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 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 Tech Plays An Important  Role In Delivering A Great Customer Experience

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.

RPA Has Truly Arrived

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

When I recently visited IBA Group in Minsk I was expecting to hear about their Cloud Computing solutions and some of their more recent developments in Machine Learning, but I was surprised to hear exactly how developed their Robotic Process Automation (RPA) expertise is today. I was surprised because their approach to RPA is not typical. They have experience of delivering real projects to real clients in multiple countries using the top 4 RPA software platforms.

Now contrast this to the typical RPA story in the media. Robo-bosses, robots taking over, and other mentions of robots replacing humans. When reading about RPA we usually read hype and grand claims of digital transformation, often from experts or IT companies with very little track record in this area. Yet IBA has been quietly developing expertise in all the major RPA platforms all over the world and there is no hype at all. They have just been getting on with the job.

RPA is now (almost) a $2bn a year marketplace and it’s growing fast. This area of business is only going to get more important as we move into 2019. HFS predicts that we are looking at $2.3bn revenue in RPA technologies in 2019 and this will grow to $4.3bn by 2022.

Traditionally HFS has been the least bullish of the analyst community. For a long time they criticised analysts such as Gartner for hyping the RPA market, but now even the HFS predictions look exciting. Gartner predicts that spending on RPA software is growing around 57% year on year, which is a phenomenal increase for any market, but what is really interesting is how all the analysts seem to be agreeing that RPA is no longer in the Hype Cycle and is now being accepted as a regular business process automation tool. Even the forward projections of Gartner to 2022 feature year-on-year growth of 41% – RPA has arrived.

When I arrived at IBA, I never expected to hear such a solid RPA success story – case study after case study of real RPA deliveries. I did a detailed interview with Vjacheslav Mikitjuk, director of Internet Technologies, that I intend to publish in the new year.

The RPA world is full of hype. HFS Research has been a vocal critic of the RPA hot air and fake news for the past few years, but even they now acknowledge that there are real solutions being delivered that are adding value all over the world. I witnessed this up close when I went to visit IBA Group and it was not even something that I had expected. They have kept their RPA expertise fairly quiet, but I’m hoping to change that in 2019 by telling the world what they have been doing.

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

Mark's visit

Robotics And Cognitive Technologies Change Your Business Forever

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The growth in corporate robotics feels rather like an overnight trend, but automation using robots has been changing the manufacturing industry for at least three decades. The difference today is that robotics is no longer restricted to factory production lines. Automation today is far more advanced than a machine capable of spray-painting car parts.
The reality in today’s environment is that several technologies are blending together to create new possibilities and solutions. Robotics, machine learning, and Artificial Intelligence are naturally connected because automation no longer has to just be the simple repetition of programmed bots – we can now ask the system to learn how to get better.
The IBM Watson system is a great example of this. Watson is capable of reading 800 million pages of data a second. This capacity to absorb new information constantly makes it incredibly useful for complex environments that are constantly changing. Cancer diagnosis is a good example because a traditional doctor will train for many years and then will work with patients in a hospital so their capability to absorb new research is limited. By training real doctors to work with AI systems such as Watson we can support and enhance them – allowing doctors to access a second opinion that includes knowledge of all published research.
Softbank in Japan has connected their Pepper ‘general purpose’ robot to a Watson ‘brain’ creating the possibility for intelligent assistants that actually have a physical form. It’s easy to imagine nurses treating patients with Pepper offering additional advice, or a bank advisor explaining a mortgage to a potential customer and Pepper offering further information and automatically checking compliance to legal regulations.
But this convergence of technologies is not taking place at the same speed in every company, or even in every industry. EWeek magazine recently summarised five important trends that give a good oversight on the growing importance of robotics in industry today:

  1. Most companies are not yet using Robotic Process Automation (RPA), but are noticing those that are using it; Capgemini research suggests that 39% of companies are already using RPA and many are talking of extremely positive results – such as a reduction in repetitive work and an improvement in quality. The companies that have not yet tried RPA are noticing these reports and will move quickly.
  2. RPA works best when used to create a Centre Of Excellence (COE); RPA requires a cultural change so it helps to create a mindset that you are not just automating existing tasks, rather the plan is to improve how the company works.
  3. Once companies explore RPA they deploy it everywhere; companies that have piloted RPA initiatives find that it is not just useful in the back office – automation can be deployed everywhere.
  4. Human jobs are changed, not eliminated; as with the Pepper examples, in most cases RPA enhances and improves what humans can do rather than just eliminating their roles. In research published by McKinsey, they estimated that around 90% of work functions cannot be automated 100% – the role of automation is to increase quality and productivity, not eliminate humans from the workplace.
  5. RPA plus AI will lead to new cognitive opportunities; by created automated systems that can learn we are entering a new cognitive era of business. Research by OpusCapita suggests that 81% of executives believe that this combination of RPA with AI will significantly change their business inside the next 5 years.

This highlights two extremely important – and opposing – points. Executives mostly (81%) believe that automation and AI is about to dramatically change their business, perhaps even their entire business model. However, only a minority (39%) of companies have already launched an RPA project.
It’s clear that this is where the future lies for companies across all industries so the future seems bright for service companies with expertise in both these areas. I even think that the 5-year time horizon is rather long – in my opinion this will all change before 2020. RPA and cognitive systems are about to change your business forever – are you exploring the possibilities today?

How Is RPA Really Changing Your Business?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

How is automation such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) changing your business? I’ve written here in the past about some of the automated solutions IBA Group has delivered to clients and how the use of automation can streamline various business processes, but what is the wider effect on a business when some processes can be automated?

In the short term some clear effects can be immediately observed:

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.

But these are just the immediate effects, based on improving processes so everything works faster and more reliably. There are some additional changes that may not be immediately obvious, or even planned during the RPA transition, but will soon become important to any organisation that uses RPA.

  • Business re-engineering and transformation
  • Process streamlining
  • Improved governance framework and process controls – such as change management

The focus here is on the time after your RPA solution has been installed and is operational. Now that a significant section of your business processes are automated, how can you leverage on this achievement?

First is the ability to transform the 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.

Streamlining the processes you have yet to automate is another significant advantage. 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.

Tools like RPA are often talked about as a way to streamline a business, or reduce cost. It’s rare to hear the opportunities for a complete transformation mentioned, but this is where automation is heading – one day it’s going to redefine what your business does and how all your services are delivered.

RPA Is The First Step To Data Automation, Not The Final Answer

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Last year the analyst firm HfS Research published a cautionary article on Robotic Process Automation (RPA). They warned that the technology and outsourcing market was hyping RPA beyond what it could possibly achieve – the talk of RPA changing the world is all hype.

This should be qualified by the more nuanced comments published by HfS. They stated that the RPA boom has been hyped, but not the more general focus on business automation. So the blogs and business journals that keep on breathlessly saying that bots will transform companies need to examine just exactly what they are saying. RPA cannot exist without a wider transformation of how a company functions.

Companies today need real-time data that converges across business functions. You cannot have a marketing database that is not connected to data your customer service team is using. You cannot drive business value today without your business data being real-time and accessible from across the entire business.

The hype around bots is that all this is automatic; but if your company still relies on paper documents then how are the bots going to process that data? To create a truly automated organisation requires more thought and planning than just the deployment of a bot in the back-office.

As more processes are digitised, more value can be created. More insights can be found. More opportunities to set bots searching for trends are created. HfS has actually been saying this for a long time and they have a digital office solution called OneOffice that broadly defines how organisations need to plan operations – if they want to use the data flowing through the company.

The real message is that RPA itself is not hype. There are many excellent examples of RPA deployments that have achieved genuine efficiencies for the companies using it – including customers of IBA. However, the idea that RPA is a silver bullet that can automate your business processes, making your team super-efficient overnight, is certainly hype. RPA is just one part of a transformation to a digital business environment. It is one tool in a complete arsenal of change related to the way that data is used.

We need to see a convergence of data analytics, cognitive solutions, and RPA. Big Data is another term that is often tossed around with very little understanding, but it needs to be understood by leaders. Big Data and data convergence are not just referring to smarter ways of using data. We are talking about the complete digital transformation of organisations so that data becomes the most valuable asset.

Many people have been shocked to recently discover just how much data Facebook has on their personal likes, dislikes, and preferences. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Facebook has offered a free service for years in return for data. That data allows them to know their customers inside-out, creating advertising opportunities that the traditional advertising industry cannot match. Facebook has redefined how advertising works and major advertising companies are struggling to keep up.

Whatever your business, you need to think about how data flows from customers to you and how it moves inside the organisation. How can you leverage this knowledge to create new opportunities – even a new business? RPA is just one ingredient and can help to automate some processes, but thinking about RPA should really just be your first step towards a complete transformation of how you are using data in your company today.

Can RPA Really Deliver Change Or Is It Just Hype?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The Horses For Sources blog has been a great place to read comment on outsourcing for many years now. It became so popular and authoritative that the founder, Phil Fersht, managed to launch the innovative analyst company HfS Research. The contrarian approach of the blog has allowed the entire company to continue focusing on innovative research that sometimes exposes false trends and hype.

And so it was recently when an article on the blog commented on growth expectations in the Indian ITO and BPO sector. The Indian technology association NASSCOM is predicting strong growth in the sector of 7-9% and yet all the industry analysts, including HfS, are saying that they believe it will be more like 4-5%. Who is right?

As the blog points out, some of the more level-headed executives have accepted that the days of rapid growth in this type of outsourcing are over. For example, the contact centres that were once endlessly growing now need to accept that customers would actually prefer self-service systems. The way that brands and customers interact is changing fast and this will impact on the service companies that are serving them.

But the blog also notes that many company executives will not accept that their growth is slowing and they will reach out for the latest fad to help give the impression that innovation is about to save them. Some of the ideas mentioned are Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This is typical executive behaviour. When a proven business model starts slowing down, reach out to “innovation” for a boost.

But some of the fads do have a genuine application. RPA for example. It really works and there are many examples of how it can be used to automate processes and deflect the need for a customer to interact with the brand through a customer service interaction.

The problem is that the executives who talk about these innovations as game-changing are not really accepting that the game has changed. They continue to talk about growth using old metrics, such as how many people work in their contact centre, and fail to see that in many cases, services are being delivered in a completely different way. New business models may be required and new charging structures are certainly required.

Strategies such as RPA are not just new services that can drum up additional revenue, they can entirely redefine how a business model works. As the HfS blog suggests, it’s time for executives to stop talking about AI, blockchain, and RPA as new sources of income and to start defining how these technologies might change, improve, or destroy their entire industry.

AI Can Transform How Companies Interact With Customers

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Chatbots have faced quite a challenge. Initially they were embraced, especially when Facebook championed how they could allow small companies to be available to customers 24/7 without the need for a contact centre. However, many customers and companies have also complained that they often fail to live up to the promise. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are just not good enough to replicate interactions with a real person.

But a recent feature in Financial Review magazine explores how chatbots are really just the beginning of a long journey into AI. Perhaps we should review our expectations and remember that we are only just starting to use these technologies for real business solutions. Mistakes will be made, but when the technology is effectively deployed it really does work.

Take a look at the National Australia Bank deployment of a chatbot to answer customer questions. The bank focused on the most common 200 questions that customers ask and the bot can recognise all these and another 13,000 variations of the same questions. Commonwealth Bank launched a chatbot in January of this year and by the end of the year they predict that it will understand 500,000 different ways to ask about 500 different banking processes.

The bots are learning. They are applying Machine Learning principles so that every interaction with a customer becomes an opportunity to learn and improve. This is very important, because many of the executives who have been critical of AI systems have not allowed the system long enough to learn how it needs to behave.

Organisations that need to interact with their customers often, like banks, will find that an enormous amount of basic enquiries can be handled by bots and customers will prefer interacting with bots because they get immediate – and accurate – service. AI has proven beyond doubt that it is more than just a fad. The smart use of a chatbot system is the first step on a path to creating a much more automated customer experience – an experience that most customers will prefer because of the immediacy of service.

Click here to learn about IBA Group’s EmailBot Solution.

What is RPA And How Can Automation Change My Business?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the automation of business processes using software ‘bots’ and allows simple, repetitive tasks to be performed by computers rather than people. RPA covers a wide range of tasks, such as sorting incoming email, responding automatically to chat messages, or extracting useful information from documents using Optical Character Recognition.

RPA offers a great opportunity to streamline your business processes. The wave of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) that has taken place over the last two decades means that executives are much more familiar with the concepts of workflow – determining how different parts of your business exchange information and interact. This awareness was built up as companies realised that some processes could be performed by a partner through outsourcing. To make these outsourced processes work it was important to define the information interface between the client company and the supplier managing the processes.

This knowledge can be translated well into RPA planning. Where do you have repetitive or rules-based processing in your organisation? Can you create an environment where you feed information to an RPA system and allow it to perform this work automatically?

The benefits of improving workflow in this way are multiple:

1. Optimise the time and potential of your employees by allowing them to focus on exceptions, not routine work.
2. Improve the customer experience by processing this information more reliably and quickly.
3. Achieve stronger control over your processes by ensuring that the system itself processes most work without failure – only a few complex situations need more analysis.

A new report from Forrester Research suggests that RPA will add 500,000 digital workers to the US economy – that’s the equivalent of half a million real workers, but in this case it’s software bots performing the work. In 2018, RPA-based digital workers will replace and/or augment 311,000 office and administrative positions in the US, and 260,000 sales and related positions. As a result, the RPA software market exceeded $500 million by the end of 2017 and will double to $1.06 billion by the end of 2018.

This kind of market growth is hard to ignore. Not only can RPA fundamentally transform your business, creating more engaged employees and more satisfied customers, it can reduce your ongoing cost of business too.

Click here for more information on how IBA Group can help design an RPA solution that works for your business.

Why Won’t Robots Replace Human Workers?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The business journals used to say that outsourcing and offshoring was replacing the need for companies to hire people. Now it’s the robots that are supposed to be taking our jobs. Business journals and commentators across the world are suggesting that a wave of automation driven by smart Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems will largely replace the need for workers.

But what is the reality? Forrester Research does believe that a big change is coming, especially to highly developed markets like the US. Their latest study on the global workforce suggested that in 2018, 9% of US jobs will be lost to automation, partly offset by a 2% growth in jobs supporting this automation – the systems need to be managed. The most impacted areas will be back-office and administrative, sales, and call centre employees. A wide range of technologies, from Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and AI to customer self-service and physical robots will change how people are hired and will create a need for different skills.

Analysis by McKinsey is cautious. They warn that just because it is technically feasible for tasks to be automated does not mean that every company will do so. This is similar to the earlier concerns about outsourcing. It is technically feasible to outsource almost every function of a company, yet few companies outsource everything.

McKinsey says that when planning what is possible to automate, first you need to rate jobs and tasks by their technical feasibility – is this a repetitive process that a robot or software bot could perform? For example, when thinking about manual work tasks such as a factory assembly line or food packaging are predictable and it is possible to consider how these tasks could be automated. Construction, forestry, or working with animals is highly unstructured and not predictable and therefore almost impossible to automate.

Let’s consider a simple example. IBA Group created an email bot that sorts incoming emails at the customer support centres. The EmailBot processes typical customer requests, grouping these by content, sending automatic responses, creating tickets, and gathering statistics. However, even a constantly-learning robot cannot process all customer requests. Roughly 50-70 percent of incoming emails are processed automatically and the rest are forwarded to the appropriate employees. Nevertheless, in this case the employees are relieved from repetitive operations and are able to focus on more complicated tasks so value is created.

But factories and manufacturing are just one part of the economy. In most developed economies services are a greater part of the economy. Here there are clear examples of how some automation can be introduced. Look at how customers in McDonald’s are now comfortable using a screen to order their own meal. Amazon has proven that an entire supermarket can be automated, so not even checkouts are required.

Computer Weekly recently published an interesting study of automation that draws the conclusion that the real story is not that robots will cause jobs to vanish. Some jobs will go, but millions will also be created because of the automation. The real story is that many of the jobs we are familiar with today will be transformed.

This rings true. Think about the skills needed by a finance assistant or Human Resources professional in an environment where many business processes will be automated. These office professionals need to be able to control the automation systems and improve them – the back office professionals you are now hiring probably need to be able to code software. That never used to be a requirement in HR, but it will be soon.

The McKinsey research analyses over 800 different types of job and explores the possibility of robots replacing these tasks. You can read the research here, but to my mind it is the transformation of skills that is the real story – not robots replacing workers. Workers need to understand how to work with the robots and control them so they can be more productive.

RPA: The Robots Are Ready To Arrive in 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been talked about for the past couple of years as one of the hot trends that is about to change how companies in all industries undertake their business processes. The trend has never quite taken off as predicted, but I believe that 2018 will see the importance of RPA acknowledged by many more executives and IT professionals.

There are several important reasons why I think that companies will be ready to explore RPA now:

1. The systems are ready to buy; RPA doesn’t need a team of scientists and researchers. Technology experts have already built systems that are ready to be installed and configured. Look at how IBM has deployed their Watson system in a number of different industries. Tools like WorkFusion and UIPath are also making it simple to purchase the technology – all you need is to integrate the system into your workflow.
2. Case studies now exist; RPA is no longer a technology of the future. A quick online search will give information on many well-known companies using RPA to reduce the effort required inside their business processes. Insurance giant Zurich has found that they can issue standard insurance contracts to customers using RPA, with humans focusing on non-standard policies. Royal Bank of Canada has been using intelligent bots to assist with their customer service process. Just search and you are likely to find relevant case studies that reflect your own business and industry.
3. Machine Learning reinforces the value of RPA; RPA becomes even more valuable when it can shape and improve processes because of experience and learning. For example, in a customer service environment it is possible to teach the chatbot about how every problem ever encountered by a customer was resolved. And as new customer problems are fixed, the system learns more. Every time a customer asks a bot a question, the system has access to every question (and answer) a customer has faced in the past. Machine Learning allows the RPA system to continuously improve.

It’s very important to note these three changes in the RPA marketplace. Before 2015, hardly anyone was talking about RPA. RPA has often been dismissed as one of those ‘coming soon’ technologies, yet in 2018 it can be demonstrated that it is now a tool that is demonstrably offering value to well known organisations. I believe that as the case studies increase and the tools become easier to purchase and integrate, we will see an explosion in the use and importance of RPA. 2018 really will be the year that the robots are coming.

How Robots Will Change the Way We Work

IBA Group
Darya Kavaleuskaya

The writing is 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 is a 31% chance you will 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 have 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 an opportunity to pass all routine work to robots and let humans do the work that requires 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 is 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.

How Robots Will Change the Way We Work