Robotic process automation promises to enhance rather than replace what employees do, Scott Dodds tells CRN after completing deployment of Thoughtonomy’s technology across its own business
VAR Ultima Business Solutions has emerged as a firm backer of robotic process automation (RPA) after completing an internal rollout, with its CEO claiming customers need not fear the divisive emerging technology.
The £100m-revenue VAR has begun piloting RPA vendor Thoughtonomy’s technology among its mid-market client base following an internal project that it claims has doubled the growth potential of its managed services business.
Although the RPA market has been tipped by analyst HIS to more than quadruple to $1.2bn between 2016 and 2021, critics fear that offloading processes to machines could put swathes of humans out of work.
Ultima CEO Scott Dodds is convinced otherwise, however, claiming that RPA can be used to free up employees from carrying out mundane tasks and focus on more complex and worthwhile activities.
RPA is now within reach of mid-market and SME firms thanks to the emergence of SaaS-based players such as Thoughtonomy, whose technology Ultima has spent the last two years rolling out across various areas of its business, Dodds (pictured) said.
Ultima’s primary goal was to automate some of its managed services functions, but it has also automated some back-office and HR functions such as invoice posting and the handling of leavers and joiners, as well as some sales functions including quote processing.
Dodds claimed that Ultima has an “almost 100 per cent” hit rate with mid-market customers it has since approached with the technology.
“RPA has been around for a while as a concept, but typically in the past it’s been big on-premise systems that require a lot of heavy lifting,” Dodds told CRN.
“Because this is all SaaS delivered – in this case it sits on the Microsoft Azure cloud – it’s much faster to deploy, test and run, so the ROI is much quicker once you’ve identified the right processes and activities to go after. We started this journey a year or two back, and as we went through it we realised this is something that, once we’ve learned to do it ourselves, we should be doing with our customers.
“We are starting to see real traction in the low-end enterprise where this stuff hasn’t been readily available. A lot of people are talking about it and looking at it – and frightened of it, honestly. Are they ahead of the game and making sure they are not getting disrupted by others around them? So there is a very strong appetite for customers to look at this.”
Dodds said Ultima had paired up robotic engines with its own staff, giving it a “massive kick in productivity”, but also freeing up staff to engage in more important tasks such as customer engagement.
“We have a very specific view of this technology, where we believe it enhances what your employees do, not replaces them,” he said. “If you read about AI and robotics, there are horror stories that they will do away with everyone’s jobs. But we don’t believe that. We just believe it dramatically improves productivity.”
The deployment has doubled Ultima’s ability to grow its managed services business, Dodds claimed.
“You get massively improved services, because you are working at the speed of machines, and not people,” he said. “But in our case our ability to grow profitably has been enhanced by a factor of two. It’s very real and quantifiable, and it comes through in a number of areas – not just cost savings, but also customer experience, and how we hit the objectives of managing our customers in a much more modern and reactive way.”
For Ultima’s customers, RPA projects may typically revolve around automating finance and HR processes, Dodds suggested.
“That said, we’ve got examples where we are working with a finance company that offshores a load of documents every year to have them re-entered, verified and put back on the system. Rather than offshoring it, they are a perfect candidate for having that done by an RPA process – saving a bundle of time and money. We do workshops with the customers to work out where the benefits are of this in the shortest time.”
RPA sits within Ultima’s new intelligent automation practice, which also encompasses the automation activities of more mainstream vendors such as Cisco, Microsoft and VMware.
“We have set up this practice and spent an awful lot of time and money building it – we had to make sure we got everything right,” said Dodds. “This is not a product we are selling but something we are doing.”