Have you noticed how business process management (BPM) services has quietly risen in value in recent years as the need to redesign processes that can take full advantage of emerging technologies intensifies? As technology increasingly augments human-driven processes through digitization and automation, the need for business process management services at scale is increasing at a healthy clip. Just look at the double-digit(ish) growth enjoyed by Genpact, InfyBPM, EXL, WNS etc and you will quickly see that human-driven services are driving the next wave of the industry.
One man in the center of this trend is Ritesh Idnani, one of the founding brains behind InfosysBPM back in the day, who returned to the BPM industry to inspire Tech Mahindra’s BPM business in 2016. Since then, he’s created the highest growth division in the firm and worked tirelessly to bridge traditional BPM with automation technology by integrating front-to-back processes with contact center services and CX-related capabilities. To that end, he oversaw the recent acquisition of digital agency BORN, where he will seek to drive a full OneOffice offering experience for TechM clients. So let’s hear a bit more about where Ritesh is taking the firm…
Phil Fersht, CEO HFS Research: Hi Ritesh – welcome back! It’s been quite a few years since we heard from you since your days at InfyBPO… what are you up to these days? What’s getting you up in the morning?
Ritesh Idnani, President, Tech Mahindra: Good to be back, Phil! The last few years has been quite a journey for me personally both as an operator in private equity-backed portfolio companies and as an advisor to private companies and investments that private equity funds are looking at in technology and technology-enabled services. I’ve now been with Tech Mahindra (for the last 3 years), a $5 billion revenue company which is the only non-US company that is part of the Forbes Digital 100 list. I wear a few different hats at the firm ranging from driving the Business Process Services organization globally, a 60,000+ digital human workforce, our software products and platforms business as well as leading a number of strategic corporate initiatives.
I know we all like talking about technology, about the complicated strategy and technologies that will disrupt the BPS business, but my priorities are slightly different. Technology is moving crazy fast in so many different directions simultaneously. We’d be lucky if your prediction or mine about the future has a better probability of coming true than a toss of a coin. In that kind of environment, the biggest differentiator for any organization is speed, simplicity, quality and ease for everyone. Whatever technology we discover, and I promise we will be at the leading edge of discovering the applications of new technologies, we have to be agile to solve customer problems as quickly as possible. If we do that quicker than our competition, our customers do it better than their competition, they succeed, and so do we. That doesn’t mean we have to invent everything. We have to be fastest to market and fastest to creating value for our customers. If we do that consistently, we remain the partner of “relevance” to our clients. The interesting thing of the current technology shifts is that our clients don’t know what they don’t know and the service providers also don’t know what they don’t know because the pace of change is rapid. The opportunity to help our clients navigate through the shifts is what gets me excited everyday.
So my focus has been to build an organization that is entrepreneurial and cutting edge and solves problems for customers. It’s something that I think will be a big differentiator between success and failure in the 2020’s. Forget long term plans. Can you execute fast enough?
So we hear a little rumor that you were instrumental in acquiring the Digital agency BORN. This is quite the coup for Tech Mahindra… So how will this fit with your current businesses?
I did have a role to play along with our corporate development team to help acquire the BORN Group. I’ve known Dilip Keshu, CEO @ Born Group for a few years now and have been mighty impressed with what he was creating as an industry leading and differentiated organization. So when we got the opportunity to look at opportunities to collaborate more closely, we certainly jumped at the prospect of the combination.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with the BORN leadership team, and we’re incredibly excited to welcome the BORN Group to the TechM family. The Born Group is an iconic global agency with end to end capabilities across creative, content and commerce. In fact, just recently, they won the e-commerce agency of the year in Asia for their industry leading commerce capabilities.
We’ve been building out our Customer Experience capabilities over the past few years. Our strategy is to build an end-to-end CX offer that means we can help our clients design and deliver really innovative customer experiences, underpinned by cutting-edge technologies that both differentiate and strip out cost.
What we have realized is that in the traditional contact center business, bulk of the existing business is dealing with failure demand. Something goes wrong with customer’s business, more customers contact you, more FTEs to deal with that volume, and more revenues. I hate that business model. Because it’s at cross purposes with our customer’s objectives. Running downstream operations limits us in addressing this issue. The only way to help our customers is to get engaged upstream in CX design, and get closer to marketing. When processes are designed for right first time, our customers need less of our services and we are happy with that. BIO, Mad*Pow and now BORN help us with these capabilities across regions and verticals.
The other trend is how contact center and online are virtually coming together. Sales and service journeys often start in one channel and end up in the other. We are industry leaders in the front office today. We are making giant leaps with these acquisitions in the online world. What we now have is a portfolio that addresses the needs of CMOs, CDOs, CIOs and heads of customer experience to help achieve their objectives. In addition to that, it now allows us to offer a whole suite of offerings across the brand experience, behavioral experience and the book of records as an end to end provider.
And how do you see the services industry converging across business process and digital delivery? What sort of conversation will we be having in another couple of years?
Interesting question Phil! We’re definitely seeing convergence. Take the case of a 13 year old kid who is into online gaming. He knows what it takes to succeed there. He needs the lightest gaming controller or mouse. It’s so interesting to observe how he goes about his business. He does an online research. He goes to the store for a hands on experience. Then he checks online, store and contact center offers and pricing and tells me this is where to buy it from. It’s not a choice. Consumer behavior will drive it anyways.
Consumers (and our clients!) want seamless omnichannel experience across their journeys, and that means joining up the business processes and digital assets that deliver CX
Equally, businesses are waking up to that fact that Brand and Marketing investments are secondary relative to CX investments. If your customers aren’t happy, marketing investments won’t bring returns. So we’re also seeing convergence across Marketing and Customer Operations, with CMOs taking on an extended remit on Customer Experience.
I’m personally quite focused on seeing how we can emerge as the catalyst for One Office transformation. I know that’s a topic close to your heart but I do see the digital delivery changing the rules of the game between traditional silos across the front, mid and back office. We have just launched a one office experience framework (OFX) that brings all the IP we have as a firm as well as third party ecosystem that we partner with to bring seamless, frictionless experiences and reimagine the way we do traditional processes. We are taking our role of being the orchestrator or the “stitcher in chief” as I like to call it very seriously to ensure we can bridge the gap between business processes and digital delivery.
You’ve also been very vocal, Ritesh, about the way your BPM team has embraced automation to drive the customer experience – can you share a little about how what is faring? What are the successes and challenges of the services model as you do more of these deals?
To be honest, Phil, we’re only just keeping up with demand on Automation. We have now reinforced our 60,000 strong digital human workforce in the BPS business with over 6,000 Bots, with a transformational impact. Automation doesn’t just mean cutting time and cost; it leads to consistency, improved resolution, better employee experience… and ultimately better customer experience.
In almost every case, our automation journey with clients has quickly accelerated; we now have automation factories on every continent. But that in itself leads to challenges. We had to learn how to maintain and service our army of Bots to ensure they keep functioning as the world around them continually changes. This is a challenge we’ve overcome, but one that we’re keeping an eye on as the Bot workforce increases. We are also actively leveraging AI/ ML where appropriate in our existing operations to eliminate work and improve cycle time.
Perhaps, the biggest thing to address here is the associated change management within the workforce. Traditionally, the BPO industry has seen people use traditional proxies of power – the number of folks you manage or the revenue you control. Automation, AI and analytics are challenging the traditional bastions of power. We had to change the way we measured people by asking them about the transformation they drove and the impact it had. Initially, we had anticipated a challenge from our workforce: we thought our people might see Bots as a threat to their jobs. But we quickly found that our people love them when they see that . Bots eliminate routine and repetitive tasks, and make it easier to find the right information at the right time. This has enabled our staff to spend more time engaging with customers, and the result is more satisfied employees, and better staff retention.
On the other hand, it also means change management at the customer end. Most customers want the right things, but ultimately it comes down to someone who used to do a repetitive simple task, whose job will be done by bots tomorrow. I am encouraging my teams to help customers deal with the change too. A classic example is customers asking for an SDLC for a simple RPA project. I see it as an employment guarantee scheme. We have to get better at influencing that.
At the same time, I would hasten to add that a big focus area for the industry as a whole is going to be the work to be done on crafting the “messy middle” – the new roles that get created on account of the interplay between machines and humans.
And finally, what’s your advice for emerging talent in the services industry… what would you do differently today if you were 23 again?
I would advise young people joining the sector to carefully navigate their career path to ensure they have deep-dive exposure to Technology, Analytics and AI. The 4th industrial revolution is well underway, and to become a leader in our industry you need to be able to stitch together the right capabilities to deliver client outcomes – and practical hands-on experience is invaluable. At the same time, professions are going to evolve over the course of a career. The average youngster entering the industry is probably going to see atleast 2-3 technology-led disruptions so the ability to unlearn and re-learn skills has never been more important than today. Critical thinking and dealing with ambiguity is going to be important so the sooner you seek out experiences that allow you to get out of your comfort zone, the better.
And if I were 23 again? Seriously, I entered the workforce when I was 23 joining a global bank and in hindsight, I would probably have expanded my horizons, travelled across the globe, spent more time on the beach, picked a few new hobbies/ interests … but that’s another story!
Well thanks for reconvening with us… and a terrific lunch too, Ritesh!