RPA adoption still in its infancy in Asia-Pacific

While there have been successful deployments of robotic process automation in mature markets, adoption of the technology is largely in its infancy across Asia-Pacific, says a regional Blue Prism executive

From hospitals to banks and financial institutions, adopters of robotic process automation (RPA) across Asia-Pacific (APAC) have reported improved productivity, freeing employees of mundane repetitive tasks so they can take on work that offers a higher return.

But adoption rates are not equal across the region, where markets are in different stages of maturity, according to Mike Cawsey, senior vice-president and general manager of Blue Prism Asia-Pacific, noting that Australia and Singapore are leading the way.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Cawsey offers insights on the state of adoption of RPA in APAC, what it takes to scale enterprise RPA deployments and how Blue Prism stands out in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Could you share your observations about RPA adoption across the region based on what you’re seeing in the market? There has been some analyst commentary over the past year on the challenges that companies still face when it comes scaling up their RPA implementations and that some companies still see RPA technology from a cost-saving rather than a transformation perspective.

Cawsey: Similar to other enterprise technologies, RPA adoption in APAC is behind the US and Europe. Nevertheless, adoption is definitely growing in the region, though it varies in scale across different countries. Australia and Singapore are leading the way in terms of maturity and scale of adoption. India is also very strong especially among large global enterprises that have established their operations and centres of excellence there.

“We look at our digital workers in terms of skills such as visual perception. We also have a digital exchange where developers across the world provide intelligent digital workforce capabilities that customers can take advantage of”
Mike Cawsey, Blue Prism Asia-Pacific

Other major markets like Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines also have corporations that have demonstrated strong adoption – although the implementations may sometimes be vanilla RPA rather than intelligent automation. It’s a maturing region and there are areas for growth and maturity.

Operational excellence, resilience, cost efficiency and error reduction continue to be major drivers of RPA adoption in the region. However, more mature customers which have successfully scaled up their digital workforce are looking at ways to move the needle, and it’s more around delivering a more connected customer experience and new differentiated products rather than cost efficiency. That said, my view is that RPA adoption in APAC is still very much in its infancy based on my experience across the region.

More mature organisations are now adopting intelligent RPA technology that uses machine learning for more complex business processes, going beyond automating manual functions. What is Blue Prism doing to help these customers, especially those in mature markets like Australia and Singapore, tap those opportunities?

Cawsey: As the market matures, organisations are looking at the possibilities in office automation, cognitive chatbots, machine learning and having humans in the loop.

From Blue Prism’s perspective, we look at our digital workers in terms of skills such as visual perception. We have enhanced our portfolio to add those skills to our digital workers so that they can become intelligent digital workers. We also have what we call a digital exchange, where we have developers across the world providing intelligent digital workforce capabilities that customers can take advantage of.

Based on your interactions with customers, who are the decision-makers driving conversations around RPA? Are they typically lines of business or IT teams? Do you see any differences between countries in that regard?

Cawsey: In more mature organisations, it’s usually business-led, but business and IT have to work together. Blue Prism as a product is enterprise grade – it’s secure, scalable, resilient and compliant, and organisations that are taking advantage of that have a vision made at the board level. IT has to be increasingly involved at the same time, because they’re providing the security, resilience and what needs to happen.

If your organisation is using RPA in a more tactical sense, you will face security and resilience challenges as you try to scale. But if it’s centrally controlled, you’re still giving the freedom for business users to work with digital workers in an interoperable way. They are the ones who can scale, but it has to be driven from the top.

What are some of the RPA implementation models you see across the region? Do organisations typically start with a proof-of-concept before they scale up the implementation, or do they start off with a centre of excellence, if they put their minds to it?

Cawsey: It varies across the region. Those that have the vision may put together a centre of excellence which involves the business and IT. If it’s purely led by IT, it tends to remain tactical. Because it’s the business that understands the process, IT needs to work together with the business to truly scale any RPA implementations. It all goes back to that vision from the senior level and that’s where we’re seeing the most success.

When companies identify processes that can be automated through RPA, what goes on during that decision-making process? How do they know if a process is suited for RPA or not?

“We help people understand that digital workers are not here to threaten them, but to assist them. That cultural understanding of RPA adoption is particularly important early on”
Mike Cawsey, Blue Prism Asia-Pacific

Cawsey: From my experience in business process management and then RPA, after many years, organisations have processes that have evolved over time. We have what’s called a robotic operating model, which we use to help organisations evaluate processes that are more likely to benefit from RPA.

It’s important for businesses when they are on the journey to see early success. From a cultural perspective, we help people understand that digital workers are not here to threaten them, but to assist them. So that cultural understanding of RPA adoption is particularly important early on. But the process doesn’t have to be the most business-critical; it can be a process that gives confidence and success. As they grow in confidence, they will automate more and more processes.

What are the governance and compliance considerations of companies that are implementing RPA, especially for financial institutions?

Cawsey: If you look at Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, we’re very strong in financial services, particularly through our enterprise features and strong focus on security. Being centrally controlled also makes us very resilient and allows IT within risk organisations to control processes and make sure they are secure. We’re in some of the major banks around the world and becoming a core platform for them. We wouldn’t be in that situation if we weren't offering a secure, stable platform.

You’ve mentioned governance and security, but what would be the key differentiators between Blue Prism and the likes of UiPath and Automation Anywhere?

Cawsey: When we first started in 2001, we had more of a tactical approach. Since then, we’ve completely changed our software to become enterprise-grade, and that’s the approach that we have taken and enhanced over time. Major organisations in the world are dealing with us from an enterprise platform perspective and see the future of a digital workforce and human workers with their existing systems to take care of current and future technologies. You can’t do that from a tactical approach, but you can with an enterprise approach.

In terms of our user interface, we’re not a desktop automation tool. We’re an RPA provider and we’re pushing the boundaries for intelligent transformation. With the different products we’ve added over time, we’re looking at scaling our customers faster, and giving them the tools and digital workers that work across multiple processes round the clock. There’s no need for people to take care of rules-based tasks, so they can be more productive.

What is your strategy for approaching customers in emerging versus developed markets in the region?

Cawsey: We and our core partners know what works. If implemented properly, organisations can scale very quickly, but it has to be adopted from the top and with the right methodology. Whether they are small or large organisations, there are certain principles that work, such as having the right sponsorship and cultural change.

Start your journey in RPA based on the learnings of others – that will definitely be my approach and that’s what we recommend to customers. We also connect customers in the same industry to help them understand nuances of what’s required and what’s not.

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