Transforming the Global Workforce One Digital Worker at a Time – The Six Five Summit Session

Tune in for a replay of The Six Five Summit’s Automation AI ML Data Analytics Spotlight Keynote with Mihir Shukla, CEO & Co-Founder, Automation Anywhere.

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Daniel Newman: Mihir, we are back in 2022. It’s so good to have you once again at our Six Five Summit, how are you doing?

Mihir Shukla: Doing well, how are you? And glad to be here.

Daniel Newman: It’s so good to have you again. It’s one of these really interesting times, and tech is booming but the world is kind of teetering. We’re not sure what’s going to happen next, but the great thing is that we know that so many of the problems in the world that are going on are going to be solved by tech, and that’s what I want to spend some time talking with you about today. But yeah, it is really great to be here once again with you.

So I want to start a little bit with what’s going on with Automation Anywhere. Of course, just by the name alone, I don’t think anybody really has to think too hard about what it is you guys do, but you’re a really fast growth company, but you’re not a public company. So sometimes that means you’re not always going to be a household name. Give me and the audience just that quick what’s the elevator pitch these days in your space that you’re giving to people when they say, “Hey, what does Automation Anywhere do? What’s the company really focused on?”

Mihir Shukla: That’s a good question, Daniel. So Automation Anywhere is an enterprise software company, and we believe there is a better way to work. Daniel, there are about a billion knowledge workers on the planet, and all of us and all of the viewers here, many of them are in the knowledge work category, and about 20 to 70% of what we do can now be automated. Imagine across the entire billion knowledge worker population, if you are able to do 20 to 70% of the work, if you can do that much work more, create that much more capacity without adding any more employees, what would it do to you? What all things you can do?

And the way we do that is by offering our customers an industry’s only cloud native platform, software platform that includes technology like robotic process automation, AI machine learning analytics. And what our customers do is, they develop software robots, we call them digital coworkers. Often employees can create these digital coworkers themselves and offload, as I said, 20 to 80% work to your digital coworkers. And that’s the mission we have to reimagine work, and what drives us is to unleash the human potential by doing that, and that’s our passion.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, and I think that’s a really important point, Mihir, is when we talk about this particular topic, it’s always a little bit of a balance between how automation is going to enable greater productivity, remove the mundane from the work that we do. But it can often be conflated with automation means we’re trying to displace people, we’re trying to eliminate current roles and jobs. And I think you guys have always been very clear that’s not the case, but I sometimes think you got to reiterate that when you say something like “unleashing the human potential,” what you really mean is that a lot of these mundane and routine actions that people spend all day and companies hire them to do, are things that automation can replace.

And this takes me to my next topic; when you’re in an economy that’s changing, you’ve got some indicators saying, “We could be going into a recession,” but then you got a labor market that basically said, “There’s no help, there’s nobody to hire,” and companies are turning to tech to solve their problems. It’s really about we want to take those hires that we’re able to get, Mihir, and we want to put them in roles where they have more growth. They’re not just tapping the same button, clicking the same button on their screen over and over again, they’re up leveling. I mean, isn’t that what it’s really all about, is helping people to up level and helping companies therefore be more productive?

Mihir Shukla: That’s absolutely right, Daniel. Look, it always makes sense to use people in the place where people should be used. In my view, we weren’t put on the planet to do mundane work or move data from one screen to another, or type in an invoice order inside an application. Human beings are capable of doing a lot more. But what has changed in the last six months, is now we don’t have a choice. We can’t find enough people, and so it has become paramount that we use people where people should be used and push the work that can be done through automation and software robots, like ours, should be done through that.

We are also seeing significant inflation pressures in various industries, that’s another reason that increased productivity will be required and automation is a key driver for it. Daniel, I can tell you that in the last 15 plus years, I have never seen a macro climate where answer to almost every problem, automation is a key element to that solution, because we can’t find enough people anywhere on the planet. Also wanted to point out that COVID has made it clear to many of our customers that digital transformation is not optional. The kind of two and a half years that we all went through taught us that at a short notice, everybody was forced to work from home, and suddenly we realized that we all had to operate digitally. So combination of many of these elements have created an environment that has made automation a necessity.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I continue to lean into this tech our way out, it’s become a bit of my talking point, but kind of look at a lot of the world’s biggest challenges right now. Not all of them, but if you look at everything from the distribution of healthcare to the supply chain woes, we’ve recently had the baby formula issue, but we had a huge supply chain issue with obviously all of technology, automobiles, so many things, got a lot of attention during the pandemic. But tech is going to be this deflationary aspect that’s going to say, hey, how does a company better manage its supply chain to make sure that in every step of the way, whether it’s multiple options for sourcing, whether it’s determining the right time and destination and location of product to get into a manufacturing process, whether it’s service delivery, you’re going to need data, you’re going to need automation, you’re going to need AI and ML.

These are going to be what ends up solving. Or you look at something… And I’ll finish, I’m going to hand the floor to you, but even look at security, Mihir, I mean, you look at it right now, ransomware, security. The opportunity for automation and technology, AI and ML, huge to solve these problems.

Mihir Shukla: That’s absolutely right, Daniel. And some of them are much more relatively low hanging fruit than we might recognize. I’ll share an example of one of our large customers. They had 36 warehouses and 362,000 items, and before the supply chain worries, if one of their warehouses ran out of items, they would simply order more, because that was the easiest thing to do. Now that you can’t find enough items, they had to solve the problem differently. And what they realized is, it is possible that one warehouse has 10 items, another has zero, and the best thing to do would’ve been to move five items from one warehouse to the next. But how do you do that across 362,000 items? So they wrote a software bot that does that four times a day, and they saved $200 million in inventory cost. Now, imagine these are some of the low hanging fruits, but in hundreds of millions of dollars. What an innovative yet a very achievable way to solve some of the supply chain problems.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. And by the way we need both disruption, and also incrementalism, because of course over time, we got to look at everything from where do we build our factories? I think the chip shortage gave a lot of perspective, and you see companies like Intel saying, “Well, let’s repatriate some of our manufacturing here.” It’s not a geopolitical issue per se. I mean, there might be that, but it’s really more about, “Hey, if one country faced a pandemic and it’s more severe there than here, we need other options to continue the manufacturing of goods and services that basically make the world go round.” And right now, software and compute makes the world go round, literally.

Mihir Shukla: We definitely need more resiliency in our supply chain in our manufacturing and in our processes everywhere, don’t we?

Daniel Newman: Yeah, we absolutely do. But another thing we can do, and I’m noticing a little bit of a theme coming out of this, Mihir, but when it comes to talent, one of the opportunities is to basically take those that understand business processes best in an organization and turn them into a developer of sorts. And so we’ve heard a lot about low code and no code, and it’s been a bit of a boom, it’s been a topic of interest, and you’re seeing companies, including yours, that have put a lot of focus on this. But I also think it’s an opportunistic way to discover opportunities for intelligent automation inside the organization. Talk a little bit about how you are thinking about intelligent automation, low code and no code, and its role in democratizing automation for enterprise.

Mihir Shukla: I think that’s a very important question, Daniel. For me, the larger question is, how does everyone participate in an automation economy so that it is for everybody? And the way that we allow that for our customers to do is we have one of our products is called an RE. It is available to every knowledge worker, and it allows every knowledge worker to have all the benefits of robotic process automation and AI and more sophisticated technology, but none of the complexity of it. We should take an example of it. One of our customers is a bank, a 180 year old bank, and they wanted to transform themselves. So we put in the hands of 30,000 knowledge workers the capability of our platform.

So, when you walk into a bank and all of the knowledge workers have access to processes like open an account, close an account, more money, and various other processes. So when you are interacting with an agent in a bank, they are offloading certain work to their digital coworkers to get certain jobs done while they’re interacting with you.

Now, imagine the benefit. In this example, the entire company’s workforce is participating in an automation economy, many times they themselves created these processes, the agents are more engaged with the customer. You just created 20 to 30% more capacity across the board, and all of this is happening at a fraction of the speed and a fraction of the cost. This is the future of work, where every knowledge worker will work side by side with our digital coworkers and offload work to it and have a happier life.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I think we all love that. One of the things, Mihir, from the pandemic… You and I are entrepreneurs, and if you’ve ever been an entrepreneur, and if you’re out there listening to this, I think you all probably understand the 16 hour days or 18 hour days, you can justify them and rationalize them in your brain. But for employees during the pandemic of many companies, the idea of 16 and 18 hour days went from an unheard of to an almost normal because of that constantly being connected. And so even if it wasn’t on purpose, it was just, “Hey, my phone’s in front of me, I got a message from a coworker, I got an email. I’m in Slack, or I’m in Teams,” or whatever you’re running, and all of a sudden you found yourself, whether it was 16 direct hours, more or less around the clock, when your eyes were open, you were working.

And so as we go back to a higher level of mobility and we’re able to get out and get away from the office a little more and get back to doing normal things, you realize you can’t be as productive anymore. You can’t actually be as productive as you were when you were sitting at your desk all the time if you’re a knowledge worker or a digital worker. But this I think is a great opportunity for automation, because I would also say if you go back and look at your most productive moments, even as a knowledge worker, several of those hours are spent doing things, whether it was entering data into a CRM, whether it was writing up a report that could have been generated using some sort of ML that could have captured a conversation, highlight…

These are all things that can be done with technology that we’re still doing. So even without necessarily having to sacrifice this great productivity that we’ve experienced, automation, that digital worker, that bot next to you certainly has the opportunity to be an enabler for this level of productivity without necessarily the sacrifice that many of us have had to experience with these crazy hours.

Mihir Shukla: That’s absolutely right. And the idea that you can create them yourself. So now you have an assistant in a way in everybody’s job that you can offload certain work to. Daniel, what I saw was that every employee in the last two years and going forward is reimagining their relationship with the work. Of course, in terms of the remote and hybrid work, in terms of how they will now interact, how will they find a new work life balance, after experiencing the last two and half years of craziness. So you’re going to see significant workforce transformation and how everybody reimagines that relationship, and in that equation, what you’re going to observe in the next two years is a huge change of reimagining that relationship with digital coworkers, and that is a new model of how we will all rethink our work.

Daniel Newman: So just to be clear, though, when you say digital coworker, you are talking about a quote on quote “robot,” you’re talking about a software enabled bot that will be your digital coworker? And I’m only saying that because I think for some people out there that’s listening to this, to you this is the native language, that you’re talking every day, but for people that are out there, the idea is harmonious. I wrote a book called Human Machine, and the point is that the human machine shouldn’t be contentious, it should be all about the high tide rising all boats. And if you thematically go through this whole conversation, Mihir, it really is about that. It’s that we work too much, too hard. We do too many things that are not necessary in processing the best qualities that we have as humans. And all that does is it wipes out productivity, it makes workers disenfranchised, it ends up causing attrition, it causes bad customer experiences, it causes risks and security of data and privacy. And essentially AI automation, agile development, things like that, those are going to be the underpinnings to fix these problems.

Mihir Shukla: That’s absolutely right. So as you said, the relationship is not either or, it is together. You’re going to say a digital coworker or a software bot. “While you open an account, let me talk to the customer about what would they like to do with the account. And then while you move the money, let me try and figure out what are their other needs? What are the other life events happening in their life that I could assist them with?” So you are doing the human part, which only you can do, while software bots are doing the parts that they do better.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. It’s going to be solved by basically… How’d you start this? What’s the mission, you said? I’m not actually trying to promote, I just want to… Raising human…

Mihir Shukla: Unleashing the human potential.

Daniel Newman: Unleashing the human potential-

Mihir Shukla: People are capable of doing so much more and we are stuck doing robotic mundane jobs, part of it, that we could be liberated from.

Daniel Newman: And basically when you add the low code and you add in the agility, you add in AI, it goes from the earliest innings of automation that was really about the most mundane to really starts to up level, and up level, and up level what the automation can do so that the humans can do more and more and more important work. And I think that’s one of those things, it’s such a big opportunity. It requires quite a bit of market clarity, because the last thing you want to do is have all the folks that are doing these jobs feel like, “Oh, you’re just trying to get rid of us.”

No, we have a limited population, we’ve seen in the crunch right now. We’ve seen when you have not enough labor participation and very high workforce numbers, meaning very low unemployment. What ends up happening is, tech is the only answer, technology right now is the only answer. We can’t find people to do any of the work from both the low end, like you said, repetitive type of jobs, all the way to the highest end of the market. I think every company’s struggling.

Mihir Shukla: That’s absolutely right. And we are experiencing it. Every employee is saying, “I need help from the software bots or digital coworkers because I have more to do than I can possibly do.” So, it is a perfect time to leverage technology to enable us to solve our challenges.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. Mihir, I want to thank you so much for coming back to the Six Five Summit. I hope everybody out there is really listening to gain the full appreciation of the opportunity here, and basically for you, I hope you can continue to innovate, advance, challenge. This is an interesting space, lots of competition, and I’m guessing every day that competition pushes you to work harder, to innovate more, and to deliver better experiences for customers, and of course their users.

Mihir Shukla: Pleasure to be here, Daniel. I think if I would leave everyone with one thought: for all of us who are leaders, if in a current time you are not leveraging a technology like what Automation Anywhere has to offer, you are doing a disserviceo to the shareholders, because we know how many kids are there for the next 20 years. And so there are less number of people coming in the workforce than we would like, that’s knowable. We know that these challenges will get harder and harder, so time to do something about it is now.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. As Arvind Krishna said when he opened up this event, Mihir, he said, “Unless there’s an island out there somewhere that we don’t know about with a billion people, more or less, technology’s going to be the only way to solve these problems.” So, I think you guys are really drafting well off of each other, but thank you so much, Mihir, again. Can’t wait to have you back again soon.

Mihir Shukla: Thank you for having me.

Author Information

Daniel is the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise.

From the leading edge of AI to global technology policy, Daniel makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology investments. Daniel is a top 5 globally ranked industry analyst and his ideas are regularly cited or shared in television appearances by CNBC, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal and hundreds of other sites around the world.

A 7x Best-Selling Author including his most recent book “Human/Machine.” Daniel is also a Forbes and MarketWatch (Dow Jones) contributor.

An MBA and Former Graduate Adjunct Faculty, Daniel is an Austin Texas transplant after 40 years in Chicago. His speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.


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