It's a year since Indian IT services giant Wipro bought cloud integrator Appirio. Earlier this month I learned more about the impact of combining the two companies from Hiral Chandrana, Senior Vice President and Global Head of the $3 billion Business Application Services line at Wipro, along with Appirio CEO Chris Barbin. They also spoke about AI and robotic process automation (RPA), at an analyst briefing during the annual Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.
One of the hoped-for consequences of the merger, which confirms the enlarged Appirio as the third largest global systems integrator in the Salesforce ecosystem, is a strong uptick in its ability to close large, multi-million dollar contracts. Chandrana and Barbin say it's now competing on a level playing field against Accenture and Deloitte, with eight-figure deals in prospect from net-new relationships. This is a validation of the strategy that led to the acquisition of Appirio and earlier acquisitions during the formation of the Wipro Digital division, says Chandrana:
One of the things we said was, everything is going to be digital in three to four years' time. If we don't integrate to drive some of these larger deals and logos, it might be a short-lived moment of glory. So we said let's go after those large accounts while we have a window of opportunity.
In pursuit of those deals, the two sales teams at Appirio and Wipro have had to work together and learn from each other. That's been one of the biggest challenges of bringing Appirio on board, says Chandrana:
We did underestimate the amount of time to integrate the different sales motions. Leveraging what Appirio has in those longer sales efforts was something we underestimated how long it would take.
Lessons learned integrating Appirio
Barbin highlighted three lessons learned during this process. The first is the importance of "interlocking and embedding" with the sales teams in Wipro's industry-specific units, in much the same way that Appirio had always worked with partners such as Salesforce, Workday and AWS, he explains.
We always treated our partners as customers. So the big challenge as, how do we treat the Wipro business units as customers? We had to create a bond with the global industry leaders.
Secondly, it's important to pick "the right deals to invest in," where Appirio can offer value-add that's appreciated. That's not always the case in more traditional "run" opportunities for outsourcing deals, as opposed to strategic or digital consulting contracts.
Finally, the relationships that each sales team has with its customers have been different. The relationships that Wipro has are more in IT and procurement, whereas Appirio's relationships were more on the business side, for example in sales and marketing or service management. It was a question of figuring out, "How do you marry the relationship map in an account?" says Barbin.
In addition to integrating teams and cultures, Wipro has also been investing in expanding Apprio's geographic reach. "We've taken a big bet on Nordics, France, Benelux, Australia," says Chandrana. The timing is especially propitious for the Australian market, which is "smoking hot" at the moment according to Barbin, as cloud adoption accelerates.
There have been unexpected synergies too, says Chandrana, such as the opportunity to create a new quality assurance offering by plugging Wipro's artificial intelligence platform Holmes into the Topcoder crowdsourced development community. Wipro has also been able to leverage Appirio's Cloud Management Center, an expert community and library of tools and assets for managing cloud projects.
This resource makes it possible to offer service enhancements in addition to routine operational processes such as resetting passwords, explains Barbin:
If you can extend the platforms on the fly that's a very different kind of managed service relationship.
Holmes AI and RPA
Holmes is becoming increasingly important in enabling more automation, says Chandrana. It's the final step in a three-step view of robotic process automation (RPA), he explains.
The first thing you want to do is eliminate the work. If you can't eliminate, automate.
These two steps can automate 20-30% of traditional "run" work. Another option is "hybrid crowdsourced," where automation is paired up with crowdsourcing, for example by pitching tasks to the Topcoder community. Finally, there's the application of AI:
Where we are taking it to the next level is looking at how certain aspects of cognitive can be embedded in certain processes and use cases. We've taken a little bit of a process view — it's really intelligence applied to process automation.
At the same time, he's careful to frame expectations in terms of what's practically achievable:
There's a lot of buzz about AI and automation, but what can you deliver in the first six months?
Helping customers digest all of these new approaches is also important, notes Appirio CMO Latané Conant. Part of the service must be to help enable a mindset shift and foster culture change to cope with the different cycles and expectations when working with digital platforms.
Changing course in large organizations is always a slow process, which Wipro is gradually embracing as it absorbs the Appirio operation and its other digital consulting acquisitions. The timing is such that the results are not yet outwardly visible in terms of publicly announced contract wins and successfully delivered projects. But the company does seem to be on track to have these proof points in the coming year and we'll be watching with interest to see those emerge.