The Soft Skills You Need To Work in DevOps

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I have written about DevOps recently on this blog. You can look at my DevOps introduction here, but to summarise the concept, DevOps refers to Development Operations. It is a combined set of software development practices that bring together the development of software with IT operations. The aim is to improve the systems development environment so the software lifecycle can be shorter – it’s bringing software development closer to the business that it serves.

So far it sounds like DevOps is just focused on software development and the environment used to build software systems – it’s all about coding and process. So what are the skills needed to work in DevOps? Logically you might assume that ‘hard’ subjects such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) might dominate, but I read an article recently that turns this expectation upside down.

Tech Beacon magazine listed four key ‘soft’ skills that everyone working in DevOps requires and none of them are focused on STEM skills. They are:

  1. Collaboration and Communication
  2. Empathy
  3. Customer Experience
  4. Problem Solving

Why would these be the essential skills and not coding or process design? Well think for a moment about what I said in the introduction – we are bringing the software development process closer to the business that needs this technology system. So some of the key skills will be focused on that process of getting closer to the sponsoring business people.

Collaboration with people outside the IT team will be essential and the ability to communicate technical problems to non-IT professionals. Empathy implies more listening – especially listening to the people who want the system built for their business. Trying to put yourself in the shoes of the customer so you can improve the customer experience is also an important skill that many people ignore, and the ability to solve problems as they are thrown at you is extremely valuable in any team.

I would argue that these four skills are essential for any DevOps team. If you can find people to join the team with all these skills then it is almost certain they can learn the technical skills you need them to use. If you hire for technical ability only then it will be much harder to create great communicators or problem-solvers through training.

It may seem like the opposite to conventional wisdom, but sometimes the best team members in a technical DevOps team are the least technical.

The Soft Skills You Need To Work in DevOps

IT Outsourcing Is Now At The Heart Of Smart Corporate Culture

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I have often written on this blog about the nature of outsourcing and how it is changing and evolving – especially in Europe. For several years now I have been exploring how modern delivery methods for software and IT services have been changing – especially the way that enterprise software has followed consumer behavior towards cloud-based services or systems available using a method similar to the App Store.

This isn’t a controversial view, unless you are still defending the traditional method of IT outsourcing, but it is always worth backing up an opinion with research. Scan the pages of the Deloitte 2018 Global Outsourcing Survey and you will see that outsourcing is not only changing because of delivery methods, but also because it is more often being used to drive transformational change.

The business case for IT outsourcing today often depends on how disruptive a project can be. How can we replace the traditional way of delivering a service and completely disrupt the market?

The Deloitte research involves feedback from over 500 executives and 86% of them work in companies with revenue above $1bn a year, so this strategic use of outsourcing is becoming mainstream in large organizations. It is becoming clear that outsourcing is now seen as a highly strategic strategy for a number of reasons:

  1. Skills; It allows access to expertise in emerging technologies such as cloud, RPA, and data analytics, without the client needing to redefine their own skills.
  2. Innovation; Service providers are taking on a new role that is more explicitly about seeing the future – they are expected to not just deliver IT projects, but to offer ideas on how the client can operate in future.
  3. Security; traditional structures never placed data security at the heart of an organization, but modern service providers can introduce these practices.

The use of outsourcing is accelerating. In some industries it is dramatically increasing, such as 39% of Finance managers now working with partners for technology services compared to an expectation that 89% of them will soon be seeking a partner.

One of the most interesting findings from the Deloitte research is that the changing nature of outsourcing is not just about finding a new partner. Most of the time companies are using outsourcing to find a new solution – an entirely new way of working. Often this does also require a new partner, but it doesn’t need to, especially if IT companies, and others offering outsourced services, are proactive and start offering new ideas and solutions to their clients.

At the end of the day the changing nature of the outsourcing relationship is really being driven by innovation. Companies today are finding that the competition they face next year may not even exist today. It is possible for entrepreneurs to have an idea and then to create a global service thanks to the scale offered by cloud and app infrastructure.

Services such as Transferwise, Spotify, or Uber would not be able to function without this kind of IT infrastructure – and the ability to scale up so rapidly is dramatically changing many industries forever. I think it will take a while for some executives to stop thinking about outsourcing as a cost reduction strategy – this is still how the business press largely talks about it. However, as the cloud and RPA become more common and more important across all industries, it should become clear to most management teams that their approach to outsourcing is now strategically important for the future of their business. Transformation is getting disruptive.

IT Outsourcing Is Now At The Heart Of Smart Corporate Culture

Visa Offers New Ways to Enhance CX with Sensory Branding

IBA Group
Vadim Smotryaev
Product Owner

When was the last time you used cash or, to be more precise, had to use cash? Probably, you had to think hard about a business in your daily routine that does not accept NFC payments or bankcards. Five years ago, paying for a coffee with a smart watch seemed like a futuristic fantasy – now it is daily occurrence for millions of people.

The World Payments Report 2018 by Capgemini and BNP Paribas finds that non-cash transaction volumes continued to grow at double-digit growth rates during 2015–2016, reaching 482.6 billion. Non-cash transactions are estimated to accelerate at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.7% globally with emerging markets growing at 21.6% from 2016 to 2021.

Visa takes contactless payments to a new level, offering a sensory branding suite to merchants and partners in more than 25 countries. The suite includes sound, animation, and haptic brand cues that occur with a Visa payment transaction. All this helps signify to consumers that a payment has been made using Visa whether in-store or online. The new sensory branding suite gives greater dimensionality to Visa’s brand and lets the customers see, hear, or feel Visa when they pay.

Customer expectations evolve, and with IoT becoming more and more prominent in everyday life, Visa expands its sensory branding suite across the globe, including mobile first and in-stadium experiences, prominent technology, and retail partnership.

One of the examples of such partnerships is the Tap to Phone solution created by Visa and IBA Group. As an authorized Visa solution provider, IBA Group launched Tap to Phone solutions in Ukraine and Belarus. Designed for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the Tap to Phone technology is an evolution of the mobile acquiring technology, enabling a smartphone with an NFC chip to work as a point of sales (POS). To accept payments, one needs to install a transaction processing application on a smartphone and have a bank account.

The way we pay continues to change, and it is extremely important that customer experience goes hand in hand with the emerging technologies.

IBA Group presents Tap to Phone at Visa Cashless Summit 2019

Rethinking DevOps To Create A More Efficient Delivery Environment

IBA Group
Yuliya Varonina
DevOps Engineer

People often talk of apps as something new – an area of IT development that has only been around since smartphones became commonly used, but that’s not right. At IBA Group we have been developing apps for over 25 years. Before your iPhone, we were developing apps that could run on mainframe systems – we have over 80 teams and over 100 products in this area.

Every year we bring dozens of young people into our development team, often from those we see at the various hackathons we organize. There are still many new ideas for how to improve development inside mainframe culture.

It’s true that mainframes often look like legacy systems. I know that’s how I felt when I approached my first mainframe project three years ago. The infrastructure is quite complicated and the qualifications to work on these systems are quite specialized. It’s not an easy environment, but our teams are enthusiastic and they embrace new ideas.

Some of the key problems developing in the mainframe environment are:

  1. DevOps pain; a lot of manual operations for code building, customization, and setup for various environments.
  2. Development cycle; typically the cycle is between a week to a month – it’s not a rapid development environment.
  3. Version control; we have systems to help, but nothing is integrated with the modern version control systems most development environments use today.
  4. Limited automation.
  5. Poor visibility and control at all stages of development.

If you also work with mainframe development then you might know about these problems already. So what did we do in our own development environment to try addressing these problems?

  1. Automation; we started using the UrbanCode family of tools to start automating some of the infrastructure tasks.
  2. Integration; we integrated the UrbanCode processes with the Rational tools family – RTC Rational Concert and RQM- Rational Quality Management.
  3. Reducing tools; we reduced the number of tools being used so we could focus on using the remaining ones more effectively.
  4. Scalable Pipeline; we built one project using the new DevOps methods and then assisted all teams to develop their projects this way, so these methods scaled across all development teams.
  5. Security; increased automation left gaps in security so we used DevSecOps to embed security functionality.

I can talk in detail about how we did all this, and the benefits we found, but for the sake of this blog it’s better to just highlight the main benefits we found from this approach to DevOps.

  1. Faster deployment; it’s faster to develop new processes and systems therefore your business operations can be more efficient.
  2. System Thinking; building this DevOps environment creates a culture of system thinking which means that responsibility, transparency, and feedback are all improved. Systems Thinking creates a much more focused team that works together.
  3. Increased Effectiveness; IT development is typically full of waste. People are waiting on others to deliver and they cannot work until a specific part of a project is handed over. Managing pipelines makes deliveries more predictable and allows resource to be allocated more effectively.
  4. Better Quality; We now have more tests, more automation, and User Acceptance Testing. We also trust the pipeline. People are used more effectively and this also increases the quality of deliveries.

We know from our own experience that our team now spends 20% less time on unplanned work and reworking problems. This has led to a 40x reduction in systems failure and the team is 50x more satisfied with their work. Even when a failure occurs, we can now recover 20x faster than before.

The list of benefits from this approach is endless. If this blog has sparked your interest in what is possible then please leave a comment here or get in touch with me. I can give you more detail and also personal experiences of going on this transformation journey.

Yuliya delivers her DevOps presentation at SHARE Pittsburgh 2019

A Renewed Focus On Cloud Security

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Capital One bank in the US was recently targeted by a single hacker who managed to access the personal details of over 100 million customers, despite the bank having all the security you might expect of a large customer-focused organisation. The hacker was a former employee of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which hosted the bank database. They broke in by exploiting a poorly configured firewall, no doubt using some of their inside knowledge.

Once again we are watching as a major brand faces a data disaster. Capital One should be able to absorb the millions of dollars in fines and customer compensation, but for a smaller organisation this type of data breach could be the end. European fines are much higher than those in the US thanks to the European Union GDPR regulation, but why should companies be more focused on this question of data security now?

Because of cloud computing. A recent report in CIO suggested that 96% of companies are now using cloud computing. This means that almost every new database will be in the cloud. Justin Fier, the director of cyberintelligence at Darktrace recently suggested that the general approach to securing networks – mainly with firewalls – has not yet woken up to the fact that everything is now in the cloud.

Network security managers have spent years designing their systems with the concept of what is inside the organisation, what is outside, and how to protect network entry points. Now we are seeing a complete shift away from this structure to the cloud. Companies such as Microsoft and Amazon are offering cloud services that allow their customers to access unlimited storage and computing power.

But this also means that your personal customer data will be outside the organisation and physically located on a service managed by another company. Companies like Amazon have developed a reputation for security and are probably better at securing their systems than any old internal system you previously had, but what happens when a current or former employee goes rogue and hacks into the database they used to manage?

As Justin Fier suggests, there are some new approaches to data management and network security that are essential:

  • Better network oversight; your development and support team can probably create and use new servers instantly meaning that the security team often has no real oversight on the network that is really being used. Give them better tools that allow them to manage what is really out there on the network.
  • Look for malware; Capital One only ever found out about the hack, three months after it happened, because stolen data was seen online. Be proactive and seek out malware and other tricks that hackers will use to break in.
  • Explore Artificial Intelligence (AI); you often can’t prevent an insider launching an attack so create some digital oversight. Use an AI system to monitor all network activity so you can be alerted when any unusual activity takes place – and ensure that nobody can turn off this AI police officer.

The bottom line is that cloud computing offers too many advantages and opportunities for companies to avoid it. With an adoption rate that is now almost universal there is no going back, but we certainly need to consider how best to change and adjust network security for the cloud computing era.

The border or the organisation is no longer the office itself. People and their skills are sourced from suppliers and databases will be located in the cloud. Both people and data now move in and out of the central organisation in a porous way. Protecting this environment is the challenge we face today. Questions about a cloud security strategy should be amongst the first things any executive should be asking any potential IT partner and if the supplier fails to have any intelligent answers then why would you work together?

A Renewed Focus On Cloud Security

Why Should I Be Thinking About DevOps?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

What is DevOps? If you don’t directly work on the development of IT systems then this might be a strange concept, but for any executive who needs to purchase new technology systems, or modify existing ones, this is an important concept to be aware of.

In short, DevOps refers to Development Operations. It is a combined set of software development practices that bring together the development of software with IT operations. The aim is to create an environment where the systems development lifecycle can be shorter and more features and updates can be performed – in general, it aims to bring IT development much closer to the business that is being served.

The broad goals span the entire lifecycle of a software project:

  • Increased frequency of project deliveries
  • Faster time to market on the original delivery
  • Lower failure rate of delivered software
  • Shorter lead time between business requests and fixes being applied
  • Faster recovery time when failure does occur

By using a DevOps approach the IT team can maximize the predictability of new releases. Efficiency and security are both increased and the code becomes easier to maintain.

IBA Group has conducted research into the effect of using a DevOps approach to software development – although this research was focused on mainframe DevOps. These are some of the key findings:

  • 20 x faster to recover when software fails
  • 22% less time spent on rework to fix problems
  • 30 x more deployments of new software
  • 40 x lower failure rate of delivered software
  • 50 x greater IT team satisfaction

All this data comes from real mainframe client projects at IBA Group. Deployment becomes more reliable and more frequent when people work together using this type of framework. The IT team uses a form of system thinking, which really means that they create a culture of shared responsibility for the project. This culture encourages transparency and shared responsibility – problems that one team member may have hidden in a regular organization are shared and managed together.

Automation is also an important part of the DevOps culture. The aim is to automate all the routine tasks a developer usually needs to manage. This also creates a far more satisfied developer who can focus on the more interesting and challenging parts of the project. This naturally leads to better quality and performance – enhancing the reputation of the team.

Most executives outside IT are not really familiar with software development practices, but it is becoming more important to understand because a different approach to the way that software development is managed leads directly to business effects, such as better quality, fewer failures, and a team with higher satisfaction in their job. DevOps is well established as a practice with a decade of conferences and articles all exploring how it can be used effectively. If you need to purchase any form of software development from an IT company then how they are managing DevOps should be one of the first things you ask.

Why Should I Be Thinking About DevOps?

Outsourcing Has Evolved – Has Your Business?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The evolution of outsourcing is fascinating because it has evolved so quickly. Treated initially with some suspicion and largely considered to be a procurement exercise, outsourcing has matured into an important business strategy and most modern companies will work with suppliers to buy in their expertise. But have our attitudes changed?

To many managers, outsourcing is still a subject they avoid. Many have memories of failed projects or comparing suppliers and asking them to all compete over the price. Some aspects of procurement don’t seem at all strategic, but outsourcing has matured right?

According to PA Consulting data, it has. 64% of managers are using outsourcing as a way of driving business transformation – so the introduction of a partner allows them the opportunity to redefine how they do business. 35% of companies that are already outsourcing IT functions are planning to increase the work they give to their IT partner.

But the same study also finds that 69% of managers are using outsourcing to reduce costs. So is it still all about cost reduction or business transformation?

The reality is that working with a partner can now be both. Accenture has argued that we are moving to a business environment they call a “corporate marketplace” where many companies have relationships with many others – there is more of a value web rather than a value chain. This will also include on-demand work platforms, such as UpWork, where experts can be called on for very specific tasks for a short period of time.

It’s clear that outsourcing as a term is becoming dated. The corporate marketplace doesn’t sound much better in my view, but it is clear that companies will be employing a more fluid relationship with employees, individual subject matter experts, and suppliers with specific expertise in future.

Largely this is because of the service complexity. Look at customer service as a classic example of what has changed. A few years back a consultant would analyse your customer interactions and then lift and drop your entire contact centre from your business into a service company – possibly located thousands of kilometres away.

The ambition was largely to save on operating expense and to encourage suppliers to make capital expenditure (basic infrastructure required to deliver the service) in return for a long-term contract.

This approach seems quaint today. Look around at the fast-moving customer service environment and you will see that suppliers today need expertise in Robotic Process Automation, Artificial Intelligence, multiple service channels including social, emerging channels such as smart speakers, and an ability to analyse vast amounts of data in real-time.

None of this implies that a lift and drop solution to the other side of the world would be a satisfactory solution. The supplier today needs to offer deep expertise and an ability to help the client transform their business using the available technologies. They also need to be able to advise on the future – which trends might shape how the client does business next year?

Combine the supplier taking on this role as expert advisor with the more common use of individual subject matter experts and outsourcing looks completely different to how it was 10-15 years ago. It’s time for the business media and managers in general to change their views – for outsourcing in 2019 read partnership and transformation.

Outsourcing Has Evolved - Has Your Business?

What Are The Top Cloud Management Platforms?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

In my last couple of articles here I explored Cloud Management Platforms (CMP), both to define what they are and to give some ideas on how to choose the best one for a particular business. It was therefore interesting to see that a recent article in ITPro Today explores the top ten CMPs available today, assessing all their strengths and weaknesses.

All CMPs need to provide lifecycle management – this is the ability to track cloud resources over a period of time – and data protection, in addition to the main functionality of controlling and automating cloud-based processes. John Webster, a senior partner and analyst at the Evaluator Group, managed the research published in ITPro Today. One of his main concerns when comparing the different CMPs was that not all of them are keenly focused on data protection – they are focusing mainly on basic functionality.

John explained: “Data protection and disaster recovery is an IT responsibility, a bedrock function, and I think that the vendors in this space have to really start looking at that seriously.” He added: “Vendors will likely provide these capabilities through extensions to data protection and disaster recovery applications that are already available in the market.”

The top ten list of CMPs was created by weighing up several factors, including:

  • The quality of the user interface
  • Ability to manage various groups of users
  • Complexity of the service

Cost control is an important area of functionality that most customers want to use, but many CMP vendors find it very difficult to offer because they are constantly updating their products. The ability to create efficiency is much easier to plan when the software is stable. If the CMP is constantly being improved then there is an almost constant need to explore efficiencies.

John explained that support for Artificial Intelligence (AI) is likely to be an important capability in the near future. He said: “Support for cloud-native including Kubernetes, and application migration will be key functions in cloud management platform tools. AI assistance, or the assistance of artificial intelligence, will become more and more important as time goes on.”

Some of the CMPs on the market at present have been built from trusted and tested systems that were essentially managing IT estates – they have been converted to managing cloud-based systems, but others are built from scratch. It’s important to be aware of this when selecting a supplier. The start-ups might move faster and add more features all the time, but their platforms may be less stable and less tested in real-life situations.

The ten CMPs are not listed with the best in position one; they are just grouped as the ten best CMPs. This is because ultimately the right choice of CMP will be based on the different priorities and needs of each company. Follow the link to the article and you can read the top ten free, providing you submit your contact details to the magazine.

Click here to see the list of the ten best CMPs according to the research by Evaluator Group.

Everest Reports On A Complex And Competitive RPA Market

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The industry analyst firm Everest Group recently reported their latest research into the development of the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) market and they have some interesting findings. The market is getting larger and more competitive, but the services provided are also increasing in complexity too.

“The market for RPA technology is becoming more complex, with highly competitive and evolving product offerings,” said Sarah Burnett, executive vice president and distinguished analyst at Everest Group. “The Everest Group Products PEAK Matrix is an unbiased assessment that uncovers vendor and product differentiators to identify the leaders in RPA technology based on research that goes deep into the vendors performance and product details, features, functionalities and more.”

The PEAK Matrix reporting method summarises the 22 companies studied along two different axes. The first is vision and quality, describing the ability of the company to successfully deliver the products they promise. The second is the market impact, how is their sales performance and impact on the wider RPA marketplace?

Everest Group classified the main RPA technology vendors into three categories of Leaders, Major Contenders, and Aspirants: 

  • Leaders: Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, NICE and UiPath
  • Major Contenders: Another Monday, AntWorks, EdgeVerve, HelpSystems, Jacada, Jidoka, Kofax, Kryon, Pegasystems, Servicetrace, Softomotive, Thoughtonomy, and WorkFusion
  • Aspirants: AutomationEdge, Datamatics, Intellibot, Nintex, and Nividous

AntWorks, Automation Anywhere, Datamatics, Softomotive, and UiPath demonstrated the strongest year-over-year movement on both market impact and vision-and-capability dimensions and emerged as 2019 RPA Market Star Performers. WorkFusion scored as high, or higher sometimes, on the vision and quality measurement as the leaders, but it was felt that they have not quite made the market impact to be categorised as a leader – yet.

Other interesting takeaways from the Everest research include:

  • Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath are the top vendors in terms of RPA license revenue, closely followed by NICE. Pegasystems leads in terms of revenue from attended RPA (RDA) licenses
  • Softomotive has the highest number of RPA clients in the market, most of which are small-sized enterprises and SMBs. Witnessing almost 300% year-over-year growth in its number of clients, UiPath holds the second spot in terms of number of RPA clients
  • Automation Anywhere leads in North America, which is the largest RPA market, and Latin America. Blue Prism leads in the UK and MEA markets, while UiPath leads in Continental Europe and Asia Pacific
  • UiPath holds the highest market share by license revenue across horizontal functions such as F&A, procurement, and HR, while Blue Prism leads in banking and insurance industry-specific process areas. Pegasystems has the highest market share in the contact center space
  • Leaders have moved away from perpetual licensing to annual/monthly subscription-based licensing models. Advances in RPA technologies and increasing client maturity are fuelling the rise of more output-oriented pricing models such as flexible usage-based (e.g., per minute/hour) and per-process or transaction-based models
  • RPA solutions continue to evolve with a host of capabilities, such as computer vision, workflow orchestration, intelligent workload balancing, auto-scalability, and predictive SLA monitoring, to help enterprises achieve strategic business outcomes
  • Attended RPA / RDA continues to witness increased demand in the market. AI-based next-best-action recommendation and interactive UI for on-screen agent guidance, which enhance worker productivity and help improve customer experience, are among the key RDA differentiators

This new research from Everest Group is comprehensive and insightful and was only just published in July 2019 so the information is current. I recommend browsing their findings because it is clear that RPA has moved beyond the hype cycle now and is becoming a serious strategy for many company executives.

Everest Reports On A Complex And Competitive RPA Market

How Do I Choose A Cloud Management Platform?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I introduced the concept of a Cloud Management Platform (CMP) in my last article here on the IBA Group blog and closed by saying that it’s a complex process to choose a specific platform. However, that’s exactly the decision that many managers are exploring right now and it can be even more complex when you need to buy a cloud, but it is your service provider that will actually be using it.

This white paper from the IT research firm Neovise gives some excellent advice on this particular issue. The white paper introduces the need for CMPs, as I did in my last article, but then it lists some specific questions you need to ask when determining the best system to use:

1. Business Requirements:

• What customers do you plan to serve, and what are their requirements? How well will the cloud platform serve them?

• How much additional work is required for installation/configuration? Integration? Adding missing features?

• How quickly will the cloud platform let you get to market and start generating revenue?

2. Product Requirements:

• Does the platform enable the right compute, network and storage capabilities?

• Are there specific hardware requirements for the platform? Or can you choose hardware from any vendor? Can you leverage existing hardware investments?

• How extensible is the product? Does it support federation with other providers?

Does the platform allow you to seamlessly integrate new cloud services with your existing hosting services?

3. Support Requirements:

• Will it require significant resources and expertise to deploy, customize and operate the platform?

• What do you do if you need help deploying or troubleshooting the platform? Is there customer support? Or just community support? Both?

Does the platform receive ongoing enhancements? Are new versions difficult or disruptive to install?

These are quite detailed questions and there are different types of CMP as I outlined in my earlier article, but if you go into these questions with a clear outline of your specific capabilities, resource, timeline, and strategy then you can achieve a successful outcome. It’s recommended to include this information on any RFI or RFP process when selecting a supplier so you can work with a supplier that supports your preferences on CMP in addition to just agreeing on a cloud strategy.

Where you have not already deployed a cloud or CMP then it would be preferable to outline your preferences and needs right from the RFI – this way a potential partner can advise on the best cloud to use and the best tools to manage it.

In the early days of cloud adoption, this was all easier. A client would just make requests directly to their supplier if more capacity or storage is needed, but as IT infrastructure has become more complex, and usually involves a mix of cloud and on premises equipment, it is essential to make the right choices about the system you use to manage your cloud – and manage it in a way that works with the needs of your supplier.

Choosing a Cloud Management Platform is a complex process

IBA Group Celebrates Team Spirit at Tourist Rally

From June 21 to June 23 this year, the 16th IBA Group’s tourist rally took place 70 km away from Minsk. Over 1,000 people got together to enjoy nature and sports. The participants of the rally ranged in age from several months to their 70s. The organizers of the event did their best to meet the needs of such a versatile audience.

IBA Group’s tourist rally is an annual tradition for the IBA Group’s community. It is a time when IBA Group’s employees, their families, and friends gathered to celebrate team spirit, endurance, nature, and sports. It is more than just an annual celebration. It is a spotlight on what these values mean to each IBA Group’s employee.

The expectations from the event were far from being optimistic as the weather forecast promised heavy rains and windstorm. That was the first challenge to overcome for most of the participants. They got through the heavy rain on the way to the venue of the rally and were rewarded by fantastic weather on the days to follow.

The IBA tourist rally has longstanding traditions that developed together with IBA Group. What started as an 87-people event in 2005, grew into a massive 1,000+ participant rally. This year, the organizers welcomed a new participating team Lemmingi that defied such veterans as Pertsy, Dynamit, Dobry Vecher, Belki, and Smarch Cats. The bike biathlon was added to the list of competition categories. Other team categories included obstacle racing, mud racing, volleyball, badminton, rock climbing, draniki (potato pancakes) contest, and some individual disciplines such as ropes course and darts.

On Friday evening, to warm up and to dry up the atmosphere, a culinary draniki competition was held under the guidance of an experienced chef. All participants and viewers\tasters enjoyed every minute and bite of the contest. The Mammoth team won the first place.

The opening ceremony of the tourist rally took place at 09.30 am on Saturday. At the opening ceremony, Sergei Levteev, IBA Group Chairman, made a welcoming speech. According to the tradition, Alexei Tereschuk, the captain of Smart Cats, the last year’s winning team, opened the rally by raising the flag.

The rally program was diverse and manifold. Each participant found an occupation to his or her taste, be it an athlete, a fan, a guest or a child. The program of workshops was varied. One could opt for an individual pottery class, take part in a tea ceremony, master a new style of calligraphy, make a nesting house, or compete in funny duo contests. The strongest could go up against Vyacheslav Khoroneko, the six-time record holder of the English Guinness World Records, and a repeated world champion and a record holder in free weight lifting.

Other activities enjoyed by the rally participants included a ride on a trolley, a walk on the rope course, a wall climbing, and a ride in a BRDM-2 military reconnaissance vehicle. Everyone received a charge of positive emotions during a Fun Starts relay race. Wellness lovers could indulge themselves in saunas, bathe in a nearby lake, and get a Hawaii-like suntan.

Our top management at this year's tourist rally

On Saturday, all participants and guests enjoyed breakfast and lunch.

Throughout the day, the kids danced and played with animators, took rides on catamarans and canoes, played in an inflatable castle, rode a merry-go-round, and watched cartoons in the karaoke tent.

In the evening and throughout the night, the teams had wonderful bonfire parties accompanied by shashlik and guitar songs.  Everyone could unwind at the disco and demonstrate their vocal abilities in the karaoke tent. The Saturday night also hosted Bez Bileta, a well-known Belarusian group, and the DeTroit cover band. That was one of many moments when members of competing teams celebrated the company’s spirit and unity.

This feeling of being a part of IBA Group’s global family was somehow complemented by the atmosphere of solidarity inside each team. Most of the teams comprised colleagues of the same department. The tour rally for them is another chance to strengthen the team spirit and extend the relationships beyond the working environment.

Each team had a motto, a flag, and a designated territory. The teams’ captains did their very best to win the contests and to feed the teams. Each member of the team was assigned a task, the teams‘ cooks used their creativity and experience to appeal to the taste of each team’s member.

As the tradition has it, there are no ex-employees at IBA. Many retired and ex-IBAers come to the rally to feel themselves a part of the IBA Group’s family. They are the tradition keepers of the rally. On the other hand, we saw many new faces this year who have brought enthusiasm and changes to the company’s life. Tradition and innovation, youth and experience is what makes us so similar and so unique.  

The nine teams competed in the multiple categories, including obstacle racing, mud racing, water relay race, rowing slalom, volleyball, bike biathlon, rock climbing, and badminton. Rope course, darts, and weights lifting were available for individual competition.

The award ceremony took place on Sunday morning. Winning teams, Lemmingi, Dynamite, and SmartCats and prizewinners in individual categories received medals and prizes. Gennady Makeev, HR Director, made a closing speech where he summed up the results of the rally and thanked the organizers and the participants.

You can get a glimpse inside the 16th IBA tourist rally by visiting our Facebook and Instagram.

IBA Group's tourist rally 2019

What is a Cloud Management Platform?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Most people working in IT today know about the cloud and how cloud-based systems can offer immediate access to storage or computing power easily. Many companies now use a cloud strategy to ensure they can ramp up and down on available systems or storage – it’s a common theme of discussion when planning an IT strategy.

But what is a Cloud Management Platform and in particular how can one be useful to service providers offering IT services to their clients?

Cloud Management Platform (CMP) is a term coined by the industry analyst Gartner. The analyst firm wanted a way to describe products or tools that help companies to optimize and manage their cloud infrastructure for cost, security, and operations. A good CMP strategy should allow users to maintain control over dynamic and scalable cloud environments.

So it is really just a control system that allows the user to maintain dynamic control over their cloud system. Instead of frantically calling a service provider and asking them to quickly scale up storage capacity in their contracted cloud, the customer should be able to use a CMP to just scale their cloud – it should be as easy as sliding a bar on a control panel.

The major CMPs on the market today will all offer these different aspects of cloud management:

• Cost
• Security
• Performance

These are the three main areas where the customer can manage their cloud and cover more specific areas such as budgeting, rightsizing the cloud, compliance and monitoring, and creating alerts and other analytics.

CMPs are still quite new tools and so there are still different types of tool available. Some are very focused on specific issues, such as controlling security risk or optimising costs. Some allow the option to manage multiple clouds, so if you are using both Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS then you can manage both clouds from a single tool. Some CMPs even allow the tool to manage a cloud and systems you have on site simultaneously.

Clearly this is an emerging area. There are many new tools solving problems that have only recently become apparent. It was only a few years back that companies started taking cloud-based services seriously and it has become clear that it can be difficult to control the various aspects of a cloud-based system – such as cost control and security. In addition, if a service provider is delivering services on a cloud that is owned and managed by the client then the client needs an easy way to manage areas such as security in partnership with their service provider.

CMPs are still new and it is therefore difficult to advise on which one is perfect for each client, but there is a clear need to work on CMP selection with your service provider as any chosen solution must work for both client and service provider. I’ll explore this question next time here on the IBA Group blog.

You can also read about the IBA Cloud Platform

cloud management platform

How Is RPA Innovation Taking Shape?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I have written in the past about how impressed I was when I visited IBA Group in person. They don’t really shout about it, but their Robotic Process Automation (RPA) team has a level of expertise that I was not expecting to find when I visited Minsk last December. I keep recalling this when I see some of the analyst and media coverage of RPA online because there is still a strange mixture of anticipation and hype in most of the analysis.

HfS Research has been one of the main critics of the hype around RPA. They have consistently called on other analysts to provide realistic market projections and to stop using the ‘robots are taking over’ myths that have grown in frequency in the past two years. Their Horse For Sources blog in particular has been scathing when individual analysts have made RPA claims that just cannot be supported by evidence or case studies.

HfS has documented that they believe the ‘big 3’ RPA companies – Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath – are creating a baseline for the entire industry. It’s messy out there because there are loads of companies that are trying to get a piece of the RPA hype and yet not everyone can succeed – not least because each system needs experienced people who can implement and use it. I believe that WorkFusion should also be on this list as they are not only creating a baseline, but they are disrupting the marketing by even offering basic RPA services free.

On March 3rd the Horses For Sources blog said this: “However, beyond scripts and bots and dreams of digital workers scaling up rapidly to provide reams of value, most enterprises are fast coming to the realization that they need an actual process automation platform capability that ingests their data, visualizes it, machine learns it, contextualizes it and finally automates it. ”

The blog goes on to say: “The implication is that for many companies the dream is over. They thought that RPA would work easily and yet they have found that it’s actually quite complex to integrate into their main business processes. You cannot just point an RPA system at a business and say ‘automate that’ in the same way that computer software doesn’t write itself – someone needs to understand how to code so the computer understands what you need.”

Go and follow the link above if you want to read the conclusion to what they think will happen next, although the short story is that they believe that there may be a new phase of RPA led by AntWorks with a more integrated approach to automation. In a way, we are seeing the process of automation becoming more automated.

I think there are two conclusions that can be drawn from what we are seeing in the RPA market at present. First is that most implementations are started to coalesce around the three top system suppliers and that’s a good thing because the market cannot tolerate the fragmentation that dozens of small systems creates. Second, the RPA story is not over yet. It remains quite difficult to implement and anyone making this process easier could well lead the next chapter in the RPA story.

Digital Twins Will Aid Digital Transformation In 2020

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I wrote recently on this blog about the use of SAP to create Digital Twins, a digital representation of a real system so it can be more easily monitored and controlled. As I mentioned earlier, this has been a common practice in aviation for several years. Engine manufacturers will always maintain a digital version of every engine they sell and ensure that the digital version is updated in real-time using sensors on the real engine.

In aviation the advantage of doing this is obvious – it allows for more efficient maintenance and safety procedures when the digital engine allows engineers to monitor real engines remotely. But I believe that the launch of SAP’s Leonardo system last year will really start accelerating the use of Digital Twins as a common business strategy.

It is a combination of technologies and strategies that are creating this possibility, but the three important ones are:

1. The Internet of Things (IoT); as the real world fills with sensors and connectivity as standard for almost every electronic device we will reach a point where systems such as a Digital Twin are essential just to stay on top of what is connected and what information it is reporting. In the home, this may only be devices such as a Kindle, iPad, Echo, phone, lightbulbs, or heating thermostat, but in the industrial environment it can easily be more complex and difficult to control.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI); with so much data being created constantly by sensors we will need to apply AI principles to the data just to make sense of it all. For example, if your home thermostat detects patterns in the way that you prefer your home to be heated then it should be able to anticipate what you want before you change the settings.

3. Machine Learning (ML); the ability to look at every action and outcome by every sensor inside a network will allow the system to learn about the ideal outcomes and then to suggest recommendations in future based on earlier learning.

It is really the IoT that is at the heart of this development. Imagine the complexity of a modern industrial facility – a large brewery or car factory for example. Across the entire property will be doors, windows, pumps, and various robots that all need to be coordinated. Most companies with these facilities will already have some sort of control mechanism, but the Digital Twin makes an assumption that every component (pump, door, assembly-line robot) has in-built sensors. By taking a feed from all of these sensors we can build a complete virtual mirror of the plant.

The IoT facilitates this by ensuring that the real-time sensor data is available, then the AI system goes to work on spotting potential problems or just process flows that are unusual and alerting workers to places they need to check.

I have seen this type of system deployed for an office management system where every light, heater, door, and window is modelled in the system. I believe that we will see the Digital Twin concept growing much faster as companies find that they can create enormous efficiencies by improving what they do and spotting problems before they happen.

As Forbes magazine recently suggested, it will soon be impossible to plan any kind of digital transformation for your business without creating a digital twin first. The processes will be simply too complex for any one manager to understand from start to end. Not only do you need to map out all the existing components, you need to apply AI to oversee how the entire system is working.

Without these deep insights into the way your business functions at present any transformation plans will be impossible. Digital Twins are not just for those obsessed with being able to manage their existing IoT infrastructure, they are becoming an essential tool for managers who want to see how the future of their business might look.

Digital twins will aid digital transformation in 2020

How Is Artificial Intelligence Developing In The Enterprise?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has moved from science fiction into the enterprise in recent years. Many companies are using AI systems today to intelligently analyse large volumes of changing data and to notice or predict patterns. Typical business uses today include examples such as:

  • Rail operators predicting train delays before they happen because the AI system can extrapolate from small delays to predict the impact on the entire network.
  • Customer service agents being advised on how to help customers by systems that know the answer to every question a customer has asked in the past.
  • Alexa knows how to answer your question because it immediately processes your voice and determines what you are asking before creating an answer.
  • Netflix knows which movie you might want to watch because they know your past behaviour and how similar customers have also behaved.

AI really is all around us today, in the enterprise and as consumers of services. In the present environment it would now be unusual for any company to not be exploring how AI can improve their business.

But AI does have one a fundamental flaw, it is always limited to working on a very specific problem. This means that you can have a very complex system that knows everything that your customer may ask when they call for help or the system may understand how to play chess or Go, but these individual tasks are all that it can do. There is no inherent awareness of the environment around the system – although we use the term intelligence, it’s not really aware or sentient. An AI system that can play Go cannot plan the best route on a map.

This means that the system can only solve the problems it was designed for. Some might argue that this is a benefit, because it means that however good our AI systems get, they never move into the realm of awareness and all the problems that a conscious system might create.

A recent experiment by IBM has demonstrated that AI is developing rapidly though. They demonstrated how an AI system could be asked a random question and it would then have the ability to debate that subject. For example, in the video clip that I watched the system was asked if pre-school facilities should be subsidised by the government. It gave a response, arguing why subsidies are useful for 4 minutes.

This system has been pre-loaded with information on millions of subjects and objects. It’s stuffed full of encyclopedia content and research. But even with all this data it is quite an achievement to turn that into information and then a coherent argument.

Essentially this system is starting to show that perhaps an Artificial General Intelligence might be possible. It would need to be pre-loaded with an enormous amount of general data, and then would need a Machine Learning system to continue learning, but it is looking more feasible than even a year or two ago when Elon Musk started warning that we are heading for an ‘AI apocalypse’ because the machines will eventually have more intelligence than the humans.

I don’t think we will be seeing many business case studies featuring general intelligence just yet, but AI in the form we already know it will certainly be more important. AI is offering companies a chance to identify patterns and trends they could never see manually and this will be a strong source of competitive advantage in the next few years.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has moved from science fiction into the enterprise in recent years

How Do You Understand What Customers Will Want In The Future?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

It was great to read the article published on the IBA Group website about the CXOutsourcers Mindshare event in Windsor, UK. This was a very interesting event hosted by Peter Ryan and Mark Angus connecting together the service providers from the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) and CX (Customer Experience) industry.

The IBA team was there at the event because their expertise in areas such as Cloud Computing and Robotic Process Automation is highly in demand from the CX companies – hopefully they managed to strike a few new partnerships!

As mentioned in the IBA article, I was speaking at the event about the future of the customer experience – how can you profile and understand the customer of the future?

What I tried to do with this talk was to initially frame expectations. It is easy for people to make wild predictions about how customers will behave in future, but what they often forget is that social and technological progress is not always gradual. Sometimes an invention or innovation can completely change the way that people behave.

A good way to think of this is by considering how railways changed society. Before railways people were forced to live within walking distance of their workplace. Railways created the freedom for people to travel to work and this in turn created the concept of the suburb.

We have seen a similar change in the past decade. Since the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007 and the subsequent explosion in the use of social networks, the way that people communicate with each other has dramatically changed. This has led to a radical change in the way that people communicate with brands and an evolution in the way that the customer journey works – this is the journey from first hearing of a product to learning more and then eventually buying it.

That customer journey used to be quite simple and was focused on advertising or marketing to create awareness and then a sales process followed by customer support. Now we can see brands that are not building customer service contact centres, they are building customer experience hubs. They are using a mix of human and digital technologies and building an ongoing relationship with customers that can last for half a century or more.

What is so interesting about the present day business environment is that there is so much potential for dramatic change in so many ways. A retailer planning strategy in the era of my parents would only ever be planning new store locations and sales promotions – nothing in the future was dramatically different to the past.

Look at the retail environment today. Not only is online retail creating a new era of competition, but the way that town centres are featuring retail is changing. Other huge factors may also change how society interacts with business, such as climate change, geopolitics and the dramatic rise of China, the creation of social inequalities, and the preference to rent experiences rather than owning products.

You can click the link to read through my slides for some more of the ideas I presented at CXOutsourcers, but I think that what we will see more often today is emerging business models and services driven by the online economy and the desire of the customer for greater convenience. Go-Jek in Indonesia started out as a ride-hailing service with motorbikes – like Uber with two wheels. They expanded into offering services such as medicine or food delivery by leveraging their network of riders and eventually they created such a wide array of services that they introduced their own in-app payment system. They now process more payments than any major credit card brand… they are now a financial service brand and they started out offering rides on scooters.

How might this happen in your industry? Think about it, your competition in 2020 may not even exist today or they may be working in a completely different industry. Now that’s scary because it means that we are moving faster than ever to stay ahead of business trends, but we are never going to be going this slow again in future.

Mark Hillary for CxOutsourcers
(c) Mark Hillary

SAP Is Redefining How ERP Can Create New Business Solutions

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I visited IBA Group just a few months ago and one of the most interesting interactions I had during my visit was with Dmitry Konevtsev, the SAP Department Director. In my own experience, attitudes to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems such as SAP have changed dramatically in the past few years. Systems that were once essential and heavily invested in have proven to be failures for the business. The reputation of ERP has been in decline, but what are real companies doing with ERP today?

I asked Dmitry for his views on how businesses are approaching ERP today. He said: “The implementation of ERP has been a matter of many discussions since the early days. People often feel uncomfortable about any changes to their business and ERP can often overhaul the operation of the entire enterprise. Therefore, employees are opposed to ERP, but the key is to approach it as a business task, not an IT implementation.”

Dmitry explained a recent project that IBA has been involved in implementing. He said: “We initiated the introduction of the newest SAP Profitability and Performance Management 3.0 technology at a major mobile operator. The customer aimed to develop a self-service analytics system that provides a comprehensive insight into the overall company performance. The project is one of the first SAP Performance Management for Financial Services (FS-PER) implementations in the world. The analytical solution is complicated, as it is designed to integrate and harmonize numerous heterogeneous data sources and involves millions of measurement units.”

IBA Group's  solution was selected as a winner of the European IT & Software Excellence Awards in the category Big Data, IoT or Analytics Solution of the Year in 2019He added: “The solution integrates numerous heterogeneous data from various sources (legacy systems) and is of high complexity, involving 40 million measurement units that result in billions of allocated data records. Our solution was selected as a winner of the European IT & Software Excellence Awards in the category Big Data, IoT or Analytics Solution of the Year in 2019.”

Dmitry explained how IBA has experience across many different industries, including oil and gas, railways, and telecommunications. ERP is an important tool across all these industries and although the media image of ERP installations has been largely negative in recent years, the reality is that many companies still require ERP to manage complex logistics and supply chains.

The idea of a digital twin is a concept that many industries are growing, especially as Internet of Things (IoT) sensors become more common. The digital twin has been common in the aerospace industry for many years – an engine manufacturer such as Rolls Royce will maintain a digital version of every engine they deliver and it is updated in real-time from the real engine using a stream of data from sensors, capturing a complete digital twin of the real engine.

Tools such as SAP can deliver this concept for other solutions. Dmitry showed me an example of a building management system. Now I am not an expert on managing buildings, but I can imagine the complexity of managing every single power socket, lightbulb, fire extinguisher, window, and door in a large building. It used to require pages of maps and floor layouts in addition to constant inspections. Now the entire building can be coded into a graphical interface so the user can see everything in 3D on screen and sensors all over the building feed data into the SAP model. A fire extinguisher can send an alert if it has been used and is now empty. A power socket causing a circuit to short out can be identified the moment there is a problem. The model I saw looked stunning because the graphics resembled a video game – maintaining a building like this would clearly be far more efficient than the old system of only fixing problems after they happen. With real-time monitoring and sensors, some problems can be predicted before they happen – and then prevented.

IBA is proud to be a long–term partner of SAPDmitry explained: “Digital twins are a development of the IoT concept. Earlier, IoT was viewed as a technology of passive sensors that receive and send data. Today, it is a concept of smart sensors that analyze data and make decisions locally based on the data they process. In 2018, Gartner suggested that this is a technology stuck in the hype cycle, but we can see real clients asking for projects like this using SAP Leonardo.”

It is clear that ERP has evolved. The integration of IoT is allowing ERP to not only represent process flows, but also to predict and make changes. We are now in an age of intelligent ERP and the failed installations of the past can now stay in the past. Solutions like digital twins using SAP are demonstrating that there is a bright new future for companies ready to explore how ERP can help them to redefine and manage their business processes.

For more information on the SAP team at IBA Group click here.

How Technology Companies Are Delivering A Wave Of CX Innovation

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

It’s always great to see when the new issue of Intelligent Sourcing arrives. It’s updated all the time online, but there is still something nice about seeing a collection of news bound together in a real magazine. I know that’s old fashioned, but a quarterly business journal is like a collection of thoughts from that time.

The issue is focused on innovation and I contributed a column that you can read if you click the later link to the magazine. Although my article was a focus on Customer Experience (CX) innovation, as I read it again I noticed that so many of the specific innovations I was documenting require technology expertise.

This is quite a change from the days when customer experience was called customer service and involved nothing more than a contact centre full of phones. Handling interactions between customers and brands today is highly complex and operates across a number of channels. Here are some of the key areas shaping CX innovation today as outlined in the Intelligent Sourcing feature:

Customer expectations and journey; interacting with customers today takes place 24/7 across many different channels (including social) and involves thinking about a 50-year ongoing relationship with the customer, not just managing a single phone call.

Technology; almost every emerging technology you can think of is being applied to the customer relationship. To list just a few – Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Robotics, location awareness, cloud computing, the app store. All these technologies are being shaped and influenced by the way that brands are using them to interact with real customers.

Automation; Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is being extensively deployed as a tool to make customer service agents more efficient. The blend between digital service and human service is now one of the most important areas of research in this field.

Customer-centricity; new companies can design their entire service around what customers want in an age of smartphones. There is no need to copy how a bank or insurance company operates – especially if they designed their processes many years ago. This is having an enormous impact on traditional brands that are being challenged by brand new companies that can deliver services better.

CX and Business Process Outsourcing is often presented as an entirely separate type of business that is unconnected to what IT service companies are doing, but I believe that most of the innovation taking place in CX is being driven by IT. In fact, many of the IT experts are now becoming experts in areas such as RPA and that means they are rapidly becoming CX experts. The market for technology services is changing and CX innovation is creating many of these new opportunities.

Spring issue of Intelligent Sourcing

CX and technology

Connecting RPA to Create An Automated Enterprise

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

How does Robotic Process Automation (RPA) really change the enterprise? Naturally, there is a need to seek out the expertise of companies (like IBA Group!) that have expertise in all the main software systems – because it pays to bring in experts when delivering a completely new system, but what about the wider changes that continue after the implementation?

I think this is an interesting question. RPA has the potential to fundamentally change the way that workflows are organised inside many companies and yet I rarely see this discussed in most of the coverage. In fact, most RPA media coverage can be summarised as focused on the size of the market and how automation can replace employees.

Of course, the market size is important, and the potential for automation to replace people is also important – and scary. Many people are getting worried by media headlines suggesting that the robots are about to take their jobs.

Most of this reporting is irresponsible and doesn’t reflect how companies are really exploring the use of automated systems such as RPA. The current debate around RPA reminds me of the lump of labour fallacy. This was suggested by some economists who believed that the amount of work in the economy is fixed, so if you restrict the hours that employees can work then you will reduce unemployment. Work isn’t so simple and the amount of labour is certainly not fixed.

Why is RPA becoming so popular? There are demonstrable benefits that can be attributed to RPA projects. Some of the clear business benefits that can deliver a Return on Investment (ROI) include:

  1. Faster time to market: products and services can be delivered faster when a part of the value chain has been automated, allowing quicker delivery and an improved time to market for new ideas.
  2. Productivity boost: more can be achieved with fewer resources, so the same team can boost what they were delivering before automation.
  3. FTE requirements: if a significant part of your business processes can be automated then logically the number of team members required to process this information can be reduced.

These are the initial short-term benefits. Naturally, the immediate benefits of an automation project will be that the processes work faster, allowing the same team to be more productive, but there are some additional longer-term benefits that should be considered beyond the initial boost.

First is the ability to transform your business. Many industries are experiencing a wave of rapid change at present. Change really is the only constant for almost every traditional business model. Look at banks becoming apps, or news publishers searching for a revenue stream. Many traditional industries are finding that they need to change in order to survive in a very different business environment. If a significant part of your business can be automated then this facilitates innovation in the rest of your processes. It could even be argued that a significant digital transformation project will never succeed if you cannot automate the repetitive processes in your value chain.

Streamlining the processes you have yet to automate is another significant advantage – expanding the scope of automation beyond what you can initially achieve. Once you can see just how much of your business can be automated, there is a strong temptation to increase the processes your business manages using RPA. It’s important to create a period of stability once RPA is initially rolled out, but after that expansion should be encouraged.

Automating many of your systems allows governance checks to be applied automatically by the system and all processes and actions to be recorded. This can help with compliance and governance by removing the opportunity for manual errors and ensuring that a comprehensive audit trail exists for all automated actions.

It won’t be easy to see all the potential benefits from RPA immediately because there are just so many software vendors and no single control mechanism. We are still watching the growth of a market that will transform how companies operate far more than ERP or CRM ever did. But questions remain about how to link RPA into other systems within the enterprise – the Internet of Things for example. Instead of building these links differently for every organisation why are we not building RPA systems like USB cables – able to just plug in anywhere?

RPA will fundamentally change how enterprises are designed in the next decade, but some important decisions will need to be taken along the way. Not every RPA vendor will survive, just as Betamax video was killed off by the market acceptance of VHS. It’s going to get interesting out there as more companies rely on automation to compete.

What Can We Really Expect From RPA in 2019?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I wrote recently on this blog about my surprise at how sophisticated the RPA solutions offered by IBA Group already are. As I mentioned, they are offering solutions that are far from the typical vapourware offered by some IT specialists – they already have genuine case studies using all the major RPA platforms.

So to take this theme forward a little, how is the RPA market doing? You will have seen many bullish predictions, but a couple of reports from Forrester Research and RPA software specialist UiPath caught my eye.

Forrester makes some bold claims. Principal Analyst JP Gownder said: “Automation will be central to the next phase of digital transformation, driving new levels of customer value such as faster delivery of products, higher quality and dependability, deeper personalization, and greater convenience.”

That’s strong support for RPA in 2019, but Forrester also notes that we are now reaching a tipping point for automation. The Forrester argument suggests that we will now start expecting professional employees to be augmented by automation. This alters the workforce and drives companies to focus on customer value.

In fact, this is a common theme in talks that I have given on automation. I believe we will see this being a much more pervasive change in the way that professionals work and are hired for their jobs. At present we still see RPA as a function of the technology department, but soon we will see job adverts on LinkedIn for HR professionals, credit analysts, and accountants all asking that the applicants have relevant RPA coding experience – that’s going to be quite a change.

In their predictions for 2019, RPA software supplier UiPath made a few more interesting predictions:

·       Government adoption will soar; governments always need to do more than less so they will be quick adopters of RPA.
·       Less focus on headcount reduction; the focus for RPA will shift from saving cash to improving employee engagement and how employees work.
·       Death of BPO; controversially they also predict the end of Business Process Outsourcing because RPA tools allow internal teams to create their own efficiencies.
·       RPA blended with AI; put them together and you can create a wave of new intelligence – they each help each other.
·       Growth will be bigger than you expect; despite many analysts predicting strong growth for RPA, the team at UiPath says it will be bigger than you expect in 2019.

I think that both UiPath and Forrester have some interesting insights here and I tend to agree with them both. I believe we really are at a tipping point and the effect will go far beyond the technology team. The adoption of RPA will affect just about every professional employee and will demand that they start adopting new skills and methods.

This is why UiPath can speak with such confidence. If the analysts are still focused on the ability of RPA to redefine processes that are defined by the CIO then of course there will be growth, but if we start to see every single business process being redefined and automated then the current growth projections will be nowhere near large enough. Let’s see what 2019 has in store for us all!

How Will Platforms Develop in 2019 – Especially Cloud?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

One of the biggest changes in recent years in the IT market has been the use of platforms to deliver solutions. Software development may have moved on from the old waterfall style developments to agile delivery models, but many projects still required analysts to design solutions, developers to build them, and engineers to then deliver the product.

Consider just these three types of platform and the change becomes obvious:

1. Cloud; the ability to use a system remotely without local hardware or storage requirements and usually charged on a pay-as-you-use basis.

2. App Store; developing systems for Android or iOS and releasing them to the App Store allows software to be globally distributed instantly.

3. Social and mobile; the success of games such as Farmville or Mafia Wars has largely been because they were designed to be social – play is integrated into social networks such as Facebook so friends can actively engage with your game or compete with you.

These are all major changes to the way that software is designed and released. Not least, one of the biggest changes because of these platform adjustments is that business line heads – rather than the CIO – will make decisions on new IT systems. If the IT tools can be delivered without affecting the infrastructure of the client company then this is much more likely.

In particular, the cloud is changing how enterprise systems are delivered. Business users can pay for systems on a subscription basis without the need to plan for infrastructure and this is radically transforming how many companies see their use of IT and supportive software systems, such as ERP or CRM.

But even the cloud is undergoing rapid change. Many developers are now suggesting that there are some key trends to look for in the cloud market in 2019, such as:

1. Multicloud; AWS, Google, and Microsoft are the cloud giants and all have their strengths, but many companies are now exploring how to reduce their reliance on a single cloud supplier – for security, resilience, and to gain advantages from the strengths of each one.

2. Migration; it will be more common to migrate across different clouds to take advantage of deals or strengths from specific suppliers. New tools will make this much easier.

3. Governance; many companies still have fairly weak rules governing their cloud use and this will get stronger in 2019.

These are interesting points and worth noting. It has never been a good strategy to get locked into a single IT supplier and now we are seeing the same caution with cloud suppliers. 2019 will not only be a year of opportunity for various platforms, it will be a year where we start auditing how these platforms are being used.

IBA Hosts Rocket.Build Local Hackathon

From January 24 to January 25, IBA Group hosted the Rocket.Build Local 2019 – Minsk, Belarus hackathon. For the first time, the annual event took place at the IBA Group’s High-Tech Park campus. Rocket.Build is a Rocket Software’s annual hackathon. This event brings together engineers and programmers from around the world to work in teams to develop new products that help Rocket customers solve their business and technology challenges.

IBA has been cooperating with Rocket Software since 2016, the primary area of cooperation being mainframe products. Rocket develops products in diverse fields, including analytics, networks, data, storage, and enterprise software. The firm’s products are designed to run on mainframes, Linux/Unix/Windows, IBM i, cloud, and hybrid/virtualized systems.

IBA Group specialists who are involved in Rocket Software projects took part in the hackathon. All 90 participants were divided into teams, each team consisting of two to four members. The teams came up with 26 various ideas to solve production issues.

Having finished working on projects, the participants presented their ideas to the customer. In a strictly limited three-minute presentation, the teams had to convey the value of the proposed solution to the audience and the customer, and to demonstrate its functionality.

Anjali Arora, Chief Product Officer at Rocket Software, chose the winner of the main prize, the CPO Award. The winning team is expected to travel to Boston to participate in Rocket Build Global to be held from June 9 to June 13 at Rocket Global Headquarters. In addition, a peer voting was held at Rocket.Build Local 2019  and three teams were selected as winners.

The hackathon was a delightful event for IBA Group employees, giving them an opportunity to demonstrate their skills in a friendly and innovative atmosphere.

IBA Group hosts Rocket.Build Local hackathon

Using The Cloud To Achieve Digital Transformation

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Cloud computing has transformed how the enterprise uses both storage and applications. Local storage is no longer a requirement with remote server farms immediately managing any requirements and applications using cloud resources to cope with heavy loads – such as online retailers on particularly busy shopping days. All these benefits of the cloud have become normalised, but could we be achieving more with cloud-based services?

A recent feature in ZDNet suggests that we can – digital transformation. Most enterprises view digital transformation through the lens of a change in business model, for example a retailer with a focus on in-store sales shifting their attention to apps. However, the ZDNet research shows that enterprises with a requirement to quickly change business model or offer an improved digital service could be more effectively exploring cloud-based services.

The research group IDC claims that spending on digital transformation in 2017 topped $1.3 trillion, so this is a market where a lot of enterprises are spending, but are they getting the best value and results from that investment?

The problem in many cases is that the technology makes the problem look simple. The cloud, Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT) – on the surface all these technologies are easy to understand. Executives can sit in the boardroom and proclaim that we need a business strategy that builds on the IoT, yet it is one thing to declare that you want to use a certain type of technology and another to figure out how to make that an integral part of your business in a way that delights your customers.

This is where ZDNet believes that a focus on the cloud can pay dividends. Too many enterprises do not have an efficient or well-structured IT department. There are disparate apps spread across different storage facilities and no easy way to share and analyse data across all the business applications being used. Rather than focusing on technology-led solutions, such as what can we do with AI or the IoT, it makes more sense to fix this central core of the organisation by using cloud-based services. Fix the platform and your applications and data use will naturally transform.

Secure cloud access is a proven technology and it is simple to deploy if you hire a good partner with cloud expertise. The initial focus can be on storage, but you can build out from there to centrally manage business applications and data.

This approach can drive digital transformation in your business, not because it is a radical change to manage storage or apps in this way, but because once you organise your systems around this central core, with strong business application support and the ability to share data across systems, you will be able to quickly design new solutions that could only ever work in this environment.

Sometimes it is better to build the platform and let the solutions arrive through innovation, rather than trying to build the solution on day one. Once you have a platform in place that allows data sharing, then the ideas will flow and your teams will automatically start exploring digital transformation options that are driven by business needs – not just technology.

IBA Group has been exploiting the capabilities of cloud computing, as well as other CAMSS technologies (cloud, analytics, enterprise mobility, social media, and security) to provide end–to–end business transformation services to our customers. In 2015, IBA Group opened its data center that offers various types of cloud services, including IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), and SaaS (Software as a Service).

How Tech Plays An Important Role In Delivering Great CX

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I recently visited IBA Group in Minsk and I had the pleasure to speak with Andrei Lepeyev, the director of software development at IBA Group. As someone who studied software engineering at university myself, I’m always fascinated by the way that platforms such as cloud computing and the app store have changed what it means to deliver software, so it was really great to catch up with Andrei.

You can hear our conversation on the CX Files podcast by clicking here or search your favourite audio podcast provider, such as iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. Because we were focused on CX we talked about some of the technologies and systems that Andrei is working on that have a direct impact on the quality of CX for the clients of IBA Group.

I had initially asked Andrei about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used to predict customer behaviour, but he explained to me that IBA has gone further and created a product called APPULSE that offers a complete Level 1 and 2 support service for mainframe computer systems.

Andrei said: “APPULSE not only detects the system and finds problems, it uses Machine Learning to learn about the solutions so in many cases it can create a self-healing mainframe system. Mainframes are still really important and unbeaten in the range of directions they are deployed. They are the most stable and virus-free systems, but their user-interface is not usually so good.”

Andrei was talking about the importance of keeping mainframes running because they are often overlooked by most customers, yet your bank will be relying on those systems to be running if they want to offer a 24/7 online banking platform. Ensuring that the system can heal itself before problems even happen is an enormous improvement in the way that a traditional IT support operation would run – fixing problems only after they have caused a problem. That’s always a disaster for customers who need service now.

One of the big trends for 2019 in CX will be Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Andrei explained to me that IBA Group has delivered implementations all over the world using the top four RPA platforms so they are not just riding a wave of RPA hype, they have real customers and case studies from numerous countries. But I asked Andrei how they choose the best platform for different customers – is the software really very different?

He said: “First we think about the support level of each supplier. Can they provide education or trial systems? Can they add specific requests to the software? Can they give extra information to a company like ours that may be implementing the solution?” However Andrei also added an interesting point which is not often discussed in the industry – sometimes it is just which software system is seen first by the customer. He said: “It is also important to see how each of the companies is marketing their product to the client. Often we will be approached by a potential client who already has a pilot system – developed free by the software vendor – and it can be very hard to move them to another system even if we think it could be better.”

Andrei mentioned Machine Learning when describing the mainframe support system and I asked him about the popularity of this in 2019. Are more and more customers asking how to make their systems learn about customers and systems automatically?

Andrei said: “Yes, many more clients are asking about it. The main reason is that there has been an evolution of hardware. A simple mobile phone allows almost every standard machine learning platform to work. Ten years ago this was impossible. We are not talking about huge brands like Google and Amazon – even smaller companies can deploy a machine learning system today – there is a very low barrier to entry now.”

When I asked Andrei about his priorities for 2019 he said that he wanted everyone in the industry to remember that none of these technologies exist in a vacuum – they all need to interact with other technologies and business processes. He said: “When we are talking about AI we cannot talk about it alone, it should be the business application of AI. We can’t talk about RPA without Machine Learning. We can’t talk about Cloud Computing without talking about the solutions that are built and deployed on the cloud. I’m looking forward to some projects in 2019 that involve AI using RPA and are delivered on the cloud.”

My conversation with Andrei provided a great insight into how some of these technologies are really affecting the customer experience. A large amount of media coverage is just hype, but as Andrei demonstrated, there is a great deal of substance here. These technologies can deliver game-changing systems, but the companies using them to interact with their customers need to have great products and services – it is not the use of an RPA or AI platform alone that will help them to be more successful.

To listen to the CX Files podcast featuring Andrei Lepeyev from IBA Group, click here.