Uday Sanghani: RPA Legend on “Blind Spots” in Automation Journey and Bots Becoming New Types of Workers

Uday Sanghani: RPA Legend on “Blind Spots” in Automation Journey and Bots Becoming New Types of Workers

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Today’s Thought Leaders’ blog series guest is Uday Sanghani, Global Digital Leader, Intelligent Automation & Emerging Technologies, Industry Influencer, and NASSCOM Council Committee Member. 

Uday Sanghani has led global portfolios at KPMG, EY, Accenture, and DELL, and it is only a small portion of his industry achievements. 

We have had an exceptional opportunity to discuss some fundamental aspects of digital transformation with him – from the roots of digitization and its impact in today’s and tomorrow’s business landscape, to the cultural nuances of spreading emerging technologies across the world.

”I believe in ideating and trying to ignite the team members into thinking differently, bringing in a very different perspective to look at the same repetitive task”.

You have an incredible background in the field of Innovations, AI, and Robotics combined with Operations & Technology Consulting expertise. Could you tell us more about what initially led to your interest in the topic of Automation & Emerging Technologies and what has sustained that interest?

Today’s working world is changing faster than ever before. Disruption is the new norm. The employee’s definition has changed with essentially five types of workers: full-time, contingent, remote, gig, and ‘The bot’. Customers and employees are seeking the same digital experience in their work that they have at home.

Automation is becoming an accepted part of work processes, with promises of efficiency and an enhanced focus on mission-oriented activities. As the speed of innovation accelerates, Emerging Technologies will continue to be a factor driving change in how people work. It can reduce costs and increase the value delivered by the worker to the organization as it improves the quality and speed of getting work done. It can provide an anytime/anywhere digital and customer experience at work. It can free time and resources to allow workers to focus on strategic, high touch activities.

Emerging technology can improve people’s lives in many ways. Technological advancements can help people complete tasks more efficiently, keep them safer and healthier, and protect the environment. That is the reason it got me excited in this sphere of work.

We need to continuously innovate in our work sphere and always need to ensure that we convert all rich ideas that we have into realizable products and solutions. As part of the entire ideation process, our task is to simplify, make every effort to reduce the number of steps, and the complexity of the job.

I’ve always been the advocate of the term RISE – Rich Ideas Superior Execution. That is my mantra. I believe in ideating and trying to ignite the team members into thinking differently, bringing in a very different perspective to look at the same repetitive task. This has helped me bring in some best practices into the way we execute the processes and build new offerings.

Once you are convinced of your product, the rest is articulating and storytelling, that’s where my consulting experience came into play.

”to effectively accelerate an enterprise-wide digital transformation, organizations should start by identifying and addressing inefficient processes, waste, and clutter”.

Do you remember when you first found out about RPA? When you presented your ideas on this new technology to the board for the first time, what was the reaction of the people who have never heard about RPA before?

In my career, I have done much work related to Mobilization of large scale Operations, Transition and Transformation, Business process excellence, Delivery excellence, and industrialization while leading large scale global Operations for the world’s best clients being associated with the world’s best organizations. I’ve been involved in various aspects of a business, end to end, making me an innovator, allowing me to look at things in a more structured way to be able to deliver higher performance without complexities, reduce all unwanted steps of the processes.

Being a practitioner of Lean and Six Sigma process improvement methods, my instincts drive me to look for overall transformation opportunities in an organization and to determine the individual process components of those digital transformation opportunities. Hence, it is vital to move the discussion towards a holistic digital transformation and not just how Automation can improve specific departments or functions of F&A , HR or SCM. To effectively accelerate an enterprise-wide digital transformation, organizations should start by identifying and addressing inefficient processes, waste, and clutter.

By being at the early stages at several different organizations, I saw firsthand how repetitive and labor-intensive day-to-day tasks could affect human workers – whether having to manually replicate processing a simple invoice or inputting data from one system to another. But the fundamental shift came when a Bot mimicked basic tasks like data entry — no engineer needed. 

I saw a simple bot was capable of delivering the results at one-third of the time that humans did, with no fatal error, no level of fatigue, high level of confidence, and accuracy at the shortest possible time. That was phenomenal. I was amazed and realized that automation opportunities are limitless as a bot can sit on the surface of any process, mission-critical, medium, or low complexity. It allowed humans to do a lot more advanced strategic thinking and leave the very transactional data entry, mundane, low-end tasks for the bot to do. RPA showed a better way to use technology to eliminate many of these labor-intensive tasks while increasing productivity and efficiency — and at the same time liberating employees from their more mundane, manual processes.

Forward-thinking executives were willing to dip their feet into trying RPA with a pilot automation project. However, because the scale and scope of a POC are often small, they also want to know where and how to get a bigger return on investment (ROI).

I thought this was going to change the landscape of the future.

”some clients said: “Ok, you can run the bot for 6 months or 1 year at your end, but after that period, can you move the bot over to us so that it becomes our intellectual property?” which could potentially kill business for us”.

What was it like to be one of the first evangelists of RPA before 2015 when few people considered it the way it is considered now? What were some of the obstacles you faced?

My role initially was to evangelize Robotic Process Automation (RPA) across Enabling Services and Client Services. The RPA maturity range varied from “we’re just gathering more knowledge of RPA” to “we have automated hundreds of hours and transformed processes .” RPA can be scaled at an enterprise-level like building with Lego blocks, with each meaningful RPA foundational block fulfilling particular needs, independent of other RPA capabilities, and capable of being combined at a later stage.

However, to reach larger automation goals, it is critical to have an overarching RPA strategy. An organization can implement Automation in as little as three months. At the enterprise level, the implementation duration may be relatively longer but is often much shorter than a traditional information technology (IT) deployment. The earlier generation of RPA was capable of automating structured data, with a pre-defined set of rules. But with the advancements and easy integration of Machine Learning- SPA bots serve as an alternate for RPA. SPA (Smart Process Automation), in a nutshell, allows RPA bots to benefit from the complete automation sphere’s abilities- including Artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, and more.

Customers new to RPA are excited about the road to Automation but may be unclear about ‘blind spots’ and ‘what to expect at the next turn’ at the beginning of their automation journey.

  • The first was related to the security of the Bots, once implemented on the process. Security and governance are also among the most common pushbacks from the IT team to business departments when the discussion of RPA initially comes up. Increasing cybercrime leads bad actors to inject false information into the stream of data to make the algorithm behave a certain way, or draw conclusions that could do reputational damage or open the company up to liability.
  • The second was on introducing the Bot, the guarantee that no outcome will go wrong?
  • The third was to do with any kind of compromise of the data, and the way the bot function in collaboration with the human – the compliance and hygiene factors, the governance process?
  • Clients started negotiating rates. The clients would say, “Ok, we are going through the contract, and you are charging us, let us say, XYZ dollars per transaction, for an FTE. Now, if you have a bot replacing this FTE, are you going to reduce the cost and transfer the benefit to us?” Monetizing the Bot development work, initially became difficult.
  • Some clients said: “Ok, you can run the bot for 6 months or 1 year at your end, but after that period, can you move the bot over to us so that it becomes our intellectual property?” which could potentially kill business for us.
  • The pricing, especially, was one of the biggest obstacles and concerns, as the US $ 7K to 8K for a license was cost-prohibitive, especially in the Asia Pacific, more so South Asia regions as labor is very cheap in this part of the world. Clients were not sure about the pros and cons of technology and if it was long-lasting technology.

While they were utterly amazed by the results, all these things were entirely new at that time. And there was constant hassle between IT and the business about who has to own the bots. Ideally, there should be co-ownership between the IT and Business departments and, possibly, a strategic partnership with a third-party provider. It is natural that everyone gets excited and charged up about RPA, but it is also essential to drive that excitement forward in one direction.

Besides, RPA is not the only question on their minds. Customers also asked me about AI, ML, and wanted to understand how, specifically, we can solve their business needs.

”I believe business executives should start learning and understand this technology the way they know PowerPoint, Excel, nowadays”.

Large companies refer to Robotics and Artificial Intelligence as industries that require people with a different skill set that is difficult to find. What could you say about it? Are outstanding AI and RPA talents really in high demand on the market?

Everyone agrees that Automation is happening and the routine jobs are already at stake. In this era of Automation, the best way to ‘SECURE’ a job, whether freshers or experienced, is to wholeheartedly embrace Automation. While most engineers gain basic knowledge of Automation while studying, very few get the opportunity to witness Automation systems. After that even fewer lucky ones get the chance to ‘REALLY’ work on automation systems

Today, there are quite a few RPA WEM (Web Engagement Management) platforms. People are now slowly moving to a low-code or no-code world. Many of us expect that everything will soon become a “drag and drop” system, and it will be possible to provide anyone with the most basic and simple set of instructions for him/her to get a bot created. It is different than it was 4 or 5 years ago. Many developers know Java or .net and are gradually moving to acquire knowledge in WEM platforms. But if a person wants better career perspectives, he/she needs to understand this platform inside out, as there are so many techniques that you need to incorporate while working on the asset. You need to get to the core of that platform to be able to do a good job, and you need to get accredited and certified on that particular platform. I have got a good amount of credentials and a body of work behind me to confidently say that an accredited developer can start developing for a very complicated or machine critical or enterprise-wide projects and succeed.

And RPA WEM platforms make it easier for even business executives to create a bot. I believe business executives should start learning and understand this technology the way they know PowerPoint, Excel, nowadays. So, in a couple of years, it will be no surprise if an employer asks you if you can create a basic bot to assist you in your work, as it’s going to be an integral part of your job. When it comes to cognitive solutions and AI, you need to learn Python, understand the coding language., understand how recommendation engines work. Specialists will be in demand as they would be able to create an engine that could give recommendations to his/her boss to make better decisions.

Fortunately, an organization can still begin to realize the benefits of RPA and AI on processes that fit the automation criteria while also optimizing inefficient processes across the entire organization. One needs the right analysts, architects, and developers to enable successful implementation. Ensuring a successful and sustainable automation journey goes beyond knowing which processes to automate. Companies that start with clear goals and well-defined metrics combined with effective governance are better prepared to scale their practice.

”AI will replace “repetitive” jobs — those tasks that can be automated like robots are doing in factories. It will also potentially replace many “white-collar” functions in accounting, healthcare, marketing, law, hospitality, and other areas”.

RPA evangelists say that as RPA is dealing only with repetitive tasks, people may feel safe about their jobs as RPA does not replace but add value to the existing positions. AI is a more sophisticated technology that, as many believe, may really replace people’s jobs. Do you think that in 30-50 years most of the jobs would be replaced by AI? 

Lee, a pioneer in artificial intelligence, predicted that artificial intelligence would automate and potentially eliminate 40 percent of jobs within 15 years. AI will replace “repetitive” jobs — those tasks that can be automated like robots are doing in factories. It will also potentially replace many “white-collar” functions in accounting, healthcare, marketing, law, hospitality, and other areas.

Artificial intelligence is poised to eliminate millions of current jobs and create millions of new ones — some of which haven’t been invented yet. The consensus among many experts is that a number of professions will be totally automated in the next five years, somewhat disconcertingly broad category titled “Any Tasks That Can Be Learned.”

 In AI, the machine is trained by being fed large amounts of data. If those data sets underrepresent or overrepresent certain groups, or are based on skewed historical data or societal norms, then, the results will be biased. With the speed at which machines learn, that bias propagates and amplifies exponentially.

No question, AI and Automation will continue to expand their roles in corporations worldwide and replace workforce, transforming how organizations in numerous public and private entities assess risk, vet employees, and determine propensities that could have a significant impact on human lives…

Follow the link to read the 2nd part of the insightful interview with Uday Sanghani!

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