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Asia’s Enterprise Automation Plans Must Accelerate Post-COVID-19

7 mins read

Chris Loo, UiPath’s Managing Director for Southeast Asia, discusses the importance of RPA and software automation in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Qinthara Fasya, DigitalCFO Asia | 22 June 2021

Photo provided by UI Path

In every aspect of human existence, the COVID-19 pandemic is unparalleled. As the situation worsens, governments and communities must rely on their reservoirs of determination and fortitude to deal with the crisis and limit its effects. Simultaneously, the pandemic is driving structural changes in businesses and the workplace.

While it may be early to forecast the end of the pandemic in light of recent vaccination news, it will end eventually. When that happens, some of the pandemic’s behaviors and changes will linger, affecting both the Asian workforce and labor itself – from Malaysia to Vietnam. DigitalCFO Asia spoke with Chris Loo, UiPath’s Managing Director for Southeast Asia to learn more about how automation is taking on a new urgency in the context of business risk and resiliency.

In the past year, how do you think the pandemic has affected finance companies globally?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way financial organisations approach and engage with automation solutions in a number of ways. Firstly, the pandemic created a significant amount of stress on many companies and, in the short term at least, they turned to automation out of a need for survival. 

Most firms adopted RPA to automate processes that helped them adapt to the immediate environment. For example, many banks have implemented RPA and AI to handle basic support requests so humans can keep up with high call volumes, particularly surrounding surges in requests following government regulations on loans and mortgage payments etc during the height of the pandemic.

Financial services organisations are now embracing RPA in order to build resilience. As we emerge from the crisis, firms will look to automation as a way to mitigate the risks that future crises pose to the supply and productivity of human workers. By investing in automation technologies, businesses ensure that their core operations are supported even if employees are unable to work at full capacity, fostering greater resiliency by lowering dependencies on manual processes and paperwork.

How do you think these companies can emerge through automation?

When coronavirus passes, some behaviours and changes adopted during the pandemic will remain with us and affect both the workforce and work itself. Automation has been a major force in reshaping work since long before the pandemic; now, it’s taking on a new urgency in the context of business risk, resiliency and recovery. Firms who adopted RPA during the pandemic will emerge stronger, more resilient and more competitive. They will be able to do more with less and as such will be able to grow faster and adapt to change better. 

Importantly, employees themselves will have seen how RPA has benefitted them. According to UiPath’s 2021 Office Worker Survey, two-thirds of Singaporean respondents felt they were doing the same tasks repeatedly at work with inputting data, scheduling meetings and drafting emails top of their wish lists of tasks to be automated. Interestingly, 71% of Singaporean respondents wished parts of their job were automated.

Firms that use RPA to automate away repetitive, rules-based work, allowing employees to do more rewarding, value-added work will see morale improve and higher productivity.

How crucial is it for companies to tie in the adoption of automation into their processes in this day and age?

Automation is vital for companies if they want to compete in the 21st century. RPA allows anyone today to configure computer software, or a “robot” to emulate and integrate the actions of a human interacting within digital systems to execute a business process. RPA robots utilize the user interface, just like humans do, to capture data and manipulate applications. These robots interpret, trigger responses and communicate with other systems in order to perform a vast variety of repetitive tasks. Only substantially better: an RPA software robot never sleeps and makes zero mistakes.

RPA technology is non-intrusive – it can be placed ‘on top’ of existing legacy IT infrastructure without causing disruption. A by-product of this is greater efficiency and cost savings. Most importantly, though, RPA takes the robot out of the human. By automating repetitive, rules-based tasks, RPA allows employees to perform more value-added work. This has the added benefit of improving workplace morale and job satisfaction. Automation technologies such as RPA will help future-proof companies and allow them to be more adaptable not just for today, but tomorrow as well.

Why is it important for leaders to adapt to automation and how would it affect them in the long run? 

Leaders – from CEOs to CFOs – need to take the lead in driving efficiencies in an organisation. Technology should be front and centre of a leader’s strategy and the good news is that automation technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are well suited to helping them drive these efficiencies. 

There are many short-term benefits to RPA, including reduced costs, greater productivity and a happier workforce. Longer-term, companies simply become more agile and flexible, able to adapt quickly to rapid change and be more resilient to disruption.

In your opinion, how does automation insulate and lower the risks of work? 

The COVID-19 pandemic had exposed a number of risks and weaknesses for many firms, from suddenly dealing with a workforce that was working from home to serving a customer base whose habits had changed. Many firms turned to technology and digitisation to help them become more resilient, including leveraging automation technologies such as RPA to take on many tasks. While it was a difficult time, the upshot was that many of the firms that UiPath worked with over this period emerged stronger, more resilient and more agile.

For financial services firms in particular, another large risk is compliance and ensuring they adhere to the various local and international rules and regulations that exist in their industry. RPA reduces regulatory risk and fines by leveraging a digital workforce, bringing manual errors down to near-zero​, refocusing employee’s efforts on investigation and analysis​, all the while staying up to date as regulations change to keep pace with requirements.

What is UiPath and what does it focus on?

UiPath started in 2005 as a 10-people team based in Bucharest, led by Daniel Dines. In the beginning, we outsourced automation libraries and software to some of the world’s biggest companies. Today, we have over 40 offices around the world and work with many of the largest companies in the world, automating repetitive, rules-based tasks.

UiPath is reshaping how people work and has the vision to deliver the Fully Automated Enterprise™, one where companies use automation to unlock their greatest potential. UiPath offers an end-to-end platform for automation and is built to address the full lifecycle of automation and advance the next generation of automation, combining the leading Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solution with a full suite of capabilities that enable every organization to rapidly scale digital business operations.

What is “Low-code” automation and how does it benefit users?

This is an exciting space and the ability for citizen developers and even employees with limited coding experience to build their own automation apps will change the way employees perceive and embrace automation. 

UiPath Apps is a web-based, drag and drop business application studio that enables citizen developers to build and deploy enterprise grade applications that deliver automation solutions. Thanks to the low-code applications, the automation solutions are conceptualised, designed and ultimately built by the users themselves and so have much more relevance to their everyday working lives.

UiPath Apps is designed to be user-friendly, with drag-and-drop functionality that allows users to build their own automation that can be accessed from multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebook, mobile devices etc). Robots will be able to log in and extract data from multiple systems with or without an API, placing the power of digital transformation into the hands of the employees.

Share with me how UiPath leads the “automation first” era.

UiPath’s vision is to create a robot for every person, enabling employees throughout an organisation to both participate in the automation process and benefit from working alongside robots every day. We want to continue to lead the way to democratise automation throughout an organisation, creating millions of hours of digital capacity, driving fast productivity gains for every employee, and delivering much improved customer experiences, and higher job satisfaction and employee engagement.

We want to enable the benefits of a Fully Automated Enterprise to all companies. This is an organisation that is able to discover automation opportunities powered by AI and their employees, where they can then build automation quickly, from the simple to the advanced and then go on to manage, deploy, and optimise this automation at enterprise scale.

What does UiPath have to offer finance companies and CFOs?

RPA is industry agnostic, meaning that the technology can be (and is) used across all industries from Finance and Accounting to Aviation, Healthcare and Manufacturing. CFOs exist in all major companies in all industries and while their jobs will undoubtedly vary, they all have a few key things in common. UiPath uses AI-based computer vision to ensure our robots emulate the way humans actually work and so this has multiple applications for CFOs and financial services firms.

As with the rest of the C Suite, CFOs are striving to grow their business and go beyond managing cost and numbers and ensuring compliance. The modern CFO is increasingly looking to technology to help them do this, especially digital finance driven by RPA, AI and ML which will create an agile finance operation that proactively responds to stakeholders and enables the business to quickly evaluate and act on value propositions.

The CFO is key to leading and driving this, but also important are other finance leaders such as VPs of Finance and Accounting, as well as Digital Transformation Leaders such as the CTO, COO, and CIO.

In hindsight,

The COVID-19 pandemic made it critical for businesses to digitize in order to respond to rapidly changing conditions. People were suddenly compelled – often by law – to work from home, requiring systems that rely on employees working in the office to adapt. Many organizations discovered inefficiencies as a result of this; they realized how reliant on manual labor they were – such as data input, physical meetings, and so on – and that many of these jobs could be automated in the first place. As a result, by using technology like RPA to tackle a pressing problem, businesses have unwittingly strengthened their own long-term resilience and competitiveness.

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