At the start of 2020, my colleague Audrey William and I discussed the need for workplace analytics when predicting workplace trends for the year, but the pandemic delayed many of these investments. As working from home (or from anywhere) becomes a long-term trend, we are learning that managers need tools to better empower their employees to deliver what the business needs. There are many reports of employees working overtime; working longer days; not taking breaks; being in back-to-back meetings for days on end; skipping meals; and wearing themselves out.
There are many benefits of remote work – employees have the freedom to manage the day as they choose, they have no commute and (conceptually) more harmony between work and home duties. But there are also many processes that are harder. It is not as easy to find the right person to connect to or learn from, get the best information or answer to a question, and get coaching and new skills. Managers need to understand their employee work experience because they don’t sit with or supervise them all day. Self-service for employees used to mean walking around the office and having a conversation or meeting. Today, we need to make these outcomes easier for every worker regardless of location.
Microsoft Lauches Viva
Microsoft has announced the release of Viva – a new product suite to help businesses overcome these challenges. They have published a “Future of Employee Experience” video here as part of the launch – but don’t watch it – or if you do, be prepared to be disappointed when you see the actual products… The good news is that we have moved from oval-shaped phones in Future of Work videos in 2000 (because all web content is designed for round screens right?) to transparent phones in 2010 (who needs to be able to see what’s on the screen?) to virtual screens in Future of Work videos in 2021… Guess they’ll never become a reality either!
Based off the early reviews and commentary about Viva, I believe Microsoft is really onto a winner here:
Managers need better analytics about how their team spends their days and employees need insights as to how to increase their productivity or find a better balance in their life.
Employees need to find the people and information in their business to connect with and learn from – how often do employees reach out to others to ask for help or information when the answers they were looking for weren’t too far away. This information needs to be easier to find – even surfaced to employees before they go looking for it.
Everyone in your business needs to keep learning within their flow of work – the formal training programs offered by most businesses today are useless if employees are too busy to take the course.
Business leaders need to drive cultural change more effectively or support their broader business initiatives by linking employees with the information and insights that can help reinforce or change organisational culture.
Viva should support these outcomes. Microsoft is partnering with many other businesses to make this work (systems integrators, training providers, workplace and HR platforms etc). If the products deliver as promised, they might provide the missing link that many businesses need today to keep their employees safe, productive, happy and connected.
Learn about the factors that have been accelerating the shift towards the new ways of working. The top 5 Future of Work Trends For 2021 are available for download from the Ecosystm platform. Signup for Free to download the report.
SAS announced that it has acquired Boemska, a provider of low-code development tools and analytics workload management software. The small, privately held company is UK-based with an R&D centre in Serbia. The acquisition will be integrated into SAS Viya, its cloud-native platform, which includes containerised analytics and machine learning offerings. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
A SAS silver partner, Boemska has wins in Health, Finance, and Travel. Most of its reference clients are based in Europe in addition to a small number in the US and South Africa. Boemska has two primary software offerings – Enterprise Session Monitor (ESM) and AppFactory. Additionally, it delivers cloud migration, performance diagnostics, and application development services.
Boemska ESM provides visibility into performance and cost management of analytics workloads. The product enables self-service root cause analysis for developers, monitoring and batch schedule optimisation for administrators, and departmental cost allocation of cloud resources. ESM manages SAS, R, and Python workloads and is compatible with workload management platforms from the likes of IBM and BMC. Boemska shipped an updated version of ESM in 2020 to improve the UI and ensure support for SAS Viya. At the time, it announced that its development team had doubled in the preceding 12 months, suggesting a trajectory of growth.
SAS Focuses on Cloud-Native Analytics and AI
SAS launched Viya 4.0 in mid-2020, a major step in its vision to become a provider of cloud-native analytics and machine learning solutions. The platform includes offerings, such as Visual Analytics, Visual Statistics, Visual Machine Learning, and Visual Data Science packaged in containers and orchestrated by Kubernetes. Microsoft Azure has become its preferred cloud partner, assisting in developing SAS Cloud, hosted from data centres in the US, Brazil, Australia, and newly launched facilities in Germany and the UK. Viya managed services are also available from Azure regions. AWS and Google Cloud are expected to make the leap to Viya 4.0 from version 3.5 soon. As part of its cloud-native strategy, SAS now offers three tiers for software updates – bi-annual, monthly, or immediately after release.
The major overhaul of SAS Viya is part of the vendor’s USD 1B investment into AI over three years from 2019-2021. The platform includes a heavy emphasis on NLP, machine learning, and computer vision. The integration of Boemska’s low-code development offering into Viya will allow SAS clients to extract greater value from AI by quickly embedding it in mobile and enterprise applications. The converging trends of citizen developers and data literacy suggest SAS has selected the right path for the future.
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Talent has always been difficult to find. Even with globalisation, significant investment of time and resources is needed to find and relocate talent to the right geography. In many instances this was not possible given the preferences of the candidates and/or the hiring managers. COVID-19 has changed this drastically. Remote working and distributed teams have become acceptable. With limitations on immigration and travel for work, there is a lot more openness to finding and hiring talent from outside the traditional talent pool.
However it is not as simple as it seems. The cost per applicant (CPA) – the cost to convert a job seeker to a job applicant – had been averaging US$11-12 throughout 2019 according to recruiting benchmark data from programmatic recruitment advertising provider, Appcast. But, the impact of COVID-19 saw the CPA reach US$19 in June – a 60% increase. I expect that finding right talent is going to be a “needle in a haystack” issue. But this is only one side of the coin – the other aspect is that the talent profile needed to be successful in roles that are all remote or hybrid is also significantly different from what it was before. Companies need to pay special attention to what kind of people they would like to hire in these new roles. Without this due consideration it is very likely that there would be difficulty in on-boarding and making these new hires successful within the organisation.
Automation Augmentation and Skills
The pace at which companies are choosing to automate or apply AI is increasing. This is changing the work patterns and job requirements for many roles within the industry. According to the BCG China AI study on the financial sector 23% of the roles will be replaced by AI by 2027. The roles that will not be replaced will need a higher degree of soft skills, critical thinking and creativity. However, automation is not the endgame. Firms that go ahead with automation without considering the implications on the business process, and the skills and roles it impacts will end up disrupting the business and customer experience. Firms will have to really design their customer journeys, their business processes along with roles and capabilities needed. Job redesign and reskilling will be key to ensuring a great customer experience
Analytics is Inadequate Without the Right Culture
Data-driven decision-making as well as modelling is known to add value to business. We have great examples of analytics and data modelling being used successfully in Attrition, Recruitment, Talent Analytics, Engagement and Employee Experience. The next evolution is already underway with advanced analytics, sentiment analysis, organisation network analysis and natural language processing (NLP) being used to draw better insights and make people strategies predictive. Being able to use effective data models to predict and and draw insights will be a key success factor for leadership teams. Data and bots do not drive engagement and alignment to purpose – leaders do. Working to promote transparency of data insights and decisions, for faster response, to champion diversity, and give everyone a voice through inclusion will lead to better co-creation, faster innovation and an overall market agility.
Creating a Synergy
We are seeing a number of resets to what we used to know, believe and think about the ways of working. It is a good time to rethink what we believe about the customer, business talent and tech. Just like customer experience is not just about good sales skills or customer service – the employee experience and role of Talent is also evolving rapidly. As companies experiment with work models, technology and work environment, there will a need to constantly recalibrate business models, job roles, job technology and skills. With this will come the challenge of melding the pieces together within the context of the entire business without falling into the trap of siloed thinking. Only by bringing together businesses processes, talent, capability evolution, culture and digital platforms together as one coherent ecosystem can firms create a winning formula to create a competitive edge.
Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Talent Summit
For more insights, attend the Singapore FinTech Festival 2020: Infrastructure Summit which will cover topics on Founders success and failure stories, pandemic impact on founders and talent development, upskilling and reskilling for the future of work.
AI Will Move from a Competitive Advantage to a Must-Have
The best practices and leading-edge technology-centric implementations, over the years gives a very good indication of market trends. In 2018 and 2019 AI-centric engagements were few and far between – they were still in the “innovation stage” as trials and small projects. In 2020, AI was mentioned in most applications, showcased as best practices. AI is currently a competitive advantage for businesses. CIOs and their businesses are using AI to get ahead of their competitors and highlighting these practices for external recognition.
That also means that it is a matter of time before AI becomes a standard practice – processes are smart “out-of-the-box”; intelligent applications are an expectation, not the exception; systems learn because that is how they were designed, not as an overlay. If your competitors are using AI today to get ahead of you, then you need to also use AI to catch up and keep up. In 2021, having a smart business will not get you ahead of the pack – it will move you into it.
AI Will Thrive in Areas where the Cost of Failure is Low
While organisations will be forced to adopt AI to remain competitive, initial exploration of AI solutions will be in areas that they consider low risk. The Financial Services, Retail, and other transaction-oriented industries will use AI to drive improved personalisation, increase customer retention, and improve their ability to lower risk and combat fraud. These are process-driven areas, where manual processes are being enhanced and enriched by AI. Although machine learning and other AI technologies will help improve the speed and quality of services, they will not be a replacement for many of the more complex business practices that companies and their employees frequently overlook to automate. The ‘low hanging fruit’ to add AI to will come first, with various degrees of success.
There will be industries and processes where organisations will be more skeptical about adopting AI. If Google finds a wrong translation or gives a wrong link, it is not a big concern, unlike a wrong diagnosis or wrong medication. In areas that are crucial to our well-being – such as healthcare – AI does not yet have the trust for acceptance of society. There are still questions around ethics and algorithm concerns.
Technology Providers Will Stop Talking about AI
Technology vendors highlight what they consider their key differentiators, that show that they are ahead of the game. When every piece of software and hardware is intelligent, vendors will stop talking about the fact that they are intelligent. This may not fully happen in 2021 – but ENOUGH technology will be intelligent for those who have not yet made their software smart to understand that they cannot talk about its intelligent capabilities as that just shows they are behind the market.
The good news is that the less we hear about AI, the more intelligent applications will become. AI is quickly becoming a core capability and a base expectation. Systems that learn and adapt will be standard very soon – but be wary, as significant market changes can break these systems! Many companies learned that the pandemic broke their algorithms as times were no longer “normal”.
Enterprises Will Seek Hyperautomation Solutions
RPA will increasingly become part of large enterprise application implementations. Technology vendors are adding RPA functionality either organically or through acquisitions to their enterprise application suites. RPA often works in conjunction with major software products provided by companies such as Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft, and IBM. Rather than having an operative enter data into multiple systems, a bot can be created to do this. Large software vendors are taking advantage of this opportunity by trying to own entire workflows. They are increasingly integrating RPA into their offerings as well as competing directly in the RPA market with pureplay RPA vendors.
As the RPA offerings continue to mature, enterprises seek to scale implementations and to automate non-repetitive processes, which require more intelligence. They will seek to automate more processes at scale. They will demand solutions that process unstructured data, handle exceptions, and continuously learn, further increasing productivity. Intelligent automation typically incorporates AI, particularly voice and vision capabilities and uses machine learning to optimise processes. Hyperautomation turbo charges intelligent automation by automating multiple processes at scale – and will become core to digital transformation initiatives in 2021.
Businesses Will Put “Automation Targets” in Place
2020 was the year that many businesses started seeing some broad and tangible benefits from their automation initiatives. Automation was one of the big winners of the year, as many businesses took extra steps to take humans out of processes – particularly those humans that had to be in a specific location, such as a warehouse, the finance team, the front desk and so on (because of the pandemic, they were often working at home instead). Senior management is seeing the benefits of automation, and they will start to ask their teams why more processes are not automated Therefore we will start to see managers put targets around a certain percentage of tasks automated in an area – e.g. 70% of contact centre processes will be automated, 90% of the digital customer experience for a certain outcome will be automated and so on. Achieving these numbers may not be easy, but the targets will change the mindset of people designing, implementing, and improving processes.
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Retail organisations that had not walked the DX path found themselves struggling to cope in recent times. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Alan Hesketh says, “Digital transformation in retail, as represented by deep customer understanding and omnichannel operations, is far from new. Industry leaders launched these activities almost 20 years ago and continue to aggressively develop these capabilities. Retailers not actively leveraging these capabilities to understand their customer preferences are at a massive competitive disadvantage.”
Anta Group Accelerates DX
The Anta Group, a sports products manufacturer based in China with over 12,500 stores, has launched a group-wide digital platform designed and deployed by IBM Services based on SAP S/4HANA. The initial phase of Anta Group’s DX included creating intelligent workflows and was completed in January 2020. This enabled the company to adjust its retail operations and switch to quickly to online channels during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like any retail organisation, the Anta Group realised that their product offerings had to be diverse to cater to an evolving customer base. This growth required an upgrade to a group-level management platform to help the business run more efficiently across the entire value chain of procurement, supply, production and sales. The SAP S/4HANA platform gives the senior management a single view of data across business units to help with better decision making regarding production and sales optimisation. The company claims to have improved its supply chain efficiency by 80%, that has led to faster delivery and business growth even in these difficult times.
IBM Services has a role to play in providing the business intelligence required for agile decision-making. By integrating data from multiple sources – retail stores, multi-brand products, channels, customers, suppliers and finance teams – on the one platform can help Anta Group to settle accounts quickly and issue business analysis reports for different entities as well as a real-time view of the operation across the organisation.
Hesketh says, “Retailers must have an accurate, timely understanding of their customers’ behaviour and resulting sales performance. COVID-19 has dramatically increased the volatility of sales, making rapid recognition of changes essential. For those lagging in their digital transformation to acquire this understanding, an attractive option is partnering with organisations with demonstrated relevant capabilities; in this case with SAP, for the capabilities and performance of their in-memory product, and IBM for their configuration and implementation expertise.”
IBM and SAP evolving their partnership
In 2016, IBM and SAP had expressed intentions of increasing investments to help their customers on their DX journeys. As some economies move into the recovery phase, all businesses will be forced to transform – or keep transforming if they are already along that path. Last month saw IBM and SAP announce the evolution of their partnership with new offerings to help businesses transform faster. The next evolution of the IBM and SAP partnership aims to focus on faster DX time to value, innovation through industry-specific offerings, customer and employee experiences and providing flexibility and choice to organisations to run their workloads in hybrid cloud environments.
Hesketh adds, “But the product and implementation partners are, while important, not the real determinant of the success of DX activity and time to value. Retailers must recognise and commit to the strategic reshaping of their business, taking their large workforces with them on the journey. This is a high-risk change. A strong relationship between product vendor and implementation partner, as SAP and IBM demonstrate here, assists in reducing, not removing, this risk.”
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5/5 (2) This week saw SAS and Microsoft announce a strategic partnership both in their technology offerings and go-to-market strategy. SAS analytical products and industry solutions will be migrated onto Microsoft Azure as the preferred cloud provider for the SAS Cloud. Microsoft hopes to leverage SAS’ industry expertise, especially in healthcare and financial services. This partnership builds on SAS integrations across Microsoft cloud solutions for Azure, Dynamics 365, Microsoft 365 and Power Platform.
Here is what our Analysts say:
“To date, the focus of cloud computing has been around providing customers with levels of agility, speed, and scalability that cannot be provided by on-premises solutions. Customers have benefitted from this cloud functionality by being able to provision new services rapidly, pivot swiftly when they need to change their business models and build resilience and flexibility into the ways in which they do business. Today, customers are asking for more. Microsoft has responded to this demand by forming or enhancing cloud partnerships with leading cloud vendors including Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Workday, ServiceNow and Adobe, as part of an overall strategy to make it easier for customers to choose Azure as their key enterprise foundation, and to offer more functionality.
Across industries, from healthcare to financial services, businesses finally realise the potential value of data. They recognise that the most competitive businesses are those that fully leverage the data that they can access. Businesses want cloud services to offer AI and machine learning capabilities. They want to use these capabilities to become more innovative and more competitive. To do this, these cloud services need to be integrated more tightly with capabilities which Microsoft does not have.
SAS is the leader in data analytics and AI software for enterprises, so it makes perfect sense for Microsoft to partner with the company. Integrating SAS models with Microsoft’s cloud estate, in particular Azure will enable Microsoft to offer its customers more than the typical benefits of cloud services. They can offer their customers intelligent cloud services.
SAS can offer its customers a more comprehensive solution by integrating its AI and machine learning capabilities into the Microsoft cloud estate. SAS and Microsoft will combine their engineering resources to ensure that SAS’ analytics products work well on Azure. A key priority is building an Azure-optimised version of Viya, the cloud version of SAS’ core analytics toolkit. SAS will also look at ways in which it can integrate its software with the native analytics services provided in Azure.
Importantly, companies will create joint solutions across multiple verticals. An example of a joint solution is SAS’ IoT analytics and the Azure IoT platform being used to increase situational awareness of rising stream levels, to predict where flooding might occur, thus improving emergency response.
SAS software will continue to be cloud-agnostic. But, SAS itself will migrate its internal operation and its global cloud business to Azure. The expanded partnership with Microsoft does not impact SAS customers who run on AWS or GCP. But, Azure customers can expect to see benefits over time as SAS and Microsoft work closely on joint solutions.”
“The SAS and Microsoft relationship goes well beyond ‘Azure is our cloud hosting platform of choice’. It brings together Microsoft’s leading suite of AI tools and cloud infrastructure and platform capabilities and the leading analytics and intelligent applications provider. Through the combined toolset, every-day applications have the opportunity to become even more intelligent – and the industry-specific intelligent business processes that SAS is known for will be able to be hosted on the cloud, and more deeply integrated into existing solutions and PaaS services. The ability to embed SAS workloads into containers means that a broader user set can access and learn from the analytics that they provide – and automate an even greater number of business and customer processes using the AI and Analytics toolsets from both providers.
It also simplifies the management of SAS software and gives a clear and easy path to the public cloud for SAS customers who have not yet made that transition.
The partnership has the opportunity to further accelerate Microsoft’s transition towards even smarter applications. Microsoft has already been recognised in the market as having one of the better AI capabilities – mostly because of embedding intelligence into existing applications and processes. But Microsoft was never going to be able to provide the intelligence for every process in every industry. This partnership will accelerate Microsoft towards the automation of more processes that are used by customers across the spectrum of sectors and industries – and it obviously extends SAS’ reach beyond their traditional customer base.”
Here are the Top 5 Artificial Intelligence trends for 2020 that we believe will impact both businesses and consumers in 2020.
Digital Transformation puts Analytics Back on Top of the Tech Priority List
In an effort to help the business operate faster, IT teams are looking to better analytics to drive functions and decisions more accurately. While many business teams deploy their own technologies and systems – only the IT team is in a higher position to gather data from multiple systems of record in order to create the detailed insights that business users demand. Getting a view across the entire customer journey means analysing data across many systems – both front and back-end. Business teams struggle to get these types of insights on their own, which is why IT excels at providing great analytics to help make better and faster decisions.
Just like in previous generations of BI, the analytics market is starting to consolidate. While the ability to display data visually will always be important, it is the analytics that drives automated decisions that will often be of the most business value.
Automation will Lead Organisations to AI
RPA is increasingly moving beyond the usual task and process automation, to now being a business transformation lever. Additionally, there is an immense focus on incorporating AI/machine learning within RPA to make automation smart and intelligent. This allows software robots to mimic human behaviour and handle complex use cases, which was earlier not possible without human intervention.
Businesses will spend more money on their simple automation activities (RPA and analytics applications that do not learn) – but those that have already invested in automation are likely to want to take the next steps to AI.
AI will Start to be Embedded in Most Business Applications
To date AI has been an overlay to most applications – data is extracted from processes, learnings are made, and then the process is altered based on those learnings. In 2020 we will see mass availability of self-learning intelligent applications. The standard ERP, CRM, SCM, knowledge management solution and other business applications will have embedded intelligence. This will make it easier and faster for businesses to get the benefits of machine learning and AI without the need to hire expensive data scientists, or the requirement to learn the tools and platforms required for creating smart applications.
2020 will see the Democratisation of AI
Typically organisations required data scientists, AI coders, AI platforms and so on to do well in AI but with the increasing availability of AI in business applications, typical business users will begin to get a glimpse of what will be available at their fingertips in the next few years.
We expect templatised approaches to machine learning and associated technologies. Business users and data owners will be able to create algorithms that will improve business and customer outcomes. In some cases, we even expect AI to be available to consumers. We will start to see banking and finance applications that help better money management through learning – not just basic analytics, we will see more intelligent services in the market in 2020.
More Businesses Will Require AI on the Edge
In the next decade or two, it is estimated that there will be 100 billion IoT devices generating and exchanging data into the cloud, without any human intervention. With so many IoT devices generating a huge quantum of data, decisions will need to be made in real-time and the current cloud environments will be a bottleneck in data processing due to latency rates, network speed and traditional data architectures. To overcome this, Edge Computing solutions will be essential to work with a variety of sensor and data input devices, information processing and decisions driven by machine learning and AI, and additionally work with cloud for the next level of analytics, decisions and management.
Ecosystm in partnership with SGInnovate, the government-backed organisation that promotes Deep Tech in Singapore, released a series of four reports covering areas of mutual interest: Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, Cities of the Future and Healthtech. ‘Ecosystm Predicts: The top 5 Artificial Intelligence trends for 2020’ report is a part of this collaboration and is available for download from Ecosystm and SGInnovate websites.
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Today, many businesses use Tableau (over 86,000), including a lot of Salesforce customers. They have chosen Tableau because it is easy to deploy and use, and like Salesforce own applications, it targets the ultimate decision maker – the business user – and sometimes even the consumer. Recent research into the BI systems integrators in Asia Pacific shows that Tableau is one of the leading analytics platforms for the partner community in the region – the big SIs have many people focused on Tableau. But that dominance is being challenged by a re-energised Microsoft, whose Power BI is also witnessing strong growth – and who is typically the price leader in the market.
For Salesforce customers, there is some overlap between products – their own Einstein Analytics tools do much of what Tableau can do – although Tableau helps customers see insights from data stored both on the cloud and inside their own data centres. It also moves Salesforce closer to the Customer 360 vision – the ability to get a view of customers across the Commerce, Marketing and Service Clouds. Salesforce customers not using Tableau today will get a better user experience by using Tableau as the visualisation platform.
History has shown that it is hard to make such acquisitions successful. Tableau was a huge success because it was independent. The same was for Business Objects and Cognos before their acquisitions. History has shown that when the large BI and analytics vendors are acquired, others move into that space. While Salesforce has announced they will run Tableau as a separate business, it will no longer be independent. Partners will need to be maintained and provided a growth path – and partners are the cornerstone of Tableau’s success. Some of these partners might have strong ties to other software or cloud platforms too such as SAP, Oracle, AWS or Google. Customers of Tableau might feel sales pressure to move to a Salesforce environment – and will likely see Salesforce integration happen at a deeper level than on other platforms.
Tableau’s independence will disappear. However keeping Tableau as a separate business may not be the long term goal for Salesforce – it might be to offer the best application and analytics solution in the market – to make the entire suite more attractive to more potential buyers and users. It may be to take Salesforce beyond the current users in their customers to many other users who may not need the full application but need the analytics and visualisations that the data can provide. If this is the case, then the company is onto a winner with the Tableau acquisition.
The long term goal is not analytics reports delivered to employees. It is not visualisation. It is automation. It is applications doing smart, AI-driven analysis, and deciding for employees. It is about taking the human out of the process. In a factory you don’t need a report to tell you a machine is down – you need to book a repair person automatically – or a service technician to visit before the machine has even broken down. And you don’t need a visualised report to show that a machine is beyond its life expectancy. You need the machine replaced before it fails catastrophically.
Too often, we are putting humans in processes where they are not required. We are making visualisations more attractive and easier to consume when, in reality, we just needed the task automated. While we employ humans, there will be a need to make decisions more effectively, and we will still require tools like Tableau. But don’t let the pretty pictures distract you from the main prize – intelligentautomation.
If you would like to speak to Tim Sheedy or another analyst at Ecosystm about what the acquisition Tableau by Salesforce might mean to your business or industry, please feel free to schedule an inquiry call on the profile page.