The 40-40 Rule of Disruption in Global Services | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

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.

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