Opinion | Tech dissonance among executives at IT companies
IT executives fall out with colleagues over differences on how the future will pan out
Buzzwords such as robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) model of software delivery are prevalent today. They are used by many, but understood by few.
Firms that sell technology are often at fault. They seek to confuse buyers, since this allows them to capitalize on “information asymmetry”, where buyers always know less than sellers. This tactic is especially useful nowadays as technology buyers are afraid of being overtaken by their competitors, or worse yet, “disrupted” by technology-driven upstarts. It isn’t always sellers vs buyers. Even senior executives at technology firms have serious fallouts with their colleagues or bosses because of honest differences of opinion on how the future is likely to pan out. This “technology dissonance” isn’t surprising; these executives are trying to bet the entire futures of their firms on one direction or another.
Thomas Kurian, a senior leader at Oracle Inc., along with his twin brother George, CEO of NetApp Inc., was my classmate in school. The difference between the twins and me then was that they occupied the front benches, while I was a dedicated denizen of the last bench. The difference now is that they hold positions of power, while I still make noise from the back.
Kurian, who is now on a long leave from Oracle, appears to have been affected by this technology dissonance between executives. Kurian has been silent about his leave, while an Oracle spokesperson said he was “taking some time off” and that she expected him to return soon. Nonetheless, Bloomberg has reported that Kurian’s leave stemmed from differences with Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison on the software maker’s cloud business. According to Bloomberg’s report, Kurian evidently wanted to allow Oracle’s software to run on the cloud platforms of its competitors Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp., while Ellison wanted Oracle to run its own cloud infrastructure from which Oracle’s products will be made available.
Like Microsoft, Oracle has a huge command over the enterprise computing space, and so the shift to a cloud-based SaaS delivery model should have been easy to accomplish. Bloomberg says Oracle’s cloud offering has not been able to gain traction in its battle with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft’s Azure platform.
While we are on the subject of technology dissonance, I must also touch upon rpa2ai, a firm that I have written about before. Its CEO, Kashyap Kompella, was a colleague of mine in the mid-2000s. RPA and AI talent is scarce even inside the industry for those who are actually building solutions, let alone among non-technical investors and acquirers. The firm has tried to provide unbiased research about these areas to its clients, often investors who are looking to take bets on RPA and AI start-ups.
The firm has recently put out a press release based on its research. In sum, it makes the following observations:
• RPA has greater potential to significantly automate and change the work of millions of white-collar professionals than AI.
• The RPA marketplace is attracting significant amount of venture capital funding, enterprise attention and employee anxiety.
• While it can be an effective way to improve efficiencies and processes, RPA is regularly mis-sold as ML or AI enabled. In reality, most RPA products have little to no ML or AI capabilities.
• RPA products vary widely in their provenance, functionality, architecture, deployment options and geographic footprint. One size does not fit all.
• Business buyers are often avoiding and not involving IT departments in their decision-making processes, resulting in failed implementations.
According to Kompella, the RPA market is witnessing hyper- growth and expectations are sky-high. As a result, some degree of disappointment is inevitable, but RPA can change the global services landscape and impact a number of white-collar jobs.
I can attest to having seen this play out in the bids that IT services vendors are making to their clients. Many of these bids promise to reduce human workers and replace them with RPA “bots”, which do office work. Some vendors are also beginning to set expectations with investors by letting them know that while revenue growth may slow down due to less people being billable, margins will likely go up as more processes become automated.
Time will tell.
Siddharth Pai is founder of Siana Capital, a venture fund management company focused on deep science and tech in India.
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