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The State of Automation: RPA, AI, and Intelligent Automation–Futurum Tech Podcast

In this week’s Futurum Tech Podcast, we take a deep dive into the state of robotic process automation. Also, how security robots invade your privacy, Salesforce and Microsoft bury the hatchet, and Amazon fights for the Pentagon’s JEDI contract. That and more on this edition of FTP.

Our Main Dive

In the main dive for today’s episode of Futurum Tech Podcast, we take a look at our recently published research report, The State of Automation 2019: RPA, AI, and Intelligent Automation, developed in partnership with Automation Anywhere. Our research shows that more than half of U.S. companies have implemented some form of automation —either Robotic Process Automation (RPA) or AI-powered Intelligent Automation — and that the majority of those who’ve not yet implemented automation into business operations intend to within not too distant future. We discuss what you can and can’t do with RPA and Intelligent Automation, what you should be using it for and how to most effectively go about that. We also discuss the challenges that our survey respondents shared with us are most common, their expectations for the future, and the role they expect automation will play in their organizations.

Our Fast Three

While we normally cover five topics in our “Fast Five” section of the podcast, this week since we devoted so much time to The State of Automation report, we are only covering three topics. These include:

  • Amazon Will Challenge Pentagon’s Award of $10 billion JEDI contract to Microsoft. Timing is everything. In a political climate where the current administration is currently under fire for allegations surround the use of political power to exert influence in one way or another, it makes perfect sense that Amazon would choose to step up and fight back on the award of the JEDI contract. The $10B award for the DOD’s ten-year cloud services contract went to Microsoft a few weeks ago, a decision that surprised many. Amazon has decided to formally protest the award, claiming there was “unmistakable bias” and “political influence” at play in the process of the contract award. It its statement on Thursday, Amazon suggested the Pentagon was unduly influenced by Trump and his well-known animosity toward Amazon and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The statement is here:
    “AWS is uniquely experienced and qualified to provide the critical technology the U.S. military needs, and remains committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts,” Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said in an emailed statement. “We also believe it’s critical for our country that the government and its elected leaders administer procurements objectively and in a manner that is free from political influence. Numerous aspects of the JEDI evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias—and it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified.
  • How Knightscope’s Security Robots Surveil the Public. Knightscope’s security robots seem innocuous and perhaps even cute, but the massive amount of data these robots are collecting about the humans they encounter is worth thinking about. And perhaps even worrying about.
  • Salesforce will adopt Microsoft’s Cloud as the Companies Cozy Up. We’ve talked and written quite a lot about how smart partnerships are an important part of business strategy. That is very much at play here as we see Salesforce adopting Microsoft’s cloud, in spite of the fact that in some areas the two companies are competitors. Joining forces for the good of customers, making strategic alliances that benefit all parties—that’s what agile, innovative companies embody today.

Tech Bites

Giphy has an illicit problem. In our Tech Bites section of the podcast we cover the news that Giphy, perhaps the biggest image search engine and place users flock to create animated GIFs, has a problem with illicit content. A new report from Israeli online child protection startup L1ght has uncovered a host of toxic content with the Giphy community, including content related to child abuse, rape, white supremacy, and hate speech. And it appears as though the people using the platform to hide this content in plain sight very much know what they’re doing.

Crystal Ball: Our Predictions and Guesses

In the Crystal Ball section of our show, we circle back to automation and the role we predict it will have in businesses moving forward. Tl:dr it’s big!


Shelly Kramer: Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Futurum Tech Podcast. This is your host, Shelly Kramer, and I am joined today by my colleague and fellow analyst, Olivier Blanchard. Welcome Olivier.

Olivier Blanchard: It’s good to be here.

Shelly Kramer: Great to have you. Today we are excited because we are going to talk about some new research that we’ve done on robotic process automation, and intelligent automation. Before we dive into that, however, I’m going to step back and let you know that we will during the course of this podcast we will quite likely talk about publicly traded companies, and we will express thoughts and opinions perhaps about some of those companies. Please know that this podcast is to be used for information and perhaps educational purposes only. We are not giving you any advice at all. Please keep that in mind as you listen to what it is we have to say. These are our thoughts only. Without further ado in business details, we will talk about the state of automation 2019 in a report that we just partnered with Automation Anywhere on. Olivier, and I have been very immersed in all things robotic process automation, intelligent automation, and we’re excited to share some of the findings of this report with you all. Right, Olivier?

Olivier Blanchard: 100%. We don’t talk about our research nearly enough on this podcast because we actually do a lot of it and we tend to focus the podcast on news and news items, but the kind of data that we put together that we come up with and actually publish is on occasion very interesting, and pretty useful. Hopefully, this will be the one of many more podcasts that we kind of focus on our research a little bit more.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely, absolutely. So diving into this report a little bit, what we thought we would share were some interesting data points that we encountered over the course of our research. By the way, this was research our dataset was comprised of a little over 500 respondents, and they were located in North America. I don’t have a handle exactly on the titles of people, but senior executives, middle level executives, kind of a wide swath of respondents who shared their insights as it relates to the adoption of robotic process automation and intelligent automation in the enterprise. Our company sizes were pretty scattered across the board. The point is we have a good representative sample of a wide number of businesses. Some of the things that we want to share with you is what we saw from an adoption standpoint. Olivier, you want to talk a little bit about maybe some of the data points about adoption? Perhaps maybe there might have been one or two things that surprised us.

Olivier Blanchard: Yes, there were a few things that surprised us. Let me backtrack real quick. The sample size was a little over 500 businesses in the United States. All of the roles were either decision-makers, or people who would somehow have some role in implementing RPA, or managing RPA in the organization whether the organization currently does or not. And what we found is that about half of companies that we surveyed absolutely knew for certain that they were already using RPA. 32% of companies said that they were not yet, and we’ll talk about why I’m saying not yet as opposed to not. 17% were unsure. So it’s one of the things that always surprises me a little bit when we do surveys like this is the number of times that people who are in decision-making roles being asked about a technology that’s potentially very important and transformative for their organization, and that fits within the whole grand scope of digital transformation are unsure.

Shelly Kramer: It always is interesting.

Olivier Blanchard: Yes.

Shelly Kramer: But, you know, to step back from this, and do my own due diligence, which I should have done at the beginning of the show, one of the things that I have learned as I have become more and more immersed in the topic of process automation is that we are so familiar with these terms and with these acronyms and they seem like, well, of course, don’t people know what they are, and aren’t people using these things? The reality of it is that in many cases people are not familiar with them. I hosted a media round table, actually, for Automation Anywhere about five or six months ago and we invited some senior technology writers to this really informal, it was a dinner event and it was just really laid back and lots of conversation. It was really interesting to me that a large number of these technology writers with publications like the Wall Street Journal, and Barron’s, and big technology publications really weren’t all that familiar with RPA.

So let me step back a little bit and say that robotic process automation refers to the use of a pre-configured software instance that uses business rules and predefined activity. It’s a software program that you set up to do certain tasks. And that’s probably the shortest layperson’s version. RPA is really a technology that allows you to do things, it’s task-oriented. You want to grab a file from here and put it over there, you want to check all the boxes in this particular column and make sure everything happens. It’s specific to tasks, and it’s software.

Intelligent automation is completely different. Intelligent automation is as you might think is powered by artificial intelligence, and it’s what you get when you apply artificial intelligence to the business of process automation. It’s the thinking part of process automation, and the really cool stuff about intelligent automation is that it applies machine learning and natural language processing capabilities, and it continues to learn to watch and learn as you go. So it truly is intelligent automation that gets better as time goes on. So now maybe those definitions might be handy as you listen a little bit to more about what we found as we spoke to these businesses, as we spoke to these senior leaders about how they were using these things in their organizations.

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah, that’s actually super helpful because I mean robotic process automation is actually a very good term for it. Sometimes something like AI, artificial intelligence can be kind of nebulous because it can mean a range of things and it usually does. With RPA it’s much more specific and it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like so that’s good. Now that you’ve actually framed that, let me talk a little bit about the scale, or kind of the distribution of the adoption across different industries. One of the really interesting infographics that’s in the report, and I think that we probably need to start pushing out some of those infographics on social channels like Twitter just individually, just to let people know what kind of data we have, but unsurprisingly manufacturing was the biggest implementer of RPA. I think it’s something like 87.3% so almost like nine in 10 manufacturers were already using some kind of RPA and/or AI in their business, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. It’s not even 2020 yet. And you already have almost 100% adoption.

The second biggest implementer of RPA, believe it or not, and I was a little bit surprised by this. I knew they were going to be high, but I didn’t realize they were going to be that high where media and publishing with 87.5. Essentially, to see that media and publishing, and manufacturing are pretty much head-to-head with RPA implementation was super impressive to me. So, Shelly, since you’ve been working in media and publishing and advertising for several years now, a few years, a minute and a half, are you surprised by this at all?

Shelly Kramer: Well, I’m not surprised by it, and really when you just look at these numbers you go, oh, media and publishing, hmm, that’s interesting, but when you really think about it for a hot minute, I don’t know that there’s any industry that’s been more disrupted in the last handful of years than the media and publishing industry. Everything has changed about how we find information, how we consume information, what people do with information, how we track, how we get leads, all of those sorts of things, and the media and publishing industry has had to adapt at an incredibly rapid pace. There are plenty of examples of situations where they didn’t adapt and they’re no longer around.

So when you look at what’s happening with even sometimes I look at some just newspaper publications like the New York Times, or the Washington Post, and tons of others, but I look at how they’re transforming their business models and how they’re transforming the way they deliver information and things like that. I think that it’s fascinating and I think that this has really been a necessity for this industry. They don’t have the luxury of taking time, and, oh, should we embark on the process of digital transformation? Well, it’s either that or you’re gone tomorrow so I think that that doesn’t really surprise me.

Olivier Blanchard: I agree. So let me go through the rest of the list real quick and then we’ll move onto another aspect of the report that I find really interesting. So we talked about manufacturing, and media and publishing. Energy is 85.7% implementation, banking and finance 84.7, technology 80.9. Professional services really surprised me. 72.7% implementation already professional services. So that includes law firms, accounting, and pretty much anything you can think of that’s professional services. And we might circle back to that at the end when I’m done with all of them because Shelly probably has something to say about that. Healthcare and pharma was at 62.6%, retail was at 60%.

So all of these industries are above 50% implementation, which I think is really impressive for 2019. There were only three industries or sectors that were under 50% implementation and they were travel and hospitality with 47.8, transportation with 41.7. I think that’s going to radically change once we start building the next generation of infrastructure for smart vehicles, and kind of basically intelligent roadways. And in the public sector in general, it was only 25% implementation, which I think is criminal. Okay, so Shelly comment.

Shelly Kramer: I think that what is exciting to me about this movement of professional services organizations to adopt some kind of RPA, or AI really speaks to the fact that these solutions make sense. They make good business sense. I think that what’s even more exciting is that it’s relatively a no-brainer to see how automation solutions are critically important in a manufacturing environment. Again, that’s a doing environment, right? It makes perfect sense, but when you get into the professional services realm it’s so much more complex. Whether you’re talking about attorneys, or whether you’re talking about customer service providers, or architecture firms, or any of these, I mean professionals this is a gigantic bucket of all different kinds of companies who provides a vast different array of services.

To me that signals that we really have reached a tipping point with regard to the adoption of automation across a wide variety of industries and sectors, and the fact that this is not an accidental happening, right? It not only makes good business sense, it’s an important piece of technology that really I think is important for businesses across the board in terms of being able to scale, being able to control costs, being able to be more efficient, more productive, and most importantly, provide the best customer experience that you possibly can so I think that that was really pretty interesting.

Olivier Blanchard: It is. It’s amazing because the way that a lot of these service providers use RPA is to free themselves from the kind of menial, repetitive, time-consuming tasks that prevent them from actually doing the work they want to be doing and having more face time with their clients. Especially with law firms being able to use RPA to essentially go through legal document that are very long and very complicated, and being able to automate that process allows them to bill more hours and to spend more time with the people they serve. It’s radically transformative without necessarily having to hire a bunch of people, and contractors or what have you to take care of some of that stuff.

That leads me to kind of like our next topic on this. I’m going to start with professional services firms since we were already talking about that and how their main challenge in implementing RPA and bring that into their business is inadequate budgets. Inadequate budgets are always sort of like the low-hanging fruit of the challenge that all companies big and small face, but especially the smaller ones in implementing new technologies, especially when they’re not proven yet or their value hasn’t been proven. And what we found in our study is that there were essentially four categories of challenges that kept coming up again and again and again.

One of them was inadequate budgets. Another one was that it was just a work in progress. Companies were having a hard time kind of they were slow at the implementation process, and there were some hurdles, and a little bit of friction so they’re not quite there yet. There was also difficulty in finding the right technology partner. And then, of course, some of them were not interested at all yet, but what I found really interesting is that difficulty in finding the right partner was actually one of the main challenges that industries were facing. We saw it especially with transportation, even technology companies. So technology companies have trouble finding technology partners, which is funny.

Shelly Kramer: It is funny, ironic.

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah, and even manufacturing, which has done a really amazing job of implementing RPA also claims that difficulty finding the right partner has been and continues to be one of their biggest hurdles. I think the first thing that comes to mind when I see that, and we’ll go back to the opportunities I think that RPA presents for companies and how I think it could be a gold rush for vendors of RPA solutions if they’re diligent about recruiting and onboarding customers, but I think whenever I hear companies saying that they’re having a hard time finding the right technology partner, and I know that there are technology partners or potential technology partners out there looking for customers, obviously, they need to beef up their marketing a little bit and their search because that tells me that there’s a huge amount of market share that somebody could be grabbing at right now that nobody’s grabbing.

Shelly Kramer: I very much agree, and we talked about this a little bit before the show. I think that this is an important message to all the technology vendors in this space is that there’s no small number of implementations of RPA technology that fail. And the reason I believe that they fail, and what customers tell us is that they didn’t have the right kind of support. They weren’t able to spur internal adoption. Perhaps they felt that training didn’t happen as it should. This is a confusing thing. I mean, it can be complicated and it can be confusing. So I think that for vendors it should be exciting news when people say they have difficulty finding the right partner because you can fine-tune those messages, you can understand those pain points, you can speak more effectively to those pain points.

And the other thing I think that’s really important is that vendors approach this with a mindset that this is not a one-and-done sale. It’s important for your sales team to be involved in this at one point, and then to hand off to the implementation and the service team, and to know that what customers are saying that they really want is they really want a partner that’s invested with them. It’s going to help them launch and deploy and get adoption and understand the use cases, and help build centers of excellence throughout the organization that can serve as training points internally and find early adopters. I mean, you and I are early adopters and we have that personality where we’ll dive into something and go, oh, my God, this is so cool, and how can I use this? And, oh, wow, I can use it like this.

And then when you have people like that, that can be your internal champions and that can help with educating on an ongoing basis throughout the organization, I mean, I think that’s how you get to the success when vendor partners realize that that’s a part of their responsibility, and you build that into your pricing and you build that into your processes. So I think that that to me is exciting about how you can be more successful at not only making a sale, but making implementation successful and addressing these concerns that people have. And, yes, part of it is better marketing messaging, too. It’s interesting.

Olivier Blanchard: It is. Since we’re talking about the missed opportunity, or the open opportunity for solutions vendors to jump into this, here’s a little tidbit of information. About 75% of companies that we surveyed across all these industries intend to invest in RPA, or some kind of automation solutions heavily in the next five years for certain, and 44% intend to do so in the next 12 months. It’s wide open. I should also add is that we’ve looked at the primary focus that companies that are interested are already implementing RPA solutions, what their primary focus is versus what it will be in the next 12 months. And what we find is that let’s just actually focus on the next 12 months because I think that’s more interesting 23.2% of companies are almost exclusively focused on data management, or using RPA to manage their data.

And we know that data analytics is basically the lifeblood of business now. So this is where kind of like the main interest is, but not very far behind at 23% so only 0.2% difference is sales and customer relationship management. That is where a huge, huge chunk of RPA solutions are going. There’s also 22.7% going to marketing and believe it or not, 21.5 going to HR. So these are some kind of like the general areas that these companies are focusing on. So it’s not the superficial thing, it’s not this niche, well, we’re dealing with manufacturing and logistics. I mean, those things are important, too, but they’re in specific industries. For everybody else across the board it’s that data, sales, marketing, HR, those are like the four cardinal points, and that applies to everybody. So it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, unless you’re in the public sector, these things are going to be at the forefront of pretty much every company that you talk to.

Shelly Kramer: Right. Absolutely. One of the things that I do want to make a mention of to touch on our prior point about vendor support specific to our partner in this report Automation Anywhere what people may not realize is if you’re listening and you’re thinking about RPA and you’re thinking about how do I find the right vendor? Automation Anywhere has partnerships with so many businesses. If you’re a Microsoft user, if you’re a native U.S. user, I mean, they have something for everyone in their sort of library of resource offerings. So before you think maybe our business isn’t quite big enough for this, or maybe there’s not a solution, or where do I start looking, definitely go and check out some of the partnerships that Automation Anywhere has with some of the people you might already be doing business with because sometimes knowing where to start your journey is important, too. I feel like I should mention that since we worked with them on this report.

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah, that’s true. That’s a good point. Okay. So one last thing, and then we’ll-

Shelly Kramer: Move on.

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah, and then we’ll move on because first of all the report is huge so we can’t mention every single data point that’s in there. You’re going to have to go look for it yourself.

Shelly Kramer: You’re going to have to work for it.

Olivier Blanchard: Yes, but there is one thing. One of the questions that I get usually when I have to try to explain RPA to people regardless of the size of the company is what do I use this for? So people kind of like understand they can grasp how RPA works with manufacturing and logistics. I think it’s kind of clear when you start kind of giving it 30 seconds thought that inventory management and obviously sales and CRM because I just mentioned it are kind of like big things, but also for like even small businesses, integrating RPA solutions into your billing and payments is a huge one. It’s one of the main areas of focuses as well in the SMB space.

The general data management data analysis stuff can seem like big data, but it doesn’t have to be. I mean, even a small retailer or doctor’s office can use that stuff, but even RPA applied to project management is I think a huge area of opportunity for all businesses. I know I’m a fan of automation and project management, but it also works with communications. It works just in general IT. I think that being able to quickly and cost-effectively automate repetitive processes like the back office kind of stuff, even for a small business is immensely, immensely valuable. I think RPA is kind of like the unsung hero, I think of automation. I think we’ll be talking about RPA quite a bit in the next two or three years and it kind of fills in a lot of operational gaps that the conversations about AI, and other types of smart automation don’t necessarily touch.

Shelly Kramer: Well, I think that RPA is in many instances the low-hanging fruit and one you can get involved in. I’m excited about RPA and RPA has been around for a while, but what I’m really excited about is this trend toward intelligent automation, and the adoption of a next level of automation that really brings the thinking part of the equation. So when you can get started with RPA, I think it’s a great opportunity to see, oh, who knew that we could do this? And who knew that we could make this repeatable, mundane, boring as heck task something that can be done in a flash, and we can focus our employees on things that they are more interested in that they care about, that’s a better use of their skillset. So I think that that’s your enabler. And once you start realizing how cool that is, and then you turn your sights on intelligent automation and realize the possibilities there then it’s like, oh, my gosh, the wheels are off. I’m just so excited about this.

So as Olivier said, this is a 50 plus page report. There’s tons of information and insights in here that you can use if you’re exploring RPA and intelligent automation. Whether you’ve already implemented it to some degree, whether you’re thinking about it, whether you’re not sure there’s information in here that’s sure to help you. There’s, also, one final point is that there’s always the fear when we talk about process automation, especially, when we use the word robotic process automation I think a lot of people at different levels in the organization feel threatened by that. So what we uncovered in talking with lots and lots of people throughout organizations and enterprises and everything else, the overarching theme is that automation is there to augment your workforce, not replace your workforce. So definitely this is something worth checking out.

We’ll put a link to their report in our show notes so you can access it there, and we’d love for you to read it. If you have some interesting thoughts about it, if you have any thoughts in general, you can always find us on Twitter, or on LinkedIn, or you can find us anywhere we’re not hard to find, but we’d love to hear what you think, too. So with that we are going to move on to the next part of our show, which we call our fast five. Olivier, do you want to talk about security robots and how creepy they might be?

Olivier Blanchard: Yes, the security robots. So I stumbled on this article by OneZero, which is actually a really good publication if you’re not familiar with it. They did a report on these robots from a company named Knightscope, and you’ve probably seen them, they look like big eggs on wheels. They just kind of like patrol malls, and other areas.

You’ll see them out around Silicon Valley. They seem kind of innocuous and kind of stupid. I mean, it’s just like this big egg with cameras and sensors and it wheels around and it looks like you could just kick it over. It’s not going to stop a shoplifter, right? But they’re actually a little bit creepy as a lot of kind of like new law enforcement and surveillance tech is, so behind this kind of weird sort of nonthreatening robot design is a pretty sophisticated surveillance technology system.

So on the one hand they’re equipped with facial recognition software and they’re connected to the web, right? So they’re actually able to tell potentially who you are, just basically they’re just looking around and they’re doing facial recognition on everyone, kids, adults, everybody. They can map that or connect that to whatever database they’re connected to, number one. Number two, they have automatic license plate reader technology, which means that when they patrol the parking lots, they’re actually capturing all of the license plates in the parking lot, and matching that to whatever databases are available to them. They also know by default through the facial recognition, through the license plates, they know if you have warrants. They know if you have a domestic disturbance complaint against you so they’re able to actually kind of do threat analysis.

Shelly Kramer: When you travel now.

Olivier Blanchard: Yes. Right. Maybe if you’ve been abusing your spouse and the police was called, maybe stay away from the mall for a while or wear sunglasses when you’re around those robots. So on the one hand it’s great because from a security standpoint, knowing that you have somebody who might be wanted by the law, who might be a dangerous criminal, somebody who’s a threat basically to the public around them you want those robots to have that, but at the same time it’s kind of like it’s that discussion we always have that the difference between Big Brother and Big Mother. The intent here is Big Mother, but the application might be a little bit more Big Brother. And also one of the things that kind of creeped me out about this is they use beacon sensors, basically, like wifi beacons so they ping people’s phones and people’s phones ping them.

They are also potentially able to match your phone to your identity just based on that so based on your proximity with your phone. I think this calls for a little bit of regulation maybe, I don’t know, but just be aware that that’s out there. We’ll put the link to the in the show notes as well so you can read it for yourself, but I thought that was kind of fascinating because I felt they were kind of useless, and, no, they’re deceptively not useless. Yeah, they freak me out a little bit.

Shelly Kramer: You know, the thing of it is, is that it doesn’t freak me out a little bit, it freaks me out a lot. I’m thinking about like I need to go buy some of those masks that people wear that sort of like, because I’m such a guilty person. No, it is not, it’s just that we are in scary times as it relates to privacy. We don’t have any and we don’t even really know it. I mean, you and I know it and people who are immersed in the space know it, but most people don’t and don’t really care. I think that the problem is by the time anybody does actually understand and care we’re all in a database somewhere.

All right, well I’m going to talk about Amazon challenging the Pentagon’s award of the $10 billion JEDI contract to Microsoft. We’ve written a lot about this and we’ve talked a lot about this. I was not at all surprised yesterday to see the news that Amazon had announced that it was going to contest this award. I thought to myself, “Self, timing is everything.” Because we all know the political climate that we’re living in right now, right? And the current administration, and this is not a political statement at all, although, we are arguably two of the most political members of our team, but we are without question in a time where there’s an odd political climate and current administration is under fire for some allegations. It’s around the use of political power to exert influence in one way or another.

I just realized when I saw this news, it’s like what better timing could Amazon ask for when we’re already in a time where this question on a couple of fronts is out there in front of the American public, and actually in front of the world, and what better time to say, hey, you know what? We’re going to contest this. So Amazon has decided to formally protest the award and made a claim that there was unmistakable bias and political influence in play in the process of the contract award. We’ve talked about that forever. I mean, President Trump is publicly not a fan of Amazon, and publicly not a fan of Jeff Bezos, so this wasn’t surprising.

An Amazon statement that they released yesterday I thought was interesting as well. So here’s their statement. AWS is uniquely experienced and qualified to provide the critical technology the U.S. military needs, and remains committed to supporting the DoD’s modernization efforts. We also believe it’s critical for our country that the government and its elected leaders administer procurements objectively, and in a manner that is free from political influence. Numerous aspects of the JEDI evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias, and it’s important that these matters be examined and rectified.

So you know what? Kudos to Amazon. I will say that I called from the very early stage that I thought Microsoft would get the award. I realized that Amazon has kind of played in this space for a very long time and AWS is a great, it’s a fantastic solution. It was probably the solution that made the most sense. However, Microsoft has made great strides in this in the cloud technology front. They’ve gotten the security clearances that were required to be able to provide under the terms of this contract. I just always felt that it made sense to me, also, factoring in the administration’s feelings about Amazon that this award would go to Microsoft. That said, I think it makes also perfect sense that Amazon steps up here, and says, hey, you know what? We want you to look at this again and who knows what will happen, but it wasn’t surprising to see that happen. And I thought the timing was probably especially important there. So now, Olivier, you’re going to talk about Salesforce.

Olivier Blanchard: Salesforce. Yeah. So we talked about CRM and robotic process automation earlier and some of that obviously happens in the cloud. So this is kind of interesting because Salesforce, which you know, everybody’s familiar with, has just announced that it’s going to be deploying its marketing cloud on Microsoft Azure, or Azure, or however, like everybody pronounces it differently, but, anyway, they’re going to be on Microsoft. It’s interesting because first of all, Salesforce is already using Amazon Web Services, and I don’t think it’s migrating away from that. It just uses AWS for its information cloud and it’s going to be using Microsoft towards Marketing Cloud. So it’s kind of not putting all of its eggs in the same basket, which I think is smart.

This is especially interesting considering the topic that you just brought up because Microsoft has a smaller market share, a smaller footprint than Amazon when it comes to cloud services, but they just won the JEDI contract as you said. They also signed a huge agreement with AT&T. So, yeah, Microsoft is kind of rocking it right now, but what’s particularly interesting to me is that Salesforce and Microsoft haven’t always gotten along. There is some history there. So on the one hand they are competitors to a certain extent. You have Salesforce within Sales Cloud versus Microsoft and its Dynamics 365 cloud services so that’s a little bit awkward. I don’t know how they’re going to stay out of each other’s way with that, but obviously they have a plan.

Too, Microsoft wanted to acquire Salesforce, I think a couple of years, ago and couldn’t agree on a price so that didn’t go anywhere. They’ve sparred over LinkedIn and Microsoft One as I recall, but one thing that’s cool about this. I’m glad to see them kind of come together with this. It’s good for them. It’s good for their potential customers, but one thing that caught my eye also is that the Sales Cloud integration with Microsoft teams is also coming, and that could be challenging for Slack. That’s a conversation that I think you, me, and Daniel need to have at some point on this podcast because if I were Slack today, I would be a little nervous about this.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and by the way, this isn’t the only challenge to Slack because the other thing that Microsoft is doing with its team’s product is that it’s free to all of Office 365 suite users. So it’s like it’s hard to make the argument that we should pay for a separate Slack corporate account when I’ve got this functionality right here. So, yeah, it’s a great future conversation to have for sure. So in this podcast, we usually tackle five different topics in our fast five section, but since we spent a significant amount of time on our state of automation report, we’re going to limit that to three today in the essence of your time, and respect of your time. And we’re going to slide here into the tech bites section of our show and talk about a piece of technology news that didn’t maybe surprise us, but that doesn’t make us happy, so Olivier?

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah, our Tech Bites today involves bad contents and I guess bad content management on the parts of the image search engine, Giphy, which some people might call Jiffy.

Shelly Kramer: And we’re not going to judge.

Olivier Blanchard: It’s graphic, not jiraffic, but anyway, yes, I’m not going to get into that. It’s kind of like the roll of toilet paper out or in it’s the same kind of thing like everybody’s got-

Shelly Kramer: It’s over.

Olivier Blanchard: Yes, exactly. It is over, absolutely. Even the patent says so.

Shelly Kramer: I know.

Olivier Blanchard: So, essentially, Giphy has fairly straightforward policy with regards to certain types of content that are harmful, like hate speech, pornography, et cetera. And apparently despite its own ban on those types of contents a study was made that identified, or at least found that Giphy still hosts specifically self-harm, hate speech, I’m sorry, and child sex abuse contents.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and we’re assuming that you all know what this is. Giphy as an image search engine. We may not think about that in terms of you’re sending a text message and you know this one little button allows you to go and find a GIF so that you can attach something really cute to your thing. Well, by the way, my 13-year-old twins use this image search engine as well, so where it becomes a concern is that there is this content there, and it is depictions of rape and child abuse and like what the heck?

And it’s sort of like this stuff is hiding in plain sight across so many different channels, whether it’s this one, or YouTube, or whatever. It really is scary I think to think about and to see, but I think that, also, the real thing here is how difficult content policing actually is when you have a platform like this. How do you keep the bad stuff out? How do you even know that the bad stuff is there? And I think that’s a real challenge for all of these, whether it’s social channels, or this kind of a search engine. It definitely is a tech bites situation, but it is a big issue.

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah. It’s something, by the way, that AI would be better at than robotic process automation to kind of circle back to that.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely.

Olivier Blanchard: But, yeah, so it’s basically like key search terms, and keywords and hashtags even, which were thankfully not published by any of the articles that I read, but, apparently, yeah, they still have some cleaning up to do. It’s really hard to police this, whether your YouTube, Twitter, Giphy, Google. I think eventually we’ll get there. The AI will get better, but right now we’re still kind of like in the growing pace version of this.

Shelly Kramer: You know, one thing that we didn’t touch on I just happened to be looking at this article real quickly. The company that found and reported this actually develops advanced solutions to combat online toxicity. So maybe some people should hire them more, but through its tests-

Olivier Blanchard: It’s a good sales pitch, right?

Shelly Kramer: Right, but through its tests one search of illicit material returned 195 pictures on the first search page alone and then they followed tags from one item to the next that kind of uncovered networks of illegal or toxic content that was kind of hidden along the way. And these tags were used to help the creators, the users to escape detection, but then they kind of served as a gateway to the toxic material. So this stuff is not happening by accident.

It’s happening with intention and the people who do this kind of stuff know what they’re doing, so that really is where it becomes even more challenging because they’re losers, and losers that are ill-intentioned losers. Okay, well we’re going to wrap up this podcast with that good news we’ll leave you so you can be worried about when your kids-

Olivier Blanchard: Well, we have a Crystal Ball, though.

Shelly Kramer: No, that’s what I’m saying. That’s what I’m saying. We’re going to go onto the crystal. Now that we’ve given you all that great news, we’re going to move onto the Crystal Ball, which is really, we’re going to tie it back to process automation and robotic process automation and intelligent automation. And what is it that you want to ask?

I’m on record as saying this is my least favorite part of the podcast because I hate coming up with predictions and whatever, but anyway, what do you think?

Olivier Blanchard: Well, it’s kind of a difficult one because we have predictions in the report.

Shelly Kramer: We do.

Olivier Blanchard: Yeah.

Shelly Kramer: Read it.

Olivier Blanchard: So when you access the report, dear listeners, you’ll get to see that we have all the data, we know what’s going to happen. However, there is one thing that we don’t know for sure and it’s when does RPA become mainstream? When does it actually stop becoming a discussion because it’s just so integrated into everything that we do in all of our business processes? We’ve achieved this sort of fluence organic worker augmentation where basically you have this robotic process automation taking care of all the boring tasks and people are empowered to do more of the interesting and valuable things about their jobs that they like to do. When does that become mainstream? Do you think it becomes mainstream between now and 2025, or do you think that it’s a post 2025?

Shelly Kramer: Oh, absolutely not. I think that five years is a long time in technology years. I think that it absolutely will be mainstream probably before then.

Olivier Blanchard: I agree, but, yeah, we can even argue.

Shelly Kramer: But again-

Olivier Blanchard: Like usually there’s some back and forth.

Shelly Kramer: We know why we say that, so y’all need to pop over to the show notes section and click on that link to that report, which will be there for you because you know what? We can promise that you’ll find things in there that will interest you and that will help you and your business moving forward. It was great to be able to work with Automation Anywhere on this whole research study, so a nod to them as well.

Olivier, thanks for joining me today. Let’s go ahead and end this episode of FTP, Futurum Tech Podcast. I want to thank everybody out there. Please hit that subscribe button. Definitely look up our articles and analysis on the Futurum Blog if you haven’t already. Find us on Twitter for the latest and most updated news.  Join us each and every week for a rotation of Futurum’s growing team of analysts chiming in on the week’s biggest topics, the fast five’s, telling you what bites, and making a few predictions at the future.  Until next time.

Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this podcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such. 

Author Information

Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”


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