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Organisations across the Asia-Pacific region, from healthcare providers to financial institutions, are increasingly investing in automation capabilities to not only automate manual processes but also build a digital workforce that can take on more complex tasks.
According to Gartner, the worldwide market for technology that enables hyperautomation will reach $596.6bn in 2022, up from $481.6bn in 2020.
The term hyperautomation was coined by Gartner in 2019 to describe the use of different automation capabilities, including robotic process automation (RPA), either separately or in tandem and augmented by AI and machine learning. It’s sometimes referred to as intelligent automation.
In an interview with Computer Weekly, Zakir Ahmed, senior vice-president and general manager of Kofax in Asia-Pacific and Japan, shares the company’s view of the market and how it is supporting organisations in their automation journey.
There are multiple players in the market for RPA and intelligent automation, and no two offerings are the same. How is Kofax addressing the needs of the market?
Ahmed: Kofax has been in the market for 30 years and we consider ourselves the pioneers and leaders in a couple of areas – number one being optical character recognition (OCR), which is really the pedigree of the company. There’s also document processing and a couple of other areas that we’ve developed or acquired over the years.
We’re a global company with employees, customers and partners in almost every major market. Out of the 25,000 customers that we have, I would say we focus primarily on those in a couple of industries, mainly banking and financial services, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, government, and more recently, logistics.
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From a product perspective – and we’ll get into the differentiation between RPA and intelligent automation – I would say the main focus of the organisation is around document processing. Our RPA capabilities came through our acquisition of a Scandinavian company about seven or eight years ago.
Organisations, more so than ever before, are challenged with remaining relevant while addressing compliance requirements and the needs of their employees, as well as collaborating with partners and customers. A lot of things have come into play and that’s why they need to have more automation in their business.
An intelligent automation platform will include tools to reduce manual business processes, but I think it’s important for us to distinguish between intelligent automation and RPA.
RPA is typically about automating repetitive tasks to bring efficiency in your organisation, but with intelligent automation, it’s about business process management, advanced analytics and insights that allow you to measure the impact of automation on your organisation. There’s also process discovery, which helps you to identify automation opportunities, so there are a number of things that go into an intelligent automation platform as far as Kofax is concerned.
That’s the view that we take when we go to market. We don’t necessarily consider RPA suppliers as our direct competitors because we have a whole platform that we go to market with as opposed to just an RPA service.
The delivery mechanism is also important. Like other companies that have been around for a while, our history has been around developing on-premise or perpetual software. Obviously, as you know, cloud is the predominant model of choice for customers today, so they can be up and running quickly and get real-time information to make real-time decisions.
We’ve made that cloud transition, but I wouldn't say we are 100% there. For the most part, we have a cloud service that we go to market with, and that allows us to bring value-added services to customers.
What’s the typical adoption journey for your customers in the Asia-Pacific region?
Ahmed: Organisations have always been talking about automation and digital transformation. What has really changed is that the lines of business are now driving these conversations, not IT. Before the pandemic, you would have huge digital transformation projects and IT would be trying to streamline processes or bring some operational excellence and efficiency to the business. But it was nice to have a project and it wasn’t something that was impacting business.
I think the shift that happened with automation after the pandemic is that some of the things we talked about are now being driven by the CEO, chief financial officer and chief operating officer. They are looking at automation to remain competitive and relevant, improve operational efficiency and reduce costs.
It’s also important for them to consolidate their technical debt and identify pain points. Many times, RPA can be the low-hanging fruit, but ultimately, what’s the business outcome they are looking to achieve? Is it cost reduction? Is it efficiency? Are you reducing headcount because the business hasn’t grown? We’ll break that down into business processes and identify areas where Kofax can help.
That said, Kofax has a lot of products, and while customers can use many of them, we don’t advise them to because we see that as “boiling the ocean” and trying to do too much. Let’s start with small wins.
Organisations also look at the appetite for change. Employees typically push back as they are used to doing things in a certain way, but new technology provides a level of transparency that people don’t like. Keeping employees engaged and trained while making sure they understand the value that automation brings is probably a good way to get over that hump.
Some organisations face challenges in scaling up their RPA projects. How can they overcome those challenges?
Ahmed: One of the ways they can overcome challenges in scaling an automation project is to measure their successes. I don’t think many organisations have measurable and quantifiable results or outcomes for those projects. So, scaling up, in our view, is a by-product of an organisation that can identify what they are solving right now through automation and how that’s going to bring about change in their organisation, whether it’s cost reduction, efficiency or headcount.
If they’re able to measure that in one or two small wins, then they will be able to scale because people will see the value and appreciate the benefits. Automation is a journey that evolves and changes over time. You need to have strict KPIs [key performance indicators] and that’s the only way to scale. Otherwise, it will be a very tough journey.
How is Kofax helping organisations move into intelligent automation after they’ve had some success with RPA?
Ahmed: The first thing that we talk to organisations about is document intelligence. There are a lot of structured and unstructured data that organisations need to extract information from and apply analytics to. Our advice to organisations is to start with those areas because that’s where the biggest pain points are.
Once they are able to get a good handle on document intelligence, the next step is to orchestrate digital workflows across users, systems and data. We call that process orchestration. The last one would be around connected systems, which is about bringing together all of your business-critical applications – whether they are enterprise applications or chatbots – across multiple platforms.
So, our recommendation is to look at document intelligence, move towards process orchestration, and then through connected systems, ultimately resulting in measurable returns-on-investment and efficiency.
Could you give me a sense of Kofax’s footprint in the Asia-Pacific region? Which markets are you more focused on?
Ahmed: We have a direct presence in many countries in the region and we also have 850 partners around the world, including the global systems integrators.
Our Asia-Pacific headquarters is in Singapore, where we have a team that serves the region. We have an office in Tokyo, which is autonomous because Japan has some unique requirements. We also have a fairly large presence in Sydney, which handles the Australia and New Zealand markets. In Southeast Asia, we’re in Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia.
In most other countries, we have satellite offices, each with a couple of individuals, and in markets where we don’t have employees, we work very closely with our partners. As with any US-based company, Asia-Pacific is not the biggest part of our business. The Americas and Europe, the Middle East and Africa are a little bit bigger than us.
But as far as our customer base is concerned, we have a very significant presence. We’ve got thousands of customers in the Asia-Pacific region, including countries where Kofax has no presence. Even in some places where we have no partner presence, we have customers using Kofax.
We have customers of all sizes, and our main focus has been in banking and financial services given our history and the nature of our products. But over the years, because of our mobile, analytics, RPA and document imaging offerings, we have customers in different industries.
Our document imaging service, for example, is used by customers in retail, manufacturing and government. Even small organisations can take advantage of our technology now, because it’s delivered through the cloud without the need for infrastructure or capital expenditure investments.