The Future of Intelligent Automation with Brad Hairston at Blue Prism #44

Interview

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the process and automation podcast with the automation guys, as you know, we like to mix it up here on the podcast and after a couple of news, roundups, chatbots, and low code episodes today, we have another interview episode and, uh, yeah, it seems like interview episodes are one of our most popular one.

Usually you hear on, on myself talking about all things, process and automation. And in this episode, we are speaking to very interesting people who share the same patient for process and automation as we do. And, uh, yeah, this was great pleasure to welcome today’s interview guests. Um, we welcome Brad Hairston Advisory Alliance Director at Blue Prism to the podcast.

Hello, Brad. Thank you for joining us. Thank you, sir. I’m really glad to be here and thanks to you too, Arno. Thanks Brad. Yeah. So, um, Brad, please, uh, please tell us a bit more about yourself and what you’re responsible for at blue prism. Absolutely happy to do. So I spent about 30 years as a consultant across four different firms, a big for a boutique firm and a couple of firms in between those and I moved over to blue prism about three years ago.

I had what I like to call a healthy midlife crisis. I really, I really wanted to, you know, have a career change. Uh, I wanted to be part of something that was transformational, that was disruptive and everywhere I looked. That screamed out intelligent automation. I just was really captivated by it. And so I joined the company, uh, and you know, in a lot of ways, blue prism operates like a startup company, which is really nice.

My role. Is to establish and cultivate relationships with the top advisory firms in the market. I’m talking about the management consulting firms who don’t implement technology and nor do they advocate for technology. So it’s a, it’s challenging, but it’s also very interesting and engaging and, and, uh, you know, I think our interest in them is easy to understand they are involved in driving transformational change.

And so I spend my time collaborating with them and doing the best I can to help them understand how intelligent automation can be a powerful lever to help them achieve a number of different business outcomes. And, uh, in, in, in turn they learned something new. Uh, they, they, uh, add to their playbook. Uh, you might say, and that’s when I call it a success.

So, uh, and then like you gentlemen, uh, also involved in podcasting, I co-host blue Prism’s podcast. We started, uh, back in February of 2020, and we’ve done about 110 episodes. And we have listeners in about 85 countries. So it’s been a lot of fun. Oh, fantastic. You know, there’s so much new stuff coming up, isn’t it.

On a, on a weekly basis. Yeah, between on, on myself. Uh, we, we are working was approximately like 15 vendors to support companies. Um, uh, all over Europe was all things processing automation. Um, where do you see the sweet spot for blue prism in the market? Yeah, we, I mean, we pioneered the space of robotic process automation a little over 20 years ago and we believe then.

As we believe now that our sweet spot is enterprise intelligent automation. So we are built to support automation across all functional areas, all business units of the enterprise. If you are, if a company is looking to just automate a handful of processes or enable citizen developers to automate individual tasks on their desktops, we’re probably not your RPA plus.

But if you can envision a day when maybe a third of your company consists of digital workers, then we probably are your RPA platform. That’s the way we think of it. So the ability to scale easily is in the fabric of our platform. In addition, it’s I think it’s important to point out and we do say this quite a bit.

We are not just another tool. And the it toolbox. We essentially provide a new labor source for companies, but a very unique one. Our digital workers are much cheaper than even offshore labor. Plus they work 24 7 and they don’t make mistakes. They can tap into AI capabilities to handle complex processes.

And as companies utilize more and more intelligent automation, it’s enabling them to free up their human workers to do work that’s higher value added and more in line with their innate human capabilities. Yeah, that’s very insightful. Thank you. And I think just talking on the subject of digital workforce.

Um, a lot of our listeners are always interested in what type of use cases can be, um, solved using RPA. And I’d like to talk about that in the podcast. So Brad, looking back at the last 12 month period also, and what do you think was the most exciting or impactful use cases delivered with the blue prism, intelligent automation plan?

Absolutely. I mean, Arnaud, obviously, you know, we’re at a maturity point where there are virtually no functional areas that have escaped some form of automation. The fact that we’re now combining digital workers with advanced skills like AI and ML NLP, the sky is the limit in terms of what can be automated.

And we keep adding more and more skills. That’s not going to say. All that being said, companies still began and finance and accounting. And that’s the, that’s typically where the low hanging fruit opportunities like invoice processing and collections and FP and a, all those things, uh, are, are, are typically the beginning point.

But I think three use cases. That go beyond that, that I, that, that have definitely been top of mine. The first one I would bring up is a, you know, a purpose-built intelligent automation solution. That’s focused on a specific process at scale, and that’s, that’s kind of a mouthful, but let me, let me give you an example.

We recently had a partner in South Africa. Uh, an SSI partner named cogent, they built an intelligent automation solution on blue prism that automates the replenishment process, uh, that, that hinders retailers in particular. And so they’re. Had 1600 retail stores across Africa and replenishment was their biggest pain point.

So cogent automated that they enabled each store to remove. I think something like 12 hours a day of manual effort and the impact to their bottom line has been significant so far. So I really liked that. I’m seeing a lot more. Going on with our partners where they’re attacking a process, they’re building something specifically around that process.

And then, uh, as, as in this case with cogent, they’re also supporting it, managing it as a, as a managed service. So I think we’re going to see a lot more of that, um, going forward. Sure. And obviously, um, you know, from our side, we’ve seen a lot of innovation happening, um, especially with, with the pandemic and a lot of companies, um, needing sort of extra scalability.

And, uh, you know, we, we, we’ve seen quite a few use cases in that space as well, where, you know, there, there was this need to, to obviously plug in these digital workers to, to plug the gaps, so to speak. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So a second one that I would highlight is predictive maintenance. Which is big in industrial operations, utilities, energy telco, where companies are using digital workers to collect data from sensors that are in pipelines or electrical substations or wifi towers, whatever it might be.

And they’re feeding that data into AI. Algorithms that can potentially identify, uh, outages, you know, before they happen. I mean, that’s really compelling when you think about how this mitigates risk, how it even death, in some cases, how it protects the environment, how it, uh, protects revenue, um, really, really powerful and, and very natural for digital workers to play a role, uh, in that type of scenario.

And then a third, uh, that is just really become prominent. And in the last year, especially for us at blue prism is around contact center, intelligent automation. And in here, what blue prism has done the approach we’ve taken is we have created a solution that essentially gives a pool of shared digital workers.

To the agents in the contact center that can automate work before, during, and after a customer interaction, regardless of how that interaction comes in, whether it’s a phone call is a, it’s an email it’s, um, you know, through a chat bot, whatever it is. These digital workers are working from the very beginning and they’re making the, the workload on the agent, uh, much less.

They’re making their experience better. They’re making the customer experience better and, you know, re reducing that average call time is, is significant. I mean, it just, it gives you the ability to reduce your workforce where you need to. But, you know, the customer, the customer benefit is significant.

When you have to, you can spend less time on a phone call with an agent, for example, I mean, we all want that. Um, so this area is just right for automation in both large and small companies that utilize contact centers. And so we have a lot of customers that are, that are going full bore in this direction with intelligent automation.

And then we have a lot of other companies that have. Platform in the world, but they’re not using the power of digital workers in the front office, in the contact center. And that’s, that’s a huge, uh, very important use case I think going forward. Wow. Yeah, that sounds sounds fantastic. Um, but out there, there are definitely plenty of use cases and, uh, yeah.

And that automation seems to widen as well. Uh, I see not just the large enterprises where we used to work a lot, so now more and more trickles down, sort of the, the smaller, medium sized businesses. And they have some really exciting use cases as well. And, uh, yeah, I’m, I’m excited to see, um, where that goes over the next 12.

Absolutely. So yeah, intelligent automation, uh, buzzwords, hyper automation. So all these, uh, terms coming up, um, looking a bit into the future, where do you see things developing for companies, uh, in, in these areas? Well, the future is pretty exciting, Sasha, and it’s taking shape rather quickly. We’re going to continue to expand and enhance our platform, but at the same time, continue to add best of breed technology partners.

We are, I think we’re up to 124. The technology Alliance partners. And I mean, that is, that is critical to our strategy with each new partnership. We’re giving customers the ability to access new advanced skills so they can automate, you know, more and more and more. So that’s going to continue for us. And as you know, we are squarely in the era of intelligent automation, you know, the combination of RPA and AI, but we’re moving rapidly toward the next phase, which we at blue prism like to call autonomous.

Automation, this involves several new key capabilities for the digital workforce. The first of which is processed intelligence. Uh, and as you both know, we made an announcement last week where we have added process and task mining capabilities to the blueprints and platform through an OEM relationship with Abby time.

Uh, one of the leaders in this space and the market, um, we’ve now brought that into our platform and integrated with it. And the future of the automation cycle now begins with automation. So process intelligence is going to provide a fact-based view of how work gets done at both the departmental and an individual level.

And then we’re fast pathing, this information into blue prism. So the automation cycle can begin more quickly and more seamlessly from. We’re giving the digital workers, the ability to develop automations by themselves with very limited, if any human intervention and we call that self programming. So we’re going to have self programming, digital workers.

And then we’re giving the digital workers the ability to recognize when a user interface that has been used in an automation workflow. When it changes in any way, the digital worker is going to recognize that and be able to make the fixes automatically to keep the process working. So self-healing is another capability that’s coming and then finally self orchestration.

So we know to, to scale and to automate as much across an enterprise as possible. We have to give the digital workers the ability to manage themselves more effectively to optimize the capacity of each digital worker and make sure that work is getting execute. According to the priorities that the company has established.

So self orchestrations and other, a big piece of that. It’s, it’s a lot of cool stuff. That’s in the works. Uh, it’s key to our strategy. And as, as we make it easier and faster to automate across the enterprise, intelligent automation truly becomes a core competency for organizations it’s gonna enable them to compete and thrive in the digital world.

Oh, that’s sounds very exotic. Yeah. Fantastic. So, so bright with all of these innovative technologies available. Currently, we often get a question from our listeners and the question to you. What’s your advice for companies getting started with process and automation projects? That’s a great question. I, the way I like to position.

Intelligent automation is like this, the most important asset in any company bar, none is its people. So every company I think at the very beginning should step back and ask the question, how do I get the most value from those assets, from those human assets? What activities do I want them to be doing day in and day out, virtually everything else with a few exceptions, of course, but almost everything.

It should be automated or should be on the, on the, in the queue for automation. Now that can be pretty overwhelming to most companies because the number of processes that are right for automation is significant, but there are many tools and consulting partners like conveyed to who can help you sort all that out and identify not just the potential for automation, but the right processes to begin with.

From there. I would, I typically would suggest a few guiding principles. The first one is find an automation champion or sponsor at the business operations executive level. That’s important. It can’t be a low level department level. Yeah, business sponsor. It needs to be someone that has some clout has some decision-making ability, has some budget to really support and drive this.

And I always think that should be at the business operations level. Um, but. You need to pair that person up with a very collaborative partner in it. And I say partner, because I, while I don’t think automation initiatives should be driven by it, it is a critical partner in the process and they need to be involved from the very beginning.

So I like that duo of a business sponsor champion with a, with a collaborative partner in it. And then I, I like to say, and this goes back to the automation, uh, just, just how much potential it’s important to think big, but start small. So choose some processes with less, less complexity right out of the gate, because you want to build momentum quickly, but you do that while having an eye toward the rest of the company.

So think enterprise. I don’t think point solution, as I said before, if you’re thinking point solution don’t even blue prism, shouldn’t be in the equation. Think bigger than that. And then think how do I automate like finance and accounting? Don’t think, how do I, how do I automate accounts payable? Although AP may be the best place to start, but you want to, you want to be thinking bigger from the very beginning.

It’s. And then finally, finally, I would say, just move quickly. I mean, your competitors, no matter what industry you’re in your competitors are already headed down this road and your new competitors. When you think about FinTech and green tech and all the other texts that are out there. They are using intelligent automation to build their companies from the ground up.

So they’re going to have the ability to compete with you in a way that, that you haven’t seen. So there’s not time to overanalyze overthink over pilot over POC, this type of capability. If you’re not moving, you’re done. Wow, that sounds kind of bleak. Sorry about that. But, uh, but I do, I do think it’s important to have a bit of a rah rah there for, for any company that maybe has moved slowly, or they’re still just not fully embracing this capability.

Um, it can be transformational if you allow it to be transformational and our biggest and best customers, that’s the approach they’ve taken. They’ve said this is not just a new technical. This is the future of work, and this is the way we’re going to do it going forward. And when everybody gets on board with that, it can really, really transform the company.

Yeah. And I guess it’s a valid point. If this comes from the top, then most people will, will follow that leadership. And, um, and I think strategically, if that message is very clear that. We in the business to outsource finance, outsource HR. So that can be in the business of doing our business better. It should almost be that sort of thinking.

That, you know, we, we don’t want to deal with the boring stuff that happens in accounts and, you know, no disrespect to, to, to our colleagues in finance. Uh, they, they play a very important role, but it’s, it’s sort of that almost that thinking if we can outsource this to a digital worker, you know, why she went on to do that.

And like you rightly said, I think that the kind of strategic buy-in from this is so important and really. We we see that quick wins. This is very important as well, uh, because that builds faith in the digital workforce and it takes all the scaremongering away. Um, you know, we see a lot of people coming to us and actually thanking us because they don’t have to crunch this Excel spreadsheet every day they can get on with, with, with, with other things.

And, uh, you know, you give them their most precious commodity back and that’s. So, so yeah, I really liked that. I think that that’s, that’s quite a, sort of a bold, bold vision in terms of strategy. Um, and you know, I think if it can be automated, why shouldn’t it be automated? Yeah. And, and your ride. So it might, it might be bleak.

Um, um, but, uh, I think it should be, you should be a bit more of a wake up call to many businesses, um, these days. And this is why we’re doing the podcast as well. Um, we want them to get started because. Well over the next 10 years, the rise for skills in the market, uh, it is, it will be, will be crazy. That’s what everyone says.

What, what all the experts say. So there is, there is no time actually to lose, to, to get the business ready, um, to, to automate as much as possible. Of of these activities because there will not be enough workforce human workforce available to, to get the work done. And exactly. And then businesses are, it sounds really bleak, but then they, they, they are not, they’re not competitive anymore.

So then they are being ups a day. They will be absorbed. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And I think one other, one other point to make here, I recently interviewed an expert on AI, uh, in one of, in one of the blue prism podcasts. And he made a really strong point that, that, you know, AI is pervasive. It’s everywhere.

There’s like, uh, there’s like a new AI company that’s taking shape every. And Silicon valley, just for, just as one example. And so companies, it’s not that companies are not doing stuff with AI. They’re just not doing it at scale. They haven’t that hasn’t been integrated into the fabric of their company and.

To me, that is another huge way that that intelligent automation can change the, the, the status quo because you can, when you, when you attach digital workers to these advanced capabilities, even the brand new ones that have come out in the last three to four years, you’re, you’re conquering that. You’re basically allowing that to be used at scale and to do things that humans just can’t do even, even.

You know, a department of data scientist sitting in your building that are analyzing data and using all these tools. I mean, they’re limited. They don’t have the capacity to do what digital workers can do when they’re using those same advanced capabilities. So, so I think, I think it’s, uh, it’s an incredible way to create competitive advantage and to.

Really, you know, address these new competitors that have entered the market, these fintechs and such, uh, I think they’re going to be really hard to compete with, uh, at some point, because they’re, they’re, they’re taking that digital first perspective, right? From the beginning and for these old legacy companies that are not thinking that way, they’re, they’re going to, they’re going to be a threat going forward.

All right now, now I’m moving over from the, from the bleakness into something more light. Um, so we, we in our listeners like to get to know our interview guests a bit more than, than sort of the technical side and the business side. So that’s why we have prepared a few questions. Um, and, uh, yeah, so they are a bit different.

Um, um, maybe I kick off one and then we can see how it goes. I’m ready. All right. Who is your idol? And. Ooh. Uh, you know, I, I have, uh, there’s a lot of people I, I significantly admire. I think my dad is probably the primary idol or a role model in my life. I mean, he’s, he’s just been a incredible loving father.

Um, Loving husband to my mother, they’ve been married 56 years. Um, so I try to follow his example in a lot of ways. Um, he was very successful in business as well. I didn’t choose his profession. Uh, I could have followed behind that, but he, he gave me the freedom to kind of do what I wanted to do and go where my heart took me in terms of my career.

And he’s just been so supportive. And so, uh, so I would say. That’s right. Um, so I’ve got another one for you, Brad. So all the contents of knowledge of a book instantly, which book would you choose? I would say the Bible. I just sorry to go spiritual on you there, but, uh, that, I can’t think of any other book.

Um, and I’m reading through it this year. That’s one of my goals for 2021. So that’s been, uh, that’s been really, uh, fantastic. I’ve never, I’ve never read through it in its entirety in one year. Um, so, uh, so yeah, that would be my. Cool. Yeah. Um, uh, what’s the best advice you have ever received the best at Feis?

Well, I’ve, I’ve received a lot of advice. I’ve needed a lot of advice. Let me put it that way. Uh, many years ago, I think what comes to mind is, is many years ago I learned about. Um, a research paper that was done by a, uh, Polish, uh, lady, Alicia. I think her last name’s a wants SCA. She was an anthropologist in the 20th century and she researched how humans categorize.

People that they encounter. And her research concluded that in general, we tend to view other humans as either scenery. You know, they just kind of blend in the background or their machinery, meaning they’re just here to service, you know, give us our coffee, whatever, or their people. And that third category obviously are the ones that we, you know, we invest in and we care about, we spend the most energy on and that really stuck with me.

And I’ve, I’ve just made it my goal to view. Everybody in that third category and, and people, I mean, people, people who matter, people who have value, people who are worth respect and attention, no one should be overlooked. And so that, that paper, that research paper, um, from that very interesting lady, uh, has really just stuck with me over the years.

So, um, that’s what I would say about best advice. That’s great. And talking about people and I’m going to shift this slightly to a sports question. Okay. Um, and I’ll bring the Olympics into it. So if you could be a world-class athletes, um, what sport would you choose? And if you, if you’re not any good at sport, who would you want to be?

Well, I, I, I I’m definitely am I, my two, uh, 20 something year old boys would support this. I’m not, I’m not terribly athletic. I’m, I’m, you know, constantly mediocre at everything. But the, probably the thing I, I am the best at is skiing. So I would say Alpine skiing. Uh, I just love that sport. I love skiing in general.

Although the last time I did ski, it was about three years ago and I wiped out and separated my shoulder. Um, so I haven’t skied since then. Uh, but I need to get out there and do it. Um, so I think if I, if I could be an athlete, if I was good enough, I would do that. I just, it just amazes me how fast those folks go down the mountain and, and, uh, you know, just with, with no fear whatsoever, or maybe they do have fear, they just don’t show it.

But if I had to pick a second one, it would be curling. I think curling curling is fascinating. And we actually have a place in the Dallas area where I live, where you can do a, like a, a team outing and you can go, it’s like an ice rink and they have a curling, um, that you can do as a team. Uh, I think that I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve heard about it for it.

It’s a lot of fun. So I’m going to have to go give that to. See how good I am at it. Yeah. Sounds great. Yeah. It’s one of those sports that’s um, it’s always fascinated me how I can watch it and sort of it’s a bit addictive, isn’t it? Yeah. You think this is the most boring thing for another two hours watching.

It’s just incredible scale. I did it once and yeah, it’s incredible. Um, what kind of competitive net ness there is to be more precise than the other and it looks, looks much easier than it really is. It is. I am sure that’s the case. Yeah. Yeah. I’m sure it is a lot harder than it looks on TV, but yeah, I, I think it’s, I think it’s fascinating.

So. I have to give it a shot and lost a lot less risk of, you know, breaking a shoulder or dislocated your shoulder. That’s right. Skiing. Although I would, I would find a way to separate my shoulder by slipping on the ice. So I w I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t rule that out. Yeah. Great. Fantastic. Thank you. No. Thank you very much, Brett, for, for, for taking the time to be on the, on the podcast.

So this, this was our last question to you. We have one more question. Um, what would be the best way for our listeners to get in touch with you? That’s uh, the, see, I think I would, I would, uh, invite them to, uh, maybe go to my LinkedIn profile and they can, they can send me a message there. Um, I’m I welcome any reach outs there.

Uh, and my email is also another simple way. That’s [email protected] Also welcome that. Um, so. Appreciate the, the opportunity to put that out there, but I welcome, uh, questions or ideas or, uh, feed. Oh, fantastic. Yeah, we’ll put this into the show notes and then our listeners can have easy access to that and it will be when we post out the, um, uh, the podcast as well, so everyone can reach out.

Um, yeah, it was a real pleasure to have you here on the podcast and to discuss these topics with us. And, um, yeah, it will be fantastic to have you back on the show, uh, in the future and, uh, Thank you so much. Sounds great. Thank you, Sasha and Arno. It’s been a great pleasure. So appreciate the opportunity to be on with you.

Unfortunately, that’s it again, with this episode of the process and automation podcast. If you liked this episode, please give us a five-star rating and don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast. So you don’t miss any upcoming episode. We hope you will tune in the next. And until then let’s automate it.

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