RPA challenge inspires SAP/Oracle veteran Tim Ebbeck

Tim Ebbeck is Senior Vice President and Managing Director in ANZ, Automation Anywhere. Tim has spent the past 30 years transforming some of the world’s largest technology companies including Oracle, SAP and NBN Co in Australia. In an interview with IDM, he outlined his key priorities for Automation Anywhere in ANZ, including the opening of three new operations in Canberra, Sydney and Auckland before year-end, with plans to further expand in 2019.

IDM: Tim. You’ve led some major ERP vendors, Oracle and SAP in Australia, and ERP is traditionally regarded as the top of the pyramid for Enterprise software. Why the move now into Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

TE: SAP took control of the ERP space in the 1990s and the 2000s. I see that as the first phase of automation. It was the first opportunity to implement automation to see immediate benefits and drive real business value. While there have been stories of great success, there are equally as many stories about the challenges in implementing automation. Things have developed quite significantly since then. Whilst at SAP and also when I led Oracle, there was a significant shift to a more hybrid environment where large and important on premises solutions were supplemented and complemented by cloud solutions.

The hybrid environment that we have today is comprised of many complex systems completing a lot of work. But there remain huge gaps that require a great deal of work to be done manually by people. A lot of this work is mundane, a lot of it riddled with challenges that can be automated. This is where RPA comes in –  where businesses can build artificial intelligence (AI) and deep analytic capabilities into the technology. This frees up people’s time to do more creative work.

When I was first approached by Automation Anywhere I did a bit of research and it struck me that they are a market leader since they are the only vendor to provide RPA, cognitive automation and built-in analytics in one platform. Australia and New Zealand is a market that is starting to take off and there is a huge amount of interest, and demand for automation capabilities. This is what interested me in joining Automation Anywhere. It’s fascinating stuff, a great time in history.

IDM: Adrian Jones, your APAC VP has said “The market in ANZ presents a unique opportunity for automation anywhere.” Can you just explain a bit what you think the unique opportunity is?

TE: Well I think there are a couple of things. Australia has traditionally been a very early adopter of a number of technology and business trends. For example, this market was one of the early adopters and leaders in the outsourcing trend. Now there are opportunities as organisations look at not just onshoring but using technology more strategically to bring technologies into their business and overcome some of the deficiencies that occurred in outsourcing previously.

Secondly, the maturity of this market when it comes to cloud, not just ERP but broader systems, be it ERPs, CRMs, big banking projects and core banking systems, insurance systems, logistic systems. I can attest to the fact that back in my SAP days there were quarters where the business in ANZ was the second or third largest operation SAP had in the world. When I was at Oracle we supported large organisations on the journey of transformation from old systems to new systems. This market has significant potential to grow. At the moment Automation Anywhere has only been here for about 18 months and we’ve got our footprint started. Now it’s time for us to accelerate.

IDM: Also, your CEO Mihir Shukla recently stated that automation has reached an inflection point, a tipping point. What do you think that is?

TE: It is not sufficient to continue looking only at the automation of tasks. Businesses need the system to add intelligence to automation technology where it can start to think like people think and analyse the way people analyse. What intrigued me about Automation Anywhere is that it actually has that capability natively built into it with our IQ Bot technology. What organisations are looking for is not just the automation of simple tasks. They’re looking at how they can free up their employees’ time. Most of the tasks that cause people not to enjoy their workplace are actually the mundane, repetitive tasks. RPA can take on a lot of these tasks. There’s hidden value provided aside from improved productivity; employees are happy focusing on more meaningful work. Happier people will lead to better productivity, greater innovation and stronger business results.

RPA is a more scalable and flexible approach compared to traditional approaches. The ability to set up this technology quickly means you don’t need two year, large, complex integration projects. I’ve actually built a bot myself in the space of about 10 minutes. It’s very easy and simple to build. As they are flexible, you can move them around as much as you need. The final benefit relates to the current work in the financial services Royal Commission. A lot of the issues that organisations confront are about the accuracy of information and compliance in an ever increasingly regulated world. I’ve stood on two public company boards and I can assure you that boards are worried about compliance, they’re worried about making sure that the organisation is doing the right thing, that it’s accurate in the way that it talks about and provides information. The whole world of AI-inspired RPA lends itself to that. These are some of the reasons that we’re at that inflection point that Mihir references, and I think they’re all about business benefits.

IDM: Enterprise capture and workflow has been around for a long time promising to plug the gap between business systems, still many organisations still have paper based workflows. Do you think RPA is going to fill that hole?

TE: I think it does fill that gap. Base level RPA where a business is simply doing transactions and repeating them partially fills that gap. When you start adding the ability to think and learn from what’s going on and you add the ability to gather insights as the process is occurring, you’re talking about a very different proposition. We have developed to the next step and I think that’s part of what Mihir refers to when he says that inflection point. We’ve now reached a point where we can do so much more with the technologies that we have today compared to what they were even 18 months ago.

IDM: Other RPA vendors have announced alliances with traditional capture vendors to handle unstructured data or dark data as it’s sometimes referred to. Is Automation Anywhere following a similar strategy or working in house on that problem?

TE: Yes, we have developed IQ Bot to handle automation of unstructured data and this is available within our core Enterprise platform. In addition to doing work ourselves, we’re open to engaging with anyone. I think the differentiator for us is the broader capabilities we have. We’re not needing to partner with organisations to bring the AI piece along for example, but we’re very capable of partnering with anyone that is interested. One of my key focuses is to ensure that we are partner focused. I know from experience in large multinationals how hard it is to change a business model once it has already been set up. What I see in Automation Anywhere at the moment, particularly in this market, is that it’s almost an open book. We can adapt without having to change legacy. The partnership ecosystem is core to what I do, both in terms of technology and collaborating with partners that have deep strategic relationships with clients.

IDM: Lastly, do you think the billion dollar valuations of RPA vendors at the moment are a bubble or they’re justified?

TE: Valuation is based on future potential earnings. One of the things that impressed me about Automation Anywhere is that it didn’t need to take any cash injections. It had no external funding other than from the founders since day one, 15 years ago, prior to its recent Series A funding. This funding will enable us to continue our rapid expansion. By the end of this year we’ll have 35 offices globally. When I started talking to Automation Anywhere it had 750 people globally. By the end of this year we’ll have 1,400 globally. When I started talking to Automation Anywhere only a couple of months ago we had one office in Australia, by the end of this year we’ll have four across Australia and New Zealand. I think the valuations are based on the potential that exists and the potential is going to be realised by investment strategies. So, what we’re doing at the moment is investing to realise that potential.