The New Wave Of Technology: Why Automation Is Good For Business
New technologies like automation and artificial intelligence are often intimidating to company executives – some may shy away from adoption, whether because of complexity or perceived lack of value. Through its software platform, UiPath is leading the way in helping companies over the hump and ultimately, taking the necessary steps in technological innovation. This month, I spoke with Ashim Gupta, chief customer success officer at UiPath, about the benefits of implementing automation software, the need for basic coding skills, and the opportunity technology provides business professionals.
Jeff Thomson: Earlier this year you were appointed chief customer success officer at UiPath, an enterprise robotic process automation (RPA) software company. In your former life as senior vice-president and chief information and automation officer for GE’s Finance and Shared Services Group and CFO of GE Water, you used UiPath’s products to help improve operational and financial performance. From your direct experience with the product as a customer, what do you plan to apply to your new role? How does your background in finance relate to spearheading digital transformations within companies?
Ashim Gupta: My role as UiPath’s chief customer success officer means providing post-sales support for our customers. I assist UiPath in its mission to accelerate automation adoption by removing technical obstacles, making sure integrations run smoothly, driving operational expertise and creating a broader dialogue around RPA so that our customers are educated and can share that education with their peers. I run a 170-person team that includes customer success managers, partner success managers, technical experts, RPA developers and solution architects.
Many people who come into a software company for the first time might look at the product solely through a technical lens, thinking only of capabilities and features. However, because of my experience as a customer, I look at it from both a technical lens and a lens for how it can be practically applied within business operations. My time as a UiPath customer allowed me to better understand the way our customers view and digest our product. I’m able to recognize when a customer has a clear understanding of the value RPA can provide, or when they require more insight to obtain the maximum value out of their RPA journey. My time as a customer has also helped me to better articulate the language of our business to prospective customers and help current customers apply features to achieve real, tangible outputs.
Outside of assisting our customers’ automation journeys, I also contribute to our product roadmap. We have some exciting developments on the horizon as we further integrate artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning into our advanced RPA capabilities. Offering the customer perspective has been helpful to our product team – not only in providing insight on what capabilities they should prioritize but also on creating a product that will be easy for our customers to integrate into their existing systems. Whether it’s assisting a customer automating a contact center, core services work, or something more niche, my time at GE Water provided me with a good foundation for operational processes so I can anticipate customer challenges and help our team overcome them.
Thomson: RPA is a technology described as in its infancy by some. What are the low-hanging fruits that are achievable by RPA regarding accounting and finance? What are the more long-term accounting and finance functions you see as being impacted by RPA?
Gupta: The technology itself is not in its infancy, but adoption and general understanding of how RPA can be used is still growing. There are so many manual processes – like journal entries, reconciliations, and document processing – that can be automated with RPA. These tedious processes do not make for inspired work for the people who are tasked with doing them. It’s also work that – without the proper tools in place – is subject to human errors and/or non-standardization. Bringing in RPA to streamline these efforts and remove the possibility for error can help.
For example, RPA can automate the extremely time-consuming processes related to foreign exchange rates, such as scouring hundreds of websites without doing application programming interfaces (API)s. It can also be used to interact with customers on processes such as proof of delivery validations and reducing concession claims. In terms of more advanced solutions, RPA will eventually be able to assist with external audits and intelligent documentation by scanning 50 contracts to retrieve data, processing the claims and helping to validate terms and conditions more efficiently than ever.
Thomson: A recent Deloitte survey found that only 53% of executives have initiated efforts to embed RPA into their enterprises. Are there obstacles in the way for these executives? Financial or otherwise? What is potentially holding them back?
Gupta: The first obstacles executives face are existing assumptions about RPA. Some people will write the technology off or relate it to low-tech macros, which is not the case. It’s crucial that executives start with zero assumptions.
Secondly, business leaders in the organization need to make sure they are collaborating with IT. While RPA is a powerful technology tool that will require strong support from the IT team, it also requires functional individuals who understand the processes being automated and who can describe them in a way that will make it easy for the RPA to adopt. This is essential for the technology to not only be supported but easily integrated into the existing workforce.
Finally, most executives are jaded regarding new technology adoption and the costs required to experiment with its impact in their organizations. However, when it comes to RPA, experimentation is low cost – all that is required is a time investment to get the tool up and running. At UiPath, it’s our mission to transform how executives feel about technology adoption by democratizing RPA. We encourage free downloads of our enterprise RPA platform by individuals, small business and educational entities to test the software. We’ve also been offering free online training courses through our first-of-its-kind RPA certification program, UiPath Academy, for more than a year. Since its inception, more than 104,420 users have enrolled in UiPath Academy. Our UiPath Community also boasts more than 200,000 global users who convene online to share best practices for RPA implementation.
Thomson: As new technologies like RPA or artificial intelligence transform accounting and finance, what are the basic technology skills all professionals in this field should know? What is the best way for them to learn?
Gupta: I think that every professional – not just those in finance – will need to learn basic coding terminology, and it’s something we’ll expect to see infiltrate every school curriculum going forward. While RPA is fairly low code, having a baseline understanding of the terminology helps, and coding is a skillset that will become increasingly important as the technology develops.
When it comes to AI and machine learning, most people are unsure of how to even define them, let alone explain what they’re capable of. As a society, we need to do a better job of exposing individuals to what technology is available today and what it’s capable of doing. This will help people understand not only how the technology works, but also that it’s attainable and not just a far-off dream.
The rise of automation and RPA specifically is no different than 20 years ago when Excel was introduced and completely revolutionized how we compiled and analyzed data. Being an expert in Excel back then meant you were a hero in finance, and everyone had to learn those skills to build upon them and become advanced users. The advent of technologies like RPA and AI are just bringing about the next generation of skills and professional development – not flipping the world on its head.
Thomson: Company officials have claimed that UiPath will have 1,500 enterprise customers by the end of 2018. However, there are still too few companies that are qualified to implement RPA platforms. What can companies do to be ready for adoption? At GE you were recognized for implementing RPA at scale. Do you recommend companies look at adopting the technology on an enterprise-wide level first, or start smaller?
Gupta: UiPath has exceeded 1,500 enterprise customers mid-way through 2018 – which is a true testament to the rapid growth of the industry as more and more enterprises experience the operational and financial benefits RPA provides.
That being said, education is still a priority as more companies explore RPA. To be ready for adoption, companies need to arm themselves with teams who recognize the value of RPA, rather than resist it. Those who view RPA as a job replacer rather than a job augmenter will severely hinder adoption and cause immediate internal barriers.
Additionally, companies should network with peers who have already implemented RPA for information-sharing purposes. All too often we see businesses trying to re-invent the wheel instead of learning what works and what doesn’t.
Once they have a better understanding of what’s possible with RPA, I’d recommend companies start small, but with scale in mind. Automating single processes “just because” isn’t the way to go; instead, companies should think strategically about which parts of their existing operations could benefit from automation and develop a framework for implementing the software that will make it easy for them to expand and achieve longer-term goals. Starting with a few desktops is one route to take, though after a few months I’d recommend they evaluate and see how they might be able to scale that project to eventually become an enterprise-wide initiative.