Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has become the technology du jour. Although RPA has been around for more than two decades – in some form or the other – it has really come into its own as a technology by becoming part of the mainstream conversation, especially in 2019. Organizations – big and small – are jumping on the RPA bandwagon to reap benefits such as lower costs, increased efficiency, as well as freeing up of human bandwidth for more strategic work. However, is that all that RPA brings to an organization that adopts it?
At the recent Zinnov conference on ‘Intelligent Automation – From Ambition to Acceleration,’ Praveen Bhadada, Partner & Global Head – Digital Transformation, Zinnov, sat down with Milan Sheth, EVP – IMEA, Automation Anywhere to get some hard truths about RPA and its implementation.
Praveen: How has the RPA space evolved in India in the last 4-5 years?
Milan: Two prominent things have changed in RPA space in the Indian context. One, there has been a marked shift from cost play to a value, compliance, and productivity play around RPA and its implementation. And two, organizations are looking at more end-to-end, enterprise-wide automatability scenarios than individual, point-in-time scenarios.
Praveen: Scripts, screen scraping, and macro have been around for a long time. Is RPA a glorification of the same scenario that has been around for the last two decades or has the technology actually come a long way?
Milan: Intuitively, it is believed that digital transformation is only channels – the way you engage with a customer over a smartphone or the web. However, 80% of any organization is not channels, but internal to the organization. These are digital operations; you can digitize operations only when you digitize processes. While RPA allows for end-to-end digitization of processes under one umbrella, while macro and the other examples you mentioned, don’t allow for it.
An easy analogy is comparing RPA and any company to a burger. A burger has bun, lettuce, and cheese, which are always present. It’s the patty that gets changed according to the consumer’s preference. This is a beautiful analogy that describes the digitization process. Depending on the vertical that the company is operating in, the patty is changed for the burger. Say, a supply chain patty or a healthcare patty. RPA’s beauty is that it allows for enterprise-wide implementation, versus a single instance, which was provided by macro and the other examples you mentioned earlier.
Praveen: What are some of the enterprise-scale examples that come to your mind, largely from a Global Capability Center (GCC) standpoint?
Milan: The first thing that any global enterprise focuses on is scale, while the second important aspect is automating different functions. Functions like finance, HR, supply chain, logistics, inventory control, production planning, etc. that have touchpoints across the enterprise are the focus for any enterprise looking to implement RPA. Last but not least, is the third aspect is that it is acceptable to the enterprise stakeholders. To get the enterprise stakeholders’ sign off, security, privacy, control, and internal audit teams need to accept the solution as robust, scalable, and secure. Any enterprise-wide RPA deployment needs to happen across 3 distinct aspects – scale, functional spread, and acceptance of all the stakeholders.
ANZ is the most public story in India that has implemented RPA. Others include the largest technology company in the world, the first largest and the second largest financial services companies in the world, to name a few. And these are just the examples in India.
Praveen: What is different between companies that have been able to scale their RPA deployments and those that haven’t? And if they were to think of scale, what will be the playbook for scale?
Milan: Although the revenues from RPA is still a smaller percentage of its true potential, the growth has been significant. Take the case of cloud computing. Back in 2011, many companies had only non-core workloads like email servers on the cloud. Fast forward to 2015 – every core and critical application was on cloud.
The playbook for scale starts with the product, which is scalable and ready on multiple fronts, with not just RPA but other components in place as well. Another important aspect is leadership. The companies that have implemented and scaled RPA have leaders with two distinct traits –
Large Indian companies are no laggards in implementing RPA. In fact, the Tatas, the Birlas, ITC, L&T, Airtel, etc., have already deployed 300+ bots in their organizations. This is a testament to the fact that it’s not about GCoEs or Indian companies that are exploring the potential of RPA, but a set of leaders who have the right platform to implement and scale RPA.
Praveen: What are the value constructs under which scale is important under RPA? What are the other benefits that companies that have implemented RPA consider, besides cost advantages?
Milan: RPA is the imaginative use of technology. Let me give you some examples.
At Automation Anywhere, we work with the biggest financial company in the world. They leverage RPA for mundane tasks like transaction processing as well as crucial tasks like deriving real-time insights and visual data generation. Prior to deploying RPA, their wealth managers were leveraging 2-3 days-old data. But a bot helped them collate real-time data and present it in a PowerPoint presentation.
It’s not about every business function being automated, but a set of leaders who start leveraging RPA to solve problems. Conceptually, companies have either an API, microservices-based structure or RPA. No company can automate all the back-end processes en masse. It is impossible, as it takes years to implement it across the organization. In an API, microservices-based architecture, a bridge between the IT and business teams that connects the two is necessary. If this bridge is missing, the company’s ability to cater to every user’s needs is impossible. That’s where RPA and cognitive RPA fit in. It takes the business user’s definition at a process level and solves for it.
Praveen: A lot of workflow ISVs are trying to natively integrate RPA. Do you see the customers change from end enterprises to workflow providers or will they continue to coexist?
Milan: A lot of ISVs are partnering with companies like ours (Automation Anywhere) because their customers want them to compress the timeline, to make RPA adoption simpler. Additionally, a lot of Indian IT services companies are integrating bots as part of their services when they pitch to GCCs. A project which would typically take 9 months, say, will essentially be completed in 6 months, thanks to the bots integrated as part of the process.
At Automation Anywhere, we launched our bot store in 2016 and it took us 2 years to scale it. Today, we have 500 bots in our bot store, which companies can download and integrate into their workstreams. From recruitment to user ID creation to accounts payable, these bots will help companies accomplish these tasks.
This is just a glimpse of how the industry is evolving at a rapid pace, which will let us explore creative use cases for RPA in the future.
Praveen: What should customers focus on when contemplating RPA tools? With multiple players in the space who are building IP in RPA, how do you plan to solve the confusion on the customer side?
Milan: Product companies invest in the product roadmap. In enterprise organizations, it’s a 3-5 year sustainability plan. The end is more important than the process. If a tool is able to automate 80-90% of processes across all functions, across multiple delivery channels, that’s the kind of tool companies should go for. What companies should stay away from are separate tools for RPA, cognitive RPA, analytics, which will just add to the overall costs and effort of dealing with multiple vendors for multiple tools.
Praveen: Why is India a big bet for Automation Anywhere?
Milan: Mainly for 2 reasons –
Not only are our top referenceable customers here in India, but we are getting phenomenal ideas from here. Hence, India is a very critical market for AA.
Praveen: In our research, we found that there are 250+ GCCs that have started projects on RPA. What is your advice to them to communicate value back to HQ? How can they sustain the initial ramp that they have started?
Milan: The value is the way you perceive your own role. While it is important to justify the RPA deployment in terms of how much time and costs have been saved, what is important is to focus on two metrics –
Praveen: What is your advice to the 1000+ GCCs that are contemplating RPA deployment?
Milan: No company in Switzerland, Japan, or any of the numerous countries across the world have taken up RPA. Essentially, by deploying RPA, the GCCs have the opportunity to take on the leadership role in their organization. Of course, there will be resistance, there will be naysayers. However, the expertise, the knowledge, and the reference cases are right here in India. Indian leaders need to take the lead in deploying RPA in their India centers while pushing it across the organization as well. RPA deployment and implementation can be run from India at a far lesser cost with higher speed and delivery quality. In fact, India is the RPA capital of the world – it just needs the right leadership to harness its full potential.
As this Q&A implies, there is a big opportunity in RPA with a lot of potential for GCCs to play a global role in driving enterprise-wide RPA adoption. However, time is of the essence, because companies can’t afford to miss the bus on RPA adoption and deployment. This will be possible when intrapreneurial leaders take the lead and reap the benefits of RPA in the near future.