Marie Myers is the CFO of UiPath, the fastest-growing and leading provider of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and AI software worldwide. She provides financial leadership that supports the company’s global mission to accelerate the adoption of automation across public and private sectors and businesses of all sizes. TFT’s Charley Brooke Barnett joined Marie to discuss RPA and its impact.
Charley: How would you describe RPA to someone who has never heard of it before?
Marie: I would describe it as software robots that mimic human actions. It’s software that you actually code very simply to mimic tasks you would perform either in a process or part of the responsibilities of your daily job. Don’t think about it like a classic robot, think about it like autonomous driving. It’s in the same vernacular as autonomous processing.
Charley: Within the finance sector, where do you think the most impact will be made by RPA in the near future?
Marie: This space has really been led through finance. It is one of the most frequent entry points for RPA, and the reason for that is the high degree of fragmentation, across everything from basic transactional processing all the way through to regulatory filings. Finance relies very much on the enterprise architecture of a company, which is in some cases decaying or getting old. It’s carried much of that burden because it’s had to keep up with a lot of regulatory changes, and in many cases, compliance has been dealt with manually. Finance has been one space where there hasn’t been a whole lot of transformation taking place, but there’s been plenty of regulatory and compliance pressure in the last two decades. The way that companies and banks have dealt with that is through people, who have picked up mundane work to overcompensate the process, with no automation. In the enterprise, what you find is that finance is often the entry point, and RPA can make its way in through finance functions.
Charley: How does RPA drive growth and transformation? What are the best use-cases you have seen in banking and finance?
Marie: If you look at what is at the top of the agenda for most CFOs right now, it’s: How do I bring costs down, and how do I enable the digital technologies that I’m living with? This is where RPA becomes an incredible sweet spot, because it gives you the opportunity to become a lot more efficient. At the same time, it gives you a chance to become the glue in your enterprise architecture. If you’re out there today and you have to make really large investments, RPA is an investment which is usually 20-30% the cost of an employee. It’s low-risk, high return and quick to implement. It’s very cost-effective and delivers incredible results.
In the enterprise, what you find is that finance is often the entry point, and RPA can make its way in through finance functions.
In finance, the areas where RPA has got its stronghold is in the transactional world. If you recall, over the last 20 years, the BPO sector is where a lot of labour moved offshore to do shared service functions. If you think about it, they were mostly highly educated people doing lots of manual three-way matching, invoice and validation. That work is highly repetitive, so robotics found its way into that area easily. I used to be the controller for HP, where I led our transformation in robotics, building several hundred software robots over the last few years. The transaction space was an obvious place to start, around cash application and accounts payable. They are the easy ones to automate.
The banking sectors have had a lot of compliance and regulatory pressure over the last 10 or so years. You think about credit applications: people fill out their application, then a bank has to go through and actually reconcile that data in order to process the application. That process has been handled very manually. A robot can go in, pick up and cross-reference the data. So, credit applications are one area for RPA.
Another one that is becoming very popular is in fraud detection. With pressure from the internet and cybersecurity, there’s a lot more focus in the banking space around fraud. Typically, it’s been cross-referencing again, so manual checks of data, people and bank account numbers. That’s where a robot is coming in as an enabler of fraud detection. Much of the filings are still done by people, so it’s another area that bots can transform. You can have error-free transactions, which is a tremendous financial gain. Another thing is the speed of the process, particularly the cash application process I managed and drove to be 6x faster.
There is an enormous connection between robotics and humans. Human minds can be utilised in the way they were designed, taking away manual and mundane work. The industrial revolution brought a lot of this to the table, where people moved to cities and started working in factories, which became large companies. Much of the work is routine (and a bit boring!)
RPA is an investment which is usually 20-30% the cost of an employee. It’s low-risk, high return and quick to implement.
Charley: What are the main risks of RPA adoption? How can these be mitigated?
Marie: The first one is the risk of getting it wrong the first time. I see that happen quite a lot with companies who start out and either try to automate a very difficult process or automate a process that is poorly implemented. Things like that can go wrong upfront and my advice, is first of all, start small with some areas where you’ll get some quick wins, to build up momentum. Secondly, really understand and document the process so it’s representative of your workflow. The last thing you want to do is put garbage in and get garbage out. If you automate a bad process, you’ll end up with a robot that won’t work very effectively. The same thing with a human: if you have a process that is being done differently between two different people, and you implement a bot that does it two different ways, it’s not going to be effective. That’s one of the biggest risks; I call these areas ‘opportunities for failure of implementation’.
The other one is that people underestimate the impact on people. Folks don’t fully appreciate that when you introduce robots into the workforce, it has a huge human impact. You really need to think about the cultural aspects of robotics process implementation and how you’re going to drive that cultural and digital transformation of your workforce. It doesn’t come naturally to understand how you work robots. It’s my aim for the year to write a book on the whole cultural side of robotic implementation.
Charley: What are the biggest concerns for your clients when it comes to not only Brexit, but also modernising?
Marie: Automation is a great opportunity for them, irrespective of what happens with Brexit, to streamline operations and make businesses more efficient. Making sure you’ve got sound operating efficiency in place is very prudent in this kind of environment. Jumping on the automation bandwagon would be my advice right now. In terms of modernising, people are struggling on how to get started. A lot of the conversations I have with customers focus around ‘Where do I start this?’ They’re wondering what part of the organisation to start in, and how to staff it. This is what can sometimes stall people. The other thing is that people may not have the skills in the workforce to be prepared to manage robotics process automation. Today, you need to be digitally literate. It’s so important; you cannot afford to have a workforce that doesn’t understand technology. There still are some big gaps out there in certain enterprises, where it’s a whole education process.
Human minds can be utilised in the way they were designed, taking away manual and mundane work.
Charley: How do you see the regulatory climate changing in the UK in light of RPA developments?
Marie: I think RPA can be a huge enabler for companies to deal with the complexities of regulation. We’ve seen the world of privacy really change, with GDPR and other countries following suit. I think robotics can help companies to become more compliant. My background is in compliance, where I spent the early years of my career. When I got into automation, I was one of the earliest adopters on the planet of enterprise RPA. I focused in on controls and governance, as I realised that robots themselves are a whole transition in your workforce and workflow. It’s a huge opportunity to improve the controls. Often in business, a lot of these break down because humans make mistakes. With robots, you can improve your controls environment. Depending on how the regulatory environment plays out around the world, having a robotics and automation strategy for a company is really prudent. It will prepare you to deal with the increased regulation you’re probably going to be faced with.