Category

Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Digital Enterprise Iceberg | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

We all understand the power of digital — it enables us to change the way we interact with our customers, employees, vendors and governments. Getting interactions right with those stakeholder groups gives us powerful strategic advantages. However, the digital world is like an iceberg, and we tend to see only the tip. Below the water is a mass of ice that can sink digital outcomes just as it sunk the Titanic.

Companies that can change their stakeholder conversations in a meaningful way can change the game, changing the competitive landscape almost overnight, reaping enormous wealth. Wal-Mart and Interstate Battery achieved this outcome when they changed their supply chains. And Amazon, Google and H&R Block completely changed the game in their markets.

So what’s the problem? 

The business stakeholders see the tip of the iceberg. But the CIOs recognize that 90 percent of the expenses are below the surface and initially can’t be seen.

Digital iceberg

What we’re finding at Everest Group is that when companies switch to the digital world — such as creating a mobile app as a new way of communicating with Millennials about insurance offerings — there are huge pull-through implications on the rest of the organization.

For example, the company’s vendor systems may not be set up to interface to the new mobile app. Sure, the digital product enables the company to be able to spot new customers as they emerge. But the company needs to change its organizational systems to move into this instantaneous world so that the company can react quickly enough to take advantage of these opportunities or operate in a way that is digitally friendly in this new world.

We’ve all been through the experiences of the impact of the portion of iceberg under the water … such as the half promise when we’ve visited a website or used a mobile app to find we can only go part of the way. We get frustrated when the promise isn’t fulfilled.

As the figure above illustrates, many companies find a huge body of work that is not obvious when they start down the digital path. Although it looks like the cost and time required for launching a mobile app is small, the cost of getting to a great customer experience is high because it often requires huge amounts of infrastructure, application changes and organizational change to live in the new world.

In addition to the cost and time, there are other business risks in the iceberg portion below the water. And aligning the organization so it can operate at digital time requires significant effort and change management tactics. We tend to operate from committees. But in the digital world, that takes too long; it must be instantaneous.

Finally, providers need to venture into this new digital world while they still maintain the old world, thus increasing their investments in services capabilities. There are significant costs involved in dealing with the risks in the part of the iceberg hidden under the water.

OneHP and Progress towards Profitability and Growth | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

At HP EMEA analyst summit in London last week, the company highlighted progress towards strategic plans and targets. Key messages included:

  • Progress with implementing OneHP
  • Stronger sales
  • Better leveraging of HP technology and software IP with continued focus on the “New Style of IT”
  • Growing the advisory part of advise, transform, and manage

Under the moniker of OneHP, the different divisions within the group have been working more collaboratively to share skills and assets better. This strategy was further emphasized during the analyst summit with representatives from various divisions co-presenting sessions.

Stronger sales is a key initiative across the business. This has been achieved to some degree in EMEA already but there is still more to do; Q2 FY 2014 results showed that EMEA, which accounted for 38% of the company’s revenue had experienced growth of 4% compared with a decline of 6% in Americas and a growth of 1% in APAC year-on-year. However, growth was driven by hardware while services revenue shrunk. HP Enterprise Services (HPES) in particular, saw the biggest negative growth within HP group, of 7% year-on-year globally. HPES profit margin of 2.5% in Q2 2014 was up 100bps on previous quarter but unchanged year-on-year.

HP Enterprise Services

Focusing on HP Enterprise Services (HPES): the management presented a brighter outlook for sales than previous quarters with 400+ new clients added in 2013 and a very large deal in the pipeline. Signs of progress on strategic objectives included:

Sales restructuring: HPES has changed its sales structure with 29% of sales force deployed on proactive/new sales rather than scope extensions/renewals sales up from 4% in 2013. HPES has enhanced its sales collaboration tools to improve planning and execution. It is also improving account management. To enhance its sales HPES is hiring top talent as well as building a global practice to meet market demands.

New Style of IT: Delivering solutions for the new style of IT, comprised of capabilities for cloud, mobile, big data and security.  Examples of success in this activity include the Norfolk County Council contract which was won in 2013. Contract deliverables have included a cloud-based information hub for data sharing to enable public services work better in partnership with each other. HPES is also delivering desktop, data center and other infrastructure services to the council. The OneHP component includes the use of Autonomy and Vertica, as well as HP’s technical skills around cloud, desk top, virtualization and infrastructure capabilities.

Increasing advisory services: This is to enable HPES to engage with clients early, to help articulate requirements better and specify the solution that can draw on OneHP, to also increase higher margin services. An example of this is HPES’ contract with Seadrill which included advisory services to plan vacating a data center in six months and migrating 31 applications to the cloud, including some transformation. The advisory service appears focused on identifying potential innovation or transformation opportunities or helping clients define a solution as part of an on-going service. Carving a modernization niche for its advisory services, in this style, could help HPES potentially avoid coming into direct competition with major consultancies that would sell their services on a vendor/technology agnostic ticket and with SI partners that may be HP resellers.

Other measures underway include developing more vertical capabilities, becoming more business requirement-focused and continuing to reduce costs.

Overall, the focus of the event was heavily on IT with BPO limited to a short part of the HPES deep dive session. HPES maintains that BPO is an important part of its business and it is currently bidding for a new major contract in the UK government sector. My take is that BPO has become something of a quandary for HPES. Although it values the business and wants to grow it, other activities appear to get the higher share of resources. Yet, we live in the era of increasing digital channels and automated processes. HPES’ IP and access to vast technology resources should position it to do well in this market. Some of its IP such as Vertica, Autonomy, and multiple content/document management software can be used to deliver analytic-based or more automated digital BPO services. HPES also has a whole load of vertical capabilities, such as banking, government tax and revenue, and healthcare, that it can take advantage of to leverage platform-based BPO sales. HPES is taking a good hard look at these assets. A comprehensive strategy for growth of the BPO line could bring all the different components together to target emerging demand for a new style of BPO such as analytic-based services (e.g. revenue assurance, fraud and error, and risk management).

How to Make Your Website Invisible | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

There’s a big move underway, especially among the Indian firms, to rebrand away from outsourcing and BPO. The industry now prefers to use a variety of other terms such as BPM, BPS and managed service. But the immediate impact of changing the terminology on a provider’s website is that the website disappears from the search engines, effectively turning the company into stealth mode and sabotaging marketing efforts when potential customers turn to search engines to look for those services.

In the U.S. market, the term outsourcing is saddled with the negative connotation of job loss and exporting jobs. And in the Indian market, negative connotations have attached themselves to the BPO brand due to BPO workers enjoying themselves in their first job out of college and often getting into interesting escapades that appear to be an aggressive, risky lifestyle. BPO is increasingly seen in a poor light, particularly among the parents of the Indian workforce the providers seek to attract.

India’s service providers have nothing to be embarrassed about; they offer employees high-paying jobs with good career potential. But in an attempt to deal with the negative connotations, they are changing the terms “outsourcing” and “BPO” to sidestep the problematic issues. It’s quite understandable.

There’s no doubt that the industry has accumulated these difficult brand connotations, and we would all prefer not to work in an industry with negative brand connotations. However, businesses tunnel to Google for marketing and, by calling themselves by other terms, they disappear from the search engines.

Nevertheless, customers continue to believe that they’re buying outsourcing and BPO services and are confused and somewhat annoyed about these new terms they must learn. It violates the first rule of marketing, which I’ve blogged about before: it’s all about the customer.

At a time when services growth is becoming more difficult, going into stealth mode in search engines may not be the wisest course of action.


Photo credit: Daniel

Tech Mahindra Puts Satyam to Bed | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Tech Mahindra has run the gauntlet of stabilizing after its acquisition of the corrupt-ridden Satyam. The fully integrated companies have a unified leadership team, the client base is satisfied and stable, and Tech Mahindra has a robust brand. The provider is now turning its focus to growth.

When Satyam imploded through a well-documented set of corruption cases, Mahindra stepped forward to acquire its assets and, by extension, stabilize the Indian heritage services industry.

It has been a long, difficult journey for Tech Mahindra, more difficult than anticipated. Mahindra had to wrestle with rooting out the corrupt practices, getting the books restated, negotiating with the regulatory bodies and shareholder lawsuits, satisfying a concerned customer base, dealing with a nervous employee base and transitioning from the tainted Satyam brand to the robust but less well known Tech Mahindra brand.

Although there was some client flight, many clients chose to stay and wait it out. These clients are now satisfied and pleased with the progress Tech Mahindra has made.

Kudos to Tech Mahindra for enduring the journey to a successful outcome. We’ll watch with interest as they now focus on growth.

Celaton Puts the Artificial in Intelligent Business Process Automation | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

As a part of our efforts to profile the rapidly evolving service delivery automation landscape, I am speaking with the leaders of many of the technology players who are helping stimulate innovation in this space. It is an exciting time for automation and the following observations and learnings come from one of my recent conversations, a briefing with Andrew Anderson, founder and CEO of Celaton. Stay tuned to learn more as I speak with other leading players.

Celaton and its Proposition

UK-based Celaton was born out of the management buyout of Redrock software from Netstore plc and the acquisition of DG Tech in 2004. Today it has revenue of circa £2.5m and the same amount of investment by Business Growth Fund to enhance its sales and marketing capabilities.

Celaton’s artificial intelligence software, inSTREAM is designed to handle labor intensive administrative tasks. It takes unstructured content, such as correspondence, complaints, letters, faxes, e-mails, and attachments, learns to understand the content and context and then processes the information. inSTREAM is a self-learning system. When it is first deployed it will need human guidance on what to do. It learns from experience. The more it does the faster it becomes as it learns how to handle different requirements according to the rules and knowledge that it accumulates.

inSTREAM reads unstructured content and applies rules to it to identify and understand key information such as context, sentiment, importance and urgency. It then structures the content and feeds it into the appropriate line of business application (LOB) for processing. The objective is to get guaranteed perfect structured data that can be fed into a line of business system such as ERP, CRM, and workflow, so that the data can continue along its corporate journey. In many instances, the data that goes into the LOB system has to be connected to its source e.g. route to source in the insurance industry where there is the need to go back to the original document for audit purposes. InSTREAM retains the data that it has processed including the original source document. It delivers the data to the LOB system and the document to a document management system.

InSTREAM is a non-invasive system.  Integration is done via web services or the data can be delivered to a holding area for the target system to pick up.

inSTREAM runs on Microsoft platforms utilizing SQL Server, Internet Information Server and .NET technologies. It can process all types of incoming documents, and it is platform agnostic. It is provided on a hosted basis. Subscription rates are based on volumes, complexity of the processes in question, and the levels of benefits that it is expected to generate.  Pricing starts from £1500 per month and can go up to £60k or more per month.

Celaton’s typical customers are retail, travel and insurance companies. Benefits are realized through increased productivity and improved customer management. One client, a UK loss adjuster, has reportedly reduced its head count by 85% while managing a fivefold increase peak in demand in insurance claims.

Celaton has a reselling partnership with Agilisys, the UK technology and outsourcing services company, was the first to sign up. Agilisys Automate, based on inSTREAM, is targeted at UK local government sector and has its first customer, a London borough council, signed up already. There are more council deals in the pipeline.

Carving a Niche in AI-based Business Process Automation

Celaton is carving a niche for itself in textual and document processing automation. It is in the right place at the right time to grow with rising demand in the market.

My take on the company’s proposition, benefits and challenges:

Competition: There are not many competitors in this field with AI-based standalone tools, but some capabilities are on offer as part of other offerings. Examples include Oracle RightNow Email Management Cloud Service and its Email Management which is integrated with a self-learning knowledge base and across customer interaction channels. Optimized for smartphones and mobile web devices, this receives enquiries via email and web forms and automates responses. New entrants to the market are highly likely with at least one new product on its way – a new cognitive engine from a well-known IT services automation company.

Marketing: The cost advantage of automation can clearly be significant but there are challenges too. Celaton has to overcome buyer uncertainty about machines doing the job of an employee in a service-line, such as in-bound document management, which has to deal with highly unstructured content. A Good marketing of a few success stories could work wonders. Anderson is doing a good job of telling the Celaton story and the company also has a substantial investment by BGF to orchestrate a robust marketing campaign.

Go-to-market and Scaling Up: I believe one way for Celaton to find more willing clients is to target companies that have outsourced their in-bound document handling and who are looking beyond labor arbitrage and offshoring to build on efficiencies. Celaton also has to look for ways that it can scale up to respond to demand. At the moment it is the only company that can fully configure, deploy and host inSTREAM. Agilisys is coming up to speed but more deployment partners are needed to meet the two objectives of reaching the right client segment and gaining scale.

Outsourcing service providers are also looking for new ways to increase their cost competitiveness, but they need to think about alternative pricing to the FTE-based model.

Service Provider Investment Quandary

Service providers will be investigating partnership opportunities with Celaton and other automation technology providers, such as Blue Prism, and asking themselves the classic question about timing new investment. Do they invest in business process automation today or wait for the opportunities to come before spending on new capabilities? Agilisys has gone halfway – with Agilisys Automate, it is focusing on technology sales for now and gaining new skills.  Other service providers, such as Sutherland Global Services and Capita have already invested in automation (e.g. Blue Prism). For the undecided, there are lessons from the journey of analytics into the business process services market. What started as added value is now being built into specific offerings by some leading vendors. A similar approach to automation could lead to a significant competitive edge through automation.

Check back for more of our views on technology players in service delivery automation.

Can Margin Improvement Programs Arrest the Services Deteriorating Margins Trend? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

A significant trend in the services world is that margins are coming down, and there is a lot of discussion today among industry players about how to improve margins. In an effort to arrest or slow this margin pressure, some providers are moving into programs to address the falling margins. There are a significant number of levers available to service providers to lower their cost and maintain or raise margins. However, these are only short-term plays, and I think they may be overlooking a troubling long-term issue.

Margin levers

Moreover, the margin pressure is underpinned by a growing recognition in the customer base that providers do not need to sustain high margins.

As firms see their margins come under pressure, they pull such levers as reallocating locations, reworking their pyramid structures, using more aggressive visa-based strategies for their onshore landed populations or investing in power tools and productivity vehicles to make their operations more efficient. There are a significant number of levers to lower a provider’s cost and, in the short run, maintain or raise margins.

Many providers today are successfully slowing the trend, and it’s very impressive that they generate these programs and activities to recapture their margins.

But these improvement programs only slow the trend of falling margins; they don’t arrest or reverse the trend.

The troubling long-term issue

The overall story of services is that once the industry is in a race to the bottom, competitive forces pressure the providers to pass their margin improvements through to their customers. It’s an absolute necessity for providers to undertake margin improvement programs, but they are only short term in nature. Eventually providers end up having to give it back to customers in order to maintain wallet share.

A smart margin move

Interestingly, Cognizant and TCS got an early start on programs to improve their margins, but they were not short-sighted in their strategy. They used their surplus margins to invest in growth engines, further exacerbating the margin pressure on the rest of the industry players.


Photo credit: Marlon Malabanan

Snowflakes in the Global Services World | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

There is increasing skepticism and cynicism in the customer ranks in the hyper-competitive environment of the services world. As a customer commented to me, “Providers are like snowflakes. They all think they are unique, but they look just like everybody else. And if you put them under pressure, they all become the same thing.”

The customer was referring to being bombarded with providers’ offers in PowerPoint presentations and the fact that many of the presentations are “paper thin and aspirational.”

Providers come in with the latest hot topic (especially digital, cloud or cloud orchestration) or what they’ve heard at a conference, spinning that into a PowerPoint presentation. But, as the customer explained, it very quickly becomes apparent that the provider has no real experience or only limited experience in the service touted in the presentation. At best there are one or two examples of having done something similar. The offer is more PowerPoint than reality.

There is another problem with these thin PowerPoint offers. These presentations are all about the provider — how smart it is, how capable it is and the complications involved in the provider delivering the service. But this information is of limited interest to the customer, who wants to talk about their own business issues.

The offer overload showing thin experience results in customers’ increasing cynicism. And the focus on the provider creates further barriers for good conversations. Adding to the negative impression, providers usually offer these aspirational PowerPoint multiple times; but essentially, this accomplishes only one outcome: it reduces the customer’s willingness to entertain new offers.


Photo credit: Andrew Magill

Infosys Divides in Two — a Bold Move | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Infosys made headlines recently, announcing the separation of its products, platforms and solutions (PPS) business into a subsidiary called Edgeverve Systems. It’s a bold move, but in many respects it makes sense. Here’s my take on the implications and potential net result of the spinout strategy.

As I explained in an article in The Times of India, Infosys’ PPS business — platforms, cloud products, and other digital services — are fundamentally a different kind of business than the firm’s historical labor arbitrage, skills-based business. The two models have different value propositions, selling maneuvers, adoption patterns and investment profiles.

Separating the two kinds of business allows Infosys management to keep the focus unconfused and allows Infosys to become masters of both business models. It allows them time and investment to develop its Edge series digital products in anticipation of demand, rather than focusing on revenue from the PPS business (historically only 5.2 percent of Infosys’ business).

It also allows management to continue focusing on the labor arbitrage business while revenue grows over time from the new-generation offerings of the Edgeverve subsidiary. Cognizant, TCS and other providers have demonstrated that there is still plenty of room left for growth in the labor arbitrage model. Although the growth is slowing, it is growing faster than the overall services industry.

Infosys recognizes that growth in its labor arbitrage business will be harder and not like the good old days; but at the same time, they recognize that they can do better. By separating the two business models of Infosys, Infosys acknowledges that they can and should go faster in the labor arbitrage, skills-based space. And this is coupled with a focus on going after larger transactions.

Two notable potential outcomes

If Infosys executes this spinout strategy successfully, I think it will result in better growth than they would otherwise get. The net result hopefully will be faster growth in both areas and more focused and nuanced value propositions for serving their clients.

As I said at the beginning of this blog: it’s a bold move, but it makes a lot of sense. So if it’s successful, I think it could lead the way for other service providers to separate their historical businesses and new-generation digital businesses.

New York’s Plan for Medicaid Services — and Why It Matters | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

A movement is underway in the state of New York that, if successful, could result in a seismic shake-up in the U.S. healthcare industry. In a contract now under bid for developing a new program for processing Medicaid claims, New York will shift to paying for Medicaid on a managed-care basis rather than the current system of paying by procedure. The risks are high for both the state and its selected service provider, but so are the opportunities for the first movers to capture a large market throughout the country.

Why the change in pricing structure?

Basically New York wants to pay by service. They want to pay healthcare providers (doctors and hospitals) to treat a patient for an ailment but don’t want to pay for all the different procedures that go into that. The state’s goal in changing the structure is to give providers incentives to work with their patients efficiently against the goal of curing them, rather than maximizing their revenue by doing more procedures.

It’s a lofty goal that shows great promise. We can all agree that incentives matter and curing more people at a lower price is a wonderful thing. But there are consequences that accompany this goal.

The consequences are big

The backbone of the Medicaid system is a transactional billing process and platforms for paying by procedure. Achieving New York’s goal will require changing Medicaid’s underlying computer systems and operations of Medicaid. It’s well worth doing, but it’s a big issue.

The stakes are high

New York is one of the first to come to market for changing the payment structure, and the stakes are very high. As we saw with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), big rewrites of healthcare platforms are risky, expensive and painful. New York’s plan is no less risky, expensive and painful in that it deals with a substantial part of the U.S. economy and the services cover the poorest of the poor — an important set of stakeholders that we don’t want to disenfranchise.

The risks are also high for the service providers that win the contract to work with the state to develop the new structure. Hopefully New York learned from the lessons of implementing the Affordable Care Act and will spend adequate time defining the requirements and selecting the appropriate service providers and will also create flexibility for the providers as they move down the journey of discovery to build these new platforms. The requirements will emerge as they start working on the problem, making the traditional waterfall process of government contracting difficult.

The stakes are also high for the healthcare providers, who don’t wish to be in the cross-hairs of public scrutiny as the early adopters of the exchanges in the Affordable Care Act.

The benefits are substantial

Despite the high risks, the benefits are equally high. A restructured payment system promises better patient outcomes, greater efficiency for the state, and an improved healthcare industry. And the first mover that successfully builds this platform will be well positioned to capture a very large market and resell it to the other 49 states.

It’s a risky, high-stakes game. But they have all to play for.

The Industry-Wide Significance of Accenture’s PureApps Acquisition | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

By | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Accenture recently announced its acquisition of PureApps, a UK-based Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) provider.  Our understanding is that it’s a full-service provider for all Oracle Hyperion EPM and BA solutions. Nevertheless, PureApps is a small firm and the revenue won’t make a noticeable difference to Accenture. So why is Accenture buying PureApps? My opinion: they are buying a niche player as an influence point with a stakeholder group that is growing in importance in the technology and in BPO services.

PureApps’ services in implementing Oracle Hyperion give them relationships at the office of the CFO. As I recently blogged, the office of the CFO is growing in influence for tech spend, especially in the transformation space. With this acquisition, Accenture gains the advantage of a set of services and immediate credibility in serving CFOs.

This is a nice — and important — acquisition as it gives Accenture the following benefits:

  • Enables more relevance and a counter play to the CFO access sphere that Deloitte and the Big Four consulting firms currently enjoy for large-scale transformation projects.
  • Strengthens Accenture’s position in the European markets.

Bottom line: the acquisition is a smart play for stable growth in the core consulting/transformation space, which will continue to grow as the digital world gains momentum.