Setting his sights on the white collar back office and realizing that there was an enormous unfulfilled need in the “long tail” of automation, Alastair Bathgate co-founded Blue Prism to provide a new business-led, more granular and economic approach that today we know as Enterprise Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – a term coined by the firm more than a decade ago.
The CEO spoke with SandHill.com about fulfilling the vision of a digital workforce, how enterprises can ease RPA adoption.
SandHill.com: Why did you found Blue Prism?
Alastair Bathgate: We established Blue Prism in 2001 with a vision to “democratize automation”. We’re confronting the age-old IT problem of how do we do more with less, help maximize resources without becoming a bottleneck or stain on the system. That’s why we built an Robotic Process Automation (RPA) platform to offer companies a Digital Workforce, also known as software robots, that could meet the rigors of the most heavily regulated industries—including financial services and insurance, healthcare and the public sector—to augment existing human talent by unshackling humans from mundane, repetitive tasks that machines can perform, quickly and free of errors.
We have over a decade invested in software development, which has helped us to “industrialize” our software. We have something that is enterprise-grade capable of meeting security, compliance, scale, and resilience issues. The pain point we address isn’t limited to improving operational efficiencies and reducing costs but to helping organizations digitally transform themselves. This digital transformation is about humans and software robots working together to create hyper-productivity and growth. It all comes down to unlocking and enabling human potential.
SandHill.com: Why is RPA becoming a business imperative for an increasing number of companies and industries?
Alastair: Since we coined the term Robotic Process Automation (RPA) more than a decade ago, this technology has gained widespread adoption across the board—in all vertical markets and industries. The opportunity to drive change and the ROI of RPA is unsurpassed. In my time in the software industry, I have not seen an investment to return ratio in less than 12 to 18 months like I have seen in the RPA market, with time to value starting in 6 to 8 weeks. This congruous trifecta of efficient investment, return on investment and time to value of return is seldom seen in industries.
We have numerous customer examples, including a leading retailer in the UK, called Shop Direct, which automated 130+ processes, returned 328,000 hours back to the business using automation and significantly improved their customer interactions by reskilling their talent. Another customer, Telefonica, realized over 650 percent return on investment in just 3 years, with 80 percent reduction in customer requests and automating 500,000 monthly transactions. Also, a recent study by Forrester identified a 229 percent return on investment in just 15 months, citing quantifiable total savings of $49 Million.
RPA started out as a cost-saver but we now see customers targeting improved service, increased revenue, faster turnaround, visible compliance, which is why adopting this technology is a “no brainer.”
We’ve also helped to make it a business imperative by making RPA an on-ramp for taking advantage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Currently, we’re working with AWS, Google Cloud, IBM Watson and Microsoft Cognitive. You see the future potential and direction of this technology.
SandHill.com: What can business leaders do to prepare their organization for a successful RPA strategy?
Alastair: A successful RPA implementation needs both support from the C-suite as well as the IT department. You need buy-in and support from multiple departments and need to over-communicate. Most importantly, with RPA the barriers to entry are more cultural than technical. Once an organization has decided to adopt and deploy RPA, and many are doing so, it’s critical to think about define what they want to achieve. As a result, job roles might change and resources will need to be realigned, so it’s critical to make sure employees understand the benefits of the technology—the main force of RPA is taking the robot out of the human employee. One of the most important benefits that must be communicated to employees is work satisfaction and employee engagement. By using software robots to automate repetitive, time-consuming processes, employees can “return hours” back to the business and be free to utilize their time in more valuable, more rewarding ways – such as improving their skills or devoting more time to customer service.
To get started we recommend following three principles:
- Businesses should control what processes get automated. They should also manage demand, configure the software robots and monitor and scale their RPA deployments. A key factor will be getting some early wins and reporting the benefits back ASAP.
- IT should own the platform which includes how RPA is provisioned, governed and secured. You need both parties—the C-level and the IT department—to be equally engaged to be successful.
- Establish best practices. Once you have several people with experience training and managing the digital workforce, creating an internal center of excellence will help ensure quality across the board and apply automation in new, innovative ways throughout the organization.
SandHill.com: What is the biggest challenge Blue Prism has faced to date?
Alastair: The demand for our Digital Workforce continues to skyrocket so our biggest challenge is a good problem to have—building and scaling to meet this demand. We recently opened our fifth new office in less than 12 months; we now have newly opened offices in Sydney, Bangalore, Tokyo, Munich and Paris. We also closed 609 new software deals in FY2017 (209 first half and 400 in the second half), which included 324 new enterprise customers across the United States, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America Australia and New Zealand—a 238 percent increase over FY2016.
Our customer base is rapidly growing to include an increasing number of Fortune 1,000 companies, and over the past year we’ve added marquee names such as AIG, Allstate Insurance, Bechtel, Boeing, Ericsson, Fannie Mae, Honda Motor Company, Kaiser Permanente, Maybank, National Grid, Schroders, Sony Pictures, United Utilities (UK’s largest listed water company) and Walgreens. These new customer wins highlight Blue Prism’s broad appeal across multiple vertical industries including manufacturing, financial services, insurance, telecom and retail.
We also realized early on that an ecosystem of partners would be key to driving adoption. That’s why 100 percent of our business comes through channel partners. We can’t do this alone and if we were going to scale, we would need an extensive base of partners including Accenture, Cap Gemini, Deloitte, EY, IBM and KPMG.
SandHill.com: Do you have advice/best practices to share for other fast-growth software CEOs?
Alastair: We built Blue Prism on three key principles: integrity, professionalism and respect. Staying “true” to those key principles has really laid the foundation for our future growth. We’ve maintained our entrepreneurial roots while being able to bring in likeminded individuals to help scale our business.
So my advice to other fast-growth CEOs? Always look to hire and invest in the best people. Listen versus dictate and never be afraid to collaborate and share ideas.
The success of Blue Prism has been more than a decade in the making. We keep listening to our customers and employees, which has contributed to our market leadership in the RPA industry. We continue to focus on delivering customer value, which translates into real and tangible business outcomes. Satisfied and happy customers ultimately lead to more product sales which drives growth.
Clare Christopher is editor of SandHill.com.