Guy Kirkwood is the Chief Evangelist for UiPath. Already the fastest-growing enterprise software firm of all time, their Robotics solutions are set apart from competitors due to their reliability, robustness, and versatility. Guy has overseen a period of massive growth internally within UiPath and this is matched by the growth of RPA worldwide, as more and more industries embrace these technologies. The Transformation Network spoke to Guy about how Local Government are harnessing Robotics and AI in order to make back-end operations more efficient, so workers can focus on front-line duties.
Watch the full interview here:
1) Where do you see RPA and AI evolving over the next few years?
If you look at the way that technology has developed since Blue Prism started in 2002, it started as a process-driven, task-oriented technology. At that time, it was described disparagingly as ‘Macros-on-steroids’. However, over the last two or three years, the skills built into the robots have become more “intelligent”, and I use that word advisedly because RPA still deals with the structured data, the rules-based activities that organisations want within their companies.
So, where do I see this going? Robots are learning new skills, so the AI elements that are being built into the platforms are allowing organisations to automate more of their processes. Why? Because they can deal with the semi and unstructured data. What that means is that organisations will build more robots across more of their operations. As an example of this happening today, Admiral Insurance, which is a UK-based insurance business has its headquarters in Cardiff in Wales, started 20 months ago with one UiPath Robot; now they have robots in every single one of their departments, with the exception of the canteen – I don’t think even we can automate that! Admiral has automation that covers the back-office corporate functions: finance & accounting, procurement, and HR; into the industry-specific processing functions like claims processing, first notice of loss, and into the customer service, customer experience areas with the attended robots. What this means is that there is no limit to where automation can spread within organisations. An interesting side note on this is that most organisations that go into automation go into it for the wrong reason. They go into it because they want to reduce headcount, they want to reduce cost, but what they find when they do it, is that the value of their people, the value of the human capital is actually much higher than they thought it was. What they’re doing is moving those people up the value-chain – because they can. So, ultimately I think we are now moving to a stage where everybody in business will have their own robot, to do what I lovingly call the ‘s***** crappy stuff’ that no one wants to do, that people have to do to their job, and an attended element to help them to do the stuff that they do want to do. We are actually doing a study at the moment with Forrester [which has now been published. To get your free copy, please visit: https://www.uipath.com/company/rpa-analyst-reports/forrester-employee-experience-rpa] which has proven a direct link between employee engagement, facilitated by RPA, and improved customer experience.
Ultimately, I think automation and AI will disappear. It won’t disappear because it’s not going to get used, it will disappear because will be used everywhere. Professor Andrew Ng of Stanford University has described AI as the new electricity and unless you’re an eco-mentalist, no-one cares how the electricity is generated as long as when you turn on the switch, the light comes on. This will be RPA and automation and AI within organisations, in the next five to ten years.
2) What are 3 common characteristics that you find among organisations that successfully deploy robotics projects?
UiPath’s go-to-market strategy is threefold: There is our community, the people who are actually building and running the robots. There are our partners, like T-Impact that are actually helping their clients to travel on the digital transformation journey. Then there’s the technology vendors, who want to bake their technology into our platform because we’re growing so fast.
This three-pronged approach gives us a very good insight as to the way the market is developing, and what we find is the most successful customers who are implementing automation, are making it a central part of their digital transformation journey; there’s a reason that Uber and Amazon have become verbs, no one wants to get Uber’ed. RPA is a really good first step because it’s relatively quick, it’s relatively cheap compared with big IT projects and the returns on investment are good.
As you move forward, and spread it throughout the organisation, firstly you need a Centre of Excellence, or a managed service so that those robots have been provided to you, either by your internal team or by a managed service provider, can be spread and used much more quickly.
Secondly, you need the organisation to have the support of – and from – IT. Time after time, those businesses which have seen RPA as a way to avoid or sidestep IT have had similar scalability and acceptance issues. You definitely need to include IT from day one.
And thirdly, if you think about it from a geography perspective, RPA isn’t necessarily a technology solution. What it is, is a change agent. It’s a way that organisations restructure themselves, using automation as opposed to people. We have fifty-five percent of the Global Fortune 500 companies as customers but it’s lumpy. It’s thirty-five percent in the US and UK, forty percent in France, fifty percent in Germany, and eighty percent in Japan. The reason for those differences are nothing to do with technology, but it’s the way that those societies are different and the changes that are taking place each country at a societal level that is actually dictating how much automation is being adopted, and how fast.
3) How do you see RPA and AI specifically impacting the Local Government sector?
Local Government is interesting because it is more variable and, I do not mean this pejoratively is more parochial in nature than central government which tends to be monolithic. In central government, once the decision is made to do anything, whether it is robotic process automation, customer relationship management or enterprise resource planning, it spreads quickly through the agencies and departments.
Local government organisations are different. In the example of shared services, local government organisations wanted to create their own shared services that they could sell it to others, but were not prepared to buy the same services from others. This is why in almost every case, the programmes failed. One of the main advantages of RPA is that councils and unitaries can manage to deploy and scale automation themselves at a much lower cost than setting up a shared service operation based on people. Local government bodies are now creating their own Centres of Excellence, or are buying an RPA managed service on a subscription model giving them incredible flexibility.
We’re working with Forrester to study employee engagement and the evidence proves that the main key indicator as to whether a person is happy in their job is whether they feel that the task they are doing is important to their organisation. In local government, many tasks are mechanistic. There is a lot of work that is citizen-centric, but workers are held back by old technology. Thanks to RPA, regardless of how old your technology is, you will unlock efficiencies and be able to spend more time engaging your citizens; your taxpayers.
4) What would you say to a local government organisation who is struggling to see the value in RPA and AI?
Robotic Process Automation is a good first step as it is quick to implement, relatively cheap to implement and provides great returns on investment. UiPath are working with many partner organisations which are helping local government to implement RPA. The smartest of those partner organisations are putting RPA into the digital transformation journey for these public sector bodies. All organisations across industry and around the world are transforming themselves to gain (or retain) market position; public sector bodies are no different.
RPA is not a complete solution, but it is a useful tool for your toolkit if you are a senior figure involved in the management and running of local or central governments. Using RPA effectively does not make staff redundant, but frees them to do more valuable work; work that they actually enjoy doing and work that leads to better citizen-centric services.
5) What would you say to people worried about job cuts as a result of RPA?
When you look at why organisations went into RPA, and you look at what organisations have done over the last two or three years (which is when we’ve seen a real acceleration in the adoption of RPA), every organisation goes into automation for the same reasons. Job cuts, cost reductions. And all of them are genuinely wrong! What actually happens is when you put automation into the organisation, the value of their people is actually much higher than they thought it was. The way I describe it is just because someone’s doing a monkey job, doesn’t mean they’re monkeys. So, the value of that person within the organisation and the happiness that they demonstrate within their job is increased as a direct result of putting in automation because it removes the mundane boring work, that they have to do in order to do their job.
I’ll give you a good example. The chief executive of a pan-European said, “Since we put in automation, the mood music of our business has changed. We have happier employees, and we now measure our service in terms of compliments rather than complaints.” That has nothing to do with technology. That is a difference in mindset. If you think back to the ‘firsts’: you think Internet-first, then mobile-first and then cloud-first thinking. We are now entering a world of automation-first. That should not be feared, that should be welcomed because it actually helps people be happier in what they do on a day-to-day basis.
6) What factors are driving more urgent adoption of RPA across certain sectors and territories?
Most people go into automation starting with their finance and accounting operation. The reason for that is there’s a fairly set way of doing Accounts Payable, and Accounts Receivable and Order to Cash and so on. Because that’s been built about by shared service and outsourcing companies and individually within organisations, through Lean Six Sigma over the last twenty to thirty years. It’s a really good place to start because generally it’s easily manageable.
When we look at adoption by geography, it varies because different countries have different needs; Japan is a really good example of this. In Japan, the population peaked in 2010, plus all the Baby Boomers are now retiring which means the amount of work that people do in Japan is becoming dangerous. The average Japanese worker works 60 hours a week. The Japanese government define dangerous levels of overwork as more than 106 hours a week. There is a word in Japanese called ‘karōshi’ which means to work oneself to death, and people do. There is no choice, the Japanese have to automate. Over the next five to ten years, every industrial and post-industrial nation around the world will come across the same problem. Automation is the way of not only increasing the efficiency enabling you to stay ahead, (or even stay level with your competitors), it’s also a way of improving the lives of your employees. It is very unusual that you come across technology that is able to do that, yet this is what RPA can do.