Over the last decade or more the term “Third Way” has come to stand for movements that seek to find the common ground and aggregate elements of the two extremes whether in politics, discussions of the environment, or elsewhere. As we continue our research program on robotic process automation (RPA) HfS has seen the emergence of a third way in RPA over the last 6 months.
The first way was enterprises using RPA internally as part of their own IT and business process delivery. The second
way was the adoption of RPA by existing IT and BPO service providers within their existing delivery capabilities to
further automate their processes and create an incremental source of value. The third way is the emergence of
service providers created from the ground up, to only provide delivery using process automation.
We see this third way as a potentially significant new force in the business process market. Right now it’s best
exemplified by an emerging company, UK-based Genfour, whose managing director James Hall is building a
capability to deploy process automation robots as a service. We recently talked with James to get an update on the
rapid growth and evolving capabilities of Genfour and the possibilities of the third way of RPA.
What’s Different About Genfour RPA
Formed in late 2012, Genfour is a relatively new company which we first came across last year, although James and I were both at Andersen Consulting in London in the late 1990s and have both grown with the BPO industry over the last decade. His experience across Andersen (now Accenture) as well as Exult, IBM, and Capita in HR business processes shows through with early clients of Genfour including Hays Recruiting, NGA HR, as well as enterprises Royal Automobile Club (RAC), bookmakers Gala Coral, and a number of mid-sized utilities.
We call out Genfour as representing the larger potential for robotics as a service to disrupt the BPO marketplace
for a number of reasons, including:
- Focused mission. Genfour isn’t sinking to provide a hybrid solution of people and robots across an end-to- end business process, it’s focused on identifying the tasks needed to automate a process and then deliver it only through a roster of robots. This is what makes the ”third way” such a new and focused model.
- Diversified Solution. If the vision of Genfour was limited to the deployment of a single piece of automation software, we would be fundamentally skeptical about its potential lifespan. However, what we have heard is a vision for how workflow systems, RPA suites, and artificial intelligence tools can be combined to tackle not only processes defined by strict business rules and structured data but increasingly how unstructured data can be ingested into these processes and then the processing can be automated. This vision for a more diversified and capable solution is exciting and shows how automation has the potential to be even more disruptive than we have been thinking so far.
- “Less is More”. Christa Degnan Manning, who leads HfS talent management and HRO research, believes that one of the great challenges facing HR at the moment is that it has pushed too much self-service to employees, which is making them fundamentally both dis-satisfied and unproductive. We see in Genfour a strategy to use robots to re-shape the HR environment and automate many of the extra burdens placed on the employees through new AI tools so that companies can really get to a better solution of less is more.1
- Industry Play. One of the aspects of RPA we are anxious to see emerge is the creation of repeatable process components that can be used across clients for either horizontal or vertical industry processes. Genfour shared some of its visions with us and we saw the potential in the approach especially in industries, which have common processes that are not a source of competitive differentiation in their execution.
What to Watch
These are still the early days of both RPA and the third way of implementing it and the market will continue to
shape and evolve. Genfour is an interesting position right now as it is showing how a company can move quickly in
the BPO market when it does not have a pre-existing model to adapt or overcome which may influence others to
enter in similar ways in 2014.
What role Genfour has over time is yet to be determined as other independent robotics as a service providers will
emerge, BPO service providers will continue to evolve their offerings, and enterprises will develop RPA strategies
for self-delivery. That said, we think James has a compelling vision and will be watching how he evolves Genfour
with regard to scaling more transactional services, broadening the scope of solutions by adding more third party
components and proprietary capabilities, and building out cross-client industry solutions for point processes that
can be standardized. Finally, as we are with the other two ways RPA is coming to market, we will be looking for
more client case studies in the months ahead as that remains the most compelling evidence of the emerging trend
of RPA taking root in material ways across the business process market.