Enterprise evaluation of disruption in both outcome and approach to innovation
Enterprise evaluation of disruption in both outcome and approach to innovation
The business environment in which today’s IT service providers are operating is one of the most challenging in recent times. A host of buy- and supply-side factors are impacting the prices they can feasibly and competitively charge their enterprise clients in the U.S., and their margins are being constricted at every turn.
On the buy-side, ongoing commodity slowdown led to overall softening in the global services market in 2016. Uncertainties created by Brexit in mid-year and the U.S. elections in Q4 delayed decisions on new sourcing contracts and temporary cuts in discretionary spending in SI type engagements.
The quantum of large application outsourcing (AO)/systems integration (SI) deals (>US$100 million annual contract value, or ACV) as a percent of total deals fell from 3.3 percent in 2015 to a low of 1.7 percent in 2016, reducing the pricing cushion typically afforded by large deals. And because enterprises continue to maintain a portfolio of preferred AO vendors to foster price competitiveness and innovation, resulting in a price war for deals, the average ACV in AO deals dropped by ~20% in 2016.
Most enterprises are optimizing their portfolios of contracted relationships to reduce overall TCO by improving nomenclatures, rates, service levels, T&Cs, productivity, etc., leading to a dip in realized revenue per FTE for providers.
Additional downward pressure on realized revenue per FTE has resulted from an increase in brownfield automation, especially in compete situations and second generation renewals. And renewals fell sharply, from 55 percent in 2015 to just 27 percent in 2016, driving price wars among providers.
On the supply-side, although resource utilization increased for Tier 1 service providers from ~80 percent in 2015 to >82 percent in 2016, it is beginning to max out as a delivery optimization lever. Consequently, providers are trying to achieve higher efficiencies and sustain margins via better project planning, DevOps, agile staffing, and proactive use of automation.
There is extreme competition in most rebid and re-compete situations, which has led to an overall decline in pricing. We saw an average dip of 1-2 percent in AO /SI FTE rate cards, but bigger dips in overall account-level TCVs. And per rate cards, some enterprises have pushed for single onshore rate card that doesn’t delineate between local and landed resources, leading to cheaper onshore rates. That said, the new U.S. government may push for more onshore hiring and localized presence, including sanctions on landed resources. This may push onshore rates higher, marginalize the landed resource model, and put additional margin pressures on service providers in the second half of 2017.
All this paints a pretty gloomy picture for IT service providers. However, they have started pivoting towards a digital first future, which can help stem their margin and profit erosion, and reverse the worrisome growth deceleration. Most are growing their top line and/or capability portfolio inorganically. Most are also investing in and pitching automation capabilities in a bullish manner. While this may led to a near-term cannibalization of their traditional offerings, in the medium- to long-term it will help sustain their margins in a price competitive landscape.
Do you believe that a digital first pivot will help service providers get back to double digit growth rates?
Recently, corporate developments, such as management changes, corporate governance, and investor activism across Indian IT service providers, have bombarded the investor community. Many investors perceive the initiatives taken by these companies to be a watershed moment in their histories.
Furthermore, with next generation automation, digital services, artificial intelligence (AI), and other disruptors creating massive, requisite, and unavoidable change in the IT services industry, investors and service providers are in increasingly opposing schools of thought. However, many of the investment firms we work with struggle to correlate these developments with their investments and returns.
Given the scale of the IT industry and the pace of disruption happening in the entire ecosystem, it’s valuable to take a few minutes to dissect and analyze the situation.
Growth vs. profitability equation – digital arbitrage vs. labor arbitrage
For the past two decades, Indian IT service providers have reported a stellar net profit margin in the range of 18-25 percent. The business grew on the investments made in human resources. The players achieved impressive returns primarily due to their grip on labor arbitrage. The investor community embraced the stocks, and experienced significant returns. For instance, an investment of US$350 in one of the top Indian IT service providers in 1992 would have yielded US$377,643 in 2015!
The emerging IT services model – driven by digital disruptors – gives little emphasis to labor arbitrage or the providers’ earlier factory model, and instead focuses on innovation and value creation for enterprises that extends far beyond greater efficiency. Not many IT service providers have demonstrated a mindset aligned to these new requirements. They are still hesitant to loosen their noose on profitability, as they set investor expectations very high with their earlier business model.
What is bothering investors?
Investment firms we work with believe that most disruptive technologies will drive lower profitability for Indian IT service providers likely in the 8-15 percent net profit range. They also believe that technology disruption will not allow the same level of offshoring as before, and will further erode profitability.
As most of the Indian IT service providers have zero debt and own huge piles of cash, investors think they should receive distributions in the form of dividends. Their demand is stronger when they learn the providers are going to invest in low-margin digital businesses, as they believe they will not receive the optimal reward they are due.
Believing that the market is undervaluing their stocks, IT service providers are planning share buybacks, spinning them as a way to reward shareholders. However, they actually plan to reduce tax leakages caused by dividend distribution, as Indian tax law stipulates they pay a 15 percent Dividend Distribution Tax (DDT) on dividends paid. Additionally, the share buybacks help them increase their control over the company.
What is the reality?
Both these opposing schools of thought fail to think in the long term.
Investors looking for dividends aren’t acknowledging Berkshire Hathaway’s theory of dividends. If a business can deliver promising returns in the long-run, dividends act as a negative catalyst for growth. In an attempt to pacify their investors, most of whom are technology novices, most Indian IT service companies are relabeling their old offerings as “digital.” Instead of dividends, investors need to ask IT service providers’ leadership tough questions on how they plan to use their large cash piles relative to their IP, platforms, acquisition, talent development, and client relationship strategies. How do they plan to differentiate in this crowded market? When large-scale offshore development centers fail to provide the needed competitive advantage, what does their armory contain to create shareholder value?
The way in which IT service providers are surrendering to investor pressures gives the impression that they are not willing to utilize their cash for digital technology investments. This in turn reinforces the popular opinion that Indian IT service providers are not confident enough to tide over the current transition. That some of the providers are distributing cash instead of putting the money in beneficial investments is making some market observers uncomfortable.
Furthermore, if the providers are not planning to distribute cash, they must ensure that they use the money for useful investments rather than just share buybacks. This is a win-win situation, as the providers get a boost to their topline and ability to endure the current business transition, and shareholders get maximized wealth in the long term. Net-net, firms that invest wisely are going to withstand the changeover, while those that use their cash piles to temporarily shut out investors are likely to witness a tough time.
Are these companies capable of implementing the business model?
As the adage goes, easier said than done. Although service providers are vocal about re-skilling employees opening onshore centers focused on digital services, the viability of these initiatives are questionable. The majority of these companies have amateur design thinking capabilities, and their DNA is around supplying people, not innovation and strategic partnerships. Indeed, in our recently published report “Customer (Dis) Satisfaction: Why Are Enterprises Unhappy with the Service Providers,” enterprises only gave providers a score of five out of 10 on their strategic partnering abilities.
Only time will tell whether service providers made the right move in distributing cash or investing in low-margin businesses.
The IT services industry experienced a 1.0 percentage point decline in growth in the quarter ending September 2016
The industry grew by 3.1% in CQ3 2016 (in organic, constant currency terms) over period in the prior year.
High cost pressures, market uncertainty drive decline in application outsourcing deals and rise in vendor consolidation.
Capital market firms—which are operating under difficult market conditions, facing an increasingly complex regulatory environment and competing with aggressive new financial technology entrants—find themselves needing to invest in next-generation technologies while holding IT budgets steady, according to new research from Everest Group. This implies that the only plausible way to continue technological advancement will be to fund change initiatives with money saved by run-the-business initiatives.
“Capital markets firms are struggling with increasing costs, increasing regulation, and a period of low growth,” said Jimit Arora, partner at Everest Group. “In addition, technological advancement, especially digital, has created a new set of competitors that are not weighed down by the burden of legacy in their product portfolio, customer relationships and IT setup. The imperative for capital market firms is to focus on growth, profitability and managing risk, and their IT investment must be focused on cost optimization and improving the customer experience.
“As a result, the implications for IT service providers serving capital market firms are to tailor their offerings with next-generation technologies and offer utility-based services that help clients achieve their business objectives quickly. They also should look to collaborate with clients to invest in innovation and form alliances with leading platform providers.”
These recommendations and research findings are explored in two recently published Everest Group reports available at https://www.everestgrp.com/:
In the 2016 PEAK Matrix™ Assessment of IT outsourcing in global capital markets, Everest Group identifies seven Leaders among the 27 firms assessed: Accenture, Cognizant, HCL Technologies, IBM, Infosys, TCS and Wipro.
In addition, the report identifies five service providers—Capgemini, EPAM, Hexaware, Luxoft and VirtusaPolaris—as the Star Performers based on their positive forward movement over time in terms of both market success and capability advancements.
Other key findings in the reports:
Service providers lagging behind in industry developments will be caught in a vicious cycle of margin contraction and decline as automation becomes a mainstay of managed IT infrastructure services engagements