Monthly Archives: Aug 2020

Time to get taught... by Delaporte

August 10, 2020 | Phil FershtSarah Little

Thierry Delaporte, the new CEO of Wipro Limited – accompanied by colleagues Milan Rao, Gurvinder Singh Sahni, and Laura Langdon – gives HFS the story behind the story as he sets sail with Wipro.

 

Strong operator... tough decisions... aggressive changes. That's a triptych summary from my recent post which drives into Wipro's bold appointment of industry titan Thierry Delaporte as CEO. The course now turns from firm to fluid with the story behind the story from Thierry himself – who guides us on his journey of navigating north stars, surprises, principles, and people. And breaking walls...

I once called for a ruthless CEO with teeth at the helm here, and while I stand by that reckoning, I do believe we've met the human in the middle of the sea change... 

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HFS Research: Thanks very much, Thierry, for getting some time with us today; I know you’ve only been in the job, what is it, like, two or three weeks?

Thierry Delaporte, CEO, Wipro: Three weeks.

Phil: Three weeks! So, it would be great to hear a bit more… I learned a lot more about you, when you took the job, and the one thing I learned a lot was that you’re a very international person, you’ve lived in a lot of different countries and experienced a lot of different cultures – it would be great to hear a bit more about yourself, and where you came from, background, and then your career. Did you always intend to do a job like this? And was this your expectation, in recent years?

Thierry: Okay, sure. So, you’re right, … although my accent keeps reminding everyone I’m French, I’m probably one of the least French people you can find in France. I spent most of my life abroad. If you look at my career, 25 years, I’ve spent 21 years of those 25 years abroad. I lived in the UK; I lived in Switzerland, in Zurich, in Spain. I lived in Singapore and in Sydney, Australia. I lived in the US for 15 years, and, every time, my wife and my kids were with me, so four kids, a wife – incredibly resilient, as you can imagine, following every new adventure, with a lot of energy and passion.

And, frankly, you know, I was known at Capgemini as being one who’s really tried, pretty much, everything. I’ve been a finance person… Actually, I started as a member of the Internal Audit team for two years, and then moved as a CFO of subsidiaries in different continents, and then [moved on] to cover sales. I was the Head of Sales, at some point in time, for about a third of the group of Capgemini, which I’ve never seen a finance person becoming a salesperson [smiles], and then managing operations, in different places, or different businesses across the organization. So, I’ve been in consulting, I’ve been in outsourcing, and I’ve been in the apps world of Capgemini. And then, from that experience in operations, spent time in running a business in BFSI, before coming back to Paris to be Chief Operating Officer of the group.  This year, I completed 25 years with Cap Gemini. It was an amazing ride, but it also got me thinking that it was time to pursue new adventures outside the organization.

 

“One of the lessons I’ve learned in life, Phil, is that you must let life surprise you. The only thing you have to do is don’t miss opportunities.”

 

I don’t think you can ever say that you were born to be a CEO. One of the lessons I’ve learned in life, Phil, is that you must let life surprise you. The only thing you have to do is don’t miss opportunities. So opportunities will come, and many will surprise you, but just not saying no is a good enough decision to make, in order to not miss these opportunities that come. And so I try to apply this in my life.

Phil: Excellent. So, as you looked at opportunities, and you obviously saw what was happening with the economy and the pandemic, etc., and then the Wipro thing came up, did you immediately think, “Yes, that’s the one for me”? Or was it kind of a long, drawn-out thought process, on [moving] from Cap to Wipro. You were at one company for a very long time, and the cultural shift…. Was it an immediate decision, that you thought, “This is what I want?” Or did it take some time to cultivate with you?

 

 “So, I’m going to tell you in full transparency what happened.”

 

Thierry: So, I’m going to tell you in full transparency what happened, Phil. I made up my mind mid-Feb and informed the CEO and the Chairman of Capgemini.

 

“I had the plan to sail transatlantic, from Newport to Brittany, in May. So that was my plan. I had the boat, I was going to do it with a friend of mine…”


My immediate plan was to take a six-month sabbatical – I haven’t had a single day sabbatical since my career started, so this was going to be my “me time.” And I’m a sailor ­– I had the plan to sail transatlantic, from Newport to Brittany, in May. So that was my plan. I had the boat, I was going to do it with a friend of mine, and that was the plan that I had sold to my wife.

 

“But then, literally, days after I went on sabbatical, my phone started to ring.”

 

But then, literally, days after I went on sabbatical, my phone started to ring. And it’s very interesting, and more of a surprise, because there was no announcement of me leaving. It was just being on sabbatical, that, actually, the industry knew it rapidly. I was starting to get calls on opportunities. And I knew that if I was going, it was for something I wanted to do. And I was not in a hurry. I really wanted to make the right choice.

 

“And I knew that if I was going, it was for something I wanted to do. And I was not in a hurry. I really wanted to make the right choice.”

 

I’ve known Wipro for twenty plus years. As I said to the team several times, I’ve been competing with Wipro many times. I won often – I lost often, as well. And so, I’ve really learned to respect tremendously this brand, the people, and the success of this company. I still remember the time when Wipro was still a rather small company, but growing every year at an exceptional pace.

 

“I don’t know any other company that has such a sense of purpose, where it’s not only about delivering the numbers… The fact that this is a company where 67% of its profit is going to philanthropic activities is very much talking to my view of what capitalism should be.”

 

Then I had conversations with Founder Chairman Mr. Azim Premji and Chairman Rishad Premji. This is when I felt this is a unique company, because I don’t know any other company that has such a sense of purpose, where it’s not only about delivering the numbers – it has a much broader ambition. The fact that this is a company where 67% of its profit is going to philanthropic activities is very much talking to my view of what capitalism should be.

 

“And then I felt, ‘Okay, this is an incredible company.’”

 

So I went and met both of them… actually, I started with three hours with Rishad, and it was really an outstanding, natural, easy connection between us, and then I met Azim Premji, and then several members of the board. And then I felt, “Okay, this is an incredible company.”

 

“And so, with humility, I would say I’m convinced – I’m seriously convinced – that there is a good match, and that we have a wonderful page to write. And so then, the decision was made – everything based on principles.”

 

I feel that the challenges that this company has, I can really have an impact. And so, with humility, I would say I’m convinced – I’m seriously convinced – that there is a good match, and that we have a wonderful page to write. And so then, the decision was made ­– everything based on principles. It’s people, of principles agreeing on things, and I think we were very aligned, culturally very aligned, on many, many different fronts.

Then I started to engage with the team before July 6, which is the official day one. I met all the members of the Executive Committee, I spent hours with Rishad, and engaging with Saurabh (President and CHRO) connecting on many different fronts, so that, you know, when I actually started, on day one, I was immediately hitting the ground. The Executive Committee has 17 people. By the time I officially joined, I knew all of them and what they did. So, it was a really great start.

Phil: And obviously at an interesting time, Thierry. I’m getting tired, talking about the shock and the change. I think what’s happened has happened – now we’re in a new world, and we just have to play by different rules and expectations. Obviously, digital has gone from being aspirational to something that is suddenly forced upon us. And we have a very different economy; one that’s not going to change any time soon. So, does this level the playing field? And is this an opportunity for Wipro to get ahead of the market? Do you feel that everybody has kind of a clean slate? Or do you think this is just going to be a very challenging time, and we just need to hunker down and see through the next year or two?

Thierry: So, there’s no doubt that we are at a moment of our history where you cannot imagine that what we’ve been through, over the last five months, will have no implications. I believe that what we’ve learned over the last five months is that, in a context where you are suddenly not able to connect physically with people every day, that there is a need to connect always more; connect more with your clients, connect more with your employees. In the context where, basically, it’s no longer about going and visiting, but connecting.

 

“The dimension of trust is more important than ever, and I am convinced that one of the implications of this crisis, going forward, is that the length of relationship will matter more than ever.”

 

The dimension of trust is more important than ever, and I am convinced that one of the implications of this crisis, going forward, is that the length of relationship will matter more than ever. So I think, more than jumping from one partner to another for 3% of savings, I think our clients will value more than ever the value of commitment and long-term partnership. I think it’s true for our employees, as well.

I think that we’ve also seen that companies that have not moved fast enough in their digital agenda have been struggling, and I think they didn’t expect to have such a brutal event confronting their own strategy. I think the reality is that there will be an acceleration of the rotation of the offerings, of the rotation to digitally transform organisations across industries.

So, yes, it’s going to change things for us, because what it means is that your legacy offerings, I would say, the more traditional offerings of the past, are going to shrink even faster. You need to accelerate your rotation to the new, because this is where the investments are going to happen. So, I absolutely agree that, yes, I feel that in arriving at this point in time, I have an incredible opportunity to reset the stage, somehow, for our business, and make some bets.

 

“I am a great believer in strong partnership. I have built my success, over the last years, in focusing on a few strong partnerships, and it has paid off multiple times. And so, I’m convinced that it will be even more important in this new world.”

 

We are going to make some bets, I cannot tell you which ones, you know, this is what I’m working on right now, to define where I want to make the bets. I believe we will see efforts, or focus, on simplifications.

We will see focus on rationalisation, on consolidation, to build bigger partnerships. I am a great believer in strong partnership. I have built my success, over the last years, in focusing on a few strong partnerships, and it has paid off multiple times. And so, I’m convinced that it will be even more important in this new world.

Last, you know, looking at the market, but also looking at our employees… when I look at our employees, this is our asset. Right? This is what makes us different. It’s very weird, to start with, because I have no clue how long I will have to wait before I can actually physically meet people from Wipro. You know? They might wonder if I’m a real person, or if I’m just a hologram [laughs].

 

“I think connecting with our people will be my obsession for the next weeks. One of the beauties with Teams or these tools, is that you can actually break a lot of the hierarchy. Everyone on the screen is equal sized, and there’s no one ahead with people standing in the back. It also breaks a lot of the walls; walls between one office and another, or a business unit and another, or a language and another. And so, it’s wonderful, because you really can now drive a lot more alignment. So, I will use this new world to the benefit.”

 

I think connecting with our people will be my obsession for the next weeks. One of the beauties, with Teams or these tools, is that you can actually break a lot of the hierarchy. Everyone on the screen is equal sized, and there’s no one ahead with people standing in the back. It also breaks a lot of the walls; walls between one office and another, or a business unit and another, or a language and another. And so it’s wonderful, because you really can now drive a lot more alignment. So, I will use this new world to the benefit. It will never be the same, I think.

You will never be able to ask your employees to be at the office five days a week, if this is not what they want. But I think, equally, it will not be a time where, everyone is working from home every day, because you will miss a lot, in terms of connection, in terms of engagement. But I think it’s going to be a world that requires fluidity and agility; which is fine, I’m very comfortable in this environment.

Phil: Yes. And, to me, a new CEO within three weeks? This wouldn’t have happened, if we were back in the analogue days, right? It would’ve taken probably six months or something. [Laughs].

Thierry: [Laughs].

Phil: So...

Thierry: Phil, today… Today, I have spoken to six clients.

Phil: Wow =)

Thierry: And since day one, I have spoken to 35 clients already. 35 clients. When I say spoken, it’s basically I have met 35 clients. And, you know, I’m just increasing the speed. I’m engaging more than ever. If I had to jump on a plane for the meetings I have had today, it would have taken me more than a week because of the different locations.

Phil: And if I could tell you how our business as a research company has changed, it’s beyond belief, in terms of the speed we can get things done, the extra time our analysts have, because they’re not traveling all the time to deliver work. And the closeness we’re getting with our clients. This was terrifying for a couple of months, Thierry, and then we realized we have to move everything we have onto a digital setting. But once you get ahead of this, and embrace it, and realize this is how we do business, the benefits are just astounding and surprising. And I’ve been reading and hearing about entire transitions now being done on Teams. I mean, you can do a hell of a lot now that you didn’t realize you were capable of, without physically being with people.

Thierry: I absolutely agree.

Phil: …this is a huge, huge gamechanger in how we operate.

Thierry: Agreed, Phil.

Phil: Right. So I’ve got one last question, then. If you could have one wish for the industry, in the next couple of years, what would that be? 

 

“…the beauty of our industry is that our assets are our people – our enabler is technology.”

 

Thierry: One wish for the industry. Continue to maintain the balance between technology and people. So I think, you know, the beauty of our industry is that our assets are our people – our enabler is technology. And my wish is that we continue along this line, and we don’t take it for granted, or we don’t go in a world where technology replaces talent and people, because I think we would take the wrong direction.

Phil: Very good. That was excellent, Thierry, I really appreciated the time… and I know our audience will when they read this.

Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)IT Outsourcing / IT ServicesDigital OneOffice

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You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology

August 08, 2020 | Phil Fersht

I don't think any singular statement better described the world of technology in the last three decades:

"You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology. You can’t start with the technology then try to figure out where to sell it." 

-- Steve Jobs 1997

Posted in: Customer Experience ManagementCustomer-Engagement

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The Umph behind Humph: after 15 months in the Cognizant hotseat, Brian Humphries dives deep on the pace of change, the lessons learned... and much more

July 23, 2020 | Phil FershtSarah Little

Brian Humphries, CEO of Cognizant since April 1, 2019. In an interview with HFS CEO Phil Fersht, Brian moves beyond the business talk and straight to the deep end – the personal, the humble, the lessons learned – and the stakes set firmly in the ground.

 

I wrote a detailed business piece on Cognizant’s 2019 leadership change after losing its edge in the market: The Life of Brian: Prettying up a baby that’s got a bit ugly. One of our readers, Mike N, commented, “Don’t weep for Brian. I for one believe his hiring reflects the vision of a Cognizant and that he has the perfect timing and opportunity to shake up the old guard and culture. New day dawning!”

True indeed, but to now quote myself from the same piece, “When we’re asked what we think of the new CEO, our honest answer is we don’t know. He has, for all intents and purposes, kept a low profile externally, instead focusing his energies on extensive liposuction internally.”

I’ve managed to breach Brian’s low-pro firewall, finding a leader willing to engage beyond the business talk and go straight to the deep end – the personal, the humble, the lessons learned – as well as the stakes set firmly in the ground…  So, without further ado, let’s meet Brian:

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HFS Research: Good afternoon, Brian. It’s great to get some time with you again today. I want to keep this conversation a bit more informal, and a little bit about you; not just about Cognizant; Did you ever expect to be doing this job today, when you set out, many years ago?

Brian Humphries, CEO, Cognizant: No, I did not. I’m from a relatively humble background, I would say, growing up in Ireland. I can’t say I started off wanting to be a CEO, Phil, because I probably didn’t have exposure to large MNCs until my early 20s. But I started working at a company called Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC, which was acquired by Compaq and later acquired by HP.

So, for the first 18 years, I was there, and, subsequently, moved to Dell, became the President of the Enterprise Solutions Group there. I was most recently in Vodafone as the CEO of Vodafone Business, prior to joining Cognizant. So, I can’t say I’ve had a fully orchestrated career.

 

“I certainly made commitments along the way, in terms of moving internationally and throwing myself into the deep end of the swimming pool, more than once…”

 

I think, as the years went by, I had figured out paths of success. I certainly worked and invested in my career. I certainly made commitments along the way, in terms of moving internationally

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Posted in: IT Outsourcing / IT ServicesOutsourcing Heros

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There's no settling with Mike Ettling... he wants to win it all!

July 14, 2020 | Phil FershtSarah Little

 
Mike Ettling is looking to create a new trifecta by following Springbok’s 2019 World Cup win and Liverpool’s 2020 championship with a Unit4 ERP mid-market sweep.

Mike Ettling has a storied career in HR software and services and is looking to create a new trifecta following Springbok’s 2019 World Cup win and Liverpool’s 2020 championship with a Unit4 ERP mid-market sweep. Mike founded two of his own businesses, nurtured eight start-ups in the HCM technology sector, and led SAP SuccessFactors as President for four years. He also served as CEO of NorthgateArinso (when he spoke with us 10 years ago), one of the original HR outsourcing firms, which is now part of Alight. Speaking at the SuccessFactors 2017 Influencer Summit, Mike stated “no one will be logging into HR Systems in five years’ time.” As we rocket through an unprecedented 2020 towards the noted five-year mark, it’s time to check in on faceless ERP and discover the draw to Unit4’s “sizzle” and its people-centric ERP paradigm.

Phil Fersht, CEO and Chief Analyst, HFS Research: Good afternoon, Mike. It’s great to get connected again, after so many years. You’ve been a big legend on the whole HR software and services market, but now you’ve gone, full ERP on us. Can you give the lowdown to our audience about how you got started? Had you always planned on being a tech CEO?

Mike Ettling, Chief Executive Officer of Unit4: Interestingly, I stumbled into tech in an intriguing way. I did COBOL and Fortran at school – I still have my Daniel McCracken textbooks on Fortran and COBOL – but then I went down the path of business studies, became a chartered accountant, CPA, in two countries. When I started my life at what was then Peat Marwick, or KPMG, I very quickly got into the tech side. We were setting up this African Futures Exchange, and we designed the clearing system for futures trading, and then I started my own business at university, and it was all predicated on building a cool piece of tech to do something which people were doing manually. In those days, we were building stuff on PC networks, using Realia

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Posted in: Cloud ComputingHR StrategySaaS

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IBM just changed the automation game. Hello Extreme Automation

July 10, 2020 | Phil Fersht

The automation game just changed – and most of you barely noticed

It’s sometimes those low-profile moves that make the bigger impacts on markets, versus the big glamor ones.  Who would have thought Jurgen Klopp would end Liverpool’s 30-year wait for the English Premier League title when he quietly disappeared himself from Borussia Dortmund?  And who would have thought a smallish Brazilian RPA firm, WDG, could propel IBM into the first one-stop services and software automation shop for organizations.  This is in stark contrast to the Accenture Synops model, which is focused almost entirely on partnering with 3rd party software. Oh, this is going to be fun... the big services giants are back to duke out automation dominance in the middle of a pandemic.

10 reasons why IBM’s move will have such an extreme impact on the existing automation market

1. WDG adds proven attended desktop automation capability and has already displaced UiPath in a major organization. The technology provides a low code, cloud-based authoring experience for the business user to create bot scripts with a desktop recorder, without the need of IT. These scripts are executed by digital robots to complete tasks. Digital robots can run on-demand by the end-user or by an automated scheduler.  Arguably, WDG is on a par with Softomotive – acquired by Microsoft for considerably more money. What is clear is these RPA firms are offering pretty much the same functionality for the basic scripting and recording.

2. WDG is focused heavily on quality customer service ops and is great at integrating with chatbots, digital associates and other AI tools. Pre-Covid, most RPA was focused on low-risk back-office processes, especially in finance. Now customers are desperate to automate the customer-facing and revenue-generating processes and need tools proven to work in the environments.  Noone has a huge advantage in the CX automation space so this provides a greenfield opportunity for IBM. 

3. The WDG automation software sits under IBM Cognitive and Cloud giving it a broader playing field to compete with the likes of MSFT, Pega, Appian, and even ServiceNow. Arguably, this is the real play that excites IBM’s top brass. This is where the big dollars are and where IBM has powerful potential as the world’s largest IT services provider. Orchestratng processes and data in hybrid cloud environments is where IBM should be leading the market, and now it has plugged some holes to do it even better.

4. This is no desperate measure. IBM software made this investment after seven patient years observing the market. It was not a huge secret that IBM flirted with the concept of acquiring Blue Prism (and others) in recent times, and its software team also partnered with Automation Anywhere in 2017.  Of one thing you can be sure, IBM Software does not suffer fools these days and does exhaustive due diligence. They also have in-depth working knowledge of the major RPA products and know exactly what functionality they need to have a one-stop-shop capability.

5. IBM doesn’t want to acquire a huge installed base of messy RPA customers - it wants to create its own customer base bought into its own Extreme Automation vision. The last thing future-thinking services firms like IBM need is a plethora of unprofitable clients which have underpaid for too many bot licences and have little money left to spend on professional services to deploy them effectively. It makes more sense for IBM to go after clients willing to start afresh… and with over 90% of RPA clients struggling to get even 5 bots functional, the market is ripe to pick off many of the failed RPA implementations and move them to the emerging IBM automation platform.

6. Already demonstrated by MSFT and SAP, you don’t need to make insane investments to add RPA functionality. In short, why spend billions on the “Big 3” when you can get perfectly adequate functionality (and standout features) from the likes of Another Monday, AntWorks, Kryon, Jiffy.AI, WorkFusion etc?  The big guys did the diligence. Softomotive, Jidoka, WDG, Contextor were all small – but more than good enough to achieve automation goals.

7. IBM no longer has to hang onto the coattails of AA, Blue Prism or UiPath – the power is shifting. While most customers of the “Big 3” will not be ditching their investments anytime soon, IBM can enjoy the freedom to pitch its own automation platform twinned with its own service delivery and choose how to price in the way the clients wants to invest (such as as-a-service).  Being subjected to erratic pricing and some of the wacky marketing being purveyed by some RPA firms, where reality takes second place to hype, makes it hard for services partners to build a cohesive automation business.  This is why so many have backed away from the market.

8. IBM can leverage RPA as a loss-leader to win larger automation and AI business further down the line. IBM can afford to be brutal on price if it knows it will lead to selling more of its other wares. This will make life very difficult to the standalone RPA vendors desperate for whatever revenue they can scrape in the current abnormal market place. It may also be a smart play to win over disaffected customers who need a whole new direction to fast-track their automation journeys.

9. IBM services will still benefit from its partnerships with AA, Blue Prism and UiPath. They will have no choice but t play ball.  This is all about who controls the client in this environment.  Forget lovely partnerships in this post-covid economy - this is a cut throat battle to win the hearts and minds of the customers/

10. WDG' partnerships with Deloitte, Capgemini and Grant Thornton will be challenged, but won’t have a lot of choice but to play ball. WDG’s partners will be desperate not to lose their services business to IBM so will likely have to be very nice to IBM to keep their business with the WDG clients and make efforts to be “collaborative”.

Extreme times call for extreme measures

In a recent conversation with automation leadership at IBM, HFS shared our view that technology is really only 10% of digital transformation. The true heavy lifting is driving change with people, process and data to truly advance to integrated automation. We challenged IBM to showcase their approach to achieving automation at scale without overly relying on specific tools or services. The result is the following “extreme automation” model – showcasing our current anaemic automation reality on the left and the potential “extreme” future opportunity:

 

Source: IBM Automation / IBM Corporation 2020

The Bottom-line: The automation game is being elevated to low-code cloud-based automation platforms with strong capability to integrate across core customer and employee-facing processes. 

The rapidly evolving digital workplace is creating the "have-to-have" mindset and clients need service partners to drive rapid speed-to-outcome solutions, leveraging whatever technology tools can create an immediate impact that are easy to deploy. Complex partnerships, landgrabs and hyped marketing have faded into the memory of the pre-covid world. Clients need real hands-on help to rethink a much more concise - and often extreme - automation strategy, and then need to act fast to execute these plans.  Having a one-stop-shop where software firms and service providers are not fighting for attention, where one partner can help clients look at the bigger picture and devise a realistic, measurable plan is the new normal for automation.

IBM's super patient approach to filling these RPA holes in its portfolio could have just been perfectly timed to take this market in an entirely new direction.

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent AutomationArtificial Intelligence

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Nagendra's agenda: His bullish outlook for the IT and business services industry

July 03, 2020 | Phil FershtSaurabh Gupta

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in: Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)Cloud ComputingOutsourcing Heros

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Surviving to win in this “Have-to-Have” Economy (Part I)

June 20, 2020 | Phil Fersht

Gone are the bells and the whistles.  Gone is the sugar-frosting… even that lovely cherry on the top.  Those are the things that only appeal when your organization’s core is not under threat… because addressing that critical core of the business is boring, it’s stressful, and it was not great for your career to expose what was truly dysfunctional in your organization.  Now all the frilly paraphernalia has been cast aside, and we have no choice but to focus 100% on that core.

Why we didn’t address the core and focused on nice-to-haves

Having to deal with critical issues like security, making processes flow and work better, helping train staff to stop doing things the same way they have for 30 years, addressing why your service providers never deliver any of the stuff they claim they do on their PPT slides, asking difficult questions why your firm spent millions on software they simply failed to deploy… those were the things we knew deep down we needed to do, but most the folks around us just didn’t care, and would have thrown us under the bus if we'd agitated for real change.  So we did the safe thing… pushed initiatives that promised some incredible future value as long as we threw around some cash and made everyone look good.  Plus, the steak dinners with decanted wine always helped… After a while, we just convinced ourselves what we were doing was critical even if our firm didn’t really have to have any of it.

Addressing the core of your business is the only thing to save yourself... and your business

We have absolutely zero choice but to address these two actions to survive and win our in today's environment:

  • Finding our “bottom” and devising a financial plan to survive the cross-winds of recession. As much as we can play with sexy terms like resilience, we cannot avoid the one reality of surviving what were are currently experiencing – having a decisive financial plan to survive.  Without it, we’ll continually panic and flounder and never be able to attack our markets with a game-plan to come out of this on top.
  • Finding that chink of light to guide our organization to the market leadership position we crave. Once we've achieved a financial plan to survive, we are now in a position to get focused on the services and products customers simply have to buy, because they have no choice, as their cores are under threat without them. That means focusing all our investments on making damned sure that happens.

The Bottom-line:  Identifying your customers’ have-to-haves is the only path to follow in this market, but only once they know what they are!

It’s one thing to identify what our current customers (or prospective customers) have to buy from us, but it’s another to make sure we are not wasting our valuable time and resources on those who haven’t yet worked out their plan to survive this market.  There are still many organizations out there who are still scrambling to fathom what is going on, holding out some hope for a magical imminent V-shaped bounce-back.  As lovely as that prospect is, holding out for that miracle will likely end in tears.  What’s more, you are also a terrible customer, as your firm is too nervous to invest in anything serious. 

So find your bottom, find your chink of light, then identify your customers who simply know they have to buy what you are selling.  It really is that simple.

In Part II we’ll get into what customers have-to-have.  You know you have to read it =)

Posted in: Cloud ComputingDigital OneOfficeIntelligent Automation

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The world changed.. then it really changed

June 13, 2020 | Phil Fersht

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Welcome Sarah T... she likes R&B and has a PhD... in Virology

June 06, 2020 | Phil Fersht

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Outsourcing HerosMarketing

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IT and business services is taking a massive 10.2% hit this year

June 02, 2020 | Jamie SnowdonPhil Fersht

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

Forecast Assumptions

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

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

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

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

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

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Who'd have thought... Wipro went for Delaporte

May 29, 2020 | Phil Fersht

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Low-code or schmo-code? Don't monkey around with enhanced automation

May 17, 2020 | Cyrus SemmencePhil Fersht

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

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

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

What is low-code, Cyrus?

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

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

Why low-code matters and why we need to care

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

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

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

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

 Why will low-code platforms disrupt traditional software markets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

Posted in: Intelligent AutomationArtificial Intelligence

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If Microsoft is buying Softomotive it’s not only beneficial to each party, but also for the RPA market

May 04, 2020 | Miriam DeasyElena ChristopherPhil Fersht

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent AutomationArtificial Intelligence

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Pravin Rao will show us how... as he takes on the NASSCOM Chairmanship

May 02, 2020 | Phil FershtSarah Little

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes to you and your colleagues and family.

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

Posted in: IT Outsourcing / IT ServicesOutsourcing HerosPolicy and Regulations

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SBA: Please stop spanking bots

April 30, 2020 | Elena ChristopherMiriam DeasyPhil Fersht

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

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

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

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

Insert monkey wrench.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent AutomationPolicy and Regulations

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Welcome Ram... he'll get you out of a jam

April 26, 2020 | Phil Fersht

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in: Internet of ThingsSupply Chain ManagementArtificial Intelligence

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Don’t you wish you’d done more? The digital workforce that wasn’t finally has its burning platform chance to shine

April 18, 2020 | Phil FershtElena Christopher

Well, we can’t deny it was noisy, loaded with more hype than a Vegas heavyweight boxing match, and backed by more investment dollars than the GDP of a small country. Yes, folks, that was quite the automation ride we all recently experienced. And what a dogs' breakfast that all turned out to be...

Sadly, nearly nine out of ten enterprise adopters simply didn’t get past piecemeal projects, pilots, and lots of very drawn-out evaluations. In fact, most simply didn’t have a burning platform to do very much at all with it.  The lethargy to do anything more than hype up RPA at conferences with bullshit such as "a bot for every desktop" drove us to proclaim (quite correctly) that the RPA value proposition was dead.

However, if there’s ever been a time we needed a digital workforce to augment humans, it’s now as 54% of major enterprises we surveyed this month seek to increase their process automation investments.  Yes, people, there is a realization of the importance of process automation technologies to support these rapidly evolving digital workplaces, which is only superseded by the need to invest in cybersecurity:

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 As we all adjust to the new abnormal, this is finally the time for the digital workforce to shine

The COVID-19 global pandemic is challenging our fundamental ability to keep businesses across all industries up and running while ensuring employee safety, preserving employees’ livelihoods, and meeting customer needs. Massive portions of the global workforce are being told to work from home, creating the most widespread operational crisis in modern business history. These rapidly emerging, globally distributed, remote, virtual workforces are creating a huge need for effective automation and a digital workforce. Yes, folks, the burning platform has arrived, and it’s literally ablaze.

As the following data from a few months ago reminds us, we’ve seen far less scale of Triple-A Trifecta (automation, AI, and smart analytics) technologies than we’d like (and need). Despite having spent the better part of a decade investing in digital transformation and loads of slick emerging technologies, we missed the boat on addressing process debt and replacing moldy legacy systems. It is what it is at this point, as we have no time to lament what we should have done. Now it’s all hands on deck to leverage what we do have to help businesses function during the pandemic. The need of the moment is operational impact; thus, the implored imperative is to get creative and figure out how to quickly re-use and, more broadly, deploy your proven digital workforce assets.

Click to Enlarge

Learning to share during the pandemic—toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and automation assets

We’ve all seen unsavory images and headlines showcasing human nature at its self-centered worst—hoarding toilet paper, buying up 10 years’ worth of hand sanitizer (just in case!), and creating a dearth of surgical masks when healthcare professionals urgently need them. We need to remember how to share and be equitable despite the uncertainty. As we evaluate how enterprises built their automation programs over the past few years, we see loads of siloed activity—functional groups fending for themselves. On the one hand, there has been a notable surge of business operations leadership playing an active role in technology-led change. However, many of these siloed initiatives are those that have stalled or plateaued, stuck at low levels of task automation with little to no process change. The pandemic has presented an urgent need to break down enterprise silos and share proven digital workforce assets.

Operations leaders currently don’t have time to develop new digital workforce solutions. Anything that’s in the planning, pilot, or implementation stage is on indefinite hold while operational triage takes place. Enterprises need to take swift inventory of what they have amassed in terms of Triple-A Trifecta assets, determine cross-functional potential, and deploy them. This task-focused rollout is not fulfilling the grand vision of orderly enterprise digital transformation; it is being practical and opportunistic when we need it the most.  And practical and opportunistic is what is clearly on the minds of many enterprise leaders as they realize they should have paid a lot more attention to changing and automating processes to support real business needs.  But better late than never...

Tactical, practical task automation inspiration from the trenches

For those enterprises who have invested in Triple-A Trifecta technologies and have proven assets to work with and disseminate, here are what some of your compatriots are doing as part of their now and near-term strategies:

  • Cross-functional assets are king. Operations leadership from one global financial institution described deploying cross-functional AI platforms to new functions or similar functions in new departments for tasks such as document digitization, email management, and automated exception resolution. We are playing a leverage game at the moment—take the proven digital workforce assets you have and find ways to deploy them to a wider user base, generating leverage through repurposing.
  • Bots built with reusable code and accelerators. Reusable components are helping enterprises in a diverse array of sectors, including airlines, healthcare, financial services, and retail, deal with massive spikes in volumes of calls, emails, and forms. The replicated skills cover functionality such as reading, categorizing, routing, prioritizing, responding, and consolidating, and enterprises (or helpful service partners) can spin them up relatively quickly to address massive peaks and atypical working conditions. Here is a link to a public domain example from the NHS. There are also loads of downloadable assets available on various marketplaces to complement existing implementations, such as UiPath’s health-screening bot.
  • Donated resources. We’ve seen some examples of service providers and automation technology firms offering gratis access to their resources and technology to help those in need. We could use more of this! Accenture supported the NHS example above; Appian is offering complimentary access to its COVID-19 Response Management application for customers and any enterprise over 1,000 people, and Blue Prism just announced it would donate resources and digital workers to automate processes related to COVID-19.
  • Digital assets can remain on site. We’ve heard a few instances where remote workers are unable to access legacy systems off-site and are leveraging onsite bots to remotely manage access systems, enabling work to continue.
  • Cloud-based business process platforms with intelligent workflows. Many service providers have sizable operations centers in offshore, nearshore, and onshore locations. Aside from a lack of laptops, many service providers have been successful in allowing client-facing resources to work from home due to secure access to cloud-based business process platforms enabled by Triple-A Trifecta-enabled technologies. Resources are supporting functions such as finance and accounting, procurement and sourcing, and customer experience.
  • Leverage analytics and process mining to understand what’s working. Meanwhile, while you are more broadly disseminating your digital workforce, you can leverage analytics to help you quickly understand what’s working and what’s not so you can make informed choices about where to spend your time and effort. Tools such as workforce analytics, process mining, and predictive analytics are proving particularly helpful here for many enterprises.

The Bottom Line: This wasn't the digital workforce revolution we'd hoped for, but let’s harness what we can now and ensure we make re-invention happen post-pandemic

The global pandemic is making us realize just how reliant we still are on humans and antiquated processes and technology. Despite having spent the better part of a decade investing in "digital transformation" and loads of slick emerging technologies, we missed the boat on addressing process debt and replacing moldy legacy systems. Thus, here we are, knee-deep in the most widespread operational crisis in modern business history, and we’re being laid low by our unwillingness to change how we execute work.  Which has now come back to slap us in the fact with one very slippery wet kipper... and over half of you intend to do more with automation than any other tech investment bar cybersecurity. 

We're definitely not building the digital workforce revolution we thought we were, but now we have no choice but to digitize global digital workplaces and technologies such as process mining and RPA are crucial to support these transformations. But we need to leverage what we do have, so get to work and repurpose task automation and algorithms and other gems you may have cultivated. Remember to share and get creative across your enterprise and externally where needed. And, above all, when we start to have a line of sight to the other side of the pandemic, we must be resolute in changing. For real this time.

Posted in: Robotic Process AutomationIntelligent AutomationProcess Mining

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Digital Associates finally have their flaming platform

April 12, 2020 | Melissa O'BrienEmily CoatesPhil Fersht

Sometimes platforms smolder, sometimes they burn, and sometimes they even rage with flames... and one example that's genuinely flaming in this current paradigm shift is the world of chatbots and their more sophisticated cousins, Digital Associates.  With this urgent need to augment customer-facing services with the locking down of call centers and corporate offices across the world (or even just keep them functioning at all), to keep IT help desks operating, or even internal needs such as basic finance,  procurement HR and payroll services, the opportunity to have digital "workers" with whom to engage is in high, high demand.

Our analysts Melissa O'Brien and Emily Coates have released introduced our first Digital Associates top ten products report, which ranks and analyzes 13 of the leading tools on the market for creating these conversational tools we call digital associates.  

Melissa, which products have the capabilities to develop really effective digital associates, and quickly? 

Our recent report analyzed voice of the customer feedback on the most important elements of enterprise products and platforms for developing digital associates, from functionality to the ability to embed intelligence. The 13 software products we have included in this study highlight the vendors that play in the three most important ecosystems for digital associates: developer tools and platforms, enterprise products, and niche products:

I am assuming, in today’s environment, ease of deployment trumps intelligence?

At this moment, the most important element for digital associates is the ease of use and relative ability to get up and running quickly. Google’s Dialogflow scored at the top overall and also is #1 for ease of use and functionality.  Our VOC survey respondents indicated that the ease of implementation was a major strength for Dialogflow and its “out of the box” capabilities that are able to be quickly plugged into communication channels like Slack and Twitter.  Runners-up for ease of use were Conversable and IBM Watson, where pre-trained modules and solid UI make it easier for users to stand up the DA’s in shorter amounts of time.

The pandemic will drive adoption of digital associates in the short term, and enable a greater acceptance of them as communication tools as part of business strategy in the future

Since the outbreak, there have been a plethora of chatbots that stood up in varied use cases.   Perhaps the most felicitous ones we’ve seen have been the Coronavirus ‘self-checker’ bots created, which are actively in use in chat functions by major health organizations.  We’ve also heard of digital associates being deployed by HR departments to run through work from home ‘checklists’ with employees.  And as the rush to work from home begins to stabilize, we’ve also been hearing a lot more about customer-facing bots being deployed for contact deflection in customer service functions.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll continue to see companies of all shapes and sizes rustle up some digital bandaids to throw on a very big wound.  At some point when the dust settles and a new normal emerges, companies will be re-assessing and designing everything from their customer engagement models to BCPs to internal processes.  And that’s when it will become clear that a digital-first approach is likely the easiest, most sustainable and least “disrupt-able” approach for many processes and communications.

And, it’s also the time that the ease of use for digital associates will become hygiene and digital associates tools will need to be agile and intelligent. This is where vendors’ investments in creating digital associates tools that can adapt quickly, learn and apply more advanced techniques like sentiment detection.  A standout in the innovation category is IPsoft, which ranked at the top across the board all innovation categories of embedding intelligence, scalability, and flexibility.  Dialogflow is well poised to rise to the challenge as well, with powerful abilities for modeling large and complex flows using intents and contexts.

The Bottom Line:  A ‘digital first’ approach could become the post-pandemic new normal.  The tools that are being quickly developed now need the potential to become more intelligent.

As companies start to move out of survival mode, we will start to see a much more strategic use of emerging technology.  People need to start thinking in new ways – not just about today’s problems at hand – but also about responding to future disruptive events in a way that uses important technological tools like digital associates in effective ways.

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Posted in: HR StrategyDigital OneOfficeIntelligent Automation

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Leaders embracing an infinite mindset can flourish during these times

April 05, 2020 | Phil FershtSarah Little

As a leader, it’s so easy to obsess with operational functions of the business during times of disruption or distress - in this case, a global pandemic – that it can create knee-jerk, often short-term decisions that could inherently damage your long-term vision, your business’ culture and your raison d'être.  

Having lived and worked through four recessions, I personally understand the rapid change in leadership mindset that can occur when a firm goes from peacetime and growth to one of survival and all-out war.  According to author Simon Sinek, people look to leadership to serve and protect, to “set up their organizations to succeed beyond their lifetimes1.” But in the modern landscape, most organizations place an unbalanced focus on near-term results that may ultimately prove to be self-defeating, like casting aside your umbrella in a storm because you haven’t been getting wet. In short, business is no finite endeavor. This pandemic lays plain for all to see the game we are really playing.   

Finite vs. the Infinite: What is the Infinite Game?

A finite game is one with fixed rules, objectives and time horizons, the goal quite simply is to win1. But how do you “win” in business, or against a virus for that matter? Did Singapore “win”, or did they have strategic measures in place that allowed them to move through the disruption more smoothly? Is New York City “losing;” has Italy “lost”? Of course not – there is no metric or rule by which a city or country would lose to this disruptor. They can be battered, bruised, decimated even, but they will persist and stay in the game.

With no defined time horizon, no clearly-defined rules, and with players that may enter and exit at any time, the primary objective of an infinite game is quite simply to keep playing1. The goal for businesses, just like cities and countries, is to have the will and resources to stay in the game, through thick and thin.

Getting through the thick of it: running towards bad news

Forget about technology for the moment, bad news is the preeminent change agent. Even Winston Churchill espoused the transformative powers of bad news with his dictum, “never waste a good crisis.” Let us not be mistaken – we are in brutal times, and I would prefer not to have this type of bad news for anyone to run towards, but let us continue…   

“People take their cues from the leader, so if you’re okay with bad news, they’ll be okay, too. Good CEOs run toward the pain and the darkness; eventually, they even learn to enjoy it.”

~ What You Do is Who You Are, Ben Horowitz

In business, we have to open ourselves and our teams to embrace bad news to get ahead of it. From bad news, roadblocks are revealed and underlying issues come to light, many times sparking momentous shifts in approach and innovation. But it is the initial willingness to dive into discomfort that is the defining characteristic of personal leadership, it shows up “in all kinds of essential ways: making difficult decisions; taking responsibility for them; apologizing for mistakes.2

Welcoming bad news fosters resiliency and allows transparency to appear through a different lens. And with that, trust flourishes. According to Sinek in his 2019 book, The Infinite Game, “Trusting Teams, it turns out, are the healthiest and highest-performing kind of teams.” He continues, “Good leadership and Trusting Teams allow the people on those teams to do the best job they can do. The result is a culture of solving problems rather than putting Band-Aids on them1.”

So get going, start running.

Building trust, resiliency and culture through a bias for people and an “experience” architecture

There is much to be said about driving culture in an organization, and at the very core of culture, is human nature. People are hard-wired to feel that they are valued and are part of something bigger than themselves; that they are contributing to the core purpose, or “Just Cause1”, of the company.

“When hard times strike (and hard times always strike), in companies with a bias for [people], the people are much more likely to rally together to protect each other, the company, the resources and their leaders. Not because they are told to, but because they choose to. This is what happens when the will of the people is strong.”

~ The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek

It is no wonder we are seeing employee experience a critical component to success within the enterprise today from two different consideration sets – the heart and the mind.

At the heart of the impetus is the foundation of trust, enablement, and partnership that truly fulfills not just the Way people work but the Why.  When people are given responsible freedom and provided with the support to flourish, when they can work within a trusting team – safe to express ideas, ask for help and be open to learning – people will put forth the will to give their all. Likewise, the business reciprocates and fosters the relationship, their environment and their growth.

The mind on the other hand is the model linking customers to the core of the business – its purpose for the services and products it provides - which is essentially service-oriented, i.e. customer-centric.  The Digital OneOffice is the "experience" architecture, bringing customers and employees together into a unified state where supporting customers and anticipating their needs is native to the entire organization. At its core, OneOffice is about making customer, employee and partner experiences the centerpiece of the strategy, playing host to the new duality between who is servicing the customer and who is the customer:

Service is the tie that binds the heart and mind. Teams who are connected to the company, its leadership, its customers and each other are far more likely to come together for the greater good in the face of adversity and hardship. “The same things that help the company survive and thrive during good times help make the company strong and resilient in hard times.1

Beware the “imposter cause” as your point of purpose

According to Sinek, finite-minded companies espouse what he considers to be an “imposter cause,” confusing growth, arbitrary metrics, or successful products and services with a strong company, which may very well become obsolete. They understand customers change, but safeguard resources and existing operating models in the face of disruption. These elements can be particularly true in the enterprise technology arena, where deep resources and services are modeled around two interconnected enterprises – the client and the service provider itself.

Just Cause

 

Imposter Cause

Directs the business model, with products and services advancing the cause. Its attributes are durable, resilient, timeless, beneficial and idealistic.

 

Examples

Whole Foods: Our Purpose is to Nourish People and the Planet

 

Netflix: We want to entertain the world. If we succeed, there is more laughter, more empathy, and more joy. (Netflix > Culture)

 

 

Business model is directed by existing resources or the relevance of current products and services

 

Examples

Garmin: We will be the global leader in every market we serve, and our products will be sought after for their compelling design, superior quality, and best value.

 

Vizio: To deliver high performance, smarter products with the latest innovations at significant savings that we can pass along to our consumers.

We are riding the massive new wave of outsourcing transformation – changing the way services are delivered. Who can guide us through the new abnormal? Who is prepared for the future?

An infinite mindset is crucial to current and long-term success. As noted by TCS’ Rajesh Gopinath in my recent “…In the flesh” interview, “The formula that has worked, and which will continue to work, is this unrelenting focus on the customer and unwavering belief in our own talent. The waves will keep changing, but you need to define yourself as surfing the current wave. And, as the wave changes, you’ve got to keep on readjusting yourself. But the value proposition is unwavering in its focus; it’s to make technology work for our customers.”

Partnering in this space is critical for the current wave and those to come. Even as the pace of digital-first has vastly accelerated, we are in a journey - not a race. In today’s environment, enterprises and provider partners need to stay tuned to the vision, look at business continuity in a virtual model and then apply the technologies that can best advance the organization through the turbulence and beyond. “An inifinite-minded leader does not simply want to build a company that can weather change but one that can be transformed by it.1

The Bottom-line: Transformation finally has its flaming platform. The phoenix has arrived.

Did you ever think your enterprise could move to a 100% work-from-home environment with less than three weeks’ notice? This crisis is forcing businesses to flex – vastly accelerating the digital-first environment, dramatically cutting redundancies and improving processes at scale. There is a massive amount of change happening, and out of change comes real transformation. After years and years of complacency due to the relentless growth (and papering over the cracks of 2008), all of today’s organizations now finally have a burning platform to change how they operate globally.  In fact, the platform is positively on fire!

Within the chaos of transformation, even a highly disruptive one, the core is steady and still; it is what you ultimately serve through your work - the direct connection between the business, what it purposefully provides, and its customers. An infinite mindset in business is essentially customer-centric, it’s your model, resources and processes that will shift in response to the environment. Technology, quite simply, is the great enabler.

As borders close and cities continue to shelter in place, the alarming and far-reaching impacts from this pandemic can ultimately be seen as a unifying event. If our goal is truly to stay in the game, then let go of what needs to go, embrace the brutal, protect and empower your people and restructure the new normal with laser-focus on the Cause and your customers – all of them. “Disruption is not going away anytime soon, that’s not going to change. How leaders respond to it, however, can.1

Pictured: HFS CEO Phil Fersht with The Infinite Game author Simon Sinek, circa 2017

References

1 The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek

2 How Great Leaders Deliver Bad News, Erika Anderson (Forbes)

Posted in: HR StrategyDigital OneOfficeCustomer Experience Management

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Sorry Folks...

April 01, 2020 | Phil FershtReetika Fleming

Posted in: None

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