UiPath has been the market leader in automation for as long as automation has been a thing. But a sharp decline in value as a public company and a big shift in its go-to-market strategy poses fresh challenges for new co-CEO, Rob Enslin.
Since the dawn of civilisation, humans have worked tirelessly in the pursuit of social and economic progression. It’s time for us to take a break.
At least that’s what Rob Enslin and UiPath believe as they ramp-up their mission to rid the world of monotonous, labour-intensive, low value work. As I start the interview in a swanky Dublin hotel, the South Africa-born exec confidently tells me that UiPath is poised to play a lead role in shaping the future of work by unleashing the power of automation across the enterprise.
“Automation has the potential to solve the hardest problems that companies face whilst improving employee experiences,” he said. “With the power of the UiPath platform behind them, organisations such as Uber, the U.S. Army and EY are changing how repetitive work is completed which drives huge efficiencies, improves processes and allows people to focus on higher value tasks.”
Enslin is a former SAP president who has served in the upper echelons of enterprise technology for more than three decades. His recent appointment as co-CEO at UiPath follows 27 years at the German software giant and a four-year spell at Google Cloud. He joins the company’s founder, Daniel Dines, in a shared capacity at the top of the organisation and brings a wealth of expertise that will help transform UiPath from a provider of isolated RPA solutions to an enterprise-wide enabler for hyperautomation.
“UiPath is becoming the strategic partner for companies that want to optimise their processes and digitally transform,” said Enslin. “Our Business Automation Platform can discover, capture, test and execute automations across the enterprise and we are transitioning from a company that just sold RPA to one that delivers automated business outcomes for our customers.”
Our Business Automation Platform can discover, capture, test and execute automations across the enterprise and we are transitioning from a company that just sold RPA to one that delivers automated business outcomes for our customers.
UiPath was formed in 2005, in a small Bucharest office when a group of engineers hatched an idea. The concept was simple but far reaching: give every person on the planet a digital robot to liberate humanity from the grind of repetitive work. The theory proved popular and the company grew rapidly, acquiring thousands of customers around the world that wanted to automate elements of their back office functions.
Its early guise operated in silos to perform repetitive tasks quicker or more accurately than a human. It offered some benefits but its effectiveness was limited to narrow chores rather than broad outcomes. Early adopters bought standalone bots that were plugged into disorganised systems to speed up data entry tasks – although it worked and made these routine assignments more palatable, to describe early RPA as digital transformation was a disservice to a term that is itself confounded by many.
“Our RPA solutions have historically been utilised at a department level where they solved an isolated problem. It wasn’t really transformative but it did deliver efficiencies. As customers start to look more holistically at their digital transformation objectives, they realise that they need an end-to-end solution, and that does start to really transform how a process works and starts to drive outcomes that can be measured.”
Originally called DeskOver, the cohort of engineers started a mission to help companies minimise repetitive tasks with digital robots. The principle was misunderstood by many but enough forward thinking businesses latched on to the idea and the company got a foothold. By outsourcing automation libraries for point solution RPA applications, DeskOver found early success in an industry that was largely unheard of. In the years that followed, it rebranded as UiPath, raised significant funding and ultimately floated on the NYSE in one of the biggest software IPOs of all time.
That short history underlines the prodigious job that Daniel Dines has done trailblazing the automation cause. He has taken UiPath from a startup to a company that consistently ranks as the number one automation platform on all major review sites and partners with the world’s leading consulting brands to deliver global automation solutions. UiPath has offices in 40 countries, serves more than 10,000 customers and generates predictable recurring revenues in excess of $1bn.
However, despite the success and recognition, UiPath’s value has faltered as a public company. Its revenue model historically relied on the acquisition of new customers with relatively low contract values. While the spread of revenue and the impressive number of users initially won favour with the markets, the company lacked the experience and depth of product to convert line-item sales into package-solution customers.
I asked Enslin what motivated the move from Google and how he appraised the opportunity with UiPath, especially given the fall in value that the company had experienced since it went public.
“I wanted to work with a founder and when I looked at how far they had come, and I read the Gartner reports, I was blown away with what Daniel had achieved. It was a tough time in some respects because software valuations were being hit hard and we were on the back of the pandemic, but the potential at UiPath was exceptional and I knew I could add some real value. I spent a lot of time with Daniel, I had a lot of discussions with customers, colleagues and friends, and the energy around the product and the brand was really compelling. I wanted to work in a meaningful company where I could make a real difference and all the fundamentals were there. Yes, the valuation had taken a hit, but the business was heading in the right direction: we have great market share, the product is the best out there, the culture is amazing and we are sitting on a bunch of cash. UiPath can be a generational company that changes how we think about work and I have the experience and motivation to make that happen.”
Enslin’s assessment is consistent with my personal take – UiPath is not alone in suffering at the hands of the markets. Many tech stocks have tanked recently but the underlying opportunity remains sound and Enslin joins the company at a time when its product has matured, its market is more defined and, above all else, customers are crying out for solutions that return instant results. Whilst the journey towards packaged automation solutions and a platform-play started before Enslin’s arrival, he brings the scale-mentality that he learned at SAP and refined at Google which can take UiPath from RPA market leader to a global powerhouse that sits at the centre of digital transformation efforts.
As Enslin emphatically told me, “I know how to scale and the opportunity at UiPath is unprecedented.”
Enslin brings the scale-mentality that he learned at SAP and refined at Google which can take UiPath from RPA market leader to a global powerhouse that sits at the centre of digital transformation efforts.
Why will automation change the concept of work?
In order to understand the impact that UiPath and hyperautomation will impose, it’s important to think more broadly about the purpose behind the technology.
You may not realise it, but we are transitioning as a species. That transition is not defined because we can stream movies, make video calls or order goods over the internet. Those types of benefit arising from the first wave of digital technologies have improved our existence but they have not fundamentally changed the human condition. They have simply afforded us more time to become consumed with other digital travails.
Looking back through history, people came together in the agricultural revolution to move humanity from a subsistence living to one of plenty. During the industrial revolution we built machines to increase productivity and now, in the digital age, we have developed the tools to create utopia. Yet we remain slaves to the notion of work, akin to those who came before us and worked on farms and in coal mines. Throughout the ages and despite bounds in knowledge and capability, one thing has remained consistent. Humans turn the wheels.
As farmers, industrialists and now digitally-enabled workers – the reliance on people has not abated. Despite the supposed benefits of the technological revolution, we have not managed to relieve ourselves from the drudgery of work. One could argue that instead of reducing toil, the digital age has in fact, increased the burden. The tasks may have changed, but human effort is still inextricably linked to the vast majority of economic output. We have simply swapped a plough for a keyboard.
As Enslin succinctly put it, “there’s still a lot of ‘cut and paste’ work that goes on and automation can fix that at a stroke.”
For the first time in our existence, we have the ability to change the fundamental concept of work. For centuries it was entirely centred on manual labour. Industrial automation put an end to that kind of employment and we shifted to a service-orientated economy fuelled by computerisation. For the last 50 years, people have been employed to sit in front of a screen and furiously type, print and file. Now there is an opportunity that can free us from the mundane and prosaic nature of digital work. That opportunity is called hyperautomation.
The evolution from RPA to hyperautomation
Hyperautomation takes the raw concept of RPA (which is the narrow application of automation) and supercharges it with mining capabilities, machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver more coherent outcomes across processes and workflows. It can be applied to virtually any business object where a chain of inter-dependent actions occur in sequence or as a consequence, with each stage of the chain being controlled, managed and executed by software rather than a human.
This leap forward in capability has the potential to radically and permanently alter the nature of work whilst freeing human capacity from the shackles of repetitive digital labour. The benefits at an individual level are obvious and the collective advantages promise exponential opportunities for innovation, creativity and value.
Hyperautomation is also the piece of the digital transformation puzzle that many organisations have found so elusive. It is impossible for an enterprise to truly transform if it does not automate at every conceivable step. Moving applications to the cloud is not transformative, it’s just a slightly better way of doing the same thing you’ve always done. To truly change there needs to be a fundamental shift in the underlying operating model which must be optimised with digital tools at every level. Modern automation platforms provide this opportunity and they represent the final frontier for any digitally ambitious organisation.
Enslin told me that UiPath was now part of a much broader conversation focussed on enterprise transformation rather than detached instances of RPA and that its Business Automation Platform brought together all the tools for enterprises to truly modernise the way they operate.
“With our platform, customers can get all the benefits from RPA like reducing errors and driving efficiencies but now they can also think about using automation as a driver for transformation and new opportunities. Our customers are innovating at pace, bringing new services to market and building their operating models around automation and the UiPath platform sits at the heart of those conversations.”
Hyperautomation is also the piece of the digital transformation puzzle that many organisations have found so elusive. It is impossible for an enterprise to truly transform if it does not automate at every conceivable step.
Step change in approach
UiPath may be at the centre of customer transformations, but it too is embarking on its own period of evolution. The shift in its product portfolio has big implications for the way its sales and go-to-market teams are organised which will require significant re-engineering. Its move towards packaged solutions, in more complex environments, often with multiple partners and with a far higher price point, necessitates a different sales beast to get deals done.
“The challenge is not the expansion of new customers, but the expansion of automation within customers we already have,” said Enslin. “Our shift towards programmatic solutions and platform pricing will make it much easier for companies to consume the full spectrum of our technology and extract maximum value from their investment. It will also inevitably lead to larger deal sizes and that has implications for the way we structure our teams.”
In the past, direct sales teams sold relatively low value contracts to multiple customers and account teams managed large portfolios. That approach was good enough to take UiPath so far, but it will need Enslin’s ‘scale-mentality’ to take it to the next level. It’s no small task to redesign a global sales organisation but Enslin has recent form for doing a similar job at Google Cloud where he was instrumental in building its international sales operation. As the profile of clients increases and alliances with the likes of Accenture, Deloitte and EY deepen, it will be imperative that Enslin and UiPath can resource teams with the right calibre of candidates to meet the client on the terms they expect.
It will also be vital that internal resources keep pace with product development so that domain experts are taking industry package solutions to market. Allied to the emergence of the platform play is UiPath’s industry ambitions where it is building end-to-end automation use cases for specific vertical applications. As we have seen with cloud vendors recently, industry expertise and solutions that are finely tuned for a specific purpose have resonated with customers. As UiPath develops these products it will need to attract its own experts to drive development and ultimately win over customers that are looking for solutions tailored to them. Some of that expertise will come in the form of partners that ultimately own the customer relationship and have a history of domain intelligence behind them. But UiPath will still need appropriate resources within key vertical markets to maintain momentum and fulfil their industry-solution ambitions.
Mining for opportunities
The early narrative used to describe the value in automation was focussed on the benefits at an individual level. RPA tools promised to eradicate boring desk duties and afford the employee more time to do other things. A simple example could be seen in the finance department where a person may be employed to open emails and copy invoice details from an attachment into an ERP system. If that process happens 200 times a day, that’s a lot of rudimentary effort that can be replaced by a bot, and perhaps the employee can then be deployed in a more strategic, value-driven capacity. The benefit to the individual is obvious, and although the basic logic is still sound, it is the compound effect these efficiencies have on an enterprise that brings the real benefits of automation to light.
There is no company in the world that can claim its operations are as performant as possible and many have implemented digital technologies in such a haphazard fashion that their IT landscapes are slowing productivity rather than increasing it. The amount of technical and process debt that exists in most organisations is staggering and the biggest problem of all is that the hairball architectures are so complex it is almost impossible for a human to untangle.
This is where mining tools play a vital role in helping companies understand what their processes are, which ones are efficient and which ones need re-engineering. Process, task and communication mining applications can investigate structured and unstructured data to identify weak links and suggest opportunities for automation. Process mining tools analyse data and event logs from business applications to understand the end-to-end process and the scope of the system. Task mining tools review the work people do on their desktops to recognise how assignments are executed. And communication mining tools interrogate unstructured data in emails, text messages, even voice conversations, using AI and neuro-linguistic programming, to understand and trigger process improvements.
The discovery tools within the UiPath Business Automation platform can be applied to virtually any process or operation (even hidden or unknown processes) and build a digitally-optimal solution which can then be automated.
The UiPath Business Automation Platform essentially contains three action layers that can be separated as ‘discovery’, ‘automate’ and ‘operate’. Within the discovery layer, the mining tools mentioned above seek out opportunities for automation and present the potential for optimisation back to the business. Once implemented, the discovery layer provides continuous analysis to deliver a feedback loop to the business.
The other two action layers feed into the UiPath Automation Studio and include an integrated test suite which allows users to constantly monitor, test and validate automations and reduce redundancy over time. The continued development of this integrated automation suite sets UiPath apart from its competition and provides customers with a compelling, easy-to-use and demonstrably valuable tool to build high-performing and optimised solutions across the most complex of business operations and processes.
Throughout the ages and despite bounds in knowledge and capability, one thing has remained consistent. Humans turn the wheels.
Hyperautomation’s silver bullet is its ability to demonstrate a return on investment in a way that few, if any, other digital technologies can. While an ERP modernisation project will likely sit at the heart of big transformation, value realisation can be hard to quantify. With automation the return is simple to measure and directly linked to every dollar invested.
Productivity gains, error reduction, increased compliance and cost savings are all calculated and measured. And then there is the new revenue opportunities that automation can deliver through increased customer satisfaction, new routes to market and innovations made possible by additional human capacity.
In a worldwide September 2022 survey conducted by IDC, 72 percent of respondents expect 2023 to be a recession year and this will herald a more conservative approach to IT spending with a sharper focus on value. Half of the respondent’s expected IT budgets to remain flat or reduce slightly and that will lead to more pressure to prioritise investments which will have the biggest (and fastest) impact.
According to the Future Enterprise Resiliency and Spending Survey, the top three automation priorities in 2023 are: lowering operating costs (42%), greater efficiency (41%), and improving customer satisfaction (41%). Another top challenge cited by survey respondents is the difficulty they have building metrics that tie investments to financial outcomes. Automation vendors are heavily focussed on this problem by using both process and task mining technologies to scope automation opportunities, moving to fact-based documentation, planning and design.
UiPath’s ability to demonstrate value to customers before a single dollar has been invested through its discovery and mining tools will play a key role in wrestling under-pressure budgets away from enterprise CIOs.
“We think of it as true value engineering,” said Enslin. “We drive the outcomes from day one with every customer and our teams do analysis in the discovery phase to identify the benefits and then measure the value over time. We are seeing savings of millions of dollars for customers through productivity and efficiency gains and the value doesn’t stop there. Customers are becoming more agile, they are able to innovate quicker and see a return on their investment in record time.”
UiPath has been the market leader in automation since automation has been a thing and Enslin’s appointment as co-CEO strengthens that position considerably. Although he still thinks of himself as an engineer at heart, it won’t be his technical nous that drives UiPath forward – it will be his considerable experience at building big and scaling. 27 years at SAP provides the lens to visualise UiPath’s journey from a seller of RPA to a strategic and integrated partner for transformation. Enslin’s network and reputation elevate the brand while his experience with large-scale programmatic solutions puts UiPath into a different orbit altogether. Its alliances with the world’s most influential consultancies propel UiPath into conversations that it would not otherwise be part of and opens up immeasurable opportunities to extend its footprint giving UiPath a seat at the table when big enterprises make big investments.
The value proposition is clearly defined and offers a direct line to a return on investment. Coupled with this easily-quantified benefit is the speed at which automations can be implemented. Time to deploy and value have always been hot potatoes for the enterprise tech industry as many of the traditional vendors have been far less able to demonstrate dollar spent for dollar returned, and definitely less able to give accurate timeframes to get solutions working.
As the interview draws to a close, I asked Enslin to reflect on our conversation to summarise the UiPath strategy and set out what we can expect to see in the next stage of its progression. “We are ready to re-accelerate growth and human achievement by putting the full weight of UiPath technology behind our customers,” he said. “Our move to platform pricing and focussing on outcomes will be a game-changer for UiPath and the organisations that we work with. Daniel and I have a shared vision of how to create a generational company and we are poised to play our role in modernising the enterprise and helping customers achieve their digital transformation objectives with products and services that deliver measurable value in rapid time.”
In today’s harsh economic climate, enterprise leaders must evaluate opportunities that can deliver value and outcomes in weeks rather than years and that pushes automation and companies like UiPath up the priority list. Doing more with less is something that every business is coming to terms with, and UiPath promises big wins, fast.
Our customers are innovating at pace, bringing new services to market and building their operating models around automation and the UiPath platform sits at the heart of those conversations.