conversational AI

DRUID Talks Season 2 Ep#8: The Future of Shared Services in the Age of AI

In this journey we will talk with Rakesh Sangani about the impact of generative AI on global shared service centers.

Let's dive deep into the world of Generative AI with our special guest, Rakesh Sangani, CEO of Proservartner. Rakesh shares his invaluable insights on how AI and automation are transforming industries, the future of shared service centers, and the crucial role of people in driving business value.

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Kieran Gilmurray:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to today's edition of DRUID Talks.

Generative AI is smashing every industry and every role it's aimed at, with shared services firmly in the firing line. But will we see mass redundancies? Or will businesses and countries with large offshore working populations learn not only to survive, but to thrive in the age of AI?

Today we have a special guest, Rakesh Sangani, the CEO of Proservartner, an international consulting firm who have focused on optimizing processes and technology enablement to create happier, healthier and more productive workforces.

Welcome, Rakesh. Would you mind telling us a little bit more about you and your company?

Rakesh Sangani:

Thank you, Kieran, and I'm really happy to be here and with you today. Thank you very much for the invite. So let me tell you a little bit about myself and Proservartner. I'm Rakesh Sanghani; qualified as a chartered accountant in a company called Arthur Andersen many, many, many years ago, and then worked as a consultant at Deloitte and Accenture before I realized there was a better way of doing things than throwing graduates at problems.

Proservartner was established 15 years ago and is really based on the premise of experience-led, practitioner-based consulting. We're ultimately the best company that many people have never heard of. We focus on that area of GBS, shared services, and outsourcing. We help businesses ultimately generate more value, largely through AI and automation in that space, and that can be largely around improving processes and keeping a focus on the outcome as opposed to spending lots and lots of money on technology. So we're the pragmatists, we're the practitioners, and with the experienced folk, that tells you how it is.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Oh, I do like that. I really like that. And now Prosevartner is well known. I think you're being humble there. And after this podcast, even more known still. 

But I want to pick up Rakesh on something you were saying there because you mentioned AI and automation. I love that combination, by the way. But I see lots of businesses who are focused on generative AI, automation and digital transformation to make their businesses more digital. But surely the point is not to make their businesses more digital per se. It's to create more business value.

Is that right, or am I wrong?

Businesses are focused on becoming more digital. But surely the point is to create 'business value'?

Rakesh Sangani:

I think wholeheartedly you're right. The problem we have in life is that we're always looking for a shortcut, and business is no different. I speak to many, many businesses, many chief execs, many CEOs, maybe many CFOs, and there's always this feeling that there's a silver bullet out there that's going to solve all of the problems. We all know eight or nine years ago, the silver bullet was RPA. RPA is going to automate all of our processes, and we won't need to worry about carrying out transactions in the future.

That didn't actually turn out to be the reality. And the reality is business value comes from people ultimately, and it comes from having people create good processes that are then enabled by the right technology. And I think if you can get that ecosystem working, then you're able to generate success. The people piece is around mindset change, and that's huge, right? It's very easy to just bring in a new piece of technology and say, listen, everyone, we've got some GenAI. Let's all celebrate the fact that we're a wonderful business that's able to bring in some new technology.

What's hard is changing people's mindsets so that they embrace AI and automation and focus on how things really work and how the technology is really going to add value. That, for me, makes the difference. That's real business value. It comes from the people. It comes from people who are curious, who want to deliver change, who understand technology, who understand the process, and who understand how it comes together to enable that change.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Yeah, you will have many CEOs and CFOs weeping there that there is no silver bullet. And you and I, Rakesh, will remember back in the day, it was RPA, and everything had the initials RPA on it. Now, I see more memes than anything else with the word GenAI in it. Old technology is being rebranded, so there is nothing new in the world. I love the fact that you're focusing on people as key.

How should we build businesses that not only survive but thrive in the 'Age of AI'?

Rakesh Sangani:

I'll build on my last comment here. So, interestingly enough, you may have seen this. A few weeks ago, the Singapore government released a new scheme that was for everyone over the age of 40 because they recognized that everyone over that age, the skills that they'd learned previously, were not so relevant in this new age of AI. And they said, okay, we're going to release a subsidy for everyone over 40 to get retrained in AI so they understand how AI will change their roles, their jobs, their skills that they need for the future. And I think that's the secret sauce here for how businesses thrive in this world of AI.

It's not just understanding technology; it's really making sure that the workforce is upskilled so that they can embrace this technology, so that they can understand it, and most importantly, that we can experiment because, you know, everyone knows what chat GPT is now. It's wonderful. Everyone knows what ChatGPT is, but people are not really aware of the hundreds of other AI and GenAI tools that are out there that are helping you solve real-life problems, from taking minutes in meetings to diary management to creating presentations to creating sales pitches. So, yeah, there's. There's a various number of different tools out there that people are less aware of, and then there's a bit of laziness, I think, to just jump on chat GPT as the tool of choice for all problems.

So, I really think it's about upskilling our workforce, creating skills, and training people to change mindsets and build skills for the future. And that's how you'll succeed in this age of AI.

Kieran Gilmurray:

I love what the Singaporean Government is doing, although I have to say, being on the north side of 40, I did feel a twinge that you're a bit old, so we're giving you training because you mustn't be very digital.

Rakesh Sangani:

I'm afraid. I'm with you there, Kieran. We're both over 40, sadly. Just like I'd like to pretend I'm 21, I just don't think I can pull it off.

Kieran Gilmurray:

I still am, so it's all right. That's what counts. Rakesh, many are claiming, rather than just building on what you're saying, that GenAI can do amazing things. It'll take over outsourced providers and ruin global shared service centers because they'll all be redundant, and teams in India, the Philippines, and any of the big outsourcing or shared services locations will be redundant.

Will generative AI make shared service centers redundant or not?

Rakesh Sangani:

I think we hear this type of mantra often. First, I've heard it with blockchain, I then heard it with RPA, and I now hear it with GenAI, when it comes to captive shared services and also outsourcing. So I think, in reality, none of those technologies will completely eliminate the need for GBS, shared services, or outsourcing. But they certainly do play a part in automating some activities, and they certainly can help an organization automate a lot more than what they could automate 10-15 years ago. So, I think it all plays a part.

We overestimate, maybe, the short-term impact of that technology and the scale because businesses are complex, processes are complex, and I think GenAI has a lot of great use cases. But many of which are quite narrow. I think in a similar way, lots of automation combined together can probably eliminate the need for moving into these operating models, but it's going to take a while for organizations to get there. So do I think Ji by itself eliminates outsourcing? No, I think that's a very definite no. Do I think everyone wants to adopt GenAI today? Yes.

We're running five GenAI pilots at the moment, and what we see in the marketplace is everyone wants to do a pilot, but they're not necessarily democratizing GenAI across the whole business so that it's used by everyone. And they're not necessarily looking to automate every single process through their organization leveraging GenAI. So, I think the scale of change is probably not at the same level as the hype and the enthusiasm around GenAI at the moment.

Kieran Gilmurray:

If it was, then you and I would have turned up today in Apple Vision Pro headsets. Again, it goes back to the people and a digital toolkit as opposed to the magic bullet. Again, you're making CEOs and CFOs cry. But I love the realism because I think that was part of the downfall. Rakesh, with RPA, it was overhyped, people got disappointed, and it's a fantastic technology.

Rakesh Sangani:

Yes. And I think the challenge with the hype curve is, let's take RPA. We're now at the opposite end, where I hear a lot of businesses say it's useless and it can't help us at all. And that's also the wrong answer. I think in our society, in business today, we need to be a little bit more measured around how technology can definitely play a part in improving the way we perform our day-to-day processes, but also not get too caught up in the hype.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Fingers crossed. Let's see if we can manage that. You mentioned pilots a moment ago and GenAI. 

How do businesses create value using generative AI technology?

Rakesh Sangani:

Yeah, look, I think it's very much around understanding what problem you're trying to solve. I think where businesses go wrong with implementing this new emerging technology is they feel that by implementing their technology, everything will be resolved, and they don't necessarily know what problem they're trying to resolve. So I think what we try to do is add that level of tangible, pragmatic perspective. So obviously, we're in DRUID Talks, and Conversational AI is one of those areas.

I think when you look at AP queries when you look at customer queries and HR queries, there's a really good use case for using conversational AI; there's a pilot that probably makes sense. As long as you've got three or four people managing queries in a particular functional area, you probably have a good business case to bring in a form of technology in this area. But the interesting thing about this technology is also that in a pilot, you can end up spending half a million to a million on a very sophisticated AI-based query management technology that answers every single exception and all of those tails of queries that you get. Or you can just focus on the top 80% of volume, which is probably your top 20% of queries, and that gives you a much better ROI. So again, it's that dose of realism.

It's maybe not trying to boil the ocean, it's focusing on the return on investment. And I think conversational AI certainly is an area we see that a pilot and an implementation can drive a really good business case.

Kieran Gilmurray:

It's the one where I've seen one. So I know a company is using conversational AI in the procurement department, AP, I think, in particular. Tens of thousands of invoices are queried every day. Now, people are able to log in and ask, you know, what's their balance and anything else. So I sometimes wonder if we're limited by imagination these days, Rakesh, not the actual technology itself.

You mentioned conversational AI and DRUID.

Why did Proservartner choose DRUID as a partner?

Rakesh Sangani:

Yeah, look, I think a few things. I think we recognize that this area, this space of leveraging AI to deal with queries, has matured significantly over the last ten years. With large language models, with the ability to answer like a human, with a range of questions that can be answered. The technology has definitely matured, and I think DRUID worked as a good partner for us because of being functionally quite effective around that technology, but also integrating with some of our other partners in the toolkit. So we work with the likes of UiPath in RPA and Celonis in-process mining with some other tools and technologies across that whole ecosystem.

DRUID actually fits well within that to help you not only resolve that problem statement around how to automate your queries but also integrate with that ecosystem of other tools and technologies that allow you to deliver end-to-end automation across your process. So, and to add to that, they work with us quite flexibly. They're young, hungry, and fit our culture quite well.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Sounds like us at the end there, Rakesh. Young and hungry. So that's definitely, that's an. Rakesh, what's the best piece of advice just to finish off today?

What is the best business or technology advice you have ever received?

Rakesh Sangani:

It's an African proverb that says, "If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together." And I think that's really relevant for these technology implementations and emerging technology. Because when you're in a business, and you do this in a bit of a small team, you may be able to go quickly, you may be able to prove that that piece of technology is successful, GenAI, conversational AI, whatever it may be, but to actually generate benefit for the organization, you really need to get the buy-in of the broader business going together. Building that well buy-in and support within the right stakeholder community makes a huge difference to the success of a product within a business. So, yeah, I think that still resonates with me.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Kieran Gilmurray:

Oh, that's a lovely proverb and a wonderful way to end. And that you're giving really great practical advice with people at the center of what you've described throughout this entire interview. I really enjoyed that. I think GenAI is a little bit hyped at the moment for lots of really positive reasons, like yourself. I don't think it's the only tool in the toolkit that's going to allow you to automate end-to-end.

And as you have said several times during this interview, I think that cultural piece, particularly everyone in the company actually working together to make things work, remove those silos and everything else, and then employing, you know, really great technology. And you mentioned numbers in them earlier on as well, including DRUIDs. Putting those things into play with great people means that you can have a great business.

Rakesh, thank you so much for joining us on DRUID Talks today. I really enjoyed that. And thanks to Proservartner, for being a partner of DRUID.

Rakesh Sangani:

Thank you very much, Kieran. It was a pleasure.

  

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