Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Comcast outsourcers replace engineers with robots

Infosys, IPsoft add cut-rate "humanoids" to solve customer problems cheaper

Comcast outsourcers replace engineers with robots

Can robots solve customer problems cheaper than engineers? Comcast customers may soon find out.
Can robots solve customer problems cheaper than engineers? Comcast customers may soon find out.

Infosys Ltd., a Bangalore, India company that does cut-rate software engineering work for big U.S. firms,  has "entered a partnership with IPsoft Inc., which uses software robots to replace engineers at top outsourcing customers including Comcast Corp., the largest cable operator in the U.S.," reports India's Hindustan Times here, citing three unnamed sources.

IPSoft, a New York company whose clients also include Bank of America, is also a Comcast tech vendor: It was hired by the Philadelphia-based cable-Internet-video programming giant in 2008 to provide automatic billing systems and added database server and Oracle Financials systems, often "without human intervention". Comcast employs around 3,800 in Philadelphia, including around 600 engineers, executive vice president David L. Cohen said last year.

"Robots and humanoids" from IPSoft (founded by ex-NYU Prof. Chetan Dube), UK-based Blue Prism Ltd. and other upstarts "automate and deliver information technology projects at a cost that is less than one-fourth the billing rates of engineers" from outsourcers like Infosys and Tata Consultancy; the software robots "are the latest threat to India’s $100 billion IT services business," the Wall Street Journal and India's Live Mint reported here in November. "IPsoft counts Comcast Corp., the largest US cable company and BT Group Plc, the UK’s biggest phone firm, among its top customers."

In January, LiveMint and the Journal introduced readers to IPSoft's online problem-solver "Eliza," a blond, blue-eyed "humanoid who works at one of the biggest US cable TV firms, helping hundreds of users solve technical problems over phone and even face to face, through Skype-esque interactions.

"Because she is so closely guarded, Eliza doesn’t have many friends—so far only a dozen people in the world have had the privilege of exchanging pleasantries with her—but she can chat happily in nine languages about anything...

"In work mode, she can solve complicated technical issues in seconds, especially the kind that take normal support engineers minutes, even hours to solve... Not only can Eliza solve queries in a fraction of time it takes her human rivals, she does it at a cost that is less than one-fourth the billing rates for human engineers, and Eliza can clone herself into as many agents as are needed at that moment, dispensing with the need to hire large temporary teams of engineers to cope with a sudden rise in demand for services during peak seasons."

In short, the robotic fixer "is the perfect employee..."

Joseph N. DiStefano
About this blog

PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com or 215 854 5194.

Joseph N. DiStefano
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