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Pranjal Sharma

Pranjal Sharma has been analysing, commenting and writing on economic and development policy in India for 25 years. He has worked in print, TV and digital media in leadership positions and guided teams to interpret economic change and India’s engagement with the world

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“Productivity Needs Automation-First Mindset”

Shukla says automation will create more jobs while helping professionals become better-skilled

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Mihir Shukla, CEO and Co-Founder of US-based Automation Anywhere, speaks to Pranjal Sharma in Davos about the importance of automation. Shukla says automation will create more jobs while helping professionals become better-skilled.  Automation Anywhere is an intelligent automation technology company that saw revenues grow by 50% in 2022. In particular, the APAC market is of great importance to the company. About 40% of the 4 million bots run by Automation Anywhere are deployed and managed from India. Prior to founding the company nearly 20 years ago, Mihir held leadership roles in internet, e-commerce and wireless markets at the forefront of innovation.

Your company has been leading the world in automation-based solutions. How do you see automation as an input or as a force for positive change in the world?
What we are witnessing now is several crises and challenges on multiple fronts. We have uncertainty on political fronts and warfront. We have uncertainty on inflation. And we have a huge skills gap and even in 2023, there is still a huge skills gap in the world. Most employers say we can’t find people with the right skills. The world is evolving into a completely new economy. Call it the automation economy, because automation has to be the foundation of how we operate every aspect of our business. And when we do that, automation gives you agility. Agility is the foundation of stability in a world of uncertainty.

Automation gives you reduced cost at speed and scale that can create an encounter against inflation. And automation will allow us to use people where it matters the most and while bridging the skills gap. We also have a responsibility to reskill people on some of the new digital technologies so that they have better paying jobs and more satisfying jobs. But in the next 10 and 20 years, you will see an acceleration of the automation economy.

The technology sector is shedding jobs. There seems to be confusion in the mind of business leaders about the growth path. What would your thoughts be on this?
If you're a leader, you ask that automation and engaging more people are the opposite of each other. Somebody might think so but, it is not. So, if you think about the previous large revolution with computers, it was the same fear that was there where if computers came what would happen to the jobs. In reality, it created more higher paying jobs. And today, there are more high paying jobs than any other time in human history.

The automation revolution with RPA and AI is bringing the next logical step in that journey. It will create net new jobs, better jobs, higher paying jobs, and more jobs that are more satisfying. Maybe we will require less data entry people but more people to create a bot, manage a bot, run a bot and data scientists for creating new operating models, just like it happened with computers. This is the next chapter in the technology evolution, with a brand-new set of technologies. This will also allow companies to grow their businesses, connect with customers and connect in a way that is not connected before.

This is a necessary transformation for all businesses. We are going to operate in a world that will require speed, scale, agility, and ability to operate more efficiently. And automation is a key part of that solution.

You believe that the computer chip revolution has brought us to a certain stage but the next leap forward in efficiency cannot happen with the existing framework. What is required now?
Incremental change is not enough. We need something that will accelerate productivity exponentially.  There are only two ways to grow in the world. Either we grow through population growth or existing people improve their output. Last 60 years, both have improved. Now our planet's population isn't growing. So, productivity must grow at double the pace. And so, in that maths, we  need technologies that are completely transformative to the new operating model. This will have to be an automation first mindset.  

I'll share one interesting data with you. We today run about 100 million processes on our platform and that platform grows in double digits every month. This is already happening across so many customers. What is interesting is, 20 per cent of those processes is work that we weren't doing before. Either it was not possible technologically or not economically viable. If you extrapolate that, in a few years, 40 per cent of processes will automate. What does that mean? It means that we are producing new products, new services, better quality of service, better quality of life. This is the new operating model.

Let's talk a little bit about India. India is using technology at scale with both the government and the private sector. What's your footprint in India for Automation Anywhere? What kind of growth and plans do you have?
It is exciting to see the growth that India enterprises are driving. This is a perfect time for India to create a foundation for speed and scale. Even though India has a vast number of human resources available, it must be used in the right to be efficient. This is a great time to construct operating models that are very cost effective with the help of automation for speed, scale reliability, agility, error free high outcomes. Then we have to take those models to every aspect of service from citizen services to manufacturing to knowledge-based businesses, retail and across every industry. That opportunity is in front of it. There are many Indian businesses who are taking a lead role. So are any global businesses who are based in India. 

What type of companies will you focus on for growing your business in India?
We are a global business with customers in over 90 countries. But India has a very special place for us, because more than 50 per cent of our workforce is here. And we have a vast number of customers based in India. I think our focus is on large and midsize customers. Large customers that use automation projects that hold the promise of saving thousands of crores. A single end to end process cash flow management has that potential. 

Those models are being discussed with India enterprises. The work which has been done for the last two years is scaling now. I look forward to it continuing on this path.

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Mihir Shukla WEF 2023 Davos 2023