Science fiction authors have long predicted a world in which intelligent robots take over the world. Classic authors such as Isaac Asimov even created ways in which humans should interact with robots, predicting that there will eventually be a problem defining the difference between a human and robot. After all, if a robot can learn, is self-aware, and grows in intelligence and human empathy as it ages then how can you define it as “not alive”?
This has created our fear of robots. They are fine if they are just performing repetitive tasks on a car assembly line, but if they can learn and improve then one day they might be better than humans.
But we are not close to that time yet. Anyone who has used the Apple Siri device knows that it can be extremely useful if you ask a question like: “where is the nearest Italian restaurant?” but ask it to define the meaning of life and it will be lost.
However, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is becoming a real thing in the Business Process Outsourcing area of services. RPA allows the concept of robots to be applied to services – so it may often just be a piece of software rather than a physical robot, but if it performs a specific service then it gets the robot name.
A good example in contact centres. A vast number of calls to contact centres are repetitive and don’t require a human. For example if you are calling your bank to change address or you just need a balance on your account or you are asking your telephone company to recharge your account with some extra data. Basic interactions like these can be diverted to software systems that understand the voice of the customer and react as a normal agent would, except it’s the robot system performing actions, not a real live agent.
What is interesting though is that some companies with a large volume of interactions – like telcos – are finding that they can allow the system to learn. The robot can be given basic instructions, but can learn from every customer interaction, so the robot learns how to fix problems it was not originally programmed to fix and it can identify trends and patterns in the customer enquiries.
The fear for many humans working in areas such as contact centres is that these robots will entirely replace them, but as this Chicago Inno article shows, the robots are actually supporting the human jobs. Humans are performing more valued-added tasks that require insight and an ability to analyse the data being created. The robots can remove much of the repetitive work and can do it faster.
RPA is going to be the next step for Big Data. How can companies learn from all the information they have and then create processes that can intelligently interact with their customers?
It’s still at the early stages. Some companies are using RPA to improve their customer experience, but the likelihood of RPA learning how to run the company and replacing the humans is remote at present.
However, they are getting better. Just imagine where we might be in a decade from now? Eventually we might need to start reading Asimov once again so we can figure out how to integrate the robots into society!
by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on March 28, 2016
The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) recently published new research exploring the size of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data markets in the UK economy with predictions running from 2015 to 2020. These two technologies are expected to add £322 billion to the British economy during this period and although the research is focused only on the UK it can be safely assumed that the effect will be similar in other developed European markets making the effect of these two technologies enormous.
In the UK, the scale of this effect is worth 2.7% of the national GDP and is therefore not just of interest to technology firms, and companies that require technology solutions, these technologies are literally going to change the economy in regions where they are deployed. The opportunities are increasing on a daily basis.
The research indicates that telecoms firms are already strongly adopting both Big Data and IoT solutions, but other industries are catching up and expressing a strong interest in how these technologies can help. Retail banking is expected to overtake telecoms soon for Big Data analytics and it’s no surprise because this is an industry that is being shaken to the core.
The big advantage of improving the use of data analytics is that companies can get to know their customer behaviour better. This means they can adjust their offer to the customer and personalise the service received, all leading to improved revenue and happier customers.
In a business like banking, new start-ups are finding that they can pick a small part of the business, like remittances or lending, and focus on that one service. If they can launch an app offering the service and it is cheaper and better than a traditional bank then they can start growing their market share.
The banks cannot stop this happening, but they can start adjusting their own customer experience so that their existing customers do not desert them for rivals. To make this happen needs information about customer behaviour and that’s where Big Data fits into the story. Knowing your customer needs better insights and technology tools like Big Data analytics and the IoT are what will help you to design how your business is going to work after 2020.
by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on March 14, 2016
The analyst firm Gartner recently published their latest evaluation on offshore outsourcing for the EMEA region in 2016. The report paints a positive picture of nearshoring within Europe with labour rates substantially lower than most western European countries.
Gartner found that the Eastern European countries can also compete on their geographic and time zone proximity to other nations within Europe, and on the availability of language skills beyond just English. Countries such as Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria also offer political and economic stability through EU membership and close cultural affinity with Western Europe and the U.S.
What is interesting for companies such as IBA Group is that Gartner did explore the options further east. When commenting on countries such as Russia, Belarus, and Egypt the report says: “[these countries] offer lower labour rates, but entail higher risks concerning legal maturity, intellectual property protection, security and ease of doing business.”
Belarus scores well on several measures that Gartner mention in their analysis, particularly the high level of government support for business and the low local labour cost. The Belarus government has invested in education to create a workforce skilled in IT – it has been growing at 35% per year since 2006. Some of the government incentives include a 0% corporate tax rate and a flat 9% income tax rate – for companies using the Hi-Tech Park Initiatives.
Gartner cites the Payscale index and suggests that a software developer in Belarus earned $14,000 to $16,000 per year based on data from last year. The labour inflation in Belarus is 5% per year and employee attrition/turnover rates are also around 5% per year – both figures are relatively low compared to other European countries.
Most IT activity in Belarus is focused on Minsk, but other locations are rapidly growing and also featuring technology parks, such as in Gomel, Grodno, Brest, Vitebsk, and Mogilev.
The Eastern European nearshoring is well known already, but it’s exciting to see that companies such as Gartner are now seriously covering locations such as Belarus. For more information on Gartner and to request a copy of the nearshoring report click here.
The writing’s on the wall: robots are coming. The latest report issued by the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers shows that if you earn between 20$ and 40$ an hour, there’s a 31% chance you’ll be replaced by a robot in the near future. If you earn less than 20$ an hour, the probability is as high as 83%.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is unstoppable. But is it time to start packing and looking for a new job? The abovementioned report states that throughout the years in the past, many workers had been replaced by technological innovations, but this had led them to find jobs with higher salaries, consume more, create a number of new workplaces. This pattern might be applicable to the situation in the future.
Automation is not a completely new trend. The first robots made their way to the United States in 1961, and since then they’ve been increasing productivity and making people’s work easier. Right now, a lot of IT processes are performed by algorithms.
Robots can be both complements and substitutes, and cooperation between robots and humans allows for discoveries that neither can achieve on their own. RPA in biology and medicine is believed to have tremendous potential. RPA in IT provides opportunity to pass all routine work to robots and let humans do the work that require creativity and imagination. Thus, the situation is not as black-and-white as it may seem.
Those employees who find themselves in the ‘risk group’ require additional training to be able to quickly and smoothly move to new jobs. New generations of workers are already aware of the importance of RPA and other emerging technologies, and they are more likely to be adapted for the upcoming tech revolution.
It’s still unclear whether the pace at which the innovation happens will leave a lot of people unemployed in the next year or two, or it will happen gradually to give people time to regroup and retrain. But being aware of the trend might be the best solution at the moment.
by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on February 25, 2016
Big Data is one of those buzzwords everyone is talking about, but as I have been saying for some time now, most companies are performing some kind of data analysis on their customers or suppliers and have been doing so for years without ever calling it Big Data.
There does come a time when the data being analysed is so huge and fast changing that specific Big Data tools are required, but the reality is that many organisations are already performing some kind of data analysis that could be termed Big Data – without them even realising it.
A new study from Dresdner Advisory Services backs up my observations. When asked specifically if they use Big Data, just 17% of companies responded yes on this survey. 47% said that it might be used in future. However, 59% of the respondents also claimed that Big Data is “critically important” to their business. Something is wrong?
The survey shows that the definition of Big Data is perhaps one of the problems here. Most companies don’t have petabytes of data to analyse and they therefore are performing data analysis, but not thinking of it as Big Data analysis. If the manager doesn’t think of the problem as big enough then they don’t use the term Big Data.
However there are many areas of industry where this is about to change, largely driven by technologies such as mobile and the Internet of Things. Think of an example such as a retailer needing to create the same customer experience for an in-store customer, as that same customer would receive online.
These problems require data. They also need it to be analysed fast. While a customer is in-store and tracked using their mobile device, decisions can be taken about whether to give the customer a discount code based on their profile. During payment, recommendations for other products can be made based on sales history.
All these processes are easy to imagine, some retailers are getting this sophisticated now, but to make it happen it needs the IT system to be joined-up with data that can be analysed in real-time – allowing the system to take decisions itself.
Another easy to imagine examine is with automobiles. Cars are increasingly connected to the Internet via smart phones and wi-fi. They will increasingly diagnose problems and communicate with the manufacturer without the driver being aware that the car is fixing itself. The amount of data captured and exchanged for this to work is enormous, yet in most cases the customer is entirely unaware of the processes taking place.
So how big is big might still be a question for many, but I think that we are on the cusp of an explosion in data use – analysing this much information will certainly be a part of the bigger picture for Big Data.
by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on February 10, 2016
The debate over nearshoring and more remote offshore outsourcing has rumbled on for years in Europe. The debate over voice contact centres was fairly conclusively resolved a while back, with it becoming clear that most clients prefer their contact centre to be closer to home, but the broader IT and IT services market has still embraced all kinds of outsourced model.
However in all the outsourcing predictions for 2016 I have seen the resurgence of the European offshoring model several times. For example, a recent report by the analyst Global Remote Services says:
“Nearshoring will continue to gain momentum in Eastern Europe – nearshoring is fast becoming an option which is seen as being more skill specific for businesses with a mixture of complex, high-end projects as they realise the value in keeping outsourced work close to where the business generally is. Nearshoring in Eastern Europe will continue to grow as it becomes attractive and competitive to the UK market, and also much ‘nearer-to-final-customer’ and ‘easier-to-manage’ versus far-shoring.”
We all know the typical arguments when comparing Eastern Europe to a more remote location, such as India, but I think it’s important than advisors are now focusing heavily on skills availability.
Outsourcing has long been considered a “lift and drop” business strategy, which is how it got the reputation for being all about saving cash. Let’s take a process, lift it out of the business and drop it completely into a supplier and get the same work done for less. That’s the old approach, but times have changed.
The boundary of organisations has become more blurred, particularly when expert skills are needed. Organisations are hired to provide those skills, but they work in the office of the client, with the client team. The client and supplier merge together to create a solution today, rather than the client firing an entire department and dropping those processes offshore.
Outsourcing has become a more mature business strategy and with a greater value placed today on skills and partnership, it’s no surprise that nearshoring is returning to the boardroom agenda.
One of the trends for 2016 that is certain to only increase in importance is the use of data analysis across many different types of organisation. Big Data and the real-time analysis of data in general is reshaping many industries, redefining how companies build a relationship with their customers.
The fact that this change is applicable across all industries is the most important aspect of this trend. Almost every company in every industry is exploring how a better use of data can give them the edge in 2016. Three specific areas I see as being really important for the year ahead are:
1. The Internet of Things (IoT); tech commentators like talking about the smart fridge that knows you need more eggs, but this is going to be a much more serious trend. If every electric device you own is networked then some incredible new possibilities are created from cars that can self-diagnose and fix problems without you even being aware of it to being able to control anything in your home remotely.
2. Machine Learning; many contact centres have been exploring how robots equipped with product knowledge can handle simple customer service enquiries. As they learn more about what customers want they will get far better and eventually even be able to anticipate what the customer needs. This ability to learn and apply knowledge with physical or virtual robots will be really important. It’s 5 years now since the IBM Watson system beat the TV game show Jeopardy, now doctors are training Watson in how to recognise and diagnose illnesses.
3. Data Security; the weak spot in all systems that need customer data is that the customers become too scared to share their information – scared of data leaks and hacker attacks. The Ashley Madison attack in 2015 was an example of how hackers can even threaten the existence of a company, just by stealing data.
Big Data, and data analysis in general, will certainly be more important in 2016 because it is now affecting so many companies, but this final point is important. As customers share more data there is the danger of more leaks and more attacks. The only thing that will prevent the benefits of enhanced data analysis becoming a reality is if people become wary of sharing information.
Technology outsourcing has changed dramatically in the past few years, but what are the key changes ahead in 2016? A new report in CIO magazine lists their view on the ten key trends to watch for. In my view, from those ten, these three are really worth your attention:
1. Cloud and as-a-service infrastructure; services are being built in a far more flexible way allowing software and infrastructure to all be located in the cloud and to scale up or down as required. Companies only pay for the systems and software they use today, not licenses for software that needs to be installed or rooms full of servers.
2. Vendors get more flexible; contract times are getting shorter and payment schedules are changing, but this is mostly because the idea of the client and supplier is changing. IT experts are becoming true partners, becoming a part of the team and contracts are starting to reflect this change in the relationship.
3. Automation; a lot of what we considered to be processes that needed to be performed by humans can be learned by robots now. Robotic Process Automation will allow robots (can be just software rather than physical robots) to learn processes and repeat them, then to learn with experience.
Despite all these suggestions from CIO magazine, one of the most critical changes is the way that IT services are purchased. With more systems available as a service or via apps there is a greater disconnect between the CIO and the business managers. Many IT projects can be commissioned directly by the business team without any need to interact with the CIO of a company. That’s a big change as the CIO used to retain control over all technology systems.
What outsourcing trends do you think will be really important this year?
Last month I was in London giving a keynote address to the Engage Customer audience focused on the customer experience in 2020. This event is focused on the entire industry that surrounds customer service and how it can be delivered.
You can click here to see my slides, but I thought it was worth mentioning this presentation to a more IT-focused audience because the biggest change that is taking place in the customer service industry is the introduction of various technologies that are improving how customers can be managed.
Look at the list of six technologies that I believe will be making a big change to the customer experience in the near future:
· Virtual reality; with Facebook investing heavily in Oculus and their Rift system, this will be a far more common technology in the near future.
· Augmented reality; as Google creates a version of Glass that does not look like a computer on your face this will return.
· Wearables; already common for fitness and health, they will eventually replace the telephone.
· Internet of Things; tech that can diagnose and fix problems without the human being involved – imagine if your car could fix itself?
· Automation / Robots; replacing mundane tasks with robots, even in contact centres.
· Location Awareness; retailers able to send you a one-hour offer because they know you are near to a store.
Many of these technologies are in the process of being adopted and others will become more important in daily life in the near future, however, as you can see from the presentation slides, I mention various other technologies that will soon change how customers interact with brands.
· Omnichannel; companies are connecting together all those channels that customers are using and creating new opportunities to win business. The L’Oreal virtual make-up app is a great example of changing the way that beauty products are sold.
· Fintech; banks are finding that new start-ups are picking individual banking services, creating them online or on an app, and winning customers. Entire full-service banks are now being launched using the app as the central point of interaction.
· Communication; every communication from shopping to politics to finding a new partner is changing and becoming electronic – how does this change in the way people communicate everyday change the way your business operates?
What is clear to me is that the customer experience is a great consumer of new and innovative technologies. More people in IT and IT services need to consider how they can work with experts in the field of customer experience because managing customer interactions is about far more than managing a contact centre today – it’s a business area that is entirely driven by technological change.
Big Data is growing up – finally. That’s the conclusion of new research published recently by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The research details how corporate attitudes to data have changed in the past four years – with many organisations now seeing data itself as a corporate asset.
Instead of constantly seeking more data, companies are asking the right questions. They are seeking the right data that can help decision support, rather than measuring and capturing everything regardless of use.
This strategic alignment with a more intelligent approach to data often comes with the elevation of a data manager to the executive board. Either the role sits with the CIO/CTO or a new Chief Data Officer role is created to ensure that there is always a view on data value at the top table.
What is particularly interesting for managers who are asked to invest in Big Data projects is that there is a link between a well-defined data policy and financial success. Not only does a well-defined data policy correlate with business success, but also the effectiveness of being able to resolve real business problems through more effective data use.
Commenting on the EIU research in Forbes magazine, Bernard Marr, author of the book “Big Data”, said:
“As technology continues to improve, the ‘bigness’ of big data will become less and less of a factor. Companies are becoming more comfortable with the idea that they will need to scale up to allow the value of data initiatives to reach all sectors of the business, and so they are becoming more comfortable with approximation, agility and experimentation.”
I agree with Marr. We can see from this EIU research that more companies are exploring how to use Big Data, but importantly more are finding a genuine business reason or use. As more companies find these reasons to get more engaged the use of Big Data will explode in size – all over the world.