22 February 2018

The Technical Journey of UiPath

22 February 2018

The Technical Journey of UiPath

During this year's UiPath Developers Conference in Bengaluru, Daniel Dines, UiPath co-founder and CEO, delivered an inspiring keynote about evolution: his progression from a software developer to the architect of a leading RPA technology, and the product’s evolution from a simple screen scraping software to the powerful RPA Enterprise Platform serving over 600 customers around the world today. Yet, some things never change, and Daniel remains a product-focused developer at heart. Discover the story and get inspired.


How it all began


"This is our passion. Passion is the best attribute of a software engineer. If you are passionate about what you are doing, you will do great things." (Daniel Dines)


As all innovators know, it takes passion to start building a business from scratch. To drive that passion, innovators need the idea, that one thing that will electrify their field. Based on his previous experience as a software engineer overseeing the development of an enterprise-grade product at Microsoft, Daniel came to realize that automation would play an increasingly important role in our fast-evolving digital world. And it all had to do with the way people behave when interacting with their computer to execute work.


The UiPath journey began in 2005, with a graphical user interface (GUI) automation library, basically a screen scraping software developer kit (SDK) for user interface (UI) automation, and a team of 10 people. They built a tool that allowed a user to double-click on any word on a screen and get access to a definition, like a pop-up or a search query in Google. 


Our technology was innovative in the sense that it gave the user access to elements found in applications’ graphical interface irrespective of the technology they were built in. It could extract text from running applications even if they were hidden or covered by another application. This screen scraping innovation is still a part of our current product, delivering 100% accuracy in under 16 milliseconds.


Fun fact: Automation Anywhere licensed this technology from UiPath sometime in 2009. Traces of it could still be found in Automation Anywhere 10. It’s important to mention that they have not updated this library since 2011.


Working on this basic screen scraping SDK allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of the user interface. In the beginning, the tool was licensed in the US and used primarily in the financial sector. It might not have been much compared to where we wanted to get to, but it made us pay attention to the industry’s needs: users didn’t only need a tool that understood the text on the screen, but one that could also recognize the controls on the screen.


The secret of our resilient core


Simplicity and consistency regardless of the technology behind GUI elements were defining characteristics. To achieve those, we introduced “the selector”. Selectors are used to identify objects on the screen and have an Extensible Markup Language (XML) format. Despite being generic (for those of you with a broader technical background, think XPath or CSS), this concept provided a simple solution for spotting screen objects irrespective of the technology used.


From 2005 to 2011, the software library that we built was tested and used on tens of millions of computers by customers like IBM, Microsoft or Siemens. This large installation base is what allowed us to perfect our solution and make it work with any application in the Windows ecosystem. Our tool was able to intercept clicks, screen scrape forms and send the information to databases. It was the beginning of automation as we know it.


Commitment to successful deployments


Our innovation should be free. If our competition is inspired by it, I am pleased. (Daniel Dines)


In 2012, we saw the opportunity in developing a more business-friendly product, and by the following year, we effectively entered the RPA market. We launched the first UiPath Desktop Automation product line based on the Windows Workflow Foundation, which was perfect for process automation as it made our solution fluid and easy to work with. In 2013, we had our first major RPA implementation when a global BPO used our solution to automate over 50 processes for one of their largest IT customers.


Surface automation was one of our earliest differentiators. We were introduced to the BPO world and found out just how important Citrix was (and still is) for these companies. Citrix is a virtual environment that hosts desktops and applications allowing employees to work from anywhere in the world, while also increasing security (as confidential data is stored on a server, instead of a laptop, for example). We made Citrix automation a key feature of our product. Our results in the BPO industry prove it: in 2015, a global BPO used our solution to develop and roll out a large RPA project designed for process automation and system integration at an enterprise level.


This BPO was looking to help their customers reduce operational costs and improve performance without compromising data or applications. Due to security considerations, more than 75% of their customers delivered their applications via Citrix. It was vital for them to find a solution that could achieve seamless, highly accurate and consistent automation in remote desktop scenarios.


In the first six months since the solution was globally rolled out, about 150 processes for the BPO service delivery to external customers have been automated. About 50 UiPath Robots, responsible for the 150 processes, have automatically contributed to delivering approx. 1.000.000 transactions.


That same year we introduced “anchors” to our automation tool, which allow identifying UI elements when reliable selectors are not available. For example, in the often-occurring case of extracting values from a series of PDF files or invoices, anchors are fixed elements used to identify where and what the text or image is. This method is more reliable than other data extraction approaches because it can handle even structural changes in documents.


Our competition added the innovative anchors to their automation solutions only in 2017. As firm believers in free innovation, we consider that all RPA vendors should feel inspired by what their competition brings new to the table to deliver better outcomes to customers.




The next best thing


We already have 500 enterprise customers. By the end of 2018, we will reach 1500 enterprise customers. (Daniel Dines)


The year 2015 represented a huge landmark for us: it’s when our product truly became enterprise-grade, an accomplishment marked by enterprise RPA partnerships with global BPO & consulting companies. This is also the year in which we launched a free, full-featured version of our product to individual users, education projects, and small businesses. UiPath Community Edition currently counts more than 120.000 lifetime downloads.


Do you remember that team of 10 employees at the beginning of this adventure? By 2016, UiPath had 100 employees and more than 100 enterprise customers. One year later, in 2017, those numbers skyrocketed. We opened 10 global offices, our customer base grew to approximately 500 brands, and our team now had more than 500 people.


The RPA field itself has significantly changed within the last two to three years. According to Everest Group, in 2015, the RPA market size was of only about $132 million, growing by approximately 62% in 2016, to over $200 million, while for 2018 the growth is set to increase by 70 to 90%.


Our 2017 product release introduced multi-tenancy and brought enterprise-grade scalability, making the development and management of large virtual workforces safe, quick and easy. The newly launched 2018 Platform Release takes scalability to a new level, with 10,000 Robots proven and tested to operate at the same time. What’s more, this year we are concentrating our efforts towards achieving the perfect blend of RPA and AI. Because this is what our customers need.


To turn this goal into reality, our software architects and developers have spent the last year enhancing our Robots with in-built computer vision with deep learning, essentially allowing screen object classification in images. This means that Robots will be able to understand any screen with human accuracy. Next, our system will have the ability to be continuously trained by assisting a human employee. You will see how it works first hand this Spring and it will enhance any Citrix automation you plan to implement.


At the same time, UiPath is striving to launch the first ever automation Marketplace. The UiPath Marketplace is set to share best-practices and re-usable solutions. We will offer the platform where other companies can deliver the best AI, BPM and IT Service Management solutions in the world. Models, templatized processes or any other solutions will be shared and monetized in a single place.


How will this work? It’s simple. Our distribution is built on NuGet, the package manager (yes, we decided to not reinvent the wheel and take the best from Microsoft), which allows us to deliver pointed updates, to innovate much faster and add new integrations to our core software. The Marketplace will use the same form of distribution.


Let’s assume you built this great machine learning model that offers a solution for signature verification which delivers with 98% accuracy. How do you monetize? Your company will be able to convert it to a NuGet package, publish it in our Marketplace and an RPA developer will use it as an activity in UiPath Studio and do “drag and drop” in the process. We will deliver your solution as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to our enterprise customers.


Find out more about other UiPath innovations and plans for the future from Daniel’s keynote right below.


by Gratiela Dumitrica

TOPICS: UiPath Software, UiPath, Robotic Process Automation, Automation, AI

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