Archive for the ‘Off-shoring’ Category

The Second Machine Age

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Being the type of person who hates missing an opportunity to repurpose something, here is an article I wrote for the Blue Prism Blog reviewing The Second Machine Age by Andrew McAfee and Eric Brynjolfsson. In short: I highly recommend that you read this book.

Most people would rather stick needles in their eyes than read a book on economics—an academic subject based largely on opinion rather than science, and which relies on history as its most unpredictable guiding light. In short, a boring area.

And yet, in The Second Machine Age, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, two economists from MIT, tackle some of the most fundamental issues of our times and at least sometimes succeed in making it interesting, even exciting.

Yes, parts of the book had me glazing over. The macroeconomic middle section belabors points about GDP, income spread and considering whether Keynes’ theory of Technological Unemployment carries any merit, to a depth not justified by the conclusions. I would also allege that the book is too US centric, given the authors’ arguments that globalization itself is one of the challenges.

But, if you’ve read McAfee and Brynjolfsson’s previous book, Race Against the Machine, you will be pleased to learn that they expand upon some of the technological themes from that treatise—from the Google Car to Robotics, and Moravec’s insightful paradox that the things that humans find easiest to do are the ones that computers find most difficult.

McAfee and Brynjolfsson also discuss the outside chance that almost everybody’s job will be automatable at some point in the future. It is conceivable that science fiction writers haven’t yet tapped the outer reaches of real technological possibility into their ageing typewriters.

With automation in this second machine age, driven by digitization computerization and the Internet raging ahead at unprecedented levels of progress, what is the human response to this brave new world? Part macroeconomic study, part personal indulgence, part political thesis (with no loyalty to any particular party), The Second Machine Age combines anecdotal evidence and academic research to bring to life the challenges and some possible solutions—along with key questions about the future that we must think critically about. How do we govern our countries, tax regimes and political incentives? And if the new wave of automation delivers new wealth, how can it be distributed fairly?

I encourage you to wade through the difficult sections. This is really fundamental stuff worth discussing with peers and your kids. And it might just turn you into an economics enthusiast… or a politician.

Software robots – the IT viewpoint

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

I spent a day in Boston briefing some IT journalists last week on software robotics. Here are a couple of interesting takes on the subject by Robert Mitchell at ComputerWorld and Bob Brown at NetworkWorld.

Welcome to Robotistan, have a nice day!

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Blue Prism is participating in a webinar from leading sourcing analyst, Horses for Sources. We would be delighted if you could join us Thursday 25th April at 15.30pm UK time for “A Tour of Robotistan”. The registration link is as follows:


  • Definition of Robotic Automation (RA)
  • Business processes best suited to RA
  • How RA enables business process analysts to do software development
  • Enterprise end-user case study: Telefónica
  • BPO services provider case study: GenFour
  • How RA can help BPO providers win new business and improve retention
  • How RA shifts BPO providers’ focus from labor arbitrage to innovation
  • Robotic Automation demo
  • Audience Q & A
  • Company culture is the threat, not robots…

    Friday, March 8th, 2013

    Interesting piece from NS Ramnath in which he argues that, despite early warnings, large corporates can get complacent about innovation, allowing new ideas like software robotics to threaten their established business model.

    You can read the article on the Forbes India website.

    Robots will not take over the world

    Monday, February 18th, 2013

    There is a strong argument that globally, automation increases wealth and creates jobs. Even those that refute this, surely have to admit that automation can reduce offshoring and create jobs in the UK and US. In the case of services industries, this means the BPO sector, and specifically the part of the BPO market that has used “labour arbitrage” to move work to lower wage destinations such as India and The Philippines, for example.

    The impact of automation, and particularly robotics is raging around the world at the moment. In addition to coverage in the NYT and The Economist, British Computer Weekly is also joining the debate with this – Will software robots really decrease offshoring and increase UK jobs?

    Robotic Automation: Can service industries learn from manufacturing?

    Friday, February 1st, 2013

    I gave a speech at Intellect‘s Automate Britain launch on 30 Jan. Here is the transcript.

    Intellect Automate Britain Campaign

    My name is Alastair Bathgate. I come from a process improvement background. This is me in 1985; in charge of Time and Motion at an NGA and SOGAT82 unionised print factory. (If you want to learn about labour relations in the context of industry automation, take a TARDIS back to the post Eddy Shah 1980s printing industry.)

    Having spent so much time stressing over minute improvements in manufacturing, a career move to a bank drew a stark contrast in the apparently relaxed attitude to process efficiency and product quality. I remember an article in the internal staff magazine where a team leader was trumpeting the significant increase in productivity created by the installation of a brand new mainframe terminal, the cost justification for which had taken several accountancy man years and the IT lead time approximately 6 months. The year? 1988. It was the second ever piece of end user computer equipment installed in the 200 FTE savings administration department at Bradford & Bingley. I worked in a fledgling O & M department.

    Today, I am CEO of Blue Prism, a British software company pioneering software robotics for the back office. I founded Blue Prism to address the frustration operational managers have in making simple process improvements and the observation that the only way to address the problems was to employ staff…somewhere in the world.

    I thought it would be good to start with a little history of robots in manufacturing.


    Am I speaking to a robot?

    Monday, January 28th, 2013

    Last week’s Economist ran an Outsourcing and Offshoring Special Report which contained an article titled Rise of the Software Machines. Mentioned alongside Blue Prism was IPSoft which caught my eye because complementary to Blue Prism’s back office focus, they are creating front office robots, that actually speak to customers. And more than that, they use autonomics to learn how to communicate in context. The website is worth a read, especially if you are a mathematics geek.

    The next BPO offshore destination? Robotistan…

    Friday, November 2nd, 2012

    Analyst firm, Horses for Sources, who are driving most of the adventurous thought leadership in the global outsourcing industry, have taken a look at Blue Prism and made their views public on their lively and provocative blog.

    In a humourous post, James Slaby argues that robots will drive down processing costs for BPOs and reduce the need to offshore for cost saving reasons. If you get the automation strategy right the economics are “jaw-dropping”.

    “Outsourcing has always been about people, process and technology. Scratch that. It’s about process and technology, with people an optional extra…..” – Read the rest of the blog post here.

    Stormy waters for UK banks – where’s the lifeboat?

    Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

    Let’s be honest, banks, and especially British banks, are not having a great time right now. I doubt that Bob Diamond will be the last casualty of the LIBOR manipulation affair. Stephen Hester has his own problems, and I would imagine that whether he takes a bonus or not will be the last thing on his mind right now.

    There is often little that can be done to correct problems of the past. No use crying over spilt milk, as the saying goes. But who clears up the mess when a BACS tape is wrongly processed? Who refunds bank charges when a software upgrade puts batch processing behind and wages don’t make it to customers’ accounts? When a regulator rules that a regulated product was mis-sold, who organises the refunds? Operations of course!

    A great example of this is PPI. Banks were ruled to have sold inappropriate payment protection insurance policies alongside loans and other forms of credit. Now, certain UK banks have created and staffed specific divisions to handle the PPI complaints. A fundamentally simple process – read complaint, check PPI was sold, evaluate whether compensation due, calculate and issue refund, write to customer – is consuming hundreds of jobs. Whilst this is good for the Indian offshoring industry, enlightened banks are using technology, such as robotic software, to automate these rules based tasks so that refunds are evaluated more accurately and more quickly. This does more than reduce the number of onshore and offshore staff required. It enables regulator deadlines to be met, customers to be dealt with faster, balance sheet provisions to be more accurate.

    Is new technology an opportunity or a threat for BPOs?

    Monday, June 18th, 2012

    An interesting post from Karl Flinders today: How is technology changing BPO?

    Karl outlines a range of technologies that are revolutionising the BPO sector and enabling BPOs to deliver new services to their clients more economically. So, the CIO of a BPO is in a powerful position, and the client is happy to benefit from reduced costs?

    I am tempted to take the argument a stage further.

    The “perfect storm” that Karl describes “as customers want to cut additional back office costs due to continued budget pressure, and at the same time suppliers are trying to create additional services and the revenues that go with them” could drive a new type of behaviour. New technologies “such as cloud computing, business analytics software, social media platforms and process automation software” are so easy to adopt, perhaps the corporate customer’s CIO will work out how to insource the work at the expense of the BPO contract.

    Add to the mix political pressure (especially in the US) to repatriate offshored jobs, and the perfect storm could be very windy indeed.