This week at Microsoft Ignite, there was a heavy emphasis on RPA and low code as the tools it sees as the future of productivity. It used its annual conference for developers and IT professionals to make a slew of announcements about its Power Platform. Most notable is that from this week, Power Automate Desktop will be bundled with Microsoft Windows and is available as a free download. This marks a major step in the direction of mass adoption of RPA.
By Microsoft’s estimates, 50% of tasks carried out by information workers could be automated by currently available technology but are instead performed manually. Moreover, 500 million apps will need to be built by 2026, more than were developed in the last 40 years. Slowing down the pace of automation and the roll out of apps to enable digital business, is the skills gap, with a shortage of 1 million developers in the US alone. This is of course why Microsoft is betting on RPA and low code tools to empower citizen developers to do it themselves.
Microsoft was arguably slow to focus on RPA and low code considering its breadth of applications and good standing with developers. It only announced the general availability of UI Flows in Power Automate less than a year ago. Moreover, its automation suite worked best in the Microsoft universe but had limited interoperability with third-party tools. In May 2020, it acquired Softomotive, which signalled that it was taking RPA seriously and was willing to expand beyond the automation of its own software. By then, acquiring one of the big three – UiPath, Automation Anywhere, or Blue Prism – would have been excessively costly but Softomotive ensured it had both attended and unattended RPA capabilities to build upon. Softomotive’s WinAutomation remerged as Power Automate Desktop in September and with this week’s announcement, it becomes a native component in Windows.
By providing Power Automate Desktop for free with Windows, Microsoft appears to be attempting to generate interest from users who may not have previously been exposed to RPA. For the widespread adoption of RPA beyond just functions like finance, HR, and procurement, these tools need to be put into the hands of average users that can find their own use cases. Eventually, some of these basic users will need more advanced functionality available in the cloud-based version of Power Automate. Microsoft has a range of pricing plans including per user, per flow, with AI Builder, and unattended RPA.
Security and Governance
While making free desktop-based automation available to all, may be an effective means of raising the profile of RPA, Microsoft realises that it must provide IT and security teams with tools for control. It also announced this week additional features, such as:
Endpoint filtering to turn on selected connections but with restrictions
Connector action controls, e.g. allowing read permission but not write in some connectors
Tenant isolation to provide differentiated access to connectors according to business unit
Power Fx – Microsoft’s Low Code Language
Microsoft is one of the best-placed vendors to address the needs of citizen developers; bringing together its dominance as a productivity software provider and an important part of the developer ecosystem. This week it also introduced Power Fx, a low-code programming language based on Microsoft Excel. The logic of this new, simple language should be familiar to the millions of spreadsheet users. Power Fx provides more advanced citizen developers with a bridge from the drag-and-drop features of the Power Platform to low-code development.
Is 2021 the year RPA finally goes mainstream?
Microsoft’s announcements this week are one of many signs in the last few months that the RPA market is on its way to gaining mainstream acceptance. Also garnering attention was the lofty valuation given to the market leader, UiPath, this year. It recently announced that in its Series F funding round, it closed at $750M, valuing the company at $35B. This is hot on the heels of confirmation that it plans to IPO, probably in the first half of 2021. Last year was also a rapid period of consolidation, with Appian, IBM, and Microsoft all making RPA acquisitions. It seems highly likely that in the next few months we could see acquisitions or RPA launches by some of the cloud and application vendors that have until now been waiting to see the technology mature.
How will RPA be a part of your automation strategy in 2021? The Top 5 AI & Automation Trends for 2021 are available for download from the Ecosystm platform. Signup for Free to download the report.
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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The European Union (EU) founded the GAIA-X Foundation to build a unified system of cloud and data services to be protected by EU Laws – including GDPR, the free flow of non-personal data regulation and the Cybersecurity Act. France and Germany kicked off the GAIA-X cloud project last year and the system is open for participation to national and European initiatives for exchange of data across industries and services such as AI, IoT and data analytics. GAIA-X took another step towards becoming a real option for European organisations with the establishment as a legal entity in June. Founding members of GAIA-X include Atos, Bosch, BMW, Deutsche Telekom, EDF, German Edge Cloud, Orange, OVHcloud, SAP, and Siemens. Non-European providers, such as AWS, Microsoft, Google, and IBM will also have the opportunity to join GAIA-X. The UK Crown Commercial Service (CCS) has also been entering into agreements with public cloud platform providers to encourage increased cloud adoption in cash-strapped public sector organisations. It is a good time to evaluate organisations’ perception on cloud and their adoption patterns.
Ecosystm research finds that while most organisations have migrated at least some simple workloads to the cloud, the sophistication of these systems ranges from SaaS deployed as shadow IT, all the way up to cloud-native applications that are core to a digital business strategy. When asked about the maturity of their cloud deployments, 36% of organisations in EMEA consider themselves advanced, leaving the remaining 64% with more basic environments. These figures vary by business size with only 31% of SMEs considering their deployments advanced, rising to 40% for large enterprises.
Cloud technology providers should segment the market according to the maturity of their client’s systems. Those in the early stages of modernising their infrastructure will be seeking different benefits and will have different concerns than those already using cloud to underpin their digital transformation.
In the mature economies in the region, 75% of those with advanced deployments, considered improved service levels and agility as a key benefit of cloud. These organisations have moved beyond simply replacing legacy systems with cloud infrastructure and now look to the IT department to provide a platform on which new, client-facing services can be delivered. In the emerging economies, the most-reported benefits of cloud are flexibility and scalability, and standardised systems, both at 68% of respondents. These could be viewed as benefits expected from organisations not as far along in the cloud journey. The benefit of reduced IT costs was important in both mature EMEA (67%) and emerging EMEA (62%).
Looking at those who consider their cloud deployments as still basic, security is the leading challenge to greater adoption and by a large margin. Of those respondents in mature EMEA, 73% cited security as a key challenge, more than 20 percentage points higher than the next greatest difficulty. In emerging EMEA, a similar trend was evident, with 61% of respondents considering security as a key challenge. Moreover, data privacy is the second-most significant concern for those who do not consider their cloud deployments advanced. This was visible in both mature EMEA (51%) and emerging EMEA (48%). As organisations look to shift more critical workloads to the cloud, they will be increasing their attack surfaces and at the same time will face greater consequences if a breach does occur.
Services providers targeting organisations with less developed cloud environments should include security early in the conversation to push them along to the next stage of maturity.
The challenge that varied most according to market maturity and business size was the concern that cloud-based services were more expensive that traditional licencing or in-house solutions. Only 29% of respondents with basic cloud deployments in the mature economies, held this view, while in emerging economies the figure rose to 43%. Competition in those mature markets has in some cases put pressure on prices or at least resulted in wider choice. While 29% of SME respondents considered cost a key challenge, 41% of large enterprises did. Migrating larger, more complex environments to cloud will be viewed as more costly than the status quo due to organisational inertia.
The perception that cloud can be more costly, provides an opportunity for cloud management including expense optimisation services.
Organisations looking to move from a basic cloud environment to one that adopts a cloud-first model should begin with a maturity assessment. Understand what your systems will look like at the next stage, what the benefits will be, and what are the risks. More importantly, decide on the long-term business goal that you are trying to achieve, particularly how IT can be a critical player in the organisation’s digital strategy.
Note: Mature economies – France, Germany and the UK/ Emerging economies – Middle Eastern countries, Russia and South Africa Identify emerging cloud computing trends that can help you drive digital business decision making, vendor and technology platform selection and investment strategies.Gain access to more insights from the Ecosystm Cloud Study.
The market is growing rapidly with large global RPA specialists such as UiPath, Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and AntWorks experiencing high rates of growth in the region.
RPA vendors in Asia Pacific, are typically addressing immediate, short-term requirements. For example, healthcare companies are automating the reporting of COVID-19 tests and ordering supplies. Chatbots are being widely used to address unprecedented call centre volumes for airlines, travel companies, banks and telecom providers. Administrative tasks increasingly require automation as workflows become disrupted by remote working.
Companies can also be expected to scale their current deployments and increase the rate at which AI capabilities are integrated into their offerings
RPA often works in conjunction with major software products provided by companies such as Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft and IBM. For example, some invoicing processes involve the use of Salesforce, SAP and Microsoft products. Rather than having an operative enter data into multiple systems, a bot can be created to do this.
Large software vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce and SAP 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. RPA may soon be integrated into larger enterprise applications, unless pureplay RPA vendors can innovate and continually differentiate their offerings.
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Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Tim Sheedy hosted a virtual roundtable with business leaders from some of the world’s largest technology service providers to discuss how they managed the challenges during the pandemic; and the measures they implemented to support not only their business operations and working environment, but also to help their customers negotiate these difficult times.
The Role of Technology During the COVID-19 Crisis
When the COVID-19 crisis hit, IT teams found themselves largely unprepared. Ecosystm research finds that only 9% of organisations considered their IT fully prepared for the changes that had to be implemented (Figure 1). More than a third did not have the right technology solutions and 41% were unprepared for the scale of the changes required and the capacity to extend the existing technology to meet client and employee needs.
While 27% of organisations felt that they needed more support from their IT provider, further questioning reveals that only 4% switched technology providers for better support during these difficult times. Organisations are looking to their technology partners for guidance, as they negotiate the new normal.
Here are some of the discussion points that emerged in the conversation with the technology providers.
Business Continuity Planning is Still Evolving
One of the early impacts on businesses was due to their dependence on outsourced services and offshore models. Several concerns emerged – how could their provider continue to operate offsite; would they be able to access the network remotely; how should fully remote teams be managed and so on. In addition to this, there were other challenges such as supply chain disruptions and a sudden change in business. Even technology providers felt that they were navigating uncharted territory.
“Remote project delivery is not new, it’s been going on for a few years; but I think that there’s been a lot of non-believers out there. This experience has moved a lot of those non-believers to the believer category. A lot of our delivery can be done from home – think of the savings of time and money that can be realised through this.” – Andrew Campbell, Partner Asia Pacific for Talent and Transformation, IBM
Moreover, the rising workload and client expectation has led businesses to move towards exploring automation and AI.
“The thing that is changing now is, when we approach a new opportunity or an existing customer with a new requirement, we look at using automation. Typically, when you go in to design a solution you always think of the human aspect. We’re working very hard to move our thinking to automation first and then supplementing it with the human side as a backup.” – Michael Horton, Executive VP, ANZ, HCL Technologies
Data has become paramount in this time of crisis. The right use of data is helping organisations fulfil customer requirements, enhance their experience, and optimise services and products.
“Those organisations that have a good understanding of the data within their business, and how that data can be used to understand the impact on their business, are starting to have much better clarity on future requirements.” – Peter Lawther, Oceania Regional Technology Officer, Fujitsu
Organisations should take the learnings from managing this situation to keep evolving their business continuity plans – keeping in mind individual business needs and growth and business strategies.
Having the Right Infrastructure Means Employees are Productive
The lockdown and social distancing measures forced organisations to focus on the infrastructure that can support their remote and hybrid work environment.
“Before the pandemic around 20-30% of our staff logged on to a VPN, but with remote working, all of a sudden, we were at 90%.” – Lawther
The adoption of digital tools and online infrastructure led businesses to re-think how they were delivering their services. While some organisations had the tools, governance and the protocols in place, there is still a long way to go for organisations to solve their infrastructure and networking challenges.
“It gets down to the quality of the equipment that the staff use – which ranges from decent laptops, phones, and network connections. If you don’t have that now, people cannot work effectively.” – Horton
Several of these organisations, focused on ergonomics as well, when evaluating their employees’ infrastructural needs when working from home. This extra focus on infrastructural needs – with the employees firmly on their mind – ensured that there was minimal impact on delivery.
Caring for Your People is More Important than Ever
The pandemic has changed the way people work, socialise, and interact. While this appears to have become the new norm, adjusting to it can create emotional stress. Simultaneously, as organisations focus on survival and recovery, workloads have increased. Employees are working extended hours, without taking adequate hours. There is an immediate need to involve organisations’ HR practices in evaluating the emotional well-being of employees and finding better ways to engage with remote staff, to reduce stress.
“A key aspect of handling the crisis has been empathy, transparency and engagement with employees. In a business environment, we have all sorts of teams, cultures, clients, and so on. The common thread in this model is that everyone’s just become a lot friendlier, more empathic, more transparent.” – Sumit Nurpuri, COO, SE Asia Hong Kong and Taiwan, Capgemini
Organisations will have to be innovative in the way they manage these people challenges. For example, a common problem that has emerged is employees attending meetings, with interruptions from family, especially children.
“One of the things that we did as a part of our team meetings is that we assigned tasks to children at the beginning of the call and in the last few minutes, the children presented back to the teams on what they’ve been up to. It was a mechanism for us to make sure that we were involving our staff and understanding their current situation – and trying to make it as easy for them to work, as possible.” – Lawther
Taking the Opportunity to Drive Positive Outcomes
The other aspect businesses are trying to overcome is meeting the rising expectations of clients. This has led them to focus on skills training, mostly delivered through e-learning platforms. Organisations find that this has translated into increased employee performance and a future-ready workforce.
The crisis disrupted economies and societies across the globe, with business and industry coming to a standstill in most countries. Unexpected business benefits emerged from the necessity to comply with country regulations. By and large, employees have been more productive. Also, many organisations re-evaluated their commercial property requirements and many were able to reduce expenses on office rentals (for many this will not be immediate, but there is a future potentiality). Similarly, there were other areas where businesses saw reduced expenses – operational costs such as equipment maintenance and travel expenses.
“When you start global projects and global implementations, you typically do some kind of global design work and maybe fly in people from all over the world, typically to a centralised location. This has changed to virtual meetings and collaborative interactions on online global design. The amount of time and money that was saved – that would typically be spent on people traveling to manage these global design workshops – was great” – Campbell
Most organisations, across industries, will have to make considerable changes to their IT environment. The Ecosystm Digital Priorities in the New Normal study finds that 70% expect considerable to significant changes to their IT environment, going forward. Technology providers will remain a significant partner in organisations’ journey to transformation, recovery and success.
Watch the replay of Ecosystm ‘Digital Leaders Roundtable on the Future of Work’ and hear from global technology leaders as we transition to the hybrid workplace.
Our ongoing Ecosystm study on Digital Priorities in the New Normal shows how the crisis has forced organisations to re-evaluate their cybersecurity risks and measures. It also showed that the IT environment of most organisations was woefully unprepared for the changes that occurred (Figure 1). Perhaps unsurprisingly, fewer than 7% said that their IT environment was fully prepared and close to 40% reported lacking scale, capacity and IT skills in-house.
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The combination of these shortcomings may very well push more organisations to outsource their security management to Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs) – a service space that has been growing rapidly in recent years.
Many IT organisations are fairly familiar with MSSPs, but COVID-19 may have forced many to re-evaluate their choices as the work and threat landscapes have changed.
This new tool can help technology buyers understand which vendors are leading this space, which are the ones that have market momentum and which are executing and delivering on their promised capabilities. Unlike similar vendor evaluations on the market, the positioning of vendors in Ecosystm VendorScopes is based solely on quantifiable feedback given by the Tech Buyer community, in the global Ecosystm Cybersecurity Study, that is live and ongoing on the Ecosystm platform. It is thus independent of analyst bias or opinion or vendor influence – customers directly rate their suppliers in our ongoing market benchmarks and assessments.
It is also free to access and share for all Ecosystm subscribers!
Fragmented Asia Pacific MSSP Market
The VendorScope clearly shows how fragmented the MSSP market is. Not only is the number of vendors that have a customer base significant enough to appear on the grid very large (22) – but about half of them are in, or verging on being in, the “Front Runner” segment (Figure 2).
There are a few key factors that contribute to this picture:
The services they offer tend to align well with the customers’ organisational strategies and to integrate well with existing systems. This, basically, can be boiled down to one word: Cloud. Most organisations have IT strategies revolving around multiple and/hybrid cloud deployments and using MSSPs makes a lot of sense.
Momentum for this service segment is generally high. The MSSP space is experiencing high growth these days and we see a fairly high number of mentions for both current and planned deployments with many of the vendors in the study.
Despite the large number of vendors in the “Front Runner” segment, a famous few stick out. IBM appears to have a higher market momentum than its competitors and together with Microsoft, they have the largest share of mind with potential customers in this space.
But other vendors are hot on their heels. AWS and F5 stand out with their relatively high presence in the region, and TCS and Huawei appear to have stronger than average pipelines.
Where we do see weak spots with most vendors is in quality of service and the connected customer experience, which historically have proven to be a potential Achilles’ heel for many vendors in high growth areas. As the MSSP space matures, we would expect customer experience to become increasingly important when customers choose a service provider.
We would certainly encourage any organisation that is looking into managed security to not ignore or downplay the customer service and support aspect. IT security is a complex area – even if it is managed by a service provider – and the service providers’ ability and flexibility in this area can make a huge difference.
Fujitsu and HPE stick out with regards to QoS and customer service. These two are also good examples of how the vendors differ and seemingly could complement each other. In a sense, one could almost see the MSSP VendorScope as an early blueprint for which mergers and acquisitions (M&As) would make sense – at least for those that are driven by the pursuit of skill sets and competencies and not just market share.
In the Top 5 Cybersecurity and Compliance Trends for 2020, Ecosystm predicted that 2020 will witness a significant uplift in M&A activities in the cybersecurity market. Of course, with the global pandemic, all bets are off, and the predicted M&A wave may have been delayed by a year or so.
But the MSSP space certainly appears ripe for consolidation.
Ecosystm Vendorscope: Managed Security Service Providers Signup for Free to download the Ecosystm Vendorscope: Managed Security Service Providers report
5/5 (2) I’m really excited to launch our AI and Automation VendorScope! This new tool can help technology buyers understand which vendors are offering an exceptional customer experience, which ones have momentum and which are executing and delivering on their promised capabilities. The positioning of vendors in Ecosystm VendorScopes is independent of analyst bias or opinion or vendor influence – customers directly rate their suppliers in our ongoing market benchmarks and assessments.
The Evolution of the AI Market
The AI market has evolved significantly over the past few years. It has gone from a niche, poorly understood technology, to a mainstream one. Projects have moved from large, complex, moonshot-style “change the world” initiatives to small, focused capabilities that look to deliver value quickly. And they have moved from primarily internally focused projects to delivering value to customers and partners. Even the current pandemic is changing the lens of AI projects as 38% of the companies we benchmarked in Asia Pacific in the Ecosystm Business Pulse Study, are recalibrating their AI models for the significant change in trading conditions and customer circumstances.
Automation has changed too – from a heavily fragmented market with many specific – and often very simple tools – to comprehensive suites of automation capabilities. We are also beginning to see the use of machine learning within the automation platforms as this market matures and chases after the bigger automation opportunities where processes are not only simplified but removed through intelligent automation.
Cloud Platform Providers Continue to Lead
But what has changed little over the years is the dominance of the big cloud providers as the AI leaders. Azure, IBM and AWS continue to dominate customer mentions and intentions. And it is in customer mentions that the frontrunners in the VendorScope – Microsoft and IBM – set themselves apart. Not only are they important players today – but existing customersAND non-customers plan to use their services over the next 12-24 months. This gives them the market momentum over the other players. Even AWS and Google – the other two public cloud giants – who also have strong AI offerings – didn’t see the same proportions of customers and prospects planning to use their AI platforms and tools.
While Microsoft and IBM may have stolen the lead for now, they cannot expect the challengers to sit still. In the last few weeks alone we have seen several major launches of AI capabilities from some providers. And the Automation vendors are looking to new products and partnerships to take them forward.
Without the market momentum, Microsoft and IBM would still stand above the rest of the pack – just not as dramatically! Both companies are not just offering the AI building blocks, but also offer smart applications and services – this is possibly what sets them apart in an era where more and more customers want their applications to be smart out-of-the-box (or out-of-the-cloud). The appetite for long, expensive AI projects is waning – fast time to value will win deals today.
The biggest change in AI over the next few years will hopefully be more buyers demanding that their applications are smart out-of-the-box/cloud. AI and Automation shouldn’t be expensive add-ons – they should form the core of smart applications – applications that work for the business and for the customer. Applications that will deliver the next generation of employee and customer experiences.
Ecosystm Vendorscope: AI & Automation
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