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Why integration and automation are two sides of the same coin

Workato’s regional leader explains why integration and automation are intertwined and how the company is addressing the Asia-Pacific market

For a while now, organisations have been approaching integration and automation separately, setting up teams with different capabilities and tools to integrate systems and automate processes.

But that should not be the case, according to Allan Teng, Workato’s managing director and founder for Asia-Pacific and Japan, who says automation and integration are in fact two sides of the same coin.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Teng explains Workato’s integration-led approach towards automation, why it makes sense for organisations, and how the company is tackling the Asia-Pacific market.

Can you tell us more about Workato and its heritage in the integration space?

Teng: Our founders have a very rich history in the integration space. They were the ones who started Tibco with products like the enterprise service bus. Fast-forward 30 years, and the biggest challenge with integration hasn’t changed. It’s still very technical and requires a huge undertaking. But what has changed is that employees now want things faster and easier, like they do with consumer apps.

Workato was started with the hypothesis that companies value the outcome of connecting data, processes and user experience. These are things that are intertwined and are not separate problems. Integration vendors may tell you that you have a data integration problem, while automation vendors may see the problem as a workflow and process issue.

Companies shouldn’t have to buy different tools to solve their data problems. These could be ETL [extract, transform, load], API [application programming interface] management or iPaaS [integration platform-as-a-service] tools. And on the automation side, there are BPM [business process management] and RPA [robotic process automation] tools.

A distinguished Gartner analyst who joined us recently notes that integration and automation are in fact two sides of the same coin. And if companies address them in different ways, they will always have a piecemeal approach. The world has changed, and we want to look at things in a holistic way, where you connect all your systems so that they are well integrated, and then use this connectivity to automate business process and for user experience purposes. That’s what we call the integration-led automation approach.

When we started the company, one of our first use cases was around Salesforce to QuickBooks integration. But what we realised was that because our technology was easy to use, customers started connecting different applications such as Trello and other components to automate their processes.

Now we have customers like Grab that are using Workato for integration and automation. Another customer is Gainsight, which started using Workato for API use cases and later replaced its ETL tool with our platform.

But don’t get me wrong, we also partner with RPA vendors like UiPath because they have done really well with automation. But the market has signalled that while automation is important, they also want more and that’s why more RPA vendors are going into the integration space through mergers and acquisitions.

But merging two companies doesn’t solve the problem. While it makes it easier to buy from a single source, companies time and time again have told us that they are not trying to look for a better RPA or integration tool.

We want to look at things in a holistic way, where you connect all your systems so that they are well integrated, and then use this connectivity to automate business process and for user experience purposes.
Allan Teng, Workato

The value proposition of Workato is that we are one platform for both integration and automation. It’s also easy to use – when companies implement Workato, they expect it to be done within a month, with the first use case going live within a week.

But it’s not just the speed in building and maintaining integrations. Many IT organisations are starting to realise that they have become the biggest bottlenecks in their business. For them to provide more business value, they have to shift from integrating systems and being a service provider, to becoming more of a strategy and empowerment team.

For example, if HR wants to do integration work, why can’t IT provide them with the tools to do it themselves? This was what happened at Scoot, the budget airline. Their HR was frustrated with IT, which needed nine months to integrate SaaS [software-as-a-service] applications like ServiceNow and Workday. With Workato, they could do it themselves in one to two months.

Finally, the most important thing is that Workato meets enterprise requirements and doesn’t circumvent IT. So, when Scoot bought Workato, their IT team was involved and did their evaluations around things like security.

Can you elaborate on the benefits of a holistic platform like Workato compared to an integration platform with RPA capabilities?

Teng: On paper, those platforms can do everything, but in practice it is really hard. The biggest challenge is with skills and resources. In the past, you needed different sets of tools and skills for integration and automation, which make teams less nimble and harder to scale.

On the flipside, with Workato, you don’t need to form different teams. In fact, most companies that choose Workato don’t start with a Workato team. They start with training everybody on Workato, including those whose jobs do not involve coding. They train people who are managing applications like Salesforce and Workday. This alleviates the need to bring in different groups of people for a project.

I can tell you why we are so confident in this race. We have partnerships with tertiary institutions where the professors teaching Workato in their courses are not even from the IT schools. One HR professor is teaching Workato so that HR students can become tech-enabled. If 18-year-old students from non-technical backgrounds can use Workato to solve problems, I don’t believe companies can’t do it and that’s why we’re so excited about this space.

What is the typical entry point for most of your customers in the APAC region?

Teng: Most companies start working with us in one area. Certis, for example, started using Workato as an SAP integration tool, so for the first couple of months, their CIO thought Workato was just about SAP integration. Then I had lunch with their CEO and showed them what we could do.

The entry point in this region is all over the place, to be honest. We get in wherever we can, but our strength has always been solving integration problems. For example, some of our customers have SAP systems that need to be integrated, while others want to have chatbots in Slack.

When we go to the market, we talk less about the technology and more about our value proposition – for example, what it means to be able to automate the sales process so you can achieve revenues faster and the technology behind that. We don’t really try to sell an integration or automation product. Most of the time we work with business teams to look at their objectives and how our technology fits in.

Could you give me a sense of your overall business in the region? How fast is the company growing and which industries are you more frequently engaged with? Are they mostly in the financial services industry?

Teng: Today we do very little business with financial services companies. We do a lot more in other industries because the biggest challenge with financial services firms is that they are slow to change their mindsets, even the most forward-looking ones. They are very heavily invested in legacy technology because they have to justify those investments.

We work with organisations that are under-served. Our strength today is in the technology space. Most of our customers are tech unicorns such as Gojek, Grab and Tokopedia. They are often the fastest adopters because they are not the kind of companies that will be afraid to say they made a wrong choice.

We also look at companies that have a public cloud mentality because you can’t deploy Workato on-premise or in a private cloud. It is a fully SaaS platform, which is unacceptable to some companies. But that could change in the next three to five years, because companies will start to realise that they will be beaten by cloud-native competitors that are completely changing the game.

We are also starting to see more traditional customers, like airlines, property developers and shipping companies, with modern CIOs who will choose Workato 98% of the time. But if they are trying to maximise their existing investments, then we won’t be able to get in until they start to realise that they’re moving too slowly.

What about telcos?

Teng: Our biggest challenge has historically been that we are only hosted in the US. We will have a Singapore datacentre in a couple of weeks. There was a telco where Workato won technology-wise, but there is one component, a local datacentre, which we don’t have. Their CIO told me that if we had a local datacentre, he would choose Workato every single time. The same goes for the public sector, but once we have our Singapore datacentre, it shouldn’t be an issue.

In the long term, do you think there will be less need for integration if business software suppliers start offering loosely coupled microservices of capabilities that can be bundled together to suit an organisation’s needs?

Teng: It’s easier said than done. With so many applications out there, it’s not possible for software providers to build point-to-point integrations with every application. If all we do is integration and we cannot connect to every application, no one can. Instead, software providers are using the Workato platform to do the integrations.

That’s also our fastest-growing business because many technology companies can’t do bespoke integrations for every enterprise customer beyond core integrations. Also, it’s hard for business users to understand what microservices are about. They care more about the process and tend to be more familiar with triggers and actions when doing integrations.

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