HFS Fireside Chat on Process Intelligence

On this special Fireside Chat, HFS CEO Phil Fersht talks with Avinash Misra, CEO at Skan about the evolution, digital journey, and future strategy of Skan. Phil and Avinash cover a range of topics, including:

  • What is process intelligence, why its such a topic of area at this moment and why should people care?
  • What’s the link between RPA and process intelligence and where its going next?
  • How do we see Skan fitting into the corporate tech jigsaws in a couple of years?


I'm Mark Wright, Edwards chief marketing officer at HFS. Welcome to this HFS video cast of a special fireside chat between HFS CEO and Chief Analyst Phil Fersht and CEO of Skan.ai Avinash Misra.

So let me hand it over to Phil to get the discussion with Avinash under way. Phil, it's all yours.

Thank you. Mark Colvin, it's great to see you again.

So let's start by talking about process intelligence. Why is it such a topical area at the moment? Why should people care?

Well, first of all, what a pleasure to be with you again. On a nice, relatively cooler day in Dallas, Texas, today. It's been 100 plus throughout. To your question on why should people care, I think what is happening today is that there's increasing realization that the inputs that we are making into making things better from an operational perspective, from a transformation perspective, are not giving the results that they are supposed to. And there's the realization that there is work that we are doing in silos and there are inputs that we are giving to those silos. And automation is a good example, but there's a realization that we must understand the end to end and use that knowledge to be able to optimize, to be able to transform these business processes. So the word process intelligence in some sense is a proxy for this end-to-end understanding, holistic understanding of the way an organization works. Now, hidden in all of this is also, in some sense, the cause and effect. For a long time now, the efficient arguments for these kind of things have been all around efficiency. However, there is now greater realization that it's not just the efficiency, but the effectiveness of these processes or the work that an organization does.

And so companies such as ourselves and we believe that we are at the forefront of this process intelligence revolution are trying to find the most non-intrusive, the most the fastest ways to rapidly understanding work as it happens at the edge of work where humans and digital systems come together. That's one part understanding that.

And then secondly, being able to link that to outcomes, being able to understand based on what's happening or what we did, how did it actually work out by way of outcomes. So that is the overall realm of process intelligence and the world is moving more and more towards this cause effect understanding and we use the word process intelligence for it.

Okay. You know we've seen this evolution of task mining and process mining and process discovery and now process intelligence, which my analysts keep telling me, it's the coming together of mining and discovery.

But what is it exactly? If you had to explain to your mom and dad or someone down the line what this is. 

At the heart of it. It is observation of human digital interactions. And not just their actions, but also the context in which those actions are taking place. That context comes from where in the process that action is. Where is a human inserting themselves on what application? Also, context comes from what's the data on those applications in the moment and before and after. And all of this data put together tells us truly from an end to end perspective. How did work actually happen? Now humans are reliably unreliable in repeating back to someone else how something happened. So observation is the only way to get rid of the bias that exists in people's minds, that exists in organizations. Because organizations tend to do things that feel right, or tend to act on things that feel right. And so how do you remove all of this? The act of observation clarifies an act of repeated observation over a large set clarifies further.

So I would say that ours is a technology that brings together all of the interactions that humans have with digital systems, the context and the data during the point of interactions, and using that to build out the totality of work that an organization does. That's the first part.

The second part is that if you have a digital twin, it is still not complete of what I just described. It is not complete because you're still not linking it to the effects of this work that you've done. And so the digital twin or the most advanced process intelligence framework would also take into account what these actions end up, meaning, let's say, to cost to effectiveness, to customer satisfaction, to many of these things that organizations want to control. And it's the loop back of this entire thing put together is what I call as process intelligence.

So the connecting of people, data and processes to drive enterprise transformation.

Indeed and that's a smarter way of saying that. But I still want to add outcomes to this. I think there's far lesser attention being paid to outcomes. We are focusing on the efficiency argument and not the effectiveness argument. Once you add the effectiveness argument to this equation, then the loop gets complete.

Okay, so what's the link between? We came through 10 years of RPA. So we've got our 10th anniversary of RPA coming up in a couple of months. And the evolution of fixing stuff that needed fixing to this much more advanced thinking around discovering, linking, connecting humans and digital.

What is the link between RPA and process intelligence and where do you see this going next?

In fact, if, if I look back on the founding of Skan and many of the companies in similar light. All of us, I have a big background in RPA. In fact, I used to work for a very large BPM player and we were in charge. Me and my current co-founder were in charge of many of those RPA initiatives there. And to all the failures that we had on the RPA side. Right, or the challenges that we have on the RPA side, ultimately we attributed it to not knowing enough about the nuances, permutations and exceptions in the work that was happening and not having an end-to-end understanding of work and most of our RPA efforts. And so to some point even today are focused on silos on the task. So while you might optimize that task, you still are left with many of such tasks put together, which are still unoptimized. Your entire output is then premised on your weakest link in that chain of tasks.

So one of the things that I think the evolution that is happening is to move from, and in some sense you've already spoken about this in your horizon to of the one office thing is that moving from this task orientation to the end-to-an understanding of business processes and the work that and the outcomes that they generate. So I think that's the evolution that is happening. And we in fact, I will be the first one to say that it was RPA that showed the cold, harsh light of immediacy of the problem. Which is that we truly do not understand, let alone understanding the end to end work. We still do not understand the tasks as well.

So as a result, companies such as ourselves and were born to first understand the task. And then we began to realize very quickly that if you understand this task and you understand end-to-end, then there's greater benefit beyond automation. It goes more towards the operational and how people are running those things. So that insight is valuable to automation, but even more valuable to an operational leader, to a transformational leader who is looking at work end-to-end and to the outcomes that they are producing through those processes.

Are you seeing a much stronger involvement from the CTO, the CIO in automations and process intelligence now within the clients that you talk to?

Yes, we are. At the same time, I also believe that it is in our customer base we have a very strong relationship between the CTO, CIO and the line of business owners. And we've seen the best outcomes come together when both those stakeholders are involved. At the same time, I think increasingly now, the CIOs and CTOs are much better informed than they were about two years ago on the notion of understanding work. On the notion of mapping work and their choices on process intelligence and so on, so forth. I remember two years ago, you know, the people who say you do what? You observe screens to do what? To now saying, well, how is this different from other approaches? You can observe the screen, but can you also connect it to back end data and so on, so forth?

And so our technology is also evolved, by the way. We are at the sweet spot and the intersection of taking the best of what backend data says without actually going into backend data by looking at data on the screen and so on, so forth. So there is a, I would say, an evolution that is happening in our space as well.

Absolutely and I think the involvement of the CTO, in particular is very strong because, A) they're excited about automations and doing things better. And B) they know how to start projects, get them done, finished projects. And I think that was the big struggle pre-pandemic where a lot of lines of business leaders tried to drive a lot of these process initiatives, and they tended to head a lot of brick walls, a lot of politics. And if you didn't have IT on board and building out an industrialized platform at scale, things tended to fail. So I do feel the involvement of IT, where business is, where these things are starting to take shape.

So tell me a bit about your company Skan. You've you've raised some money, you've made some noise in the market. There's obviously been a bit of a crash in the tech market as well.

Where are you in your evolution and what do you think is going to happen in this whole process, tech industry?

I think first of all, evolution is continuous. And in some sense when markets crash, it gives companies the time and especially the people who have a strong thesis, the time, and the customers. The time to really sit down and look at the problem with a certain, I would say, pause and with a certain amount of focus. So I think what's happening now to all the venture-led companies is that they are now fundamentally looking at their space in much more, deeper way. And that gives us a lot of, I would say, focus on saying, Okay, what's the market? where are we going? And so on and so forth, as opposed to a very hyper-growth market where all you're chasing is logos and revenue and so on and so forth, right? So I think that, number 1, gives us the pause.

Number two, I think that there is, as you said, there's a maturity that is happening so technology is getting involved, business is getting involved, and new use cases are emerging. And even as I speak. It surprises even us to think about this day and day out, how customers, when given the same data about how their work is happening, how the business process is running, how the end to end process looks like. And what they correlated back to the kind of problems that historically they've always wanted to solve but did not have an answer. Now these problems go beyond just, hey, I want to automate. These problems go into the efficiency, the efficacy, the outcome orientation of what these processes were producing. So the root cause analysis, the cause of acting is becoming stronger.

So our industry ultimately will not be on process intelligence. It will be the coming together of the process intelligence that we call as process knowledge today, and decisions that are made on those are outcomes that are produced from those. So the trajectory is clearly towards a set of work that humans do, a set of outcomes that the organization produces. Can you have a feedback loop and mechanism on all of this through the same acts of observation and continuous monitoring of both the work and its output? That's where I see the whole thing going.

And in fact, I don't need to tell you, if you look back at your own thesis on and I was going through that earlier on the Horizon 2 and Horizon 3, ultimately it's the same thing, right? Whether we look at the connectedness within the enterprise or outside the enterprise, it's about outcomes and looping those outcomes back into the work that the organization is doing.

Interesting, and so as you look at companies investing in these mega platforms like ServiceNow, Pega, these types of businesses.

How do you see Skan fitting into the corporate tech jigsaw as we look out of the next couple of years?

I think the so first of all to the investment in India in by the interventionist companies. Right so everyone has a certain kind of intervention, maybe a workflow kind of it, maybe automation kind of intervention. Discovery is very important to them. However, discovery is also important in other ways. So any investment that goes in by a interventionist company is focused on that intervention. However, there is always a space for the more secular and the independent analysis of work that is end-to-end that does not have a specific agenda for a specific integration. That intervention may be a bot, that intervention may be putting a new orchestration in place. And so on, so forth.

So I, I firmly believe that there is a strong space for the most secular process intelligence framework, that beyond all the imperatives of what I want to do, gives you a complete and unbiased picture of what should be done. Not just that, if it is done, then how does how do things evolve and what are the intended and the unintended consequences of the way work is happening in the organization?

So telemetry is a given. Telemetry is bound to come to our industry. It has already come to much of human endeavors. BPM world needs telemetry and secular telemetry at that.

Excellent so how did you end up doing this yourself Avinash? You've been a well-known figure in services and tech for a long time.

How did you end up building up a platform like this? Is this something that you'd recommend others do?

Of course, everyone should do what they feel most passionate about. So I won't recommend anything other than they should do what they like and the problem that they face themselves. I think some things appear true in hindsight. As you're doing it they don't. But when you look back they are absolutely true when people say that to be able to solve a problem, you should have lived through the problem. And to your question as to how did I come to doing this is Manish Garg, my co-founder and myself who was by the way, my was also my co-founder last 20 years. Last company also was co-founded with him. So both of us actually lived through the problem.

In honesty, when, when our last company was acquired by Genpact, we did not have a clue what we're going to do next. But such is the conspiracy of the universe that you end up solving hairy problems of automation, re-engineering and transformation, and you'll begin to see, well, there is a not just a not just in those circumstances, but in general in the industry, there is opacity. Opacity of work. And technology is already there to remove that opacity. How do you bring that technology to bear in a manner so that A) opacity is removed and B) the removal of the opacity leads to certain outcomes that organizations are looking for.

That's awesome.

So and again, serendipity is that when you think of this idea, at the same time, you know, you find a customer and then the customer says, if you build it, you buy it. Then you go to an investor and say, well, the customer is saying this, so you get to raise some money. So I can't overstate the influence of serendipity and good luck in being able to find both initial customers as well as people who will fund this venture.

I love it. Serendipity indeed.

Well, I think you'll be gracing your presence at the HFS Summit next month, so hopefully we'll have you on stage and meeting with many of our clients and friends, as well. Avinash, I look forward to seeing you again and thanks for your time today.

I cannot tell you how thankful the world is for folks such as yourselves who are now creating, moving beyond the online and coming back to the real world. So forget about being on stage, just being in the presence of a lot of warm bodies and seeing you all in three dimensions is reward enough. So I'm looking forward to it.

Indeed, it's been three long years and it's coming back. I can't wait myself.

So thank you again. Thank you. Thanks Phil and Ivan, great discussion.

To learn more about HFS, head over to HFS research where you can view most of our research for free. Plus we have a growing library of video cast just like this that you can take with you wherever you go. Thanks for tuning in and we'll see you on the next HFS videocast. 

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