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RPA delivers RoIs faster than any other digital transformation process: Mihir Shukla, Automation Anywhere

RPA delivers RoIs faster than any other digital transformation process: Mihir Shukla, Automation Anywhere
Mihir Shukla

India is Automation Anywhere’s second largest market due to the presence of a larger number of technology engineering centers which deploy its process and operations automation tools. The San Jose, California headquartered RPA (robotic process automation) software firm will have close to 3,000 employees globally by the end of the year, of which 1,200 will be in Bengaluru at its two engineering centers. 

Founded in 2003 by Indian-origin entrepreneurs Rushabh Parmani, Ankur Kothari, Mihir Shukla and Neeti Mehta, the firm found itself in the spotlight last year when it raised $550 million in an outsized Series A funding round from SoftBank Vision Fund, Goldman Sachs and General Atlantic. The round valued the firm at $2.6 billion. The firm claims that it has deployed 1.5 million bots for its customers and expects to double that by the end of the year. In line with its commitment to its own solutions, the firm says that 10% of its own workforce will be bots in that timeframe.

In an exclusive interview with TechCircle, Shukla, who was in Bengaluru on Tuesday with the firm’s other founders, spoke about the RPA firm’s journey, how it has generated the fastest return on investment for its customers, its bot marketplace and why it thinks of itself as an Indian-heritage company. 

Edited excerpts:

Why do you say that you are an Indian-heritage company?

If you look at me, it’s obvious! It is what it is. I have spent 25 years of my career in the US, but that does not change my heritage. We had a large team here when we started and our R&D workforce here is still bigger than in the US. Today, we are a global company like any other large technology company. But we take pride in the way we started.

Automation Anywhere wasn’t really well recognised during the first decade of its operations. What were you were up to during those days?

If you look at the growth curve in the first 10 years, it is an exponential curve. The first part of the curve looks linear. But most people recognise you when you are in the hockey-stick growth phase of the curve, which is typical. When we reached the stage with a billion-dollar in valuation, that is when most of the world come to know we existed. Till then we were on the same path, but then we were not known. We have done only one thing - RPA, though it was not called RPA back then. Because of that journey, the quality of the customers we have and the size of deployment is significantly different than some of the others.

You mentioned that you work with 85% of the large firms in sectors such as finance, telecom and healthcare. You also said that you are growing 200% this year. What’s going to drive growth at this pace in the next few years?

For all of these large players, automation is a small piece as of now in the larger scheme of things. So if you have implemented 1,000 bots now, it will grow to 2,000, 10,000 and 50,000 in the near future. There is a lot more that can happen in these companies and will remain a large part of our growth. In addition to that, there is a large segment of mid-market companies, which will form a significant part of our growth. All of them are coming in now. The third part of the growth is global expansion. Some of the countries that are joining this revolution now have a lot more to offer.

So will return-on-investment (RoI) play a key role in going deeper with existing customers? How fast can you generate RoI?

Yes, the RoI is much faster than in any other digital transformation. The customers have the choice to get their own employees trained or take the help of a system integrator (SI). Pretty much all large enterprises work with some SIs. Often they do it in some combination. We have training programmes. We conduct botathons (hackathon for creating bots) for our customers by inviting 100 people to build bots according to their requirement as our software is easy to use. Sometimes in a four-hour botathon, people create hundreds of bots. It happens at new digital speeds rather than the traditional software pace. We have 800 plus partners that include most of them. In most of the large implementation projects, they provide the services, expertise and domain knowledge while we provide the software architecture piece. We have a go-to-market (GTM) strategy with all of them.

How do customers measure RoI?

Customers take a different path depending on their choice. There are customers who take just two or three processes or some will do 10 across multiple functions while some see RPA as a key digital transformation vehicle across the company. They will take it to large digital transformation projects. RoI is in terms of how much work is done, or cost-saving or on efficiency or error reduction. In some industries, error reduction gives you better returns than cost-saving like in healthcare. Eventually, in one or two years, they measure benefits differently. The pace of digital transformation also changes rapidly. For instance, you took 15 days for a mortgage loan, can you automate it to happen in 7 minutes on mobile phones. You change the whole market. It is not about cost saving anymore then. That is the power of any technology - how it fundamentally changes your business.  

Do you aim to become a plug-and-play platform like Shopify, where customers can do it themselves over the long term?

Any transformative technology company has to do three things: developers, IT and business. Take the case of a laptop. Developers can build on it, IT can manage it and businesses can use it. Only then can it create transformative value. If it is only for the developers, only a fraction of the world can use it. At all times, the platform has to support all three functions. That is our key distinction and hence our growth is faster, wider and deeper. So, we will make it self sufficient. But for large scale IT deployment, you need IT teams for real-world challenges like security or disaster recovery.

What will be the role of the bot marketplace in the next phase of growth for you?

That is where we can bring together thousands of domain-specific things. It is not a new concept. There are apps that we could never imagine that are there in app stores now. That is what the bot marketplace will do too. Similarly, there are processes that are unique to some domains or geographies. To bring all of them on a single platform so that everyone benefits is a huge part of our strategy. So our three-day developer event has nearly 6,000 people registered for it.

You have worked with multiple billion-dollar businesses. How do you see the technology transformation of the last 2-3 decades? 

One thing I see is that the world changes dramatically in 10 years. You can't imagine living in the world without these technologies anymore. Customers have taken to technology much faster. Enterprises are lagging. But these new technologies will ultimately change the lives of end-customers, whether it be banks or retailers.

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