Interview with Mihir Shukla, CEO and co-founder of Automation Anywhere
Mihir Shukla is the co-founder and CEO of Automation Anywhere, the leader in Robotics Process Automation (RPA). Mihir is a visionary in the RPA category, having started the company over 14 years ago, and has been pioneering the concept of a digital workforce, and intelligent automation, ever since.
In January, Mihir Shukla was in Paris for the official launch of the Automation Anywhere French office, and Sia Partners had the chance to discuss AI, Machine Learning, the future of work, the RPA industry and Mihir’s vision for Automation Anywhere.
Let's talk about Automation Anywhere first.
For the background you started the company in 2003. How was the growth of the company over those 14 years?
I was lucky enough to be part of five other startups before Automation Anywhere [for context: E2Open, Kiva, ISN, Netscape, Infoseek, and Omnisky.] When I started this company, I wanted to take the next step and create a different platform that transforms the way we work.
The RPA industry is growing at an unprecedented rate due to the high levels of efficiency that can be achieved from intelligent automation. In fact, industry analysts have provided a range of forecasts, all in the multi-billion-dollar range and growing. Software bots enable enterprises to more fully digitize business operations, dramatically advance productivity, improve customer experiences and lower operating costs.
Since you are talking about the future already, I have noticed there seems to be some kind of concentration on the market of the RPA providers. I see a lot of alliances between editors, RPA, workflows, OCR and so on and so forth. Where do you see this trend going over the years? For example, SAP bought Contextor recently - is that something that you see continuing in that direction?
I think some of that will continue but it remains to be seen if it will be effective. Often large, enterprise software companies will introduce new technology, but ultimately customers will pick what they believe is best and they always want to integrate the best of the breed. So, it remains to be seen what form this takes.
Ultimately, I think there is a system of record where the data lives - SAP offers enterprise customers large systems of record - and there are other technologies out there that will get the work done by putting a process around it and executing it so that it is completed in an intelligent fashion. Organizations face two different challenges and I think we will continue to focus on the second and bigger challenge: how work gets done in an intelligent fashion across a wide range of industries. I think technologies like OCR and others that help get work done, will ultimately come together.
Is there any other technology besides automation that interests you?
I am always interested in new technologies.
Transitioning into machine learning and AI. RPA is already a very mature technology. Do you see a lot of interest from your clients to go towards more cognitive automation, data science, machine learning, NLP etc.?
Automation Anywhere built AI into our solutions from the beginning. Our RPA platform combines sophisticated RPA, AI and embedded analytic technologies to enable enterprises to digitize business operations, drive increased productivity, improve customers experience and lower operating costs.
Today, over 1,600 organizations use our AI-enabled technology to manage and automate business processes faster, with near-zero error rates, while dramatically reducing operating costs. We provide automation technology in over 90 countries to leading financial services, insurance, healthcare, technology, manufacturing, telecom and logistics organizations.
In your opinion, what is next in terms of technology to extend RPA further?
I anticipate there will be new RPA technologies introduced into the marketplace that will allow us to make even more intelligent decisions. Take for example fraud prevention: a decision model that will tell you "this transaction looks like it is fraud”. That is an area where we will see new technology introduced in the future.
You just mentioned the future digital labor. As you know, Sia Partners is pioneering the consulting 4.0 positioning through the augmented consultants. Which other industries do you think will be impacted by the augmented workforce? And what is the future of work going to look like?
I cannot imagine any industry that will not be impacted by this because this category impacts services and consulting industries that are beginning to automate certain parts of their human workforce. As mentioned earlier, we provide automation technology in over 90 countries to leading financial services, insurance, healthcare, technology, manufacturing, telecom and logistics organizations.
And what does the future of work look like? Take for instance, our Digital Workforce Platform that enables the augmented human enterprise, where humans and bots work together to create something greater than either could accomplish independently. Companies can use this technology to extend and enhance human capabilities to make employees far more productive. At the same time, RPA automation allows human workers to transfer lower-skilled tasks to machines so they can concentrate on the high-value, creative tasks – across all industries.
While RPA bots can automate repetitive, high volume tasks, Automation Anywhere’s cognitive Digital Workers can work side by side with human workers, performing multiple tasks in seconds. With Digital Workers, organizations can rapidly scale their automation initiatives to drive productivity, efficiency and growth. Unlike task-focused bots, Digital Workers can be trained to do highly-skilled tasks, taking on the persona of accounts payable people, digital payroll specialists, and digital recruiters.
Companies can use this technology to extend and enhance human capabilities
If I understand what you are saying, to reach the maximum potential of both the human and the robots, the best way of looking at it is to make them work together, hand in hand?
Yes, it is correct. I think the future work force is an augmented work force where humans and bots work side by side with bots doing what they do best and human doing things that only human beings can do.
Goldsmiths, University of London recently conducted research on the augmented human enterprise and surveyed 400 organizations across 3 continents. They found that across all of them the augmented enterprises were better in empowering people, people were happier, it had a better business benefit with better ROI.
The augmented enterprises were better in empowering people
Is there maybe, from a wider angle, a societal impact? Moving towards more value-added tasks and more creative tasks is not trivial and will certainly require a way of retraining workers?
Absolutely. I think it is incumbent upon the leaders of an organization to make sure that this reskilling process happens.
As for private leaders, we will have to retrain our workforce. Each organization works on so much domain knowledge, human to human relationships and trust and all of that is valuable, regardless of bots. So, by retraining the existing workforce you can keep the knowledge and the relationships intact and take the organization to the next level of productivity.
Governments also have a huge role to play to make sure this disruption and the power of it reaches every part of the globe. We all have a role to play.
Do you participate in any educational programs around RPA in universities or schools?
We are really committed to education and work with 140 universities worldwide. A lot of them offer RPA courses. We think today's workforce has to learn that before even looking for a job. Many office workers have a basic knowledge of computers, Excel or any other software and I think that, in the 5 to 10 years, everybody will have to know how to make a bot so that you can make a bot that assists you. Just like we use Alexa in our personal life as assistants, I think we will use bots at work, why wouldn't we? I think it is an assistant we have all been waiting for.
As the demand for RPA skills has increased exponentially, our company continues to expand Automation Anywhere University (AAU), a learning center where professionals can re-skill for a world evolving because of automation. AAU has trained more than 100,000 people across 140 countries, through more than 20 courses at 200+ educational institutions. The website receives more than 1,300 visitors each day, and over 8,000 new registrations each month.
Out of all the use cases that you have seen and all the bots that you know have been deployed, is there any that comes to your mind as a favorite or more interesting, fun or creative?
It would be like asking me if I have a favorite child! But I’ll attempt. I would divide them into three different categories: health, wealth and happiness because it is amazing to see how these technologies have an impact across every aspect of life.
So, if you look at the wealth side there are bots that process more than $30B dollars worth of transactions a day. On the health side, we are now looking at individualized medicine that is based on a specific gene. It would be enormously expensive to develop traditional solutions for this, and almost impossible. But if we had thousands of bots testing an individualized DNA combination to see which medical treatment would work better, we could advance medicine.
I think we are just scratching the surface of how the powerful combination between genome knowledge and bots will allow us to explore new exciting frontiers.
On the happiness side: Today, over 1,600 organizations use our technology to automate business and I’ve visited with more than 600 of them personally. I have also interacted with thousands of human workers who are working with bots to digitize business operations, freeing them up to innovate. I have not met a single person who would go back to doing their tasks manually. Deploying bots make what they do more meaningful and happier. I think ultimately that is the purpose of any technology: to make our lives more meaningful. I think that is what this is all about.
I have not met a single person who would go back to doing their tasks manually
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