Automation is key to digital transformation

Automation will enable IT teams to focus on driving transformative projects instead of supporting tasks that can be automated, says UiPath CEO Daniel Dines

Automation is the only way for organisations to accelerate their digital transformation by freeing IT teams of repetitive tasks so that they can focus on driving transformative projects, according to UiPath’s CEO and co-founder, Daniel Dines.

Speaking at a virtual media roundtable this week, Dines said IT teams implementing new enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, for example, often cannot cope with the myriad other tasks going on in the business at the same time.

“Imagine if we are able to automate all these tasks, then we can free IT from countless hours of support and, at the same time, enable them to implement the new ERP without pressure and to do a proper job,” he said. “The alternative solution is to keep using people, which is insane.”

Dines was responding to a question from Computer Weekly on the tendency for organisations to approach robotic process automation (RPA) from a cost and efficiency perspective rather than a transformation play.

In presenting his contrarian view, Dines argued that throughout history, automation has always paved the way for industry transformation.

Take the textile industries in India and Japan, for example. While India was ahead of Japan at the start of the 20th century, Dines said India, with its powerful labour unions, was worried about losing jobs to new machinery that helped to automate textile production.

Japan, on the other hand, embraced automation, growing wages in its textile industry to become one of the top textile exporters in the world at the time. “Wages and job satisfaction had increased, while India didn’t progress at all in the textile industry,” he said.

“This is the story of every transformation – if you don’t bring automation into transformation, you are stuck with numerous projects in IT departments, which have mounting fears of projects ahead of them and not having enough resources,” he added.

Weighing in on the topic, Rick Harshman, UiPath’s newly minted senior vice-president and managing director for Asia-Pacific and Japan, said that in his experience of working with customers, automation was not seen as a way to do more with less.

“It’s about how to modernise, transform and refactor, and as part of that refactoring that goes on with these applications, how we can automate that,” said Harshman. “Whether it’s in financial services, healthcare, manufacturing or media, we’re seeing that time and again.”

The Asia-Pacific region and markets in its constituent countries have been growth engines for RPA in recent years, accounting for roughly 17% of the global market for RPA services, according to Forrester.

Particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic, firms large and small have shown interest in automation, a Forrester study found. However, some companies continue to face challenges and some region-specific obstacles along the path to maturity.

These include the perennial challenge of scaling up RPA implementations, with many organisations dipping their toes into automation for the first time but having yet to expand their RPA initiatives in spite of Covid-19.

Thai telco AIS is one exception. Currently in the second stage of its RPA programme, AIS has expanded its RPA deployment and is training citizen developers with hundreds of use cases in progress.

“RPA has made real differences in the lives of our employees, allowing them to reduce or eliminate repetitive, rules-based tasks and focus on more creative, innovative work,” said Arakin Rakchittapoke, head of novel engine execution team at AIS Thailand.

According to Forrester, most tenured RPA programmes show moderate levels of maturity, even as they grapple with the short supply of talent in Asia-Pacific. The shortage is particularly acute for technical-functional roles like business analysts and RPA operations staff.

Many RPA programmes in the region are also IT-led, ensuring RPA roll-outs are aligned with existing organisational standards for technology deployment, Forrester noted, adding that “collaboration between business and IT is still evolving”.

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