Automation Enables Businesses To Reimagine Work In Ways We Never Thought Possible
Intelligent Automation: How Automation Powered by Cloud-Native Technology is Accelerating Digital Transformation
*This is in partnership with BloombergQuint Brand Studio
Mihir Shukla is regarded as a visionary in the automation space and is co-founder & CEO of Automation Anywhere, an industry leader in intelligent automation. BloombergQuint Brand Studio spoke to Mihir about his vision for intelligent automation powered by cloud-native technology and how the technology is accelerating digital transformation.
You started Automation Anywhere nearly 20 years ago. Tell us about the journey of Automation Anywhere as a company—how you went from what seemed like science fiction nearly 20 years ago, to being a leader in Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?
When we started back in 2008 this category wasn’t called RPA or Intelligent Automation. But our focus has always been on automation, and our vision when we started was to reach millions of end users to help them automate and transform their businesses. Our vision has not changed. Today, we have over 5,000 customers in virtually every industry, and with our AI-powered, cloud-native automation platform that we introduced 18 months ago, it takes less than five minutes for any customer to get started on their automation journey. I believe that in next three years we will create more impact than we did in the last 18 years combined.
Can you throw light on the evolution from RPA to Intelligent Automation and what it means for businesses?
The initial phase of RPA was focused on automating repetitive, mundane tasks. But we saw an opportunity to bring intelligence into every single aspect of automation. Today we have an AI-driven process discovery solution, where AI enables customers to understand what processes should be automated for the most ROI.
Another AI product in our portfolio is IQ Bot, which allows customers to digitize documents, gain insights from various elements in those documents and make sound decisions. It can look at invoices and other documentation, and through automation, decipher if the goods have been received or when to pay certain invoices. You can set up the system to make certain decisions automatically or ask for manual approval above certain monetary amounts. Intelligent automation allows us to reimagine work, as well as accelerate the pace at which we work, ultimately improving customer and employee experience.
How did the pandemic accelerate the adoption of software bots? Can you share some examples that illustrate the power of intelligent automation?
Customers have told us that as the initial shock of the pandemic waned, they realized that digital transformation was essential to bolster resiliency, and that cloud RPA has become an essential aspect of that transformation, across virtually every industry. A great example is that of airlines, which were faced with thousands of flights being rescheduled and cancelled, and they didn’t have enough staff to handle these massive changes in scheduling. Many airlines used a bot we created called the Airline Bot to help them with rescheduling and cancellations. Another area we saw significant uptake was in healthcare.
NHS, one of the largest healthcare employers in Europe, used Automation Anywhere’s cloud-native Automation 360 platform to automate 24/7 monitoring of oxygen supply levels during the pandemic. Although NHS did not anticipate any issues with the oxygen supply, it was concerned that an increase in oxygen demand driven by Covid-19 might sap staff time away from other types of patient care, and wanted to ensure their oxygen readings were constant, consistent, and accurate at a time when oxygen was being used so extensively by patients.
Working through the night in conjunction with Automation Anywhere NHS developed a bot to monitor oxygen levels 24 hours a day without human intervention and with 100% data accuracy. This enabled hospitals to repurpose precious staff time during the height of the pandemic—more than 1,500 total hours of staff time over the course of the year.
That’s an amazing example of how bots can work with humans and allow medical staff to focus on what they do best.
In India, three customers come to mind. Axis Bank, Indian Oil and Path Labs. Axis Bank added a huge number of new customers during the pandemic. And this was done despite customers not visiting branches. They used a combination of intelligent documentation and robotics to review customer data. Earlier, customers would upload documents and they had to be physically validated. But with intelligent document processing and human-bot collaboration Axis Bank automated this and it has delivered significant business impact.
Another example is Path Labs. During the pandemic they had to deliver hundreds of thousands of confidential reports to government agencies for Covid tests. This was almost impossible to do manually, but once bots were deployed, they could process much larger volumes efficiently and accurately.
Indian Oil, the largest Fortune 500 company in the country, used bots to manage sales data from thousands of retail petrol pumps. While the cash flow cycle time was about a week before the pandemic, after implementing bots, the time was reduced to less than a day. Just imagine the impact, given their size and what they were able to achieve with faster cash flows.
In the past you have referred to RPA as digital labour. How will digital workforces revolutionize the future of work?
The pandemic forced business leaders to adapt to new ways of working while meeting customer demands. Now more than ever, customers expect better products, more personalized services, and instant response times. Being able to empower teams and adapt to these changes is essential.
The promise of RPA has been to create simplicity, to empower every team and every employee with a digital co-worker to give them back more time to solve problems, build relationships, and drive business success. Automation creates operating agility to connect data, systems, and processes. As companies rethink how they can work more efficiently, RPA can streamline administrative tasks, engage employees, and free teams to ultimately deliver more compelling products and services to the market—and our own research shows they are happier too.
This has been the Automation Anywhere vision, and every customer I speak to is eager to see this future come to life as quickly as possible.
One of the issues when it comes to India is this fear of bots taking over some white-collar jobs. How should we move from fear to leveraging the potential of intelligent automation?
The fear that technology will take away jobs is not a new phenomenon. But there are more higher paying jobs today than at any other time in human history. It isn't right for us to use people as robots. When you liberate intellectual capacity and allow people to focus on higher value work, they can do amazing things.
We are working with 5,000+ customers globally, and for every one of them, automation has accelerated their company's market penetration, revenue, and has increased their business and the need for hiring more people. Once you're able to process five times more transactions because of automation, you need more people everywhere.
How does democratizing automation help in these scenarios?
One of our best-selling products is the Automation Anywhere Robotic Interface (AARI), a smart digital assistant designed for a new era of work that brings consumer experiences to the enterprise. AARI completes our vision to ‘automate automations’ by creating a digital assistant for the new era of work—enabling anyone to automate from anywhere at any time with a simple interface that can manage automations.
Like the popular digital assistants Siri and Alexa that have become ubiquitous in our personal lives, AARI provides an easy-to-use, bot-to-human interface that oversees various business processes and enables all users to further simplify everyday tasks, improve collaboration between teams, and provide best-in-class customer service—either on-premise, or in the cloud. Every employee can participate in the automation economy from the device or application of their choice, from data lookups across multiple systems to complex escalation scenarios.
What are the sectors that you are most excited about when it comes to Intelligent Automation?
In the next few years, we will achieve things that we could never do before. For instance, when a check engine light pops up in a car, it’s an agonizing experience for us today, because you never know when the car will suddenly stop. Then comes the scheduling aspect to make repairs, and it’s not a pleasurable experience.
But since cars have chips that know so much about what is going on in the machine, what if the car directly spoke to our platform? The car could tell us where it is, more about the issue, and through GPS, our system could inform the driver about the nearest service centre, set an appointment and once you accept, what was earlier an agonizing multi-day experience is now reduced to a one-hour process. This is an example of reimagining work, and we will see these kinds of new experiences appear in every industry.