Experts in the global services terrain

IBM is taking some bitter medicine right now in its series of divestments. Big Blue recently exited the chip manufacturing business by spinning off that division to Globalfoundries. The move comes on the heels of having exited its server business and voice and transaction BPO business. There’s a lot of media attention to “IBM’s blues” and a lot of water cooler talk about what IBM is up to. Are they going to be viable, or do they have a foot in the grave? I look at it as they are ensuring that they have both feet on a very solid growth platform.

But the series of divestments raise a lot of eyebrows and create shareholder discomfort. It takes time for shareholders and customers to process what IBM is doing.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • The divestments were not failed businesses. They just are not the future of IBM. The company is simply pruning back its operations that have been a drag on earnings and siphoning their management attention and resources.
  • IBM has been acquiring almost one company per month, largely in the areas of cloud software, analytics and Big Data.

Often the assets IBM sells do well in other hands. Lenovo has done very well with IBM’s former PC business and looks to do well in the server business. And I expect Globalfoundries to do well with the chip business.

Simply put, IBM is remaking itself and making very deliberate and assured steps for its future. It is rare for large organizations to have the discipline to exit businesses. Most large organizations are eager to buy new growing businesses but struggle in the divestment of businesses that are no longer strategic or are struggling to perform. But IBM has managed to remake itself a number of times in their long, historic journey.

IBM now clearly has both feet in the future, whether it’s a growth platform for cloud, analytics, or high-value IT and BPO services.

I think this should be a comfort to IBM customers. Big Blue is taking necessary steps now to not become a Kodak and not consign itself to irrelevance for customers’ future needs.

Since the beginning of 2014 Everest Group has seen a real shift in large enterprise CIO organizations in their strategic intent toward cloud services. What are the implications on the traditional infrastructure outsourcing market from this strategic intent?

Timing

First, we expect that this shift will not happen overnight. As organizations work on their cloud plans, it’s clear that this is a three-to-five-year journey for migrating some or all their environment into this next-generation environment.

Runoff of work from legacy environments

Second, we expect the runoff on traditional outsourced contracts to accelerate. The runoff has been running at about 5-10 percent a year. We expect this will pick up to something close to 50 percent of the workloads to shift over to the cloud in the next three years with 30 percent of that shift happening in the next two years.

So this is a dramatic runoff of work from legacy environments into the next-generation models. This will put significant pressure on the incumbent service providers in that space.

Who will be the likely winners?

The third implication is the likely winners from this strategic shift. We think that at least for the next two years the Indian players or those with a remote infrastructure management (RIM) model will enjoy substantial benefits. Often a move to cloud or next-generation technologies can be facilitated by a move to a RIM model. So we see RIM continuing its torrid growth.

We also believe the providers with enterprise-quality cloud offerings will be players. One that particularly comes to mind is IBM’s SoftLayer, which we think is well positioned for the shift. It has its own runoff and can grab share from asset-heavy or other legacy providers as runoff occurs there.

We expect to see Microsoft and its Azure platform play an increasingly prominent role in cloud services. It will be interesting to see if AWS, Google, and Microsoft can make the shift from serving rogue IT and business users to enterprise IT. At this time we certainly believe IBM can. And it looks like Microsoft is making deliberate efforts to transition its model. It remains to be seen if AWS and Google are willing to shift their models to better accommodate enterprise IT.


Photo credit: Photo Dean

Everest Group research has analyzed the impact that automation will have on the services industry. Our opinion, which we refer to as the 40-40 Rule, is that 40 percent of all outsourcing contracts are ready to be impacted by automation and the average impact in the amount of labor to do the work will be a drop of 40 percent. We believe the 40-40 Rule affects BPO, applications outsourcing, and infrastructure.

If we’re right, this is a very substantial disruption to the services industry.

Impact in the next 18 months

What makes a contract “ready” for automation (e.g., scripts and robotics)? The contract must be close to termination and/or the customer is open to or interested in driving an automation agenda. In saying that 40 percent of all outsourcing contracts are ready to be impacted by automation Everest Group believes that 40 percent of all contracts have the potential to be affected over the next 18 months. But it won’t stop there; this party will keep going.

40-40 Rule blog tweet

Headcount reduction

The average impact on the reduction of headcount for after automating the work per contract will be about 40 percent reduction of FTEs to perform the same functions or oversee the same amount of transaction processing. The headcount reduction will range from 20 percent at the low end to 80 percent at the high end. Individual experiences will vary; but as an impact on the entire industry, we think that it could be as high as 40 percent.

The good news hidden in the bad

This is a huge impact, but it’s not all bad news for service providers. In the early situations where we’re seeing service providers take the initiative, they are able to capture — particularly in their existing accounts — higher margins by participating in some of the benefit of the reduced headcount. They can participate in two ways:

  • Charge a premium for projects
  • Often an automated structure allows moving to a more consumption-based model and providers can capture some of the benefit in premium pricing in that model

This is exhilarating in that it has the opportunity for potentially higher margins to offset the ongoing drumbeat of the demand for lower cost.

Margin uplift is all very well. But if the provider has a labor-based business and takes a 40 percent hit to its revenue, that’s a very difficult gap to overcome. And it’s even more difficult in today’s world where growth is slowing across the industry and it’s becoming harder to find new work that hasn’t been outsourced.

Everest Group sees the services industry into a brownfield in which service providers must take work from other providers rather than take work from the customer’s in-house functions.

Investment implications

Any kind of automation strategy enabling a provider to capture part of the benefits of the automation requires that the provider make up-front investments. Of course if the client is pays for the automation, it is not reasonable to expect that the provider participate in the uplift in margins. But if the provider funds or partially funds the investment, it’s more reasonable to assume that the provider will capture some of those benefits for itself, at least in the short run. So we believe there will be a significant uptick in investment intensity.

However, such investment carry a negative implication: it will cause an uptake in risk held by the provider because it will have a stranded asset that needs to be paid for even if customers’ needs or desires change over time. If the customer moves away from that automated platform, the provider may find itself straddled with an unamortized investment.

Bottom line

If we are right about the 40-40 Rule and that automation will be this powerful, we’re looking at a very substantial impact on the service industry. And I think the acceleration will be quite fast. We’ve found in the past that any disruption that changes the cost equation by over 20 percent for a specific client achieves rapid adoption. Therefore, we think customers will very aggressively seek the 40 percent reduction of labor, in which case the industry is in for a significant change and challenge.

The ideas are not new – for many years people have been sharing spare capacity or capabilities with each other, for example carpooling, holiday home swaps. etc. New channels, such as Airbnb, which enable sharing on a larger scale, have drawn the attention of governments, which in turn are looking for new ways to boost their economies. For example the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) is currently running an independent review of the sharing economy led by Debbie Wosskow, CEO of Love Home Swap. I expect some aspects of the model to be deployed by BIS to help startups.

The question is can the sharing economy get a foot hold in the business-to-business (B2B) world? Other concepts such as e-commerce marketplaces have crossed the business-to-consumer (B2C) and the B2B divide. We have had sharing of resources and capabilities in the enterprise world for decades too, from shared service centers to shared office facilities. Cloud computing and the various “-as-a-service” models are also about sharing. What is different about the sharing economy is the many-to-many relationships. For example, through Airbnb many home owners offer rooms to many guests. While there will be some many-to-many examples of sharing in the enterprise too, the prevailing model in outsourcing is one-to-many, one service provider pooling its resources and capabilities to deliver services to many clients.

The sharing economy concept could lead to enterprises doing more sharing among themselves, offering their spare capacity and resources to each other. This could potentially reduce demand for outsourcing to service providers, in certain scenarios, for example sharing of resources for common business functions with partners. The trouble is that setting up such arrangements could be complicated and there would need to be solid governance procedures in place to ensure performance. It would be different if there were channels through which formal sharing arrangements could be made easily. This represents an opportunity for outsourcing service providers to augment their own services by providing such a channel.

There is already one operating in the UK: The Liberata owned Capacity Grid connects 140 local authorities in the UK to provide spare revenue and benefits processing capacity to each other. Liberata provides the network and the connectivity and charges a fee on the transactions performed. It also offers its own processing services to local authorities on or off the grid. It is looking to expand its Capacity Grid portfolio.

Looking at the company’s financials, it has got over a pension-liability black hole which dragged it down for a few years before it was acquired by Endless in 2011. Today it reports steady revenues of circa £90m per annum and an operating profit margin of 7% based on its 2012 and 2013 results. Capacity Grid has helped it maintain its revenues and Liberata is looking for complementary acquisitions that add to it. In September 2014 it acquired Trustmarque, a UK-based IT services provider. The additional IT capabilities are likely to boost Capacity Grid’s infrastructure. The acquisition also boosts Liberata’s public sector clients, including UK government and the National Health Service (NHS). There are many common services across swathes of the public sector, e.g. primary care administration in the NHS, where the enterprise sharing economy is likely to get more traction than in other sectors.

The Capacity Grid shows that a sharing channel can work in the government-to-government (G2G) setting where the parties are not in competition with each other. There are also many complementary businesses in the private sector, such as partnerships, where the model could work in a B2B setting. This could see large enterprises, or their global in-house centers, or new entrants create a marketplace for overflow business capacity. Many service providers already have the network connectivity and the platforms to enable this kind of capacity or resource sharing. The model could also open the market for services to small and medium companies that make up more than 90% of businesses.

The traditional outsourcing market is already under pressure from other disruptions such as the business process as a service model (BPaaS) and automation. Pricing and delivery models are already changing and the enterprise sharing economy could add an alternative to the mix.

With digital transformation helping an increasing number of portions of the economy better match demand with capacity through sharing mechanisms, it would appear to be only a matter of time before enterprises are applying this to some of their business needs.


Photo credit: Carlos Maya

It’s a sign of the times. Understandable and predictable. But unfortunate. The Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate and the media are hammering Republican opponent Charlie Baker for an outsourcing award presented in 2008 to Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and service provider Perot Systems. Baker was Harvard Pilgrim’s CEO at the time, and the turnaround from bankruptcy involved moving some jobs to India.

It’s a sign of the times that the highly populist agenda in North America and Europe increasingly dominates politics to the point that an award given to a company six years ago is now used to denigrate a politician.

In and of itself, this will not move public opinion or change policy. But the populist desire to at least soft play the moving of work to low-cost locations in other countries doesn’t bode well for the global services industry or immigration reform. The services industry needs to be aware that it is clearly operating in a much more sensitive and emotional environment.

Election times are always difficult. And outsourcing and global services is an easy dog to kick. I think service providers need to be aware of this and work to lower their profile in these difficult times and focus on investments that can help offset this growing populism.


Photo credit: Coralie Mercier

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