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Innovation, Amsterdam and an arena: How KPMG teams excel at transformations and technology

After KPMG highlighted the firm’s relationship with Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam at a recent analyst event, TBR requested a follow-up discussion to better understand how the innovation team at the arena had been excelling at many of the key characteristics TBR has identified in consultancies’ and IT services vendors’ innovation and transformation centers around the world. TBR met with Sander van Stiphout, the arena’s innovation lead, and Wilco Leenslag, the KPMG partner leading his firm’s efforts with the arena.

Framed within the context of TBR’s recently published Innovation and Transformation Centers Market Landscape, three key elements of van Stiphout’s work at the arena stood out

Trust is crucial  

First, the arena’s innovation team works with external clients on a subscription basis, a business model rarely deployed by consultancies and IT services vendors. The arena’s clients, which include startups and enterprises testing new technologies and means of enhancing the customer experience, have to fully trust the arena’s innovation team will deliver value for the investment they are paying in subscriptions. TBR believes this business model may be directly related to the unique nature of an arena but could be replicated by a consulting firm or IT services vendor that is willing to bet on collaboration consistently leading to valuable, and deployable, innovation.   

Make your pitch and test your tech  

A second key element that stood out was how the Johan Cruijff Arena serves as a test bed in multiple ways, benefiting the arena’s clients that are startups and the arena itself. Startups not only test their technology solutions in a real-world environment with continuous access to all the variables found in any sporting or entertainment event, but van Stiphout noted that startups also pitch the solutions to internal operational professionals at the arena. For example, the arena’s marketing department must approve a marketing solution prior to testing, enabling startups to pitch and refine solutions with a real-world client before taking it to other clients.

Innovations, particularly from startups, often stall when they meet real-world requirements and clients making investment decisions beyond prototypes. By creating a stage for startups to test run both their product pitch and their product, the Johan Cruijff Arena innovation team helps these companies overcome that innovation roadblock. Additionally, this prototyping method helps to overcome issues associated with the traditional engagement model of working with clients’ innovation departments on pilot projects. Specifically, TBR often hears of emerging technologies becoming “stuck in pilot mode,” a challenge that we feel is directly related to the sheer number of ecosystem participants that are required to scale a solution after proving its value to a client. With the arena-led engagement model, ecosystem entities must first work together ahead of a live trial in the arena, addressing the issue of scaling before testing, not after. 

Proximity or scale? Will Latin America’s startup scene challenge India’s?

Here’s a simple question: Can a startup scene in nearshore Americas rival the one in India? Could countries and markets geographically closer to the U.S. provide the kind of energy and entrepreneurship coming from India, particularly in emerging technologies?

A few weeks ago, TBR analysts spoke at length with a PwC partner in India about the startup community and learned how a few key elements have been coming together in recent years to make that country a growing hub for digital transformation innovations. And recently, we noticed a Nearshore America’s piece on the innovation investment in Latin America that made us consider how the two regions compare.

India has some distinct advantages, particularly as digital transformation begins to mature and offshoring, scale and agility become critical to sustained success in delivering IT services enabled by emerging technologies. India also has an education system naturally geared to support a global, English-speaking technology environment, plus increasing support from two different groups: global consultancies looking for creativity and international venture investors and banks looking for new and fast-growing revenue streams.

The questions for Latin America-based startups and their various backers, including local, regional and federal governments trying to incubate and accelerate innovation, likely do not center on competitors two continents away, especially as those startups remain focused mostly on their own markets. But both startup scenes look to the same global markets for investors, clients and, eventually, scale, so IT and emerging tech startups in Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Peru need to consider how they compare and what will drive additional — global and sustained — interest and investment.

In early 2020 TBR will speak with consulting and IT services leaders across major vendors, including Accenture, PwC, EY and IBM, about their experiences in and expectations for the Latin America startup and innovation scene, where they see opportunities, and how global firms weigh the potential returns on investment in that region compared to in India.

From ‘breathtaking to very good’: PwC on India’s startup scene

According to PwC, Bangalore, India, is one of the leading startup cities that houses several blockchain and machine learning engineers, an assertion that is difficult to substantiate but one that probably feels accurate to the people on the ground in India who are working with the startup community. Focused primarily on financial technology (FinTech), driven largely by India’s United Payments Interface and its 10-plus million transactions per day, the startup community in India may need a few years to catch up to ecosystems like Boston or Silicon Valley, but the essential elements are in place, including support from large technology vendors, funding from a diverse set of resources, and assistance from experienced consultancies used to working as a bridge between small startups and enterprise-level buyers. Notably, the PwC report mentioned India startups have drawn funding from within the country, from U.S.-based investors, and from banks and sovereign wealth funds in Asia and the Middle East. Asked if PwC sees substantial differences in the size and nature of these funding streams, Talasila called out investments from Japanese investors as particularly robust in recent years, echoing a sentiment TBR heard during a recent visit to Gurgaon, India. Even with a FinTech focus, PwC said the startups have shifted from a copycat mindset to an emphasis on problem-solving and more fully developing a broad ecosystem, two elements that fit well with PwC’s go-to-market approach and overall consulting strategy. As is evident in the use cases that follow, the startup community has embraced working across all lines of business and tackling challenges beyond throwing software at a problem.

Digital potholes and drones defeating mosquitoes

Bringing the startup scene to life, Talasila described a few use cases, ranging from roads to drones to transfer pricing. One startup has developed a new means to measure road surface quality, potentially diminishing the time between a pothole emerging and concerned authorities fixing it. Another startup uses drones to measure mosquito infestations, a potentially massive-scale application across India and other parts of the world. According to PwC, the firm has been engaged, “at any given moment,” with three to five startups outside the FinTech space, including a new electric bus service that could help reduce pollution in India’s cities.

Policy, plumbing and being part of constant change

Before exploring expectations, we need to understand where things were and how much has changed. TBR’s interest in speaking at length with PwC on this topic stemmed in part from trying to better understand PwC’s role and how it has evolved along with the startup community. Talasila said the firm’s efforts around startups in India began in earnest three to four years ago, at a time when the startups were not particularly differentiated (“too many ‘me too’ startups”), and the firm sought advice from its own global member firm network on how to provide meaningful incubation and advice. While PwC US had deep relationships with some startups, the firm did not have an explicit program for early stage engagement. The Israel-based member firm, similarly, worked closely with that country’s nascent startup scene, but the lessons from Tel Aviv did not easily translate to India. As a result, PwC India relied on its own understanding of the market and the players, including the funders, to craft its own role within the startup ecosystem. Notably, according to Talasila, the firm quickly partnered with state governments and federal agencies on policy making with respect to startups, including areas like intellectual property and tax considerations. In PwC’s view, the firm acts as a valuable go-between, bringing government officials first-hand knowledge of the challenges startups face with tax, audit and compliance issues.

The Big Six, the 150, and the future of Accenture’s alliances

Like nearly every IT services vendor TBR covers, Accenture professes to follow a technology-vendor-agnostic approach to making client recommendations, but we have noticed how the company — in addition to managing over 150 tech vendor partnerships — forms strategic business groups with core partners, such as SAP, Oracle, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Cisco, Pivotal and Google, not to mention the joint venture with Microsoft (Avanade). Given the initial structure of the Accenture-Apple partnership, we expect this may formalize as a Business Solutions Group as well. Augmenting its large partner ecosystem capabilities often requires Accenture to team up with regional firms (e.g., Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance and Daiichi Kotsu Sangyo) to demonstrate how Accenture partners at the local level to gather insights and test technologies in specific industries. The alliance strategy makes sense for such a large firm with a diverse set of offerings and capabilities, but in today’s market, which is flooded with emerging technologies, we have to ask what market and competitor changes will alter Accenture’s strategy.

What’s changing?

As the market evolves, Accenture’s do digital, be digital approach has impacted the way the company forges and manages its alliance relationships. The influx of startups presents a great opportunity for Accenture to expand its reach into new areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and the rest of the alphabet of new technologies. Part of the Accenture Innovation Architecture, Accenture Ventures has played a critical role in this evolution as it has taken Accenture’s alliance strategy to the next level, creating a bridge between acquisitions and strategic partnerships mainly through minority investments in vendors such as Ripjar. The additional commitment and risk sharing demonstrated through minority investments is a step in the right direction as new buyers can be skeptical when nontraditional vendors pitch new capabilities. But Accenture is an almost $40 billion organization with a predominant focus on Global 2000 clients, leading the company to heavily rely on its Big Six partners — SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, AWS, Salesforce, Google, plus the emergence of Workday on Accenture’s radar. TBR notes that recently Accenture’s leadership has recognized the importance of these partners, as platform-based services enabled by the soon-to-be Big Seven by these Big Seven are now generating over 25% of Accenture’s sales. So, is anything really changing? At the macro level, maybe not, but the “as a Service” economy has enabled Accenture to pursue opportunities within the midsegment market, which in our view is an even bigger strategic shift than bringing in Accenture Ventures. This move into the midsegment market creates opportunities for the small technology players to play in the same sandbox as the 800-pound gorilla.

With Accenture augmenting its strategy, how do the small guys get Accenture’s attention? TBR asks this $100 million question of the startups, but more importantly of Accenture too. Many rival IT service vendors have ramped up similar strategies and will now drop prices to meet clients’ demands for nimble, off-the-shelf solutions that may not require premium consulting expertise as much as strong back-end support (hello, India-centric vendors). So is Accenture ready for the next chapter of its alliance strategy? Possibly. Will data interoperability reduce the need for multiple large platforms and be the panacea for the small tech guys to fill in the blanks? Can Agile methodologies infect Accenture’s alliance strategy? Maybe. With Accenture, let’s recall that it’s all about process. To paraphrase the late Johnnie Cochran, if it doesn’t fit, you must quit. And if you’re one of 150, you’d better be better rather than good.

Specialized industry expertise and agile service delivery position NIIT Technologies to disrupt incumbents

The rising tide of digital transformation demand continues to lift all boats, particularly small, intensely industry-focused IT services players, such as NIIT Technologies, that aggressively and tactically align their portfolio offerings and go-to-market strategies with the evolving needs of their clients and target markets. Though the long-term sustainability of NIIT Technologies’ rapid revenue growth and margin expansion remains to be seen, its strong performance in a services arena nearing saturation deserves the attention of global technology and IT services peers.

Strong financial performance highlights the success of NIIT Technologies’ pivot toward digital

CEO Sudhir Singh kicked off the event with a summary of NIIT Technologies’ recently reported FY2Q19 earnings results:

  • Revenue for the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2018, grew 23.1% year-to-year and 10% sequentially, in local currency, to Rs. 907.4 crores ($129.5 million U.S. dollars [USD]).
  • Operating margin expanded 186 basis points year-to-year to 18%.
  • Fresh order intake increased for the sixth consecutive quarter to $160 million USD, including 10 new logos.
  • Digital revenue reached 28% of total revenue, expanding 11.6% sequentially in local currency.
  • Headcount crossed the 10,000 mark, with 261 additions during the quarter. During 2018 NIIT Technologies has added 1,000 employees, with 499 in digital areas. Despite double-digit headcount expansion, utilization has also increased (80.4% in FY2Q19) while attrition has stayed well below that of Tier 1 India-centric peers, hovering between 10% and 11%.

Though relatively smaller in scale compared to Tier 1 India-centric peers, NIIT Technologies prided itself on its relatively balanced geographical mix for a company its size (e.g., only about 49% of revenue comes from the U.S., about 34% from Europe and the remainder from Rest of World), on par with Tata Consultancy Services [TCS]). The company also touted its culture, built upon a heritage of learning and research, that empowers employees with both technology skills and design thinking expertise to create business-relevant solutions for clients.

 

 

TBR attended NIIT Technologies’ U.S. Analyst & Advisor Forum in Boston, where the company’s executive leadership team presented on the company’s recent financial performance, strategy and portfolio offerings with an overarching theme of “Engage with the Emerging.” The event’s agenda was organized in line with NIIT Technologies’ recent restructuring around three core verticals ― travel and transportation (T&T), banking and financial services (BFS), and insurance ― and five service lines ― Intelligent Automation, Digital, Data and Analytics, Cloud, and Cybersecurity ― which the company brings together in matrixed offerings. Leaders from each of the three industry verticals and several of the service lines presented individual sessions on their areas, in some cases with clients. TBR also interacted one-on-one with executives throughout the event.

ICO as a ‘medicine show’: EY finds abysmal performance in wild west of initial coin offerings

Last December, EY Global Blockchain Leader Paul Brody recognized the breakout market for initial coin offerings (ICOs) and launched a longitudinal study, centered on class of 2017 companies that is fueled by this new way of raising money for software startups. One year later, as detailed in EY’s report published today, market valuations for the top 10 ICOs were off 55% — abysmal performance by any standard. Buried in the bad news for almost all the companies, one can find a few bits of success, particularly with companies providing blockchain infrastructure. The incredibly poor performance around incubation makes a strong case, to use a “Deadwood” metaphor, that snake oil salesmen made up most of those 2017ers. As this year comes to a close, around one-quarter of the initial ICO-backed companies have a product in the market, further evidence the breakout included a number of outright frauds. In addition, of the 25 companies that had products, seven devalued the use of utility tokens by allowing payment in fiat currency, facing up to enterprises’ persistent reluctance to conduct business transactions in anything but hard currencies. Curiously, paying in tokens, according to Brody in a discussion with TBR prior to today’s announcement, came across as only the second-biggest obstacle to commercial adoption, with the first being the desire for transaction privacy — a desire pure public blockchains cannot satisfy. In EY’s previous report on ICOs, issued last December, the firm anticipated the third-greatest objection, concerns over full regulatory compliance, an insight that tracks closely with EY’s tax and audit credentials.

Today’s report includes a few nuggets revealing the depth of EY’s study:

  • “Companies that have made meaningful progress toward working products only increased by 13% in 2018. 71% have no offering in the market at all. Typically, within one year of a traditional venture-backed software startup, you would expect to see a significantly higher percentage of the companies with a functional early stage product.”
  • “Seven out of 25 reviewed projects accept other currencies, rendering utility tokens less valuable. Some projects have altogether dropped their utility tokens to focus on functionality. To become a means of payment, utility tokens have to be stable. If it remains stable, the token is of little interest to speculative investors.”
  • “Globally, sources of funding will likely shift away from retail investors toward entities that can understand and manage the downside risks, such as venture capital and digital asset-focused investment funds.”

Will next year be better? The blockchain infrastructure companies will likely be surpassed by a second wave of ICO-funded companies, with most of these taking an asset-backed approach to token issuance, essentially creating a product that is enterprise-ready at a time when buyers are not convinced of the benefits of placing all their assets on the public blockchain domain. This then raises the question: Do new wave ICO-funded companies need to rip pages from Ethereum’s playbook or simply play within its orbit? Ethereum is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but it certainly provides a solid foundation for many to learn from, especially around its “smart” contact functionality. Further advancing along some of the must-do steps EY pointed out in its December 2017 report, this second wave will more adequately address the need for clear justifications for blockchains and tokens; an ICO process more closely aligned to the initial public offering (IPO) process; enhanced security; and something close to legal compliance, or the regulators will simply begin enforcement substantial enforcement. In short, privacy trumps transactability.

The regulatory aspect piques my interest, in part because of the know-your-customer (KYC) aspects of post-ICO-linked financial transactions and recent efforts of EY, among others, to better incorporate emerging technologies into anti-money-laundering and KYC operations.

In this wild west, with its unregulated moral hazard, where does EY fit in?

My initial thoughts had the consultancy as the “Deadwood” preacher, known to all and trusted, but neither the law nor the bank. My colleagues convinced me EY will be more like the General Store, providing certified, trustworthy services and goods, helping clients mine for gold without shortcuts and faulty equipment that bring down the whole operation. Now imagine artificial-intelligence-enhanced, blockchain-powered resupply brought into Deadwood.

IT incumbents beware: Startup disruption has only just begun

The Collision conference highlighted the dynamic world of startups, particularly those chasing growth opportunities around disruptive technologies — similar to the business strategies established IT players such as IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Accenture (NYSE: ACN) are moving toward. Though unequipped for enterprisewide, consulting-led digital transformation engagements, startups will likely increasingly challenge traditional systems integrators (SIs) for discrete digital projects by offering lower pricing, deep niche expertise, more agile delivery, and emphasis on solving clients’ business needs instead of upselling additional services. Startups also threaten larger vendors in the digital talent war by creating cultures that attract highly coveted design, technology and development talent with flexible work arrangements and accelerated career paths. We expect the trend of large SIs acquiring digital startups to continue for the foreseeable future. However, as the very best startups increasingly gain visibility through successful projects with high-profile brands, we believe SIs will need to work harder (and pay more) to persuade startups to become part of larger, legacy IT services organizations.

 

 

Collision was created in 2014 as part of a series of international events hosted by the founders of Web Summit, the Dublin-based event promoted as an alternative to large-scale technology conferences such as the International Consumer Electronics Showcase and the SXSW Interactive Festival. The conference acts as a forum for startup founders, executives of leading large corporations, investors and influencers to connect and network. In its second year being held at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the conference welcomed more than 19,000 attendees from 119 countries. The 605 companies exhibiting products, services and technology solutions across three days included 480 “Alphas,” or very early stage startups; 88 “Betas,” or startups that have raised more than $1 million in funding; and 26 “Starts,” or growth-stage startups that have raised more than $3 million in funding. Interspersed with the exhibition booths were four stages hosting nine tracks of sessions with 357 speakers and moderators across a variety of topics, including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, big data, SaaS, design, the future of computing, marketing, sustainability, music, sports and startup best practices (termed “Startup University”). TBR also interacted one-on-one with several startup founders and speakers