James Dening, Vice President for Europe at Automation Anywhere says the big conversations in the robotic process automation (RPA) space this year are centred on adoption.
His advice to organizations that are planning to scale up their use of RPA is to talk to people who have already deployed RPA at scale and find out how they’re doing it.
What are the big conversations happening within RPA this year?
So, for me, the big conversation this year has been about adoption. There’s a huge chasm, still, between people who know and people who don’t quite know yet. And it’s a bit like, if you remember the book, Crossing the Chasm, which was all about start-up’s.
Building your first five robots isn’t that hard, building your first 500 is much harder, and the companies that have figured that out and are churning out robots at an industrial level, and are getting that return on investment at real scale, they’re the ones who are really succeeding.
What is the advice you would give to people who are looking to scale up?
It’s a really good question; I think there are two ways to look at this, one is where do you get that advice, where do you get that knowledge from? I would say that the first place to look at is go and talk to people who are already doing it. So, these shows are a really good opportunity to find delegates who are rolling out robots at scale, and go and talk to them about how they’re doing that.
The second way to look at it is what are the different things you need to figure out, things like best practice, centres of excellence, governance models, all of those things. The frameworks within which you operate your RPA programme, those are really important. You can get those from customers, you can get those from vendors, if you come and talk to Automation Anywhere, if you go and talk to UI Path, those people will help you. They’ll point you in the right direction.
Who should head up automation, the business or IT?
So either can work, but the thing to always remember is it’s business that benefits from an RPA rollout, so business really should be steering the ship, with support from IT. I think the reality is you need to have both involved, and one of the things that we certainly talk about a lot is the importance of getting those stakeholders, both from the business, from senior management, and from IT, getting those stakeholders involved as early as possible is absolutely essential if you want to succeed.
What is the golden line you would use to get an executive on board with an RPA solution?
It’s really about fast return on investment; with traditional IT transformation, you might not see a return on investment for nine, 12, 24 months, maybe even longer. With RPA, if you get it right, if you crack the code on building robots, you can see your return on investment in a few months.
So, I think both the speed you get that return on investment, and also, the scale; if you go in to talk to people like AT&T, or ANZ Bank, or UBS, they have hundreds and thousands of robots, the cost savings they’re seeing, and the ability to redeploy staff, this isn’t a few hundred thousand dollars a years, these are millions, or tens of millions of dollars a year are being realised to these companies through the judicious application of RPA, and that interests everybody.
What are the major challenges faced in the automation space right now?
One of the problems that I see at the moment is people are getting distracted by the next generation technologies. So, AI, cognitive, we have our IQ bots, and there is absolutely a place for those, and we have customers who have rolled out a lot of RPA robots, and are now using cognitive for that next generation, to deal with that semi-structured data. But for most customers out there, most companies out there, they still need to focus on getting their RPA deployment right, and not be distracted by the shiny AI, the promise of the future. So, I think that is a problem, that distraction.
Recently Guy Kirkwood, UIPATH, stated that AI is not real; what are your thoughts on this?
So I think there’s a nuanced answer, do self-learning robots exist? At one level, yes, they do, our IQ bot takes semi-structured data, and the more it processes, the more it learns, the more user cases it sees, the better it gets. So, it’s an adaptive algorithm that processes data better and better the more data it’s exposed to.
But I think what Guy is talking about is there are there robots you can just point at the business and say go learn how to do stuff. Now, today, no I think he’s right, that doesn’t exist. Will it happen in the future? I think it will, and I think it will happen quite quickly.
If you look at the way that Automation Anywhere builds robots, we record what people do to give you the bones for a robot, it’s not a huge leap for us to have something that essentially looks over somebody’ shoulder without explicitly being taught, and looks for patterns in what they’re doing, and how they’re processing data. So, yes, I could absolutely see that happening over the next two or three years.