2020: The year of hyperautomation

By Tuck Satterfield

I recently had the opportunity to virtually sit down with Tom Ivory, global leader of IBM Automation and responsible for IBM Automation Services practice. New to IBM but well-versed in the automation market, Ivory previously worked as an analyst and services practitioner in the intelligent automation space. In this interview, he shares his perspective on where automation is going and what that could mean for IBM and clients.

Q: You’ve been in the automation space for nearly a decade. Has it changed much and what trends have you observed?

A: Eight years ago when I began working with HfS Research as COO, our research was focused on traditional outsourcing and how functions like procurement and HR could be streamlined. That changed in 2012 when Blue Prism reached out to us to author a white paper on robotic process automation (RPA), which nobody was really using in the broader services industry at the time.

As we looked closer at RPA, it was clear it could have a transformational impact on repetitive human labor – on anything that required manual data entry or moving information between disparate applications. It was equally clear RPA was just one tool in the automation toolbox, and that other components of automation – combined with AI and machine learning (ML) – could form a comprehensive automation solution with transformational value to businesses.

It’s been an interesting journey over the last eight years, coming from an analyst perspective at HfS, then moving to a practitioner role in the services arena, then coming to IBM just a few months ago. At IBM, automation has gone from a point solution to that broader, more comprehensive solution capable of transforming whole processes and business operations, not just tasks.

Q: What are customers looking to solve with automation now?

A: I think clients are evolving from executing process by process, or ad hoc automation by department, to asking, “How do I streamline all of this under a single automation initiative – one that’s centrally funded, that’s measured on its impact on internal operations and customer touchpoints?” Basically, one that tracks not only cost reduction but also revenue growth. 

That’s the big inflection point we’re at right now, moving from that narrow point solution to driving organization-wide digital transformation.

Q: What are you seeing as key drivers of automation success for clients?

If you look at an IBM automation engagement now, you’ll see us working with clients to identify their top challenges, applying business analysts and industry-specialized consultants to find gaps that can be solved through automation – or where they can integrate multiple business processes and applications through automation technologies.

And that integration requires a platform that’s extensible, that may have RPA, but also business process management (BPM) and more cognitive capabilities like ML and AI, plus the ability to orchestrate those technologies in an operational manner – without which the client won’t see the benefit of automation on a grand scale. 

Q: As clients strive to achieve holistic transformation, where are they getting stuck and where are they looking for help?

A: When clients get stuck it’s often because they’re looking narrowly at automation. They have what Forrester calls “islands of automation”¹ throughout their enterprise. For instance, they have automation initiatives sprouting up in finance, maybe in IT, and their partners are bringing in point solutions. This is where clients often look for help: to bring it all together, to cross-automate between customer service and IT, finance and HR, or across their supply chain. I think that’s why Gartner called 2020 the year of hyperautomation. Automation is becoming pervasive throughout the organization as clients build on, and work to connect, discrete automation successes.

Q:  How do you see IBM helping clients with a more holistic strategy?

A: Three things come to mind:

  1. Industry experience. When we work with a manufacturer or consumer packaged goods company, we bring industry-specific domain knowledge and expertise.
  2. Extensible and evolving automation platform. There are a lot of platforms out there, but ours is unique in that it uses the IBM Cloud™, works with all players in the ecosystem and major RPA vendors, and can integrate with any BPM platforms. We can offer clients a full business operations automation solution if needed – a combination of technology and expertise that can help COOs take that broader view of intelligent automation – or hyperautomation – across the enterprise.
  3. Best-of-breed software capabilities. We have a technology stack that can work with our services platform, that can plug and play nicely for BPM.

Automation is one of the strategic pillars for clients and C-level executives. It’s the foundation for creating intelligent workflows and setting up the organization to achieve wider digital transformation. If analog processes and operations are still living in the past – if they’re manual and repetitive, if they’re not integrated – it’s going to be difficult to move forward with emerging innovations like Industry 4.0, blockchain and 5G for the next chapter of digital reinvention.

Automation is propelling companies to re-engineer processes, optimize them, standardize them and even eliminate ones that are redundant or unnecessary, enabling the digital blueprint of the enterprise.

With a combination of services and software, a focus on innovation and a history of integrating business processes across enterprises, we can help clients execute on a holistic automation transformation that can move the needle for their business.

Q: As somebody new to IBM, what are your impressions so far?

First, I’m impressed with the talent of our people. At the end of the day, this is a people business. Our people are our products, especially within Global Business Services. IBM employees are passionate, creative and smart. I’ve worked with smart people throughout my entire career, and working at IBM feels like a step up, sincerely.

IBM also gives their employees a lot of freedom for entrepreneurism. And for someone like me, that’s essential to make a difference. For a company of almost 400,000 people, you feel like you can come in here and create something, no matter what your role or level. It’s great.

Finally, last year, in one of her many speaking engagements, Ginni Rometty showcased the Apollo 11 moon landing and IBM’s involvement in that mission. Her emotion was contagious as she talked about how NASA and the astronauts relied on IBM. There was a photo of the IBM jackets in the Kennedy Space Command Center. I knew I made the right decision to come work here. We’re not only looking out for our clients’ success, we’re also looking for moon shots – for the world.

Join Tom Ivory and IBM Automation executives at IBM Think 2020, 4 – 7 May in San Francisco.


1. Predictions 2020: Automation Strike Teams And Services Rise To Fend Off A Paradox, Forrester https://go.forrester.com/blogs/predictions-2020-automation (link resides outside IBM)

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