As businesses continue their drive towards digital transformation, it has become increasingly vital for them to embrace new tools, tactics, and technologies. One of the fastest growing segments in enterprise software is Robotic Process Automation. In fact, a survey from Futurum Research suggests that 95% of organizations anticipate enterprise-wide RPA implementations within the next three years.
But how does an organization prepare for RPA? What necessary mindset, organizational structure, and culture does a company need to cultivate in order to successfully embrace this emerging technology?
Our guest for today shares her insights on how Robotic Process Automation can enable digital transformation. She lays down the facts and disproves misconceptions around RPA, discusses the current challenges associated with its adoption, and shares some advice on how organizations can develop a culture of automation.
Kevin Montalbo: All right. Joining us all the way from Australia is TORO Cloud CEO and founder David Brown. Hi, David! How are you doing?
David Brown: Good morning, Kevin. I’m well, thanks!
KM: Our guest is one of the founding partners and a Lead Analyst at Futurum Research, an independent research, analysis, and advisory firm. She’s also the CEO and Founder of V3 Broadsuite [V3B], and the President of the Broadsuite Media Group [BMG].
A serial entrepreneur with a technology-centric focus, she has worked with some of the world’s largest brands to help them embrace disruption and the reality of the connected customer, and to successfully understand and navigate the process of Digital Transformation (DX).
She has been recognized as an influential expert on Hybrid Cloud, Digital Transformation, the Future of Work, Internet of Things, Cloud, and Big Data. She was also recognized for her expertise as one of the top influencers in B2B Marketing, and is a regular on the conference circuit.
She joins us today for a round of Cocktails. Ladies and gentlemen, Shelly Kramer. Hi Shelly! Great to have you on the podcast!
Shelly Kramer: Hey, hi! It’s great to be here. And there’s nothing worse than suffering through the reading of your way-too-long bio.
KM: No, it’s a fantastic intro and it tells us of course who you are and well, you know, it’s you. It’s what makes you, you. Okay, so we wanna dive right into the questions. But before we talk about the topic of this podcast, which is robotic process automation, can you tell us what led you to start Futurum Research? What was your goal in founding it and how does your team come up with your insights, reports, and predictions?
SK: So, I’m a marketing brand strategist and started my marketing consulting agency 20-plus years ago. And I have a partner in that business and we also have a media business. That’s the sister company. And we started Futurum Research about six years ago because we were very focused in the digital transformation space and we’ve actually been working with clients, helping them digitally transform before the buzzword “digital transformation” was coined.
So, we’ve been elbows deep in actually navigating digital transformation with our clients for a decade or more. And we saw that there was a dearth of research and analsis firms focusing solely on digital transformation. And so that’s what we wanted to do and to bring our expertise and, you know, there’s of course the Gartners and the Forresters and the IDCs of the world.
And our small little research company has very much flourished in the last five or six years. And our clients today are pretty much all of the players in big tech. And so if you can think of a big technology company, we’re working with them. So, you know, and as it relates to how we come up with what we do, we have our fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in the technology industry across every industry, every vertical. We’re very, very familiar with all of the different technology out there, as well as what’s on there, what’s now, and what’s next.
And you know, we do original research. We work on projects with our many technology clients on specific topics that they want insights on. And so we might do original research for them. And we do a lot of writing of articles and market insight reports as well as doing a ton of webcasts and podcasts, interviewing, talking with industry leaders, talking with our own team about what we see happening in the industry. So, we don’t really come up with stuff. We just cover the industry.
DB: Yeah. And you actually, you also produced that Digital Transformation Index as an annual publication.
SK: We did.
DB: And the latest one, which is the 2020 edition, obviously would have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. In fact, I was reading in that publication that you actually had to update it during the publication, because it all occurred simultaneously with the publication of that report.
One of the key statistics that jumped out to me was that 88% of the survey on the mindset regarding technology business processes had changed as a result of the pandemic. Is that the most significant change you saw between those annual reports? That mindset has totally changed something, “We have to do something and we need to do it now” as a plan for the future? Was it like, “Okay, let’s execute now”?
SK: Yeah. You know, we’ve talked about this a lot in the industry in general. And I think that, you know, even when we were just a few months into the pandemic, we started hearing the term “two years worth of transformation in a handful of months time.” And as overused as that phrase became, that truly is what happened. And, you know, not only did we find this in our own research for our Digital Transformation Index.
We’ve done quite a bunch of research with a number of brands during the course of the last year. We did a really extensive research study for SAS on customer experience and it’s called “Experience 2030, The Future of Customer Experience is Now.” And we interviewed for that piece of original research. We interviewed 4,000 people: 2,000 from the brand side, 2000 from the consumer side, just getting their thoughts on their expectations, their concerns, privacy issues, loyalty, just all different things relating to customer experience, customer service, what they expected, what they expected in the future and what SAS did.
And that research came out before the pandemic happened. And then what SAS did, like many brands, is they went in after we were already navigating the pandemic and they did an updated pulse survey to kind of see what had changed. And again, that was one of a handful of clients that we had do the exact same thing. You know, we have data here that tells us what they were thinking, but that doesn’t really do you any good when you’re over here in the middle of a pandemic.
So, it really is important to know what has changed. And so what we found is that, they realize that they can no longer wait – whether it’s migrating to the cloud, getting rid of legacy systems, whether it’s embracing automation, whether it’s understanding the importance of video conferencing and unified communication systems throughout the organization and also the reality of dealing with a distributed workforce and the infrastructure that’s needed and the security that’s needed and all the things that changed as a result of a pandemic. So, what we found is that across the board, people realized that you can’t have this as a line item or something that you’re going to tackle in 2023. What happened was, you know, we had this massive occurrence as a result.
We had a massive shift to employees working remotely and all of the things that went along with that, and then having to serve customers either remotely or serve customers in a way that was different than we had before. And so, what we found is a really big shift, and if you wanted your business to stay alive regardless of what your business was, or the size of your business, everybody had to shift and everybody had to learn the importance of being agile and embracing technology that could actually help power the business.
DB: And like you said, you were preaching digital transformation well before the term was invented. But we had this enormous shift over the last 12 months. So, was the experience of that shift largely in line with your previous experience and what you’d been predicting, or were there some things that were unexpected even for you and some learnings for you with your customers’ experiences?
SK: We have a team of six analysts and we talk about this often. I don’t really think that there was anything that happened that surprised us. You know, again, we’ve been preaching this gospel for a very, very long time. We’ve really seen a shift from ownership of digital transformation within an organization being owned in part by the CEO and senior leaders. And in many ways, that’s where we see the most success when it comes to digital transformation, because it really requires a cultural shift. It requires embracing a culture of data, a culture of innovation, a culture of continuous learning, a culture of understanding the importance of change.
And digital transformation is a journey. It is not a destination. You will never be done. Over the course of the last decade, we’ve seen such advancements in technology and coming at such a rapid pace. And what I always say is that, one thing we can promise for certain is that won’t slow down. In fact, it’s only going to speed up. And so it really is. So we didn’t really see anything that surprised us. I wouldn’t say there was anything that has happened in the last year that’s really shocked people like us who are really immersed in the digital transformation space.
DB: Well, I guess that’s a good thing. The 2019 Automation Anywhere event obviously had a large focus on automation and robotic process automation. You described it as transformative technology. Let’s talk a little bit about robotic process automation. How is it driving innovation? How do you see it being used?
SK: Well, RPA is a really interesting thing. And, you know, one of the things that we talked about in some notes prior to this conversation is, is it really a business process automation? Is that the same thing? I mean, I really think they’re basically one and the same in many ways. There are some differentiators, but basically what you’re talking about when it comes to RPA is you’re talking about looking throughout the processes that your team engages in and figuring out what can be automated.
And we have people in jobs who are doing, you know, “Move this over here, do this over here” very mundane, very repeatable tasks that don’t change from instance to instance. And we’ve been doing things like that for a very, very long time. When you can add RPA into the equation, it actually automates these processes, frees your employees from doing these mundane repeatable tasks, and actually lets them focus on things that drive more business value, impact the bottom line more.
And you know, I think that an example that has come out of the pandemic has been, for instance, in the banking and finance industries. And there have been some industries who have embraced RPA automation more quickly than other industries. One of them has been banking and finance. A lot of transactions, a lot of repeatable tasks. And in the early days here in the United States we had the Payroll Protection Plan. That was a government plan that rolled out that provided either short-term loans or forgivable loans to businesses.
And so, you know, businesses of every size were rapidly contacting their banks, figuring out how they could apply, trying to do everything they needed to do. By the way, these banks and financial institutions were weathering a pandemic in just the same way everyone else was, and that all of their people were working from home.
And so, what we saw was an increased use of automation so those tsunamis of applications that were flooding in could quickly be processed. And those people who were desperate, literally desperate for funds to keep their businesses afloat and their families fed were able to get the help that they needed.
The same thing happened in the insurance industry and people were having to make health claims and that sort of thing. Another example of where RPA comes in especially helpful is in the mortgage process. Anybody who’s ever applied for a mortgage knows that it’s sometimes such an arduous process.
And you know, it’s like a game. How many hoops can you jump over? And then you have to wait two weeks. And I remember this is a couple of years ago, it was a media event covering Automation Anywhere. And it might’ve been around the time of that 2019 event, but one of their customers was a mortgage company. They were talking about how they had been able to shorten the application processing and approval process from two weeks to seven minutes. And so when you think about that in the scheme of not only how we keep our customers happy and serve them, but how we free up our staff to do things that aren’t slogging through the weeds. I mean, that to me is really pretty exciting.
DB: Yeah, it’s interesting, you talked a lot about processes there, and I see a lot of those processes you’re talking about as long-running processes. So, processing an application at a financial institution is a long-running process, and now we’ve probably significantly reduced that long-running process as opposed to a short-running process, for example, of a finance or accounts receivable team processing an invoice, right?
DB: So, there’s this distinction I would like to make between business process automation and robotic process automation. Is robotic process automation just a new acronym for something which has been around for a really long time and technology companies are trying to push as a new innovation? Or is robotic process automation something which you associate with a robot? Whether it’s a chatbot or so. I’m just wondering, you know, machine learning algorithms or some sort of robotic backend processing individual tasks? Or is it all the same thing?
SK: I think it’s all wrapped under the umbrella of automation. And, you know, what you’re seeing when you are taking mortgage applications and you’re processing them, you’ve also got some intelligent automation that’s at play there. And you know, the very low, low, low hanging fruit of organizations is employing RPA, in processes like invoicing and that sort of thing, just very short, that sort of thing. Or in customer service interactions where you can employ a chat bot to help, get someone faster down the path to the resolution of a problem, or in an HR process when someone wants something like you know, “How many vacation days do I have?”, or “How do I do this?”, or “How do I apply for this?” you know, those sorts of things, you can employ RPA to help check those easy boxes.
And then there’s more complicated things as well. And we tend to refer to them as automation in general. And I don’t really think much about business automation. What I think about is automation in general, and I think about RPA applications. And then I think about intelligent automation and how AI powered automation is really kind of a game changer.
KM: All right. Let’s take this time to address a misconception surrounding RPA. In your report you published last year, it was stated there that if you’re using RPA to reduce employee count or costs, you’re missing the true value of RPA. So, how should organizations be looking at how they’re investing with RPA?
SK: Well, I think that, you know, there is a perception that I believe is incorrect and that my team and I believe is incorrect about the fact that automation is coming for everyone’s jobs. And the reality of it is in the best use case of automation, it’s technology and humans working together. And that’s the beautiful magic that happens when you pair automation with humans.
And, you know, is it true that in some instances, jobs will no longer be needed because automation can replace that particular job function? Sure. Does that necessarily mean that, you know, thousands and thousands of employees will be without jobs? No, absolutely not.
We worked with many of the major players, whether it’s Automation Anywhere, UiPath, Pegasystems. Clear Software is another one. One of the coolest things is to be able to talk to somebody who, at one point in time, had a very ordinary average job that was a job that was kind of a mundane, repeatable, easily-automated job. And they got the opportunity to learn how to work with RPA, perhaps how to write their own code. And what I mean is, you know, no code, low code situations where you can write your own automation.
So, you don’t have to be a software engineer to be able to develop your own automations. And what happens is so exciting because, you know, somebody is skeptical about how automation is going to change the process and the job. And then they see it like, “Oh my gosh, this is so awesome. What else can we do with this?”
And then it’s so exciting. Then what you have within organizations is that you start having this cadre of citizen developers and citizen evangelists who are learning this and who are excited about it and who are experienced about it and who are teaching others within the organization. These are the really cool things we could do. So, now we start thinking as an organization about “Oh my gosh, this is so cool! Well, if we could do this, then can we do this? And let’s experiment with that.”
And that’s what you want. The most valuable part of any organization is the living, breathing, thinking, problem-solving humans. And when they see the possibilities here, when they get a chance to experiment and then to me, what I love so much is hearing their stories and hearing them talk about the fact that “I never thought I was going to have a job like this. This is the coolest thing ever that I get to be able to help other people within our organization learn how to do this.” Or, you know, “My job became something I never dreamed it would be” which is the exact opposite of “Automation ate my job. And now I don’t have one,” you know?
DB: Yeah. I guess, you know, the same concerns were raised during the industrial revolution that the automation in the industry was going to eat my job as well. “I’m from the manufacturing process. And now digital transformation or robotic process automation is going to eat my job.” But, in actual fact, it’s just freeing up people to do higher value tasks, more interesting and more rewarding, fulfilling tasks. And what you’re saying is you’re actually getting feedback from real people who actually have experienced that.
SK: Yeah. And it’s really cool.
DB: Yeah. Interesting. So you also said that one of the major challenges of adopting RPA is the ability to scale beyond the initial use case. Are businesses too slow to realize the RPA’s capabilities? Are they not equipped to take it to the next level? Or are they simply testing the waters at this point? What’s your opinion?
SK: Yes. Yes. And yes.
SK: You know, it is funny. And again, you know, our clients include many of the large players in the RPA space and I have heard from them that it is very hard to get beyond a certain number of deployments within the enterprise. I’m gonna give you an example, do you ever get a new device? And you think this device can do some kick-ass things? If only I would spend more time learning how to use it more effectively, you know? And for all of the really cool things that I know how to do on my device, there’s probably a hundred that I’ve just never made the time to learn because I haven’t had the bandwidth. I haven’t had the desire to try or whatever. And I think that, when you magnify that out, I think that’s some of what happens. You know, people get busy, people get focused on things.
To me, what’s most exciting is all of what’s possible as it relates to intelligent automation and AI-powered, intelligent automation is so amazing because it learns from you and the more you use it, the more it learns, the more data you put in there, the more it has to really help. And you can have some really amazing real-time insights that help make really important business decisions.
So, to me, I don’t know why you would want to slow down because it’s kind of like, once you get a taste of the crack, I don’t want to go back to figuring out things on my own. But I do know that that is a very real challenge, with some of the biggest players in the automation space just getting enterprises beyond that, those initial deployments and how do we scale it more broadly throughout the enterprise. And that’s why we’re seeing partnerships with organizations, you know, big partnerships with organizations. And I’m going to pull this out of my head. We’re seeing huge partnerships like with Automation Anywhere and I can’t remember who, but now we’re seeing huge partnerships with cloud providers, with automation providers. I think it’s Google and Automation Anywhere. And so you’ve got the sales team of the cloud service provider who are selling automation services. And then you’ve got the automation vendor who’s also selling them. So, it makes sense.
And so we’re seeing partnerships like this. Microsoft has made its automation platform free to Windows365 users. I mean, Microsoft just basically threw down the gauntlet. And this was just announced maybe in the last month and I reviewed that. I wrote about that at the time. And I thought that that was really Microsoft taking the gloves off saying, “We’re not fooling around here. We know the benefit of automation, no-code, low-code offering. We know what that can do. And by the way, if we can give you a taste of this for free, then we know that we’re going to be able to sell you more advanced AI-powered things in a not-too-long of time.”
So, we’re really seeing people, we’re really seeing organizations ramp up their efforts as it relates to getting people familiar with and using RPA. And I do think it’s really to move them quicker along the path to more advanced options. And it makes perfect sense.
DB: Cool. Yeah. And in our experience, that initial use case is largely driven by a problem they’re trying to solve. And so they engage in RPA to solve a very particular problem, which is painful for them at that point in time. In order to roll it out beyond that initial use case really requires a culture within the organization, which is maybe driven from the top down, to drive a culture of automation. You’ve talked about driving a culture of automation before, what can organizations do to embrace a culture of automation?
SK: You know, I think that there’s no difference between creating a culture of automation than creating a culture that is conducive to facilitating digital transformation. It’s about, you know, it’s about being curious, it’s about fostering, continuous learning and upskilling. And upskilling is a tremendous, tremendous part of this and looking within your organization and how you can move people from here to having knowledge about how to use automation offerings and, you know, a data-driven culture, right? A customer-centric culture, all of these things are part of successful digital transformation and automation is just one part of it. I mean, it’s just one tiny part of it, but it’s not like you can create a culture that fosters automation if you suck at all the other things, right? From the leadership on down, having an organization who understands that technology is the path forward.
Maybe it’s cloud. Maybe it’s automation. They’re all different kinds of things, but this is the path forward and embracing this and being open to and excited about change and learning and experimentation and data and letting data tell us the stories of our success and taking care of our customers in the most expeditious manner possible. I think what we’ve learned – I felt this way for a long time – but I feel like when it comes to consumers, you know, the way that we approach things are, “What have you done for me lately, David? What is it that makes you irreplaceable in my life?”
I was actually doing an interview yesterday with someone. And I was telling a story about how my husband and I had a vehicle that was leased. It was coming off lease. And we were buying a vehicle. I hadn’t bought a car in four years because I had a leased vehicle. And, my husband travels all the time. This was pre-pandemic and what we were buying was kind of a little bit hard to find. And, so we did find one and I was working with my bank who’s been my bank for 20 years. I run my business money through that bank and my personal money through that bank. And they know us very well. And so we were trying to get a loan for this car. And one of the problems was that my husband was going to be gone. By the time they got the paperwork done, my husband was going to be gone and he wasn’t gonna be back until later in the week.
And there was no part of this process that was easy. And I remember thinking like, “This is so amazing that this is the conversation that we’re having in today’s day and age.” And one of the things I wanted him to be able to do is to sign the loan digitally, or to do something by video conference or something else. And they were just pretty intractable. And the challenge was he was leaving, the leased car was turned in, we have a couple of kids that need to go to school and things like that.
And so it was really kind of figuring out how am I going to do this without a car? So, it was sort of stressful. And the salesperson that we were working with said, “You know what, let’s try this bank. We work with them all the time.” And it’s a big national brand bank, and had they bent over backwards, that loan was done and signed in a day and he signed it remotely and they got our business. And there is every reason for me to continue to shift business to them because you know what they did? They made my life easy. You know what my bank did? They made my life difficult.
DB: And it’s interesting. The reality is, I was going to say customers are demanding, but it’s not just customers. It’s all stakeholders, right? It’s actually equally as well, right? It’s business partners, it’s your customers, your employees, their expectations have changed and they are demanding. Right?
And to survive in this world, it’s not just about adopting the latest buzzword. It’s not just about, you know, cultural shift. It’s really a case of responding to the demands of these stakeholders.
SK: And understanding that what they want matters. We’re both old enough that we’ve been held hostage for some period of our lives over, “You know what, David? This is the way things are done” you know? But what’s happening is that people are saying, “We’re not going to take it like this. This doesn’t have to be this complicated” and whether it’s investment apps that allow you to invest for yourself instead of working with a broker, we’re used to doing things and figuring out things for stuff, because we have this internet machine in our hands, 24/7, right? And we’re smart.
And, you know, in a conversation I was having with a client yesterday, we were talking about, you know, nobody gets up in the morning thinking “I can’t wait to call customer service and sort out this problem that I have.” Right? Nobody does that. And you know, the first thing we normally do is we go to a website. We have a problem. We go to a website, we want to figure it out. We want to sort it out and we want to be done with it
And so if your website is, and the experience that you serve up there is, not done in such a way that it really understands the customer journey and the customer challenges and that kind of thing, what you’re doing is throwing big, fat roadblocks in their way. And again, you know, because you’re making this so difficult for me, chances are really pretty good that I can find this somewhere else. And it won’t be so difficult. And it won’t be hard for me to find that.
And again, that’s really where RPA and things like chatbots and things like that can make a big difference. I’ll never forget it was a couple of years ago, when the RPA conversation was a little bit early, a little bit new, and I had a subscription of something that I had gotten on Amazon that I didn’t want anymore. And I kind of was like, “Ugh, you know, I gotta go figure out how to cancel it” because, you know, generally speaking – not Amazon – but any company makes it really hard for you, generally speaking, to cancel something, right?
So, I sort of go around, “Oh my God, this is going to be a…” So, you know, I log into Amazon and I just do a quick search, “cancel subscription” and a chatbot pops up and it was the most pleasant experience I’ve ever had at canceling something. And I thought, “Oh my God, well, of course Amazon does this.” Well but Amazon has been embracing, you know, embracing a culture of innovation and transformation the foremost. You have those experiences that are amazing experiences. Four years later, I’m telling you about it and I’m remembering the brand that served it up for me.
DB: Shelly, so interesting to talk to you today. I know you have very active social profiles. Would you like to share them with our listeners so that they can stay in touch with you with all your research and updates?
SK: Sure. You can find me on Twitter at “ShellyKramer” and that’s S-H-E-L-L-Y K-R-A-M-E-R. And you can find me on LinkedIn by just doing a search for “Shelly Kramer.” I am an early adopter to all of the social platforms. So, I can promise you that if you just went to Google and searched Shelly Kramer, you’re going to find more of me than you ever want, but you can also check us out Futurum Research. And it’s been a pleasure hanging out with you today.
KM: All right. Shelly, thank you very much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure. I really love the energy and the enthusiasm. And I think out of all the guests that we had on the board guests, you had the best lighting set up going on over there, including your webcam. It was really nice. It’s really sharp and really clear. So, thank you. Thank you very much for joining us.