing is out there?  

One thing is clear is that the back office needs to be submerged into the value end of the organization.  There is little more headcount elimination to be had for most companies - sure, there are still many areas that have too many people working on too few valuable tasks, and technologies like RPA are terrific tools for breathing new life into legacy systems and creating digital process flows, where before there was only spaghetti code, manual workarounds and swamps of data polluting the corporate underbelly.

One thing is clear, it's very murky out there, and all we can really do is hatch a semi-realistic plan and try and stay on top of it as the future unravels in front of us...

Posted in: Robotic Process Automation

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Findings from #HfSFORA: Half of firms' staff will be impacted by automation and 40% of them have no idea what to do with them

March 07, 2018 | Phil Fersht

So here's the biggest issue facing enterprise operations in the next couple of years:  what to do with staff impacted by automation.  Our brand new 2018 State of Operations study, conducted with KPMG, over half the Global 2000 firms surveyed believe transactional roles will be significantly impacted by automation within just a two-year timeframe:

So we thought we'd poll the 120 buyers at the new York FORA summit this morning as we asked them what they intended to do with their impacted staff:

While a good portion are already thinking about "retraining" their impacted staff to take on analytics work (21%) and help manage new tech such as RPA and ML (16%), the vast majority (40%) are just honest and reveal they just don't know.  

Bottom-line:  We have to plan for automation better

As automation fever takes over business operations (and we'll reveal that data next), my one plea to industry is to plan this better.  CFOs and CIOs investing $ millions in bot licenses and consultants to implement them will be expecting a return on their investment, and if operations leaders do not have a concerted plan to use the freed up man hours, you can be sure there will be intense pressure to reduce even more heads than may have been in the initial plan.

Posted in: Robotic Process Automation

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Meet the Business Romantic: Tim Leberecht

March 01, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Have you ever mixed business with romance?  Oh dear, that could be taken the wrong way, but our keynote speaker next week at the HfS FORA summit New York, Tim Leberecht, has literally written the book on the subject.  Tim's session next week is one that will breathe new energy into our narrative, and the title "How to Thrive in the Robotic Age Without Losing Your Humanity" just about says it all!

So let's hear a bit more from Tim about why he's such a sought-after speaker and visionary on the future of work and the impact of AI...

Phil Fersht (CEO, HfS): Tim, we're very excited to have you as one of our keynotes in New York.  So maybe you can give us some insight into how you have become a "Business Romantic.”

Tim Leberecht (Founder of The Business Romantic Society): Education-wise, my background is in the humanities and professionally, in marketing. Initially, I set out to write a book about meaning, and specifically the power of brands to serve as one of the few remaining arbiters of meaning in our societies. As I was looking into the principles of meaning-making, I realized that they were all, in effect, romantic principles: keep the mystique, foster intimacy, embrace solitude, seek adventure, suffer (a little), and so on. I had this epiphany: “Wow, I am a romantic!” In fact, I realized that romance had been the defining quality of my career—I just hadn’t been able to articulate it. The term “Business Romantic” nailed the tension I had felt all my professional life, and since the book came out in 2015, it has proven to be provocative and fruitful. Opposites attract, or as one of the interviewees for my book said: juxtaposing opposite poles make each of the poles more attractive. I haven’t met anybody yet who hasn’t had a strong reaction to the word “romance:” people either oppose it or aspire to it.

Phil: So the theme of the conference is "Learning to Change in the robotic era"... what's your view on how we humans must adapt with all the technological change occurring? Is it more about attitudes that skillsets?  

Tim: It’s both, Phil. There are some grim reports out there, such as Bain’s recent study that predicts 30 percent of all US jobs will be automated by 2030, with the rewards of automation going mostly to the top 20 percent of earners or savvy AI investors. McKinsey estimates that 30 percent of 60 percent of all tasks in existing jobs can already be automated. Futurist Gerd Leonhard proclaims that “if you can describe your job in one sentence, chances are you might get automated,” referring to the high likelihood of process-oriented, linear, routine-based work being automated.

Entire professions will feel the consequences: not only factory workers or call-center agents but also legal research assistants, accountants, notaries, investment managers, or management consultants. While exact estimates are still disputed, clearly, massive changes to work and society are underway, and we are just beginning to grasp them. AI will dramatically alter both process and offerings in almost every industry. Every profession will have to evolve and embed AI and robotics in their processes.  AI and co-bots will become our new co-workers, and those parts of our work that can be done more efficiently will be taken over by them. Many of us will lose traditional employment, the rest of us will have to get used to hybrid work environments and collaborating with AI (and perhaps even having AI’s as bosses).

We’re definitely in a race with the machines, and it’s not one we can win unless we remind ourselves of our inherently human qualities that AI isn’t able to emulate yet: vulnerability, imagination, and character. We are elusive, inconsistent, elastic, and often erratic beings—we remain unpredictable and can change our beliefs and emotions. That makes us hard to deal with but also constitutes the very engine of progress. It’s not technology, it is our changing hearts and minds, our ever-evolving values, that is the source of innovation.

We will need to acquire not only new technical skills, but also new emotional ones, as we’ll be facing an increasing loss of control, of agency in the traditional sense. Deloitte says that 63 percent of businesses need leadership skill development for the digital future, and that many of these skills are “soft skills.” Our identities and interactions will become more fluid, as boundaries between man and machine, internal and external reality, digital and physical world continue to blur. To thrive in this age of machines, we will have to learn (again) to appreciate beautiful work and how to our work beautifully—with heart, character, and intuition. This what romanticism can teach us.

Phil: And what's your view of this "singularity"?  Is it real, Tim, or just hype?  What is the real pace of change and disruption, as you see it?

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Posted in: Analytics and Big DataCognitive Computing

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It's an automation slaughter with Lee Coulter

February 27, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Lee Coulter: One big automation fish...

One character who will light up our New York HfS FORA Summit next week (and not just with a cigar) is the irrepressible Lee Coulter.  While Lee could have hung his hat on leadership roles at GE, Kraft and Ascension Health (where he still oversees their shared services as his day job), he has taken it upon himself to become one of the leading voices behind the Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) movement, as Chair of the IEEE's working standards group on IPA and Founder of Agilify, a newly launched automation services business, already boasting 32 clients. 

With so much going on in Lee's world, I thought it high time to catch up with him before we hear his dulcet tones next week... 

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HfS Research: You've been the self-styled Godfather of Intelligent Process Automation, brandishing a cigar, as opposed to a Kalashnikov... why did you take on this mantel, how did this evolve during your recent years with Ascension into this new firm, "Agilify"?

Lee Coulter,  CEO, Ascension: That’s quite an image. I think my role chairing the IEEE Working Group on Standards in Intelligent Process Automation was probably what did it. We started over five years ago on our automation journey. The hype and confusion was literally driving me batty. So instead of getting into a war of words, I decided the best answer was to get the competitors to not want to be left out of a standards effort. It was in everyone’s best interest to work together. That first standard (IEEE 2755-2017) was really a hallmark and the next one (P2755.1), coming this year, will have a far greater impact. That work has created great relationships across the continuum that have been helpful in bringing automation to Ascension.

The idea for Agilify came about during a conversation with a GBS colleague when he wanted to bring his team on site for a third full day to meet with my team. I told him, “Hey, I think you’ve

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Posted in: Robotic Process Automation

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#NASSCOM_ILF 2018: An industry stuck in #fakenews limbo, desperately needing to change the channel

February 22, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Stability and modest growth should be the best thing that has happened to this industry:  companies can plan for the future with greater predictability and make smarter investment decisions.  Instead, we’re suffering from a culture of endless hype, copycat marketing and an addiction to hypergrowth. 

NASSCOM’s annual India Leadership Forum is always a good bellwether for testing the temperature of the global services industry – and the 2018 rendition this week in Hyderabad served up some real pearls of wisdom (yes, Hyderabad is the world’s leading refiner of pearls).

Getting to the point, the services industry has never found itself in a worse state of bewilderment and confusion.  After last year’s sense of looming disaster with President Trump’s proposed Visa reforms, at least the industry has something collective to hang onto – a common fear of being politicked out of business.  However, with that panic pretty much diluted, what has been left is a conflicting range of moods, ranging from confusion to depression to uncomfortable modest growth, alarmingly untrue #fakenews, and a never-ending plethora of meaningless buzz words, which have become so deepset in the fabric of our industry, most of us are resigned to using them, as it’s the only language left to communicate basic sentences to each other.

So let’s try and shed some light on the confusion, based on some of the terrific conversations we had this week:

The Indian IT industry is struggling to cope with “modest growth”.  With NASSCOM bravely predicting something in the 7-9% range, most credible analysts are predicting 4-5% for the short, medium and long-term.  The reality is, the whole DNA of Indian IT has been borne out of hyper-growth, offering genuine riches to ambitious executives who could project-manage their way to a very nice condo in Bangalore or Gurgaon.  The gravy train has now firmly ground to a halt, and most of the lovely folks remaining are still coming to terms with their salary increases slowing down, or disappearing altogether.  And many are just pleased to cling to their jobs. The level-headed executives have accepted they are now looking at a more modest outlook for their firms and their own futures, and are making some adjustments, while others are still clambering around trying to find the next hype bandwagon to hitch to their next career move (and payrise).  Did I hear the words AI, Blockchain, or RPA anyone?

“Digital” provides a sugar frosting for restating revenues as something that is not traditional IT.  While we managed to have about 30 structured meetings with service providers, GICs and tech firms, the term “digital” has become so meaningless, it now ceases to be used in any coherent sentence. It seems to be purely a term now for convincing investors and Wall St analysts that, somehow, traditional services revenues have become something mysterious and new that will set services firms on a new pathway to returning to hypergrowth… and very soon. In reality, "digital" is all about designing new revenue channels for customers using emerging interactive technologies.  It’s all about collapsing internal silos within business operations to service customers’ emerging digital needs.  If you’re telling me that 50-75% of IT services revenues are now “digital”, then please tell me where all the billions of dollars of app testing, app management and IT infra revenues mysteriously disappeared? 

Services has fallen hook, line and sinker for its own #fakenews.  Suddenly, every services provider has developed the industry’s leading competency for delivering automation, artificial intelligence and blockchain… overnight.  While, barely a year ago, exactly the same firms were the industry’s leading maestros at serving up “digital transformation”.  Amazing how they could source thousands of experts, and convince so many clients to make this all possible in barely a few months.  Until recently, most providers declared they were adopting a “wait and see” attitude to approaching some of these areas, but now are in there fully-fledged and firing on all their lovely blockchain cylinders.  Puhlease ladies and gents!  At least, in days gone by, most providers would be relatively honest about their core areas of focus and expertise.  Now it seems perfectly acceptable for many just to stare you in the eyes and just lie… what on earth has driven us to this place?

DXC continues to baffle everyone.  Can someone please explain what DXC is supposed to be doing?  I love the Accenture-esque TV ads, but I am still clueless as to what this firm is actually doing to be the next big thing in the industry.  While I was very happy with the DXC branded gifts for writing notes and charging my phones, I would rather just get a little postcard explaining what on earth this new-fangled services business is supposed to be doing that is so special…

Sourcing advisors have just fallen off a cliff.  Yeah – they just weren’t present.  Barely a couple of years ago they still trawled these halls with their promises of big deals (or would try and sell you some “research” to make a few bucks).  Now they have all but disappeared from the equation.  Maybe their absence is the most notable sign that the good ol’ days are firmly gone forever, and it’s high-time to wake up to something approaching a normal, stable industry?

The Bottom-line: There are some seriously cool things going in in the world of technology services; we just need to unearth them and change the narrative

There is a lot of goodness this industry is capable of achieving if we can just get out of our own way.

For starters, we're seeing the fastest revenue growth from several middle-tier providers who are big enough to go after some large complex deals, small enough to work on new concepts with clients and lack the legacy business to focus on going after greenfield disruptive opportunities that the big guys cannot consider.  We are seeing some of the major providers unearth new gold by taking ambitious clients to new places of business value, with a high-risk / high value mindset, using technology that is here today and working with them as a trusted long-term partner.  We’re seeing real advances in automation, machine learning and digital enablement that are here today – they are now a reality, not some future innovation that is still some years away.  We are also seeing a feverish desire from many clients to experiment with blockchain, despite the fact it’s still a long way from providing many meaningful business applications today. 

The present is now the future and this should be the most exciting time ever to be innovative, courageous and entrepreneurial.  So let’s stop trying to pretend to be something we’re not and focus on the real potential that is staring us in the face.  Everyone’s tired of the #fakenews… it’s time to change the channel!

Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)IT Outsourcing / IT Services

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There's no FTE hell with Chris Caldwell

February 19, 2018 | Phil Fersht


The good old customer BPO business has taken quite a battering in recent years, where the same old usual suspects have embarked on selling predominantly the same old voice services, with most choosing to compete with ever-cheaper global locations to prop up their fragile profit margins. While many of the services majors have chosen to steer clear (or quietly exit the market), the importance of creating an amazing customer experience has never been so critical to customer-facing businesses.  Something has gone sorely wrong here...

In an era where every firm aims to be "digital" (and has a Chief Digital Officer to boot), the focus on engaging customers with both digital and voice communications has taken center stage... yet, these legacy call center practices continue to hound the services industry as most of the call center firms continue to fight it out to the lowest common denominator: who can delivery average customer service as cheaply as possible?  But you can't just blame the service providers alone for this behaviour:  many of the FORTUNE 500 propagate this behaviour by playing everyone off to squeeze every last drop of cost (and subsequently value) out of their delivery capability... preferring to talk a big digital customer experience game than truly investing in one.  

One leader in the space who has taken it upon himself to declare war on these legacy practices is Concentrix President Chris Caldwell, who has masterminded the impressive growth of the firm over the last 12 years, which has included some major acquisitions, notably, the IBM contact center business, BPO firm Minacs and the Australian digital outfit, Tigerspike.  The company today boasts annual revenues greater than $2bn with over 100,000 employees globally.  Having observed this rapid rise, I thought it high time to invite Chris on here to share a bit more about his story and his views on why this industry needn't be an FTE hell any longer...

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HfS Research: Good morning Chris. It's great to finally get you here on HfS. I would love to hear about your journey on how you wound up running the Concentrix business.

Chris Caldwell, President, Concentrix Corporation: Of course, Phil, It's bit of an interesting story. I’m not sure if anyone starts out saying that they are going into a career to beat your business, or a call center business. But I worked for a parent company, SYNNEX where I was looking after M&A and the diversification of their business model from the core distribution business. One of the businesses that we bought, very small at the time, was a BPO business, about 30 people which was barely doing over $1m a year and had begun to lose money after some time. And my boss who was the CEO of the other company, said to me, 'you bought it, you fix it.' That was the start of the BPO business and that's when I took over Concentrix at the time. I then had to learn the call center business very quickly; figure out how to grow it and do something with it, which happened in approximately 2005.

Phil: Chris, you then went through this much, much larger acquisition of the IBM call center business in 2013. Can you talk a bit about how Concentrix got to that point, the relationship with SYNNEX, and how things have really progressed since you made that major acquisition?

Chris: Sure, It’s interesting. When we originally invested in Concentrix it was to provide additional services to SYNNEX vendors. SYNNEX is an IT distributor and I can still remember

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Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)CRM and MarketingDigital Transformation

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The digital worker survival guide: it's much more about attitude than skills

February 12, 2018 | Phil Fersht

Yes, people, as we inch towards the dreaded singularity, we will continue to be bored silly with arrogant diatribes describing how “humans can stay relevant”.

Do we really need to hear this daily splurge of pontifications from business leaders in Davos about reskilling the workforce, without any real practical advice on what that reskilling is?  I would argue this is more about culture and attitude, than training students to learn new programming languages and data analyst skills. The latter will come naturally as the needs of the workplace change, my view is that it’s the former which poses the real challenge: how can we enlighten people to change their working attitudes to make them much more valuable and irreplaceable to their employers?  Anyone can fix a line of code within hours, or slam in some new software, it’s what you actually do with the tech that really counts. 

It's what you do when your boss isn't looking, that makes you less predictable and more valuable 

It’s not just about performing predictable tasks, it’s also about helping your firm devise new ways of doing things – that is the magic that makes staff valued.  The truth is the singularity is

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Posted in: Design ThinkingDigital TransformationSourcing Change Management

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