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Workato CEO calls for new automation mindset

Workato CEO Vijay Tella urges organisations to go beyond the ‘mechanistic glue’ of automating manual processes and embrace a new automation mindset that focuses on transforming their business

Since the first industrial revolution in the 18th century, automation has been a pivotal force in enhancing human productivity. This trend persists today with the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), but organisations must extend their focus beyond mere productivity gains and cost savings in driving their automation initiatives.

That was according to Vijay Tella, CEO of Workato and co-author of a book on the mindset of businesses that have successfully harnessed AI and automation.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Tella said organisations risk missing out on the full potential of AI if they confine automation to merely automating manual processes, noting that AI can enhance customer experiences and pave the way for innovative business models.

He called for organisations to embrace a new automation mindset, one that takes a “more holistic approach” to their business so that they can be smarter in getting things done, rather than doing things in a cheaper way.

Tella observed that the likes of Federal Express, Intel and Netflix are examples of companies that have this mindset. Drawing from his experience, he said these companies have not been afraid of breaking things so they can rebuild them better.

“But the difference now is with AI, low-code technologies and data platforms, you don’t need the resources of a FedEx or Netflix to do this type of transformation,” he said.

Still, automating manual tasks is often the initial focus in many automation initiatives, such as onboarding new employees where IT teams could build tools to automatically send out job offers or provision laptops and employee applications.

Tella said companies need to go beyond this “mechanistic glue”, and start thinking in terms of employee experience, for example. Using technologies that are “malleable and adaptable”, HR practitioners who are driving automation initiatives can reimagine the employee experience for their organisations, he added.

“When you can put the power of transformation in the hands of people who have the vision and ideas, it’s amazing. They don’t need to have technical skills – they just need the mindset of wanting to make a change. Employees are not task execution machines – they can be people with higher order power to transform how their company works.”

Tella said companies may find themselves at different maturity levels in their automation journey, progressing from automating single tasks to connecting workflows across applications, automating entire business processes, and implementing decisioning automation. These stages may not necessarily follow a linear progression.

The power of AI, in particular, is most evident in decisioning automation. For example, AI can assist farmers in deciding which crops to grow by analysing data such as crop yield and weather patterns. This data-driven decision-making leads to better outcomes by tapping into historical information.

Workato, a private company which provides an integration-led automation platform, had a “strong” third quarter this year, exceeding its growth targets led by its growing business in Asia-Pacific (APAC), according to Tella.

However, most of its growth came from new rather than existing Workato customers whose consumption of workflows has slowed down as they optimise their cloud workloads.

The company operates datacentres in Japan, Singapore and Sydney which are also being used for public sector deployments. “We open a datacentre whenever we reach a critical mass of reference customers and understanding of the market,” Tella said.

In early 2022, Workato brought on new leadership in the APAC region to grow its global footprint. Its international business now accounts for almost a third of its total revenue, up from less than 20% a year ago.

Like many technology suppliers in the past year, Workato has integrated generative AI capabilities into its platform, enabling customers to leverage large language models (LLMs), such as those from OpenAI, to create Workato recipes for automating processes.

Tella emphasised that the LLMs are trained on millions of workflows built on Workato without using customer-specific data. Additionally, governance processes and guardrails are in place to ensure that those creating recipes and running workflows have the necessary permissions, even when the LLMs are trained on private data.

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