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COVID-19 pushes automation to the forefront of business strategies

Automation shifts from a discussion to an imperative across all industries

The decision to embrace automation typically requires an organization to engage in careful strategic planning and analysis over a period of time. On one hand, automation enables a level of efficiency, consistency and quality that manual deployment alone cannot achieve. On the other hand, skeptics have long questioned the point at which automation can go too far and how to find balance and decide which tasks should and should not be automated. That debate is now over, as the deployment of automated processes and technology is imperative to fill in the innumerable voids in a new reality where COVID-19 is not just part of our vocabulary but a new abnormal in which we all live. 

Past discussions of whether to automate were typically highly dependent upon factors like industry vertical, whereby sectors with a heavy manufacturing arm, for instance, were much more likely to embrace automation than others. Massive staffing shortages are now the primary driver behind the call for widespread automation, and the interest has manifested itself in multiple forms, such as the deployment of robots, drones and AI — technologies that are being leveraged by industry verticals across the board.

Staffing shortages have affected every grocery store and pharmacy, and many are relying on robots to transport goods from warehouses and stores to delivery vehicles. In agriculture, there has been an increase in the use of terrain-based robots to convert agricultural units into disinfectant sprayers. In manufacturing and delivery, Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU) has partnered with Neolix to deliver critical items such as food and supplies to hospitals in Beijing with the use of the Apollo autonomous vehicle. Baidu has additionally applied AI algorithms to track the spread of infection and predict where the next hot zone may crop up so that local facilities are better prepared. While the number of riders of public transport has plummeted, railways, buses and subways still must operate even if on a skeleton schedule. The deployment of automated technology such as self-driving trains has increased dramatically, as has the use of robots to disinfect and clean cars.

The healthcare industry faces the most pressing challenges as it seeks to employ remote workforce programs and develop scalable solutions on an emergency-fueled time line. While some degree of on-site presence is unavoidable, the risk is being mitigated, in some cases, by the use of disinfection robots, which were deployed by Xenex Corp. to over 500 hospitals in China and are also now being shipped to Italy. Drone delivery of medication is anticipated to be the next wave of automation, and companies like Drone Delivery Canada (DDC) Corp. predict that they will become commonplace, and soon. DDC President and CEO Michael Zahra stated, “The company is in dialogue with governments at various ministries and levels emphasizing that the current situation is an ideal use case for our proven drone logistics solution to limit person-to-person contact; bring needed medical and pharmaceutical supplies to remote, rural, and suburban communities; transport blood samples to laboratories for testing; and deliver other relevant supplies.”

The application of automated technologies is clearly not confined to one area and will continue to ease the burden that COVID-19 has placed on all of our lives. When the pandemic eventually subsides, the silver lining to the shortages, panic and crippling effect on the economy will be that healthcare providers, companies and individuals will be more apt to embrace the use of automated technology in almost every aspect of their daily lives.

Click here to listen to this audio clip, COVID-19 Business Impacts | Remote Work, in its entirety.

UiPath’s enhanced and expanded technology stack provides a solid foundation to reach scale

In mid-October Senior Analyst Boz Hristov attended the annual UiPath Forward conference in Las Vegas, and recently, he published his thoughts on the event and UiPath’s role in the robotic process automation market.

He wrote, “UiPath’s position as one of the leading vendors defining the robotic process automation (RPA) market comes with responsibilities for managing expectations across stakeholders, and the company knows it. Enhancing its value proposition by adding the necessary layers of technologies and deploying business-led frameworks internally and with alliance partners helps it build use cases of scale, a necessary attribute to maintain growth momentum, as RPA is no longer a siloed, line-of-business-led initiative, but rather a node in an enterprisewide automation initiative.”

Additional assessments publishing this week from our analyst teams

“TBR’s quarterly full report on IBM highlights the strategic development in the hardware portion of IBM’s larger portfolio. In 3Q19 we discuss IBM’s quantum computing business as well as the positive implications of the September launch of the z15. Additionally, highlights of IBM’s more emerging capabilities such as around blockchain are also expanded on. IBM’s July finalization of its Red Hat buy has sent a wave of open source through the business, impacting Power Systems this quarter.” Stephanie Long, Analyst

IBM Services will continue to experience growth in business and technology transformation areas, such as advisory activities around cognitive technology, cloud application modernization and next-generation enterprise applications such as SAP Business Suite 4 HANA (S/4 HANA) and Salesforce. The growth will be driven by IBM Services’ portfolio realignment initiatives to deliver higher-value and higher-margin services that integrate technology and industry expertise and enable clients’ digital reinventions. Synergies with the Red Hat acquisition, which closed on July 9, will continue to generate application modernization deals for IBM Services involving the OpenShift hybrid cloud platform. However, lingering growth challenges in traditional IT service areas and ongoing transformation of the Global Technology Services business will stall IBM Services’ revenue growth and profitability improvement in 2019.” Elitsa Bakalova, Senior Analyst

“While TBR expects T-Systems’ revenue growth to decelerate slightly in 3Q19, reorganization efforts combined with the company’s investments in cloud, IoT and security capabilities to align its portfolio with client demand will prepare the company to stabilize revenue in 2020.” Kelly Lesiczka, Analyst

Sprint’s 3Q19 performance highlights the necessity of the T-Mobile merger and the challenge of Sprint remaining a stand-alone company. Sprint continues to struggle to gain customers without aggressive pricing, while its elevated capex budget is limiting free cash flow and has yet to produce a significant improvement in network quality to lower churn rates.” Steve Vachon, Analyst

UiPath amplifies the RPA’s value that comes from scale

UiPath’s position as one of the leading vendors defining the robotic process automation (RPA) market comes with responsibilities for managing expectations across stakeholders, and the company knows it. Enhancing its value proposition by adding the necessary layers of technologies and deploying business-led frameworks internally and with alliance partners helps it build use cases of scale, a necessary attribute to maintain growth momentum, as RPA is no longer a siloed, line-of-business-led initiative, but rather a node in an enterprisewide automation initiative. 

UIPATH’S ENHANCED AND EXPANDED TECHNOLOGY STACK PROVIDES A SOLID FOUNDATION TO REACH SCALE

Solving the productivity paradox has become the guiding light for UiPath’s product development as the company seeks to gain broader stakeholder buy-in. RPA tools continue to be largely selected and utilized by business customers, but the need for democratizing data while addressing larger IT complexities is compelling UiPath to ensure ease of use of its offerings for the broader user community. Targeting new personas beyond RPA developers, including business analysts, citizen developers and testers, expands UiPath’s core platform addressable market but also raises expectations around ROI. By enhancing and adding features including design tools (e.g., Studio, Studio X, Studio T), management tools (e.g., Orchestrator, Cloud Platform, AI Fabric), apps (e.g., Forms, Tasks, Chatbots) and insights (e.g., RPA, Business Analytics), UiPath’s end-to-end automation suite captures the entire cycle of plan, build, manage, run, engage and measure.

While the build, manage and run stages are somewhat legacy capabilities, expanding into the plan cycle, which was accelerated through the acquisition of Netherlands-headquartered ProcessGold and enabled through the launch of UiExplorer, helps UiPath act as an arbitrator of the dilemma “Should a company automate a bad process or fix the process first?” by applying a scientific plan for implementing RPA one process at a time. TBR also sees the purchase of ProcessGold as an attempt for UiPath to increase its value proposition for higher-value design thinking workshops. While we do not expect UiPath to be a threat to its consulting partners’ core expertise, wrapping advisory frameworks with AI-enabled process mining tools could address the dilemma sooner. The engage and measure pillars of the UiPath Platform suite provide the connective tissue between the deeper collaboration between humans and robots as well as pave the way for the company’s pragmatic AI vision of building intelligent systems that provide the proper tools and skills. How to measure and report the true business impact of RPA implementation, however, remains up for debate, as enterprise buyers approach automation differently. As UiPath strives to reach scale, the inevitable question of “What’s next?” is rather loaded considering the hype around AI, the possibilities of automation and the future of RPA. During the conference UiPath released the AI Fabric solution in private mode, first announced in April, to address the barriers of AI and RPA working together including in operations, technology and processes. As the notion of AI fabric is breaking down siloes between RPA and data science teams through features such as intuitive interface, operationalizing AI models and closing the RPA-AI data feedback loop, AI Fabric is a timely response to buyers’ adoption of AI, which for many is still in a pilot phase.

For the second year in a row TBR attended the annual UiPath Forward conference, the focus of which has shifted dramatically from regionally oriented in 2018 to global in 2019, reflecting the company’s efforts to build a framework and portfolio offerings developed and delivered through integrated scale. And stories of scale were not lacking: The conference hosted close to 3,000 attendees this year — twice as many as last year — and demonstrated expanded capabilities of the core UiPath Platform. UiPath also announced two acquisitions and shared four dozen client stories onstage. Under the slogan “Reboot Work,” the conference amplified the broader need for rebooting customer experience and business overall, which in many cases is easier said than done, but client stories shared during the conference showed pain points are lessening, reflecting on UiPath’s Automation First vision with “automation is the application” framework at its core.

In an emerging world managed by bots, TELUS International’s culture tells us why humans still matter

TBR perspective

Since the dawn of outsourcing, BPO has allowed enterprise buyers to trust third-party providers with the support of many internal and external processes. While in the past, the risk associated with managing IT and business assets was heavily weighted toward the buyer, in today’s age, where social media is leveraged as a sounding board for both positive and negative customer experiences, there is a heightened expectation for services vendors to deliver brand promises. During its 14-year tenure as an active participant in the CX support services market, TELUS International has successfully navigated the ever-changing dynamics of the BPO space by investing heavily in its employees. The company has an average annual attrition rate of approximately 25%, which is about 50% below the BPO industry average, as its employees and executives trade on trust and share a common goal of servicing customers. Deploying and managing learning and collaboration platforms globally as well as adopting many of the same technologies used to support clients, TELUS International’s approach to people, processes and technology shapes the company’s culture in the era of the machines. While the CX support space has been augmented by the increased use of AI-based technologies and one might consider the BPO industry to be highly commoditized from a labor arbitrage perspective, TELUS International continues to build a human-centric culture that empowers staff (most of whom are millennials) to take charge of their careers while also being brand ambassadors in their local communities. Touring TELUS International’s Las Vegas delivery site, which is one of the company’s 27 global hubs, during the event helped bring TELUS International’s strategy and vision around its employees and investments in innovation to life, further supporting the “from slides to code” trend TBR has observed in the industry over the past 18 to 24 months.

Moving forward, we expect TELUS International to continue executing on its standardized approach to customers’ digital enablement and to carefully select and manage its client base, including pursuing opportunities with enterprises that are also involved with approving TELUS International employee recruitment and training. As the BPO market evolves, the emergence of new pricing models, including outcome-, subscription- and license-based pricing, will compel the company to take on additional risk and retune stakeholders’ expectations around its P&L profile. As a result, TELUS International will need to continue its transformation into an increasingly automation-enabled organization with agent capabilities. 

At its inaugural Analyst Summit, TELUS International brought together industry analysts, company executives and clients. The company used the two-day event to prove why, according to President and CEO Jeff Puritt, TELUS International is the “best kept secret” when it comes to company culture, employee engagement and customer satisfaction in the highly competitive customer experience (CX)-enabled BPO market, especially in the area of talent.  

2019 Services Predictions: Fix my business problem with a solution, not a slide — IT services and consulting for human-centric digital transformation

Trust in turbulent times: data access and management as the key to IT services and consulting success in an uncertain 2019

From London to San Francisco, macroeconomic shifts and unsettled political environments in both the U.K. and the U.S. will make the start of 2019 turbulent and likely troubled for many companies, including the IT services vendors and consultancies we cover within TBR’s Professional Services practice. These companies will face harder decisions around repositioning their investments to other geographies or finding more cost-conscious investments in new areas. We are expecting a slowdown in both countries — not necessarily in revenues, but in fresh ideas and creativity, service launches, and expansion in additional markets within both economies — driven by new uncertainty and well-founded caution. The U.S. has traditionally been the largest market for IT services vendors, and no single year will change that hard, economic fact. But where we have seen IT services vendors experiment with new consulting business models that blend emerging technologies into strategy consulting and embed codeveloped IP into outcomes-based IT services engagements, we expect a retrenchment as 2019 opens, with uncertainty lingering at least through the summer. By this time next year, we expect to see more initiatives in APAC leveraging that region’s faster adoption of 5G (and all that means for digital transformation at speed and scale). And we expect the three trends described below will be demonstrably evident in the strategies and performances of the leading IT services vendors and consultancies we cover.

Underlying all of our assessments, we are developing a new appreciation for the criticality of data. Beyond the cliché that every company is a data company or that data is the new oil, we have been seeing throughout 2018 the way IT services vendors and consultancies have begun investing increasingly in data management, cleansing and protection, all with the assumption that analytics, automation, artificial intelligence and every other emerging technology starts with and relies on clean and useful data. Smarter business decisions do not come from bad data, no matter how good the algorithm or analytics package. For 2019, this means data access becomes an opportunity to extend to all IT services, up to and including digital transformation, the same trust that comes with an audit or a multiyear outsourcing engagement. Imagine a consultancy working with unfettered access to every data element across a client’s enterprise. Getting there may take a changed regulatory environment and will definitely require that boards be willing to extend trust in new ways, a human limitation that may slow this new data access. But we see it coming. If politics and economics could cause stormy weather in the U.S. and U.K., the acceleration of digital transformation through data access may be the longer-term trend, the global warming lifting all boats on rising sea levels.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow: Amazon, RPA, AI and ethical IT in the federal sector

Notwithstanding the increased integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and process bots into government operations, the U.S. federal services sector decidedly remains a people business. At a recent Washington Technology Power Breakfast forum, industry leaders talked talent strategies and how they hope to succeed as digital transformation fundamentally changes the types of people sought for government work. A few key themes emerged as near-universal top-of-mind concerns for forum participants and audience members, such as the importance of developing a brand and messaging values that resonate with the emerging workforce; the criticality of public-private partnerships to develop talent in the greater Washington, D.C., area and beyond; and the concern and uncertainty about the human capital impact of Amazon’s (Nasdaq: AMZN) recent decision to become a much closer neighbor of Uncle Sam.

The trends and issues discussed often repeated themes TBR touches on regularly in its analysis of the IT industry, both within the federal market and across public and private sectors globally. While the perspectives shared were both validating and enlightening, there was just as much value in paying attention to what the panelists did not talk about at length. Today’s pressing HR demands leave little time for talent strategists to worry about the looming disruptive impacts of AI and robotic process automation (RPA), the fundamental changes in labor amid the rise of asset-based services, forward-thinking venture-capital-like approaches to partnerships, or the uncomfortable and growing issue of ethics conflicting with the eagerness to apply innovative IT to government missions. HR leaders and strategic decision makers at the leading services firms will need to grapple with these difficult topics today if they want to stay ahead of disruption that is just around the corner in the dynamic and rapidly changing IT industry.

 

 

Washington Technology Power Breakfast: TBR Public Sector Analyst Joey Cresta was recently invited to participate in a panel discussion on talent strategies of government contractors at a breakfast forum hosted by Washington Technology. The event provided an outlet for executives, HR experts and industry thought leaders to share how they intend to win talent in a competitive labor market while maintaining profitability and bracing for the impact of Amazon’s impending move into Crystal City.

Technology Business Research, Inc. announces 1Q19 webinar schedule

Technology Business Research, Inc. (TBR) announces the schedule for its 1Q19 webinar series.

Jan. 9            Virtualization flips the axis on technology monetization and adoption

Jan. 23         IoT is getting a lot easier

Feb. 6           The pendulum swings: Customer demands reshape how infrastructure vendors do business

Feb. 13         5G will be an evolution, not a revolution

Feb. 20         Customers care less, vendors buy more, and both sides become more intelligent

Feb. 27         Consulting’s robot army: How RPA changes the consulting business model

Mar. 20        Enabling stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem to navigate the path to value-based care

TBR webinars are held typically each Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET and include a 15-minute Q&A session following the main presentation. Previous webinars can be viewed anytime on TBR’s Webinar Portal.

For additional information or to arrange a briefing with our analysts, please contact TBR at [email protected].

 

ABOUT TBR

Technology Business Research, Inc. is a leading independent technology market research and consulting firm specializing in the business and financial analyses of hardware, software, professional services, and telecom vendors and operators. Serving a global clientele, TBR provides timely and actionable market research and business intelligence in a format that is uniquely tailored to clients’ needs. Our analysts are available to address client-specific issues further or information needs on an inquiry or proprietary consulting basis.

TBR has been empowering corporate decision makers since 1996. For more information please visit www.tbri.com.

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Consulting’s robot army: How RPA changes the consulting business model

Insights from TBR’s 2019 Professional Services Predictions

Join Principal Analyst Patrick M. Heffernan for a roundtable discussion with TBR’s Professional Services analysts as they review their market predictions for 2019 and beyond, diving deep into the role robotics process automation (RPA) will have on the consulting business model. Using case studies and details from specific IT services vendors and consultancies, the team will put RPA in context of other emerging technologies and IT services as a whole.

Don’t miss:

  • How RPA changes staffing models across IT services
  • Smaller digital transformation engagements’ impact on the traditional consulting business model
  • How emerging technologies and emerging trends, such as asset-based consulting, will impact IT services vendors in 2019 and 2020

 

TBR webinars are held typically on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. ET and include a 15-minute Q&A session following the main presentation. Previous webinars can be viewed at anytime on TBR’s Webinar Portal.

For additional information or to arrange a briefing with our analysts, please contact TBR at [email protected].

UiPath Forward Americas

UiPath brings robots ‘to life’ through business-first approach

Under the slogan “a robot for every person” UiPath’s CEO and Co-founder Daniel Dines’ vision for automation takes a pragmatic approach and furthers Bill Gates’ 1980 Microsoft mission of “A computer on every desk and in every home.” While UiPath and/or any of its competitors are far from making this vision a reality, it certainly summarizes the company’s total addressable market. As UiPath executes on its vision, the company’s comprehensive portfolio of attended and unattended robots as well as a SaaS orchestrator solution meet current market needs for solutions addressing brokerage and management of structured and unstructured data across the front, middle and back office. Additionally, UiPath’s approach to automation through a business lens makes it an appealing vendor that can help consultancies and other alliance partners better target line-of-business leads, especially clients with backgrounds in Six Sigma and Lean methodology training.

While UiPath will continue to have the tough task of overcoming skepticism around the public perception that automation will eliminate jobs, educating the market on the broader ROI from the use of RPA, including increased productivity, improved accuracy and compliance, can help it counteract initial resistance and accelerate adoption. Use cases, such the one with a Japan-based bank that deployed 1,000 UiPath robots to optimize the work of 700 FTEs with the long-term goal of creating capacity for 4,000 employees and saving $500 million over three years, make for a tangible impact on operations and the bottom line.

As the pendulum continues to swing between hope for and fear of automation, accelerated by hype, UiPath’s value proposition and go-to-market strategy enables it to illustrate that automation is not a jobs killer but rather a jobs creator.

 

 

TBR attended the second annual UiPath Forward Americas conference in Miami. TBR interacted with executives from across UiPath and its partners and clients. With over 1,500 attendees, including 500 partners and client executives, the conference was three times larger than the first UiPath Forward Americas event a year ago. During the sessions, UiPath highlighted its exponential success over the past three years, with a fair dose of energy but balanced with humility. UiPath provided an update on its financial performance and portfolio road map and laid out new initiatives including the launches of UiPath Go, the Academic Alliance, the UiPath Venture Innovation Fund and the UiPath Partner Acceleration Fund. These new initiatives connected well with the discussions about the need for democratization of automation and collaboration among business leaders, IT and the partner ecosystem.

Robots laundering IT budgets?

Automate a bad process or fix the process first?

As consultancies start expanding their robotics process automation offerings (RPA) and the software and related services begin permeating through enterprises’ procurement, human resources, IT, and even internal audit, a curious debate has surfaced between the merits of opting for careful and meticulous process assessment, documentation and improvement or just deciding to throw some robots at the process to get the cost savings benefits as quickly as possible.

I’m not surprised this discussion surfaced, given the rapid adoption of RPA solutions by companies in a wide variety of industries and the sustained investment by IT services vendors and consultancies in the people and assets needed to implement RPA (see any of our reporting in the last year on EY, Accenture, PwC or Capgemini). What surprises me is where the vendors and clients come down on this debate. At a recent three-day event, I listened to fairly passionate discussions on this topic, with clients taking the position that a company needs to do the standard evaluate-improve-refine process for their processes before applying automation. In contrast, the consultants — the ones best positioned to provide advisory services around that standard approach and charge for those services — argued for the fast fix-and-go approach. One consultant noted, “Throw robots at a bad process if it saves time and money now. … Then reinvest those savings into whatever else you need completed.” One client, who changed her mind by the third day after absorbing the consultants’ lessons, described some processes as tasks that employees “deplore, but must be done accurately, timely and repeatedly to help run the business.” She said RPA could be applied to these, with the savings poured into new artificial intelligence or other desired-but-not-a-priority initiatives.

Of course, it’s not that easy, or robots would be doing every deplorable task and automating every aggravating process

And plenty of consultancies will continue to offer process optimization and change management as core elements to most engagements. I’ll be watching the consultancies that have invested heavily in RPA and how they describe their engagements, which clients they highlight, and how their talent models shift over the next year. I’ll also be looking for examples of companies embracing rapid RPA deployments, knowing not every process was improved, but they threw the robots at them. Most importantly, we will be asking about the redeployment of those costs savings.

My colleague Jen Hamel’s Digital Transformation Customer Research, published in March, noted that clients haven’t been investing as much in data management, “despite the struggle organizations face with underlying data integrity and standardization issues that hamstring generation of actionable insight and limit analytics solution value.” She went on to note that TBR expects “this trend will be exacerbated by the proliferation of connected devices, ingestion of new data from the incorporation of additional sensor technology and breakdown of silos accelerating data inputs as processes are transformed.” So, if I had to bet, I’d say the smarter enterprises will be plowing RPA savings into the less-exciting, more-impactful data management tools or enhanced capabilities around risk and compliance. As Jen also pointed out, “[As] 66% of DT [digital transformation] services buyers used a vendor from a prior IT services engagement, existing relationships in clients’ IT organizations are a good starting place for ascertaining and accessing DT budgets.” We’ll be watching this closely, all the while wishing I had a robot to do the watching while I do the thinking.