UiPath: innovation in automation and the impact of COVID-19
Prior to joining UiPath, Chris Duddridge spent the past 20 years working within the HR, payroll and ERP software sales market. Chris has previously worked for Sage and Deltek, before joining UiPath a year and a half ago as RVP for enterprise sales and is now Area Vice President and Managing Director.
“What initially drew me to UiPath was its people and being a part of a new emerging technology sector which was growing faster than any other I’d ever experienced. It also helped that RPA and intelligent automation had become pervasive across every industry and at every level within the business from the board agenda to the subject matter experts. I started off leading our enterprise sales team gaining a very quick and valuable induction to what was driving the agenda for automation from some of our largest clients. I’m now very lucky to represent UiPath UK & Ireland across all business functions from our sales engagements with new clients, but also our existing account management, Pre-Sales, Customer Success, and Partner channels. I’m incredibly fortunate to have an amazing team, who obsess over our customers’ projects and objectives, which makes it a great deal easier for me when we work to amplify our approach across our marketing and PR channels,” says Duddridge.
“UiPath is very different to other companies,” comments Duddridge. “Just four short years ago, it was a Romanian start-up whose co-founders were driven by this vision of making work fun again. There were humble beginnings and this culture of staying humble, accepting feedback and seeking to improve, remaining obsessed with our customers’ success still permeates our present ethos. This vision of shaking up the workplace in order to free up employees from the mundane part of office work with the help of software robots and letting them focus on value-added work like analysis, creative activities, and strategic tasks producing revenue impact made UiPath the global successful company it is today. Dedicated to what we like to call accelerating human achievement, we focus on the whole narrative not just on the commercial gains. UiPath knew it was going to be disruptive from the get-go, and we maintained a steadfast commitment to democratising access to RPA and digital skills – through the free online training platform UiPath Academy, and the continuous investment into a 500,000-member strong global community of RPA developers. We were the first company to offer free download of its community edition product – software developers, schools and universities, NGOs, small companies have free access to work with our software robots. On one hand, we were able to garner valuable feedback and improve on our product so that it responds to the most diverse range of business cases, but we have also been creating the essential workforce to enable our customers to achieve a greater outcome with their automation journeys. And we paired this with a focus on creating a strong ecosystem of partners – an essential way of taking our end-to-end automation platform to customers and having it service their goal.”
Current trends within robotic process automation
“In market terms, RPA is the orchestration capabilities of digital assistants - software robots that help people perform their daily job on a case by case basis. Our focus during the last two-three years was to enable our robots to respond to increasingly complex processes and demands, embedding into our platform artificial intelligence, and machine learning algorithms, task and process mining, advanced analytics that allow the robots to learn and execute more. Little did we know we were actually priming our product for the number 1 trend Gartner predicted for 2020 – hyper automation. This is now top of mind for the entire industry, and it’s end-to-end approach. Rather than a one and done approach, organisations are looking for a true transformation for business strategies, which can be captured in four key pillars: digital transformation, enhancing employee experience, improving the customer service and reducing risk and increasing compliance” says Duddridge. “All these are even more fundamental for CEOs in the current climate while business models are reshaped by the global pandemic. With more people working from home than ever and unprecedented challenges in terms of supply and demand or customer grievances (think aviation or call centres here), relying on technology for remote on-boarding, or sorting huge backlogs of requests, or staying compliant takes centre stage.”
“As organisations grappled with their own specific challenges and disruptions whilst the pandemic unfolded, it quickly became clear that intelligent automation programmes facilitated faster decision-making, much needed agility and operational resilience to adjust to rapidly changing demands and pressures. Now, as businesses begin to stabilise relative to the earliest days, smart business leaders are reimagining operations with radical agility baked in, and automation at the forefront. They’ve also begun to realise that the decisions they take will shape many aspects of business and the future workplace, not just for the remainder of the pandemic – but for years to come.” added Jason Martindale, Vice President Sales at Symphony, a SYKES company – a long-time UiPath partner specialising in IA implementation and managed services.
The benefits and challenges of automation
“The benefits of automation are easy to sell,” contemplates Duddridge, “everything that can be automated, will be automated as long as it’s process led, rules driven and you deal with large volumes of data. Think of the many hours an employee spends copying and pasting data from one application to another or extracting information from one document and inputting it on an excel sheet for example. Think of the huge volumes of invoices a financial shared service centre needs to operate and how only a robot will pay the same attention to the 5000th invoice as to the first. Usually the challenges with implementing RPA are that someone has to deliver it, a subject matter expert has got to share their intelligence around how that process works dealing with every nuance that comes with it. Which leaves you with the reality that robots are very clever, but they do not replace cognitive skills. Humans still retain the ascendancy in every automation because they're either the subject matter experts that need to program the automation, or they are the part of the loop which need to train the robots to learn and continue to deliver value in that process. And so the real world challenges with delivering automation revolve around firstly having enough people to dedicate to delivering that journey; scaling up the RPA centre of excellence, the subject matter experts and the people that will lead the automation journeys forward within each organisation and ensuring what you're developing is actually delivering a return on investment and making sure that people invest heavily in the delivery.”
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Duddridge reiterates that the organisation is truly focused on helping solve real problems - not “selling potential”. “Recent events have kickstarted digital transformation journeys for many organisations, with remote working, increased demand, sudden burst in volumes pushing a lot of organisations to think about automation, which is something that UiPath is looking to help where it can to drive innovation for business continuity.”
The best strategy
With the benefits and challenges of adopting an ‘automation first’ mindset, Duddridge reflects on the industry and explains that the strategic approach for an effective adoption of automation has changed in recent times. “It used to be very varied in terms of how automation initiatives were created,” comments Duddridge. “An example of this is someone within the finance team deciding that vendor invoice management could be automated. That finance organisation could use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to retrieve the pertinent data from a document to break the back of 80% of its document ingestion and make its operations more agile. These kinds of organisations were our entry point into the market, but what we are now seeing are top down or bottom up strategies - sometimes both. For example, you will see CEOs of large banks talking about automation being a key pillar of their commitments, but you’ll also see citizen developers – regular employees – that are finding opportunities to make their work and the customer experience better. If people adopt that top down and bottom up approach it means that organisations will meet in the middle and always think about automation first.”
Innovations and technology implementations
When it comes to innovation and technology implementations within automation, Duddridge sees the biggest benefit that has evolved being “collaboration of intra technology companies. Think about anyone in the market that is perceived as market leaders, these leaders have acquired RPA skills within their business because automation is a key component of their platform. But what we've seen is that with our open and free community of technology partners we haven’t had to roll out 50 different proprietary bits of technology because we can leverage our relationship with partners such as Microsoft, Service Now, SAP and Salesforce who are open to work within a collaborative ecosystem to deliver really transformational customer outcomes.” Duddridge adds that “while perhaps with technological advancements within the automation industry cloud technology has been a key player for us, allowing us to stand up our infrastructure within AWS or Microsoft Azure in seconds, and while the advent of cloud is not new, how we leverage our relationships with cloud vendors is truly transformational for businesses. Most organisations are now looking for cloud ready technology that they can adopt quickly, knowing that you tick every security box, compliance box and regulatory box necessary.” Other strategic additions to automation Duddridge has seen in the last six months include intelligent document understanding, some of which are AI and machine learning enabled, as well as OCR, process discovery, process mining, business process management and RPA.
Post-COVID-19 and first steps for the industry
Reflecting on the industry since COVID-19, Duddridge has witnessed “across public and private sector clients in the UK and Ireland, innovation not only being an aspiration, but a necessity to find work arounds by enabling technology at speed, and we felt compelled to help them, playing our part in mitigating the devastating effects of the pandemic .” However, he believes that while it has accelerated the agenda it hasn’t changed anything about it, the technology remains the same. “The spirit of what we are trying to achieve in getting software robots to take on the mundane rules-based repetitive processes at speed and scale and allowing the employees to deliver value-added impactful work which will ultimately be transformative for organizations remains the same. I would say that at the moment everyone's still dealing with contingency planning and keeping the lights on, but actually post COVID-19 I think automation will remain the biggest topic for making sure that, should something like this were ever to happen again, that there's provisions either for contingencies or that actually part of the business that have become challenging to manage with a remote workforce are addressed on the long term.”
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