As organizations progress toward the notion of the OneOfficeTM with the goal to connect back, middle, and front to truly enable a digital experience, innovative automation technologies and approaches are emerging as critical enablers on this journey. Digitally-driven enterprises must create a Digital Underbelly to support the front office by automating manual processes, digitizing manual documents, leveraging smart devices and IoT where they are present in the value chain. And RPA is the critical lever to achieve this goal. Similarly, smart analytics and cognitive solutions help to create Intelligent Digital Processes that allow us to predict as opposed to react. OneOffice is not about collecting and archiving historical data simply to discover what went wrong, it's about being able to predict when things will go wrong and devising smart strategies to get ahead of them. OneOffice is about embedding smart cognitive applications into process chains and workflows, it’s about learning from mistakes and new experiences along the way.
NIIT Technologies Tron Smart Automation Platform is intrinsically aligned with those thought processes. Thus, it places the emphasis on delivering a superior service experience cutting across full IT service delivery stack rather than depicting value propositions of individual tools or technologies in lifecycle. It provides clients with a modular choice of the key building blocks of Intelligent Automation. Those capabilities range from RPA, to cognitive solutions, to AI, and all the way to self-learning and self- remediating engines. By integrating those capabilities NIIT Technologies provides a comprehensive automation framework that allows for flexibility relative to clients’ maturity. Moreover, The Tron Smart Automation platform safeguards customer’s investments in existing toolsets as it can be seamlessly integrated with them, while providing the customers with extended level of automation leveraging its other components. Tron Smart Automation doesn’t just focus on technology but brings equal focus area on process side of Automation which is key and area of concern in most customer scenarios.
Customers like Siam City Cement, are adopting a holistic automation strategy leveraging components of Tron Smart Automation with a view to grow and scale. For them automation is not about technology but about processes adoption and achieving an outcome. Those outcomes include a vastly accelerated time to resolution of complex problems as well as obtaining real-time data that can aid decision- making.
By paying close attention to change management issues along the whole journey, key in its strategy was to publish a service catalog to create transparency among its employees. This resulted in breaking the linearity in the approval process and a vastly increased transparency of the way budgets were allocated and managed.
Through a holistic automation strategy, Siam City Cement vastly enhanced the time to resolution as well as getting real-time data for decision- making
Our industry is standing at a crossroads. The journey toward digitization and automation provides a plethora of opportunities, but with the same token also a myriad of challenges. Technology innovations are getting us ever closer to notions of real-time interactions and straight-through-processing that organizations were chasing for many years. However, all too often the hype in the industry is focusing on two issues: First, talking about technology innovation in isolation and second, “celebrating” the success of unicorns. Trying to anticipate unicorns is a futile exercise. Rather, we should focus our full attention on how technology can help organizations that are held back by legacy systems to stay competitive in a hyper competitive world. That is the context for the discussions on Intelligent Automation. Yet, the smoke and mirrors with which the supply side is engaging with customers and prospects are not only blurring perceptions but masking many of the real and urgent issues that need to be addressed.
Aligning back, middle, and front office is becoming top of mind of C-level executives
Against this background, HfS had the opportunity to discuss many of these issues with executives at NIIT Technologies and how their Tron Smart Automation platform should be positioned in the noisy discussions around Intelligent Automation. The data in Exhibit 1 on the critical directives of C- level executives when devising their operations strategies, is providing a valuable context. Hardly surprising, cost is not going away as you can clearly see on the top of the Exhibit. But as second and third highest priorities, it is all about aligning the back and middle office to improve customer experiences and crucial for that is having real-time data that supports predictive and not just reactive decisions.
This points to the thought-process behind HfS’ OneOffice concept that suggests that organizations need to connect back, middle and front office to truly enable a digital experience. Thus, it goes far beyond a front office and customer experience centric understanding of digital.
And Intelligent Automation is the critical enabler of such a OneOffice organization. Both through RPA that is helping to create the Digital Underbelly, but also through the much broader notion of Cognitive and AI as part of Intelligent Digital Processes.
But you can also clearly see at the bottom of the screen, that 88% of organizations that we have interviewed have a directive to deploy process automation, cognitive and Machine Learning. Or put the other way around, only 12% don’t have a directive for those innovations. Intelligent Automation clearly is moving into the mainstream.
Exhibit 1: How critical are the following C-Suite directives to your operations strategy? (SVPs and above)
Source: HfS Research in Conjunction with KPMG, “State of Operations and Outsourcing 2017” Sample: n=454 Enterprise Buyers
While Intelligent Automation is starting to move into the mainstream, hype and blurred perceptions make it difficult for buyers to move to value-adding automation initiatives. There are two key reasons for these circumstances. First, the market is lacking robust and commonly accepted definitions. Second, given the still nascent phase of market development, the supply side is over-simplifying value propositions as well as the metrics of suggested achievements. While nothing is well defined in that space, the common denominator in all those approaches is decoupling routine service delivery from labor arbitrage. This is not only the common denominator but also the reason for large scale disruption (predominantly on the supply side).
To help overcome the blurred perception and often confusion that we have tried to call out, HfS did introduce the Trifecta of automation, analytics and artificial intelligence which aims to provide a clear and crisp articulation of the emerging change agents for clients to optimize, renovate, or transform their business operations. The Trifecta provides buyers with an accessible model to understand and asses the innovation and disruption in service delivery. It is important to highlight two distinguishing characteristics of the framework: The Trifecta elements intersect with each other. While each element of the Trifecta has a distinct value proposition (RPA drives efficiency, Smart Analytics improves decision-making, and AI can solve business problems), there is increasing convergence between the three elements. For instance, smart analytics are increasingly reliant on AI tools such as natural language processing (NLP) to conduct search-driven analytics, neural networks to do data exploration, and learning algorithms to build predictive models. In fact, the Holy Grail of service delivery transformation is at the intersection of automation, analytics, and AI.
The Trifecta is nonlinear without a definite starting point. Transformation is not a linear progression. Enterprises can start anywhere across the Trifecta. It is not necessary to start with basic automation and then advance to AI-based automation. However, it is critical to understand the business problem that you are trying to solve and then apply the relevant value lever or a combination of value levers.
To understand the complexity of the value propositions and the technology building blocks of the supply side, the HfS Continuum of Intelligent Automation that you can see in exhibit 2, provides a reference model that is complementary to the Trifecta to start discussions around the evolution of Intelligent Automation as well as segmentation issues. In this context, I would like to call out just a couple of the points that we are trying to get across with this model:
Automation needs to be assessed across a continuum of technology and capabilities
Having said all that, the many questions we get on the Continuum and at times challenges boil down to largely three issues. First, the suggestion that there is a linear development from RPA toward notions of AI. Second, he temptation of trying to pigeonhole tool sets into any of chevrons on the Continuum. Third, around having the wrong starting point for discussing service delivery. To start to answer those from the end: service delivery is about service orchestration. All the leading service providers and mature buyers have moved in that direction by building out expansive automation frameworks that link a broad set of capabilities through orchestration engines like Cortex or Automatic to specific use cases. Thus, it is all about having the right tool sets for the required use cases. Whether this based on micro-services, on leveraging orchestration engines or other means. And the only linearity is around the progress towards leveraging dynamic languages for less well-defined processes and toward integrating semi and unstructured data.
Exhibit 2: The HfS Intelligent Automation Continuum
Source: HfS Research, 2017
In summary, the Continuum provides a reference point to better understand the integration as well as evolution of the technology building blocks of NIIT Tech’s Tron Smart Automation platform. For buyers those discussions point to the following considerations when evaluating their automation strategy:
The necessity of orchestrating a broad set of Intelligent Automation tool sets and other approaches to deliver and support a disparate set of use cases brings us to the heart of our discussion with NIIT Tech and their Tron Smart Automation platform. The company is fundamentally aligned with the thought process behind the Trifecta and the Intelligent Automation Continuum that we have outlined. A crucial element of NIIT Tech emphasis to deliver superior experience is the conviction that service delivery and automation should overcome the siloes of the traditional organizational units and stovepipes.
To enable that journey toward what NIIT Tech calls superior service experience, a broad set of automation techniques including RPA, AI, Analytics and Monitoring as well as performance management tools are underpinning a set of deployment scenarios. Those scenarios go far beyond Intelligent Business Process scenarios that dominate many of the ubiquitous RPA discussions. NIIT Tech is riding on its strengths in application development & support and IT operations by bringing end to end automation solutions and efficiencies. This includes automation in development, test automation, infrastructure automation and service desk operations (for infra as well as applications scenarios). In terms of tool sets underpinning those scenarios, it is notable that NIIT Tech chose innovative challenger providers including UiPath and Arago rather than a portfolio approach of the usual suspect like Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere, and IPsoft. That seems to be a prudent approach for a mid-tier provider to get enough mindshare to drive joint developments forward. At the same time Tron Smart Automation platform is integrated into leading ITSM solutions like ServiceNow to provide a comprehensive automation framework that we have described in the discussion around the Intelligent Automation Continuum. Apart from commercial tools, open source tools get equal attention in the platform as alternate/cheaper strategy option where budgets are limited. Tron Smart Automation platform safeguards customer’s investments in existing toolsets as it can be seamlessly integrated with them, while providing the customers with extended level of automation leveraging its core components. Tron Smart Automation platform’s analytics bring the kind of process transparency and single pane view which normally is missing in underlying tools.
Exhibit 3 is illustrating the capabilities of Tron Smart Automation platform in more detail:
Exhibit 3: The building blocks of NIIT Tech’s Tron Smart Automation platform
Source: HfS Research, NIIT Technology 2017
Effectiveness of automation can be felt only when there is way to baseline and measure the maturity of an organization on the automation front. Tron Smart Automation platform has built-in Automation Maturity Model which can really help organizations build a pragmatic roadmap to automation while leveraging their investments on tool sets. Automation Maturity Model not just looks at usage of technology/tools but also brings in aspects of people, process, and culture in an organization for enterprise automation. In summary, the Tron Smart Automation platform orchestrates a broad set of Intelligent Automation capabilities that supports a comprehensive array of use cases and scenarios. The following scenarios, respectively its key technology partners, outline three representative use cases:
Tron Smart Automation platform does away with the need for triage by automating processes at the back end. Thus, resolutions can be achieved in a few seconds. In general, many use cases are evolving toward notions of self-learning and self-remediation.
In summary, the Tron Smart Automation platform is integrating AI across the IT stack for various scenarios of problem solving and sustenance of knowledge/ capability for the organization and customers.
So where does this all leave buyers who have started the journey with Tron Smart Automation platform? A buyer typically does neither look at all the complexity of the Continuum nor does he deploy all the building blocks of Tron Smart Automation platform. A point in case was a discussion with Khun Hans Ante, IT Infrastructure Head, Siam City Cement Public Company Limited. Siam City Cement was first established in 1969 and began cement production after the completion of its cement plant in 1972, then became a listed company on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 1977. Siam City Cement has provided world-class construction materials and services that are vital to economic growth in Thailand for 48 years as one of the largest cement producers in the country, engaging in the business of Cement, Ready-mixed Concrete and Aggregates, Fiber Cement based building and decorative materials, Autoclaved Aerated Concrete products as Lightweight Concrete, Environmentally-friendly Waste Management Solutions, Power generation from cement production process, Information technology and digitalization business services. Siam City Cement has embarked on a strategy of building a regional asset footprint that brings synergy in the wider region, having already established operations in Indonesia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
"Automation is not about technology, it is all about processes. You don’t have to automate everything.”
Siam City Cement started its journey with Tron Smart Automation platform in 2015 around IT Operations with a view to managing its vast SAP estate more efficiently. The focus was to provide an application layer integration between SAP and Tron Smart Automation platform. Thus, Siam City Cement didn’t opt for all the building blocks of Tron Smart Automation platform in a holistic approach, but started selectively and focused. Khun Hans summarized the context for the deployment aptly:”It is not about technology, it is all about processes. And fundamentally, you don’t have to automate everything. Rather you have to evaluate where automation makes sense for your organization”. For Siam City Cement one of the key considerations was to be able to provision its infrastructure efficiently given the many M&A transactions the company has gone through. The most compelling metric for the project, which started back in 2015, is the time for provisioning of infrastructure that went from months down to hours. But Tron Smart Automation platform gave Siam City Cement also a real-time dashboard which allowed for real-time analysis of the performance of its data center estate. While not holistic across the whole gamut of Intelligent Automation, Siam City Cement evolved to a holistic strategy around its infrastructure capabilities.
This level of transparency had another positive side effect that influences the way the project is being measured. Having real-time data allowed Siam City Cement to make informed decisions on which services to sunset. This is yet another reference point that automation projects shouldn’t be assessed by traditional approaches to business cases but take a broader, albeit softer way of measuring those projects. The next steps will see Siam City Cement moving toward automated data recovery which will make the need for back-ups obsolete and will help to overcome one of Siam City Cement’s biggest headaches around data corruption.
Time to resolution a key metric for automation deployments
Siam City Cement paid close attention to change management issues along the whole journey. Key in its strategy was to publish a service catalog in order to create transparency among its employees. Automation was a critical enabler for this as provisioning, in the words of Khun Hans, had become “so easy”. This had a strong direct impact as managers couldn’t any longer offload cost to IT budgets as everybody had become its own cost center. The other major change was breaking with the linearity in the approval process. As Siam City Cement has help desk agents doing the approval process rather than moving to notions of broad self-remediation it is also clear that they view automation as augmentation rather than substitution of labor. Yet changes in the approval process also created initially the greatest challenge and some resistance within its workforce. As Khun Hans pointed out “in SAP normally everything has a sequence for change” which invariably slows the process down. By moving to non-linearity, Siam City Cement accelerated the journey toward real-time change which is crucial for moving toward the notion of the OneOffice. Beyond the move to automated data recovery, Siam City Cement is evaluating other technologies that provide more self-remediation capabilities. But to sum up our discussion with Siam City Cement and provide the context for broader automation discussions, it is critical to be clear about the goals for automation projects and to pay attention to change management issues. Some of the building blocks on the Continuum but also on the Tron Smart Automation platform might be Science Fiction for some organizations. Yet as Siam City Cement clearly has demonstrated, Intelligent Automation is clearly moving into the mainstream – as such Tron Smart Automation platform is not science fiction but rather reality.
Siam City Cement is an example of the challenges but also the successes on the journey toward the OneOffice. The deployment of automation tools was for specific processes and with clear goals in mind. However, by having access to an automation platform such as NIIT Tech’s Tron Smart Automation platform with a broad set of capabilities, organizations can iteratively grow and scale their automation programs. The more employees get used to interacting with automation tools sets as part of agent led activities, the more scale can be targeted.
A critical lesson from the deployment at Siam City Cement was not to chase metrics that are either looking to replace FTEs or chase unrealistic savings. Rather the goal to was to have a faster time to resolution of critical issues and getting real-time insights across its infrastructure estate. Thus, organizations like Siam City Cement can accelerate the journey toward the OneOffice by creating a Digital Underbelly by leveraging a broad set of automation capabilities. Those automation capabilities are not only decoupling support activities from lengthy human intervention but also helping to overcome the linearity of process steps. This is what going digital for traditional organizations like Siam City Cement really means. We like the holistic approach of Tron Smart Automation platform as it provides organizations with a consistent approach to accelerate their automation journey. Moreover, NIIT Tech has been rapidly enabling enterprises make automation core to their operations strategy and not merely a peripheral activity, as they have been doing for SEI Investments , a wealth management solutions company. By working with a selective set of challenger provider NIIT Tech is adding different nuances in an increasingly noisy discourse on automation.
Tom Reuner is Senior Vice President, Intelligent Automation and IT Services at HfS. Tom is responsible for driving the HfS research agenda for Intelligent Automation and IT Services. Automation cuts across the whole gamut ranging from RPA to Autonomics to Cognitive Computing and Artificial Intelligence. This includes increasingly the intersections of unstructured data, analytics, and Cognitive Automation while mobilizing the HfS analysts to research Intelligent Automation dynamics across specific industries and business functions. Furthermore, he is supporting HfS’ push to disrupt IT Services research by focusing on application services and testing. A central theme for all his research is the increasing linkages between technological evolution and evolution in the delivery of business processes.
Tom’s deep understanding of the dynamics of this market comes from having held senior positions with Gartner, Ovum and KPMG Consulting in the UK and with IDC in Germany where his responsibilities ranged from research and consulting to business development. He has always been involved in advising clients on the formulation of strategies, guiding them through methodologies and analytical data and working with clients to develop impactful and actionable insights. Tom is frequently quoted in the leading business and national press, appeared on TV and is a regular presenter at conferences.
Tom has a PhD in History from the University of Göttingen in Germany.
He lives in London with his wife and in his spare time, he is trying to improve his culinary skills in order to distract him from the straining experience of being a Spurs supporter.
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