In this Leadership Insights video podcast interview, Amanda Razani speaks with Mihir Shukla, CEO of Automation Anywhere, about Imagine Austin 2023 and the roles of automation tools and AI in the enterprise.
Amanda Razani: Hello, I’m Amanda Razani with Digital CXO, and I’m excited to be here at Imagine Austin 2023. I am with Mihir Shukla. He is the founder and CEO of Automation Anywhere, and they’re hosting their largest event here in Austin this week. How are you doing?
Mihir Shukla: Doing good, I just got off delivering my keynote at the event.
Amanda Razani: Wonderful.
Mihir Shukla: We had 1,000 plus people, 1,000 plus customers in the audience and a very energizing atmosphere it was.
Amanda Razani: What was your keynote on; can you share with our audience?
Mihir Shukla: Of course, I shared in the keynote at a high level, what problem are we trying to solve. Automation and AI – everybody’s talking about it, and that makes everything faster, better, cheaper, a better customer experience. But I shared at the keynote that the larger problem that we are all trying to solve is the productivity crisis. We all experience it in different ways. We are getting pressure on the cost side, on the revenue side, everybody’s working harder. But the underlying problem is that we as a planet, we have less and less working age population. This is the first time in human history that we are experiencing this phenomena. As a result, we have a serious productivity crisis. Amanda, normally the economies grow with two drivers – the population increase and the productivity increase. But now with declining working age population, we have to almost double the productivity to drive the growth. So, one of the reasons why everybody’s talking about automation and AI is because automation and AI are key to driving increased productivity and helping solve the growth crisis our economies face.
Amanda Razani: You mentioned AI, and that is certainly a big topic here and everywhere. It seems like this technology, while it’s actually been around for years, it seems like it just came out this year and has advanced quite rapidly. So, what are your thoughts on AI and how it’s impacting the enterprise?
Mihir Shukla: You’re correct. The AI has been around for a while, but in last couple of years and especially last year with the introduction, last nine months I should say, the introduction of generative AI, now things are possible that weren’t possible just a year ago. Think of AI, generative AI, as a brain and automation as hands. So now with the brain and hands coming together, it is possible to automate processes and get work done in a way that we have never imagined before. Let me share an example, Amanda, let me take an example of a call center, something we can all relate to. Often we end up waiting 20 minutes on a call for a customer service rep to pick up the call. What is now possible, is a generative AI can receive a request through multiple channels, understand the intent of what is being asked, use automation to run that process, and then take the output, put a warm tone and get back to a customer right away. What used to take a 20-minute call can now happen in five seconds. This is transformative, this is a game changer. Now, this is a call center example, but you can do same with mortgage processing and health care claims and supply chain requests, and invoices. Our customers in a health care, for example, use this to summarize post visits for doctors and nurses. The uses of this technology are across every industry and they are very transformative.
Amanda Razani: So, it’s the introduction of this advanced AI that is really helping to advance the automation in any industry you say, and you said there’s over a 1,000 customers here at the event today. So, what are some of the key issues that you’re hearing from those at the event today – as it relates to either automation or digital transformation in general?
Mihir Shukla: I think a couple of things. I think one thing we are hearing from every customer is they are looking for a meaningful business transformation. We have about 32 customers who are going to speak on the stage during these two days and you will hear stories from all of them about how they’re creating an impact worth anywhere from $50 million to over a billion dollars. So, a meaningful impact to their business and an operating model as opposed to doing one project here or two projects there. So, they’re using it as a more strategic lever. They’re using it to impact four aspects of their business, which is rarely a technology comes across that can impact all four aspects. They’re using automation AI to impact revenue, reduce cost, meaningfully improve customer experience; we talked about 20 minutes to five seconds, and improved compliance and reduced risk. These are the four priorities any businesses have and a technology that can impact all four meaningfully.
Amanda Razani: For businesses that are just now trying to harness the AI technology or any digital transformation tool, what are some of these starting points that you can give them advice on?
Mihir Shukla: First of all, there are many low hanging fruits and often you can achieve return 3x to 5x return within a year, so it is one of those projects that does not require multi-year ROI justification. So in this environment it is easy to get an approval on it. I think a best place to start is to look at the size of the price. Understand what is possible; maybe it is possible to create a $100 million impact to the business, but then dividing that into various milestones, and the first milestone can be the first $10 million impact and operationalizing those things quickly. These proof points will bring belief in the rest of your organization and it’ll make the rest of the change management easier. There are areas where outcome can be within three months, like take the certain customer service example we talked about – it is best to get started on this journey.
Amanda Razani: The change management process can be challenging. And during this implementation phase, what are some of the roadblocks that some of your customers faced? Can you give some examples of how they achieved those roadblocks during this journey?
Mihir Shukla: Of course. We have learned that in order for this transformation to occur, you need a top-down sponsorship and bottom-up adoption, both are required. The top-down sponsorship will bring change across the organization or a department or a function, and it’ll make it clear to the organization that a change in how we operate is necessary, we cannot stay back in the old way of operating our business. In order to bring… But the bottom up is equally important. If you ask people to change, that is hard, but if they are the one leading the change, that is easier. So, often many of our projects become federated projects, where there is a central center of excellence, but different departments are running their own automation initiatives to transform themselves. That way of approach is, we found to be a very effective change management approach to change culture of the entire organization.
Amanda Razani: I know some people are a little bit concerned about some of the areas in AI – bias and hallucinations, and getting some regulations in place. What are your thoughts about the problems with AI and how we address those?
Mihir Shukla: Of course. As I spoke about it on this stage in the keynote, and there are more sessions on this subject, a very important topic for responsible AI. One of our key value offerings is providing guardrails, security and compliance around generative AI use. We are doing it in various ways. First of all, we are offering our customers to choose from multiple models – generative AI models – from the Google model, Amazon Bedrock model, OpenAI, Microsoft, Anthropic and others. So, a right model selection is a first important step. Then using those models in such a way that PII data is not shared with any of those models, so all of those guardrails are built in into Automation Anywhere. Also measuring the inputs and outputs, to make sure, as you mentioned, hallucinations, you’re not getting an output, anything that you don’t want. So measuring those outputs and ensuring that they’re accurate, is also those governance criteria are also built in into Automation Anywhere products. One more thing we offer is that you don’t have to be a data scientist, because we manage all of these models and manage interactions and prompt tuning, if you’ve heard, many of the listeners have heard about prompt engineering. With all of that in, you don’t need a data scientist to run all of this. Any developer or any citizen developer can manage all of this and deploy it in a responsible way, secure way, in various parts of their organization.
Amanda Razani: As this technology advances, and not just AI but other tools, where do you see the future of the enterprise in a year from today?
Mihir Shukla: That’s one of my favorite questions. I think we’re just getting started on this, and there is so much more to come. As I shared in the keynote, the future of generative AI is not just about generating content, but being able to learn new things and get work done. It is the most cutting edge application of generative AI that we made available to all of our customers. And one of the example I showed in the keynote is our model’s ability to just take spoken words and convert it into specific processes, create whatever bots, processes, code, needs to be created and execute. So, this is like a Star Trek world where you could talk to a computer and work gets done, you don’t have to write a program for it. This is the future of where generative AI and AI will take us in automation, allowing every single person to be a citizen developer because all of us can talk to a computer.
Amanda Razani: It has opened many doors and I know that’s another concern – maybe more toward the beginning – when AI was first coming on the scene majorly this year, was that it was going to take a lot of jobs, but what is your opinion on this?
Mihir Shukla: I think what we are seeing is our economy is going to get reconfigured, and in the end, most data that I’ve seen points to increasing numbers of jobs. For example, I’ll point out the most recent study by World Economic Forum that’s pointed out that about 10 million new jobs will be created, but eight million jobs will be reconfigured. In this case, net positive of two million new jobs. But it is a disruptive force that will force everybody to think about work differently.
Amanda Razani: Absolutely. Well, last question of the day. If there is one key point you’d like to leave with our audience today, what is that?
Mihir Shukla: I would suggest to watch many of the customer sessions. I mentioned about 32 customers who’s brands are well-known brands, that we can all relate to, are on the stage. We use all of their products and services in daily life. Often we don’t know what role automation plays behind the scene. So first of all, you’ll have a chance to see that and how you interact with these brands and the role Automation Anywhere plays with them. And it’ll give you many ideas about what is now possible that wasn’t possible before. Some of the examples that you see our customers using are not just about automating existing processes, but they are creating completely new processes, new reimagined operating models, products and services that did not exist before. They only exist because of automation and AI. Some exciting content in every session.
Amanda Razani: Absolutely. Well, I’m looking forward to seeing some more of the sessions today and tomorrow. I know there is a great speaker lineup, so enjoy the rest of the day and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Mihir Shukla: Thank you.