‘One Robot for Every Employee’ path turning real: Param & Raghu, UiPath

A successful digital transformation project without RPA isn’t possible with the maturity of AI and automation kicking in, say Param Kahlon and Raghunath Subramanian of UiPath.

param kahlon raghu subramanian uipath
UiPath

RPA is becoming the new black for organisations and their digital transformation journey.  The automation software for enterprises, RPA (Robotic Process Automation) allows configuration of computer software, or robot to emulate and integrate the actions of a human interacting within digital systems to execute a business process. The seven billion dollar valuation UiPath led by co-founder and CEO Daniel Dines - the world’s first bot billionaire is making rapid strides in global RPA market. ComputerWorld India interacted with Param Kahlon, Chief Product Officer, UiPath and Raghunath Subramanian, President  & CEO -UiPath, India on the new charter in world of AI and RPA. 

Edited Excerpts. 

What will truly keep you ahead of the competition in terms of product features as RPA itself is a relatively new concept? 

Param Kahlon: The stability to take the platform to adopt it, to get it in production very quickly, learn it and have access to a lot of skills that are able to do RPA, has differentiated us. We are making a lot of progress in investments to continue leading the market. For example, we are launching a product ‘Studio’ this fall for business analysts, wherein anybody with no knowledge of programming will be able to run automations for themselves. Once everybody else has got a very complex legacy stack and that's not as easy to consume, it's not easy to use. The number one reason the customers view us differently versus the competition is the simplicity to deploy RPA in an organisation.

How important is RPA to an organisation’s digital transformation path; can they skip RPA to become digital businesses? Are we in RPA 2.0? 

Param: RPA is like the operating system for digital transformation. Somebody can traverse the path without RPA but it will take too long in this age as businesses need to transform overnight at times. If it takes say three years for digital transformation, the chances by the time you get there, is that you are already too late because the market has leaped ahead. RPA helps you get there very quickly without need to rip-and-replace the existing infra. A successful digital transformation project without RPA is not possible in almost all cases. 

param kahlon chief product officer uipath UiPath

RPA is like the operating system for digital transformation. Somebody can traverse the path without RPA but it will take too long in this age as businesses need to transform overnight at times as This technology helps you get there very quickly without need to rip-and-replace the existing infra. Param Kahlon, Chief Product Officer, UiPath

Raghu Subramanian: We have come way ahead of RPA version 1.0 and probably we are in midst of 2.0 and 3.0. The industry has started talking on the marriage of RPA and AI, which is translating fast into reality. Many companies spoke on RPA might not exist, it's only AI. Artificial intelligence is not something new, RPA is new. AI has been there for last 70 odd years, but it wasn’t able to become mainstream and go to masses because it never had the supply chain to reach lot of systems and lot of people. RPA with automation provides that technology in the supply chain to reach the last mile of people and systems.

You’ve been a critical part of the UiPath management from 2016, as the company galloped from 1 million dollars not many years ago to 3 billion dollars in valuation. How’s been the journey and have the few roadblocks or apprehensions on RPA been ironed out ?

Raghu: UiPath touched 7 billion valuation few weeks ago! The journey has been immense, taking a cue what Param said, we had the technology, and while I joined the right moment, the team, CEO and all the folks, I've been working right from 2005 in over-engineering and creating a fantastic product. And the superior technology gave us an edge to the whole concept of culture that Daniel, UiPath CEO, has been inculcating.

Our core embodiment is humility, being transparent, giving respect to people, and being bold to be faster than others makes us very easy company to work for. We were always there for the customers that helped us along with this great technology to get us inroads in pre-industrialization era of RPA of 2015-2016 - when people thought of RPA as a hype. They were not even doing pilots, but very small POCs; and in 2017-2018, the whole technology has become more standardized. Most of the people have understood automation and they have to embrace RPA for a competitive advantage in whatever industry they operate in.

RPA road doesn’t have much roadblocks but the expectation from customers is increasing. Our value prop for customers in 2017, is different from our product features and its benefits today. We have to pre-empt the customer need in 2020 and 2021. Our product team, when I joined UiPath were globally 18 people and now the product engineering team alone is 400 plus workforce, that's the amount of investment and focus we are putting in.

Do you feel Artificial Intelligence term has been bastardized because even a company that’s implemented a chat bot thinks of being AI Company? What is definition of AI at UiPath or according to you as industry’s tech evangelist?

raghu subramanian uipath 3 UiPath

Most of the companies, rather, all the companies, expect knowledge sharing, best practices and handholding from us on RPA. They also expect us to evaluate enough skill set available for them within their organization and also the larger partner ecosystem.
Raghunath Subramanian, President & CEO -UiPath, India

Param: Yes. Because some people will call a calculator as AI as well, and it isn't. Our definition is that AI is skill that gives a robot the ability to do human like actions or human like behaviour. It can be a prediction or a decision you have to make, it could be how human eye can look at a computer screen and understand what’s on the screen without figuring out whether it's in a browser or a Windows machine or a VDI. Human eye doesn't care, to them it's just a checkbox. That level of tech sophistication and robot skill is AI to us, human like decision making, human like processing of visual either computer screen or document.  

AI is mostly included as part of RPA, but there are other parts of AI which don't have much RPA. For anybody to have a successful RPA, you have to have certain AI in it.

The industry at large is talking about RPA and AI impacting human jobs. Is the scare around loss of human jobs for real?

Raghu: RPA isn’t about replacing human beings as it will always augment what we call personal robotic assistant. The major challenge is the backlog work for organisations and RPA works like magic for them. We are creating the program of citizen services for - a robot for every person - and weren’t indicating the organisations to remove human workforce.

The CIO community have understood that we will not plonk a technology solution worth millions as a ‘rip n replace’ solution and they have understood RPA as best way to achieve the business goals faster in the digital transformation age.

Param Kahlon, UiPath

Many explore automation to cut the cost of employees which isn’t a right approach. For example- 1000 people doing X number of tasks for a company might need to increase the productivity by 500 times or 10,000 employees in a year. You might on-board a ratio of 1000 people to 2000 digital workforce. That’s how we make people understand that they might have to let off some employees in short term. With ATMs, people said the tellers will lose their jobs, but it gave them better augmented capability. 

Param: That’s true. For any major industrial transformation, there's always been a displacement of workers. When tractors were introduced into agriculture, people were scared but the reality is that tractors made the farmers’ life a lot better. Automation and RPA will have similar effect, as some people will get the spoilers but in whole it will drive more economic growth, more productivity for people. Some people will have to learn new skills and we ensure people get those skills to leverage them in their work. New skills will be needed with emergence of some emerging jobs and some older jobs will go away. 

Building and finding adequate skill sets in AI and RPA seems a long way away as these because these technologies slow on adoption curve by organisations compared to regular technologies like networking, security to name a few?

Raghu: Our Academic Alliance Program has a target of investing, training and on boarding one million students in UiPath, and transform them into RPA experts.  In India, the target is 5 lakh through tie-ups with multiple universities, multiple colleges. Everybody wants to know more about RPA and we give students the tools and technologies, free community bots to learn, and with structured process, they will come out successfully as experts of RPA.

Our number one consumption of the open source community and academy platform of UiPath comes from India as the country will continue to be dominant platform for automation as well, as we expect a lot of the skills needed to build the automation.

Raghunath Subramanian, UiPath

Many colleges in India have started setting up robotics process automation CoE (Centre of excellence), to train teachers and students.  We want to run the program across as many colleges across India with our teams tapping into smaller Indian cities in states of Madhya Pradesh, universities in Punjab. A big advantage is that there is no language barrier to learn UiPath RPA, which works fantastically well in the current situation of India. I am personally very passionate about giving back to the society.

Param: I agree with Raghu as India is a very vibrant economy with a much younger population which has lot of talent in India and they are eager to learn new skills of new world. Our number one consumption of the open source community and academy platform of UiPath comes from India. India will continue to be dominant platform for automation as well, as we expect a lot of the skills needed to build the automation from this country.

Who's your chief influencer at the customer end - CEO or CIO or LOBs – when they need robotics or RPA? Does CFO pop up in the buying cycle?   

Raghu: CFOs always play an integral role. For a lot of companies, our entry point for automation is always a financial domain that becomes a default first area of influence, and directly or indirectly it rolls over to the CFO. They are amazed about the potential of automation for the finance function and it cascades into other C-Suite including CIOs. CFO buy-in is naturally required to move forward, not just from the budgetary perspective, but being the executive sponsor of this program.

What about the obvious fear factor of security and compliance in RPA as everything is automated and machine-driven?

Param: It is definitely a top concern from the IT organization on what will happen if the robot goes wrong. When humans run into issues or problems they will go to their manager. The robots just keep processing so how to put governance, how to make sure robot doesn't steal somebody's credential, they do something on behalf of somebody else. They want a complete rehab, and we've built enough technology, enough products to address these questions. We treat a robot just as an employee as the robot gets its own credential, its audit process and there's governance process.

What are other most common expectations by CIOs and CTOs of organisations when the partner with UiPath? 

Raghu: Most of the companies, rather, all the companies, expect a lot of knowledge sharing, best practices and handholding from us on RPA - being new age technologies. While we spoke about the student community, they want us to evaluate enough skill set available for them within their organization and also the larger partner ecosystem. They don't want to get a consultant who will charge over the top of the consulting rates, they want us to influence and democratize RPA across various aspects. At our customer advisory board of CEOs and CIOs, they seek our handholding to help them scale from 50 bots to 100 to 500. We are the eyes and ears as we work with many customers to take the best practices and internally evangelize the technology. 

What about the all-important RoI and TCO from any investment in technology by any organisations across verticals? 

Param: Yes. A business owner want the product that they can sell as a successful business, and then start to quantify for that good decision to invest in our product. They want ease of use, and they don't want to partner with us that will cause a lot of pain for their peers, other stakeholders. They want people to love the technology, they want to use the technology, they want to feel happy with it, hence they drive engagement to get people involved in the success of the project.

It’s time to introduce RoR (Return on Robots).

Raghu: I like RoR jargon! We have come across RoI, because of the multiple implementations across the world which are totally convinced about getting their returns. UiPath RPA gives returns to organisations within one year, and in many projects, it is three to five months. The CIO community have understood that we will not plonk a technology solution worth millions as a ‘rip n replace’ solution and they have understood RPA as best way to achieve the business goals faster in the digital transformation age.

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