Winning Together at Big Scale: A Conversation with Ashim Gupta, UiPath's Chief Customer Success Officer
Put your customer first. You’ve definitely heard it many times before. It’s a mantra for many companies and we definitely don’t shy away from it. In fact, our own CEO, Daniel Dines, said it not long ago during one of our #UiPathForward events: “We stand for you. Our mission is to make you happy. We’ve built a good product, but our mission is to be a customer first, partner first company.”
With the arrival of Ashim Gupta, we’re already several steps closer to achieving this goal. In his role as UiPath’s Chief Customer Success Officer, Ashim will work with a team of experts to maximize the adoption, industrialization and business value of RPA implementations. Formerly a senior vice president and chief information and automation officer for GE's Finance and Shared Services Group (FSSG) and CFO of GE Water, Ashim scaled GE’s first RPA project, using UiPath Robots to automate core processes. He also implemented the FSSG’s first big data platform that was powered by analytical, machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities.
Ashim, you have a strong background in finance, you’ve also overseen the implementation of an RPA project at GE and you now work for an RPA vendor. How do finance, technology and customer success fit in the same picture?
I would say my background is a microcosm of what customers are going through as they adopt RPA. My finance background has provided me with a strong skill set into processes and an understanding of operations, especially at GE. That was a big focus for the finance team and then, as a part of finance, owning ERP implementations, owning data, has led me to a CIO role, which exposed me to technology. Being able to marry how processes work with the art of the possible created by technology is effectively what customers are dealing with in their automation journeys. And marrying the two together is very hard.
When you are a pure technologist, often you can make promises without understanding how hard it is for the change management. When you are a person that has emerged from the process side, it is very hard to understand how to do things very differently when you don’t have a deep understanding of technology. So, what customer success is enabling me to do is to leverage my skill set in understanding technology and leading technical teams, but at the same time being able to keep it grounded in the day to day realities our customers face in driving change management, in driving improvements in their processes, which is effectively the goal of a lot of their automation journeys.
Where do you see the automation adoption growing within the next year, and which industries do you think will be the most receptive?
I would say, we have a lot of customers who are now starting to get past the early stages of RPA: the simple processes that they were once focused on, both because the technology was new and they were building a new capability within their organizations. Within the next year, I think that there’s a growing interest in how Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and RPA combined will solve more complex automations. In terms of industry, I’ve seen the growth of contact centers and customer support centers becoming a rich target ground for automation projects in front-end interfaces with customers. I don’t think there will be one industry lagging.
Do you see AI replacing RPA? Or do you do you see them emerging into a single digital enterprise platform?
I think that RPA and AI are a perfect marriage. At the end of it, intelligence without muscle will never be able to be implemented in a scalable way. At the same time, if you are only muscle (RPA), you have a limited base by which you can actually impact. I would say for both of the technologies to scale, it has to be a marriage rather than a competition.
RPA has matured to the point of powerful scalability. Do you think customers and partners are ready? How can we put everything together fast so that partners can deploy 10.000 robots fast?
In terms of AI, it’s such a new area. We’re ready to start trying and experimenting together. In terms of scaling to 10,000 robots, it’s a question of getting the right expertise within the companies. Finding that expertise that can actually scale the platform is a challenge: whether that means great developers–which is why we have the best online Academy in the industry–or the creating the customer success organization for help and support, or enabling our partners to have that expertise in-house. I think this is doable within the next 10 to 18 months.
Going back to your time at GE, I’m interested in your perspective as a client. What was your biggest fear when you started your first RPA project at GE?
The first was that we were going to spend money to automate flaws instead of eliminating them. I think the elimination of waste is the most important aspect even before you can automate. It should be the first resort as organizations try to simplify. The second was security and really understanding what controls are needed. We have an accountability structure that is easy when dealing with people. With RPA that was new. For example, trying to figure out how to ensure that robots are attached to a person and then attached to a role. If something goes wrong there’s accountability and that’s important, especially in financial processes or even in HR or other governance processes that we were automating. I would say the third is figuring out where RPA should fit in organizationally. So, I wanted to make sure that it had both the investment of the IT organization and the business organization in order to make it successful.
Did you face cultural reluctance from within the company?
Of course, you face the worries of the people who think automation will take away their jobs. There was reluctance even when I left. You had a lot of people for it and some people still against it. Culturally, trying to get people to understand that we’re freeing up their work and reallocating them is important. And yes, there were going to be cost savings as a part of this and we needed people’s help with whose roles we were eliminating and whose roles we were changing. That was a difficult organizational change that we had to go through. Ultimately, we had a lot of people embrace it, understand it, and go after it.
In terms of finance-related processes, where did you start and what were your main areas of interest?
We started with very basic things: account reconciliation, know your customer. We automated simple report gathering and analytical processes, journal entry postings. Those were the simple areas and we advanced to more complicated areas such as export controls, classification engines and more.
Where do you see the main challenges or blockers when automating finance processes?
I don’t see a lot of issues in automating finance work. It’s really the change management on the people side that’s most important. I do think that as you get more complex transactions like service accounting, with higher risk, it’s important to make sure you have the AI capabilities to make the bots smarter. This also needs to be closely tied to your controllership and your security teams to ensure that you have the right level of governance and you really change how your processes work.
Because you did mention scaling the RPA project at GE, what do you think companies should expect when scaling?
I think they’ve got to expect that the demands on the Center of Excellence (CoE) for maintaining the bots increase, because processes and the ecosystem of applications change all the time. It’s not that you build a bot and you’re done. You also have a maintenance factor. I think a lot of companies forget about the maintenance of bots, so they have to make sure that their RPA CoE is able to support that.
Since a customer looking to scale the RPA project has to create a Center of Excellence, how does UiPath help?
Well, we work with our partners so we have to make sure that everyone’s on the same page in terms of best practices. Then, we must also have a great Customer Success organization. Making sure developers within the CoE have access to us, to answer their questions, is critical. Next, it’s important to connect the network because this technology hasn’t been around for long. When I say connect the network, I think that UiPath can help customers connect with each other, and have partners to learn together with, so that they don’t feel like they have to learn every lesson themselves.
In your current role at UiPath, what’s the most important thing you’re planning?
Finally, the customer success organization has to be measured in their effectiveness in supporting. I don’t want them to become a pseudo-sales organization.
The first thing is building a sustainable organization with the sole focus of supporting the customer and making sure that it has the necessary skill set to support customers and partners adequately. The second is enabling our partners. Making sure that our partners are as equipped as we are in being able to advise customers and perform the services around RPA. Finally, the customer success organization has to be measured in their effectiveness in supporting. I don’t want them to become a pseudo-sales organization. They have to be focused on customer success and ensuring that customer experience is their primary goal.
How do you actually measure success?
There are two main measurements. The first is NPS: Net Promoter Score, which is a measure of customer experience. The second is the utilization of bots. We don’t want customers to buy bots and then not know how to utilize their licenses. We want them to have the right support to scale and utilize the licenses they procured so that they’re earning returns for them.
UiPath is planning to launch its own Marketplace. How will that help customers?
It’s essential to give access to a community of developers writing code to developers of technology partners, a code that is easy to plug into the architecture of UiPath, enhancing capabilities like OCR, and bringing AI and machine learning faster into the hands of our customers. They are given a place where they can find the services they need to scale fast and efficiently. It’s a huge advantage. How many customers have to write how to log into SAP as an activity, while we’re still increasing our own dictionary? To have reusable components like that in the Marketplace is tremendous.
How about the role of partners in this whole ecosystem?
It’s massive. Partners bring a very important level of expertise. UiPath is primarily a product company. I look at the partner world and I say: that is going to be a primary delivery arm that is so important! Customers are already using it naturally. Enabling our partners, connecting them in the Marketplace, creating a leveled playing field among partners, so that customers can choose those that are best for them, this will make RPA an easy experience.
Thank you, Ashim, for shedding light on the strategy UiPath will employ in helping customers enjoy a seamless RPA journey.
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