Automation will destroy, then save outsourcing: The industry has spoken

For those of you who made our New York Digital OneOffice Summit a couple of weeks ago, we had a rumbustious mix of seasoned outsourcing buyers, service provider leaders, advisors and robo vendors under one roof to cogitate, discuss and argue where the hell the industry known as outsourcing and operations is truly heading. Let’s just lay down what the hell is really happening in the only unvarnished way we know how…

There is a fast realization that the outsourcing industry has reached a phase of almost insufferable tension.  Why?

Several of the RPA solutions vendors are painting an over-glamorous picture of dramatic cost savings and ROI. RPA software firms are claiming – and demonstrating – some client cases where ~40% of cost (or more, in some cases) is being taken off the bottom line. While some of these cases are genuine, there are many RPA pilots and early-phase implementations in the industry that have been left stranded because clients just couldn’t figure out the ROI and how to implement this stuff. This isn’t simply a case of buying software and looping broken processes together to remove manual efforts… this requires real buy-in from IT and operations leaders to invest in the technical, organizational change management, and process transformation skills.

Buyers are backed into a corner with broken delusions of automation grandeur as their CoEs fail. Buyer leaderships are being fed all this rosy information and are under incredible pressure to devise and execute an RPA strategy, with some sort of set of metrics, that they can demonstrate to their operations leadership.  Many are quickly discovering they simply do not have the skills inhouse to set up automation centers of excellence and are frantically turning to third parties to help get them on the right track.

Outsourcing consultants are selling RPA before they can really deliver it. Sourcing advisors are claiming they are now “RPA experts” who can make this happen, while struggling to scale up talent bases that can understand the technology and deal with the considerable change management tensions within their clients.  RPA is murky and complex, and not something you can train 28-year-old MBAs to master overnight.  Meanwhile, we are seeing some advisors simply do some brokering of RPA software deals for small fees, only to make a hasty exit from the client as they do not have the expertise to roll-out effective implementation and change management programs.

RPA specialist consultants few and far between. Pure-play RPA advisors are explaining this is not quite so easy and requires a lot more of a centralized, concise strategy.  There are simply not enough of these firms in the market, especially with Genfour having been snapped up recently by Accenture. With only a small handful of boutique specialists to go around, these firms can pick and choose their clients and command high rates.

Service providers will set the pace, but many will destroy each other in the process. Service providers are claiming they can implement whatever RPA clients need, but are not willing to do it at the expense of reducing their current revenues. Meanwhile, smart service providers are aggressively implementing RPA into their own operations to drive down their delivery costs and reduce their own headcount.  So we can expect to see providers aggressively attacking competitive clients with automation-led solutions that should create unbearable pricing pressures for service providers looking to retain the talent they need to implement this stuff. Hence, services providers will be hell bent on destroying each other and the winners will be those who eventually succeed in winning more work than they lose amidst all the destruction. This is a war of many battles being fought – and the winners will be those who are in this for the long haul, who can absorb some short-term losses to pick up the larger spoils further down the road when they have a fully equipped intelligent automation delivery capability that can deliver highly-competitive and profitable As-a-Service offerings.

The good news is that half of today’s buyers want to turn to service providers to make this work

When we privately polled 60 senior outsourcing buyers, at the recent HfS New York Summit, on what would improve the quality and outcomes of their current services relationships, the answer was pretty conclusive – half want to work with their providers to rollout their automation and cognitive roadmaps, while only a third think they should pull back work in-house to figure this stuff out for themselves:

 

The Bottom-line: The automation gauntlet is now in full effect and the casualties will mount up as the outsourcing industry plays out its most perilous battle for survival yet.  But all is not lost if we eye a longer-term prize…

So we’ve reached crunch time. Whichever way we look at it, RPA has created a lethal environment, which was only just coming to terms with providers and buyers working together to get the basics of delivery right. Most outsourcing buyers have to look to automation to save their jobs and please their ambitious leaders, no longer content with the ~30% they saved on offshore-centric outsourcing just a few short years ago (see our recent State of Outsourcing and Operations data on 454 major buyers).

So, in the meantime, for all the reasons outlined above, this industry will literally go into a destructive war over automation. The skills to make automation a massively profitable reality are few and far between, while greedy corporate leaders demand cost savings that simply are not achievable if their organizations fail to make the necessary investments and partnerships to make this achievable. Did companies become amazing at HR overnight because they bought an expensive Workday subscription?  Or amazing at sales and marketing because they slammed in a Salesforce suite?  So why should they become amazing at cost-driven automation simply because they went and bought some licenses from an RPA vendor promising bot farms and virtual labor forces?

RPA and Intelligent Automation has sparked a major war in the worlds of outsourcing and operations, where many battles are being fought – and the winners will be those who are in this for the long haul, who can absorb some short-term pain in order to benefit from the larger spoils further down the road. While automation is killing outsourcing today – costing many people their jobs, their reputations and destroying the profitability of legacy engagements, those who can hunker down, focus on self-contained projects where they can fix one broken process at a time, can get stakeholders onside by demonstrating meaningful, impactful outcomes without major resource investments, will be the winners.  Start with one process at a time, prove how to fix in, then onto the next, then the next… that is the only true way to be successful in this destructive automation-infested world.

(Cross-posted @ Horses for Sources)


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Founder and Chief Executive Officer of HfS Research, the leading global research analyst organization covering global sourcing strategies. Acclaimed Industry Analyst and Consultant who scribes the leading blog for the services industry "Horses for Sources".  Previously worked  at AMR Research (Gartner Inc),  Deloitte Consulting’s BPO Advisory Services, the  Everest Group and  IDC .  In 2010, Phil was named “IIAR Analyst of the Year” by the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations (IIAR). This is the most coveted global award for industry analysts in technology and services.

One response to “Automation will destroy, then save outsourcing: The industry has spoken”

  1. Rita Brunk

    The biggest mistake I see being made right now is companies thinking they can save money by creating their own RPA COE prior to having any understanding of RPA. My rule of thumb is to have about 10 robots in production before making that investment. Many of the failed RPA cases are due to just this situation.

    It is a must to also evaluate your processes and determine which will have the biggest impact. Many times what happens is a client will pick a safe process to use as a “guinea pig” for RPA. As a result, the savings aren’t there. Why would you waste your time automating something that represents 1 FTE or less?

    Finally, I am so happy that RPA is now competing against outsourcing. Outsourcers have rested on their cash cow business for too long. The interesting thing is they all say they have deep RPA expertise but then they consult with me on where the opportunities are. Hmm. How can that be?

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