Automation is not just RPA: Workato CIO

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Automation is no longer a mere luxury for enterprises. It’s now a necessary tool in reducing operating costs, achieving higher productivity, and increasing performance.

To help accomplish these goals, various software companies have created different types of automation tools. For California-based Workato, the way forward is through an enterprise integrated platform for automating processes across cloud applications, on-premises, and databases.

For a deeper look into the approach, Frontier Enterprise spoke with Carter Busse, Workato’s Chief Information Officer. We also asked him about the popular processes that customers use, what companies need to use the Workato platform, and using automation in unexpected ways, among others.

What are some of the processes and internal setups that enterprises need to have in place before they can leverage and maximise Workato’s automation platform?

Workato is built on the foundation of an integration platform as a service (iPaaS), so we call our approach “integration-led” automation. We’re happy to share that 77% of Workato customers are able to go live with their first automation within a week.

As a result, all that is needed to get started with Workato are some enterprise applications, a willing team, and a few creative ideas about how to automate processes between them. There are countless stories of teams made up of business users with no technical background creating new revenue streams for their company, solving a tough problem, or uncovering new opportunities with Workato’s low-code, no-code platform.

A recent study by Gartner revealed that 89% of board directors say digital is embedded in all business growth strategies, yet only 35% have achieved or are on track to achieving their digital transformation goals. We believe that the technology gap is one of the major problems holding organisations back from achieving this.

The technology gap refers to the technical capabilities required for modern integrations. Currently, popular approaches to automation include robotic process automation (RPA), process mining, and iPaaS. However, RPA has dominated the headlines in recent years, leading many organisations today to equate RPA with automation. What many organisations don’t realise is that RPA is only the “first mile” of the automation journey that supports use cases based on a single or small group of tasks, such as saving documents from emails to a shared folder, or copying and pasting data from one system to another. We believe businesses that focus their automation strategy solely on RPA are missing the tremendous value offered by integration-led, end-to-end automation that is more holistic and all-encompassing.

What truly elevates an organisation’s workflow is automating the process that not only involves tasks, but different people and systems as well – an integration-led approach to automation. While simply automating a small element of a bigger process using RPA can drive some efficiency, multiplying that automation across the end-to-end business process is what delivers exponential results.

An integration-led automation has the ability to leverage different technologies to retrieve data from different sources, and has the intelligence to dictate how the processes and integrations should behave across a multitude of applications and systems. This approach will prioritise your automation investments, ensure that you are choosing the right tool for the right part of your automation, and orchestrate process automations that trigger actions across your tightly interwoven business applications.

What are some of the common processes that customers automate using Workato’s automation platform? How do you work with customers that require specific/custom automations?

Carter Busse, Chief Information Officer, Workato. Image courtesy of Workato.

According to our annual Work Automation Index, a report based on anonymised data collected from our enterprise customers, finance is the most automated department, totaling 26% of all automations. Finance automations such as order-to-cash and record-to-report are some of the most automated processes.

Aside from finance automation, HR automation, such as employee onboarding, also continues to be a primary focus for organisations, amid the soaring competition for top talent and as employee experience becomes top of mind for most organisations. In the wake of new talent crises such as the Great Resignation, we are also seeing organisations lean on automation to elevate employee experience in order to recruit and retain staff. Scoot, a Singaporean low-cost airline, is one such example. Scoot enabled its employees to perform a multitude of employee-related transactions within the Workato platform. Now, the HR team from Scoot can manage everything in-house, be more creative when it comes to engaging its employees, and scale accordingly to meet future employee needs.

Customer experience is a key area of priority for Workato’s transformation process and we work very closely with our customers to tailor a solution for each customer’s specific needs. What Workato wants to achieve is to find the simplest solution to any problem and reduce the gap between a company’s automation strategy and execution.

Businesses today use a plethora of apps and app combinations to suit their specific needs, leading to a host of challenges such as process fragmentation. This is where Workato comes in, linking and giving users the choice of creating a custom API or using ready-built “Workato Recipes”. Workato Recipes allows users to handle different types of app integration and workflow automation scenarios.

However, even with the flexibility of recipes, we knew that we could not personally build out every possible automation scenario to meet the customisation needs of all enterprises. This led to the birth of the Workato Community library, where we have built a community of customers, partners, citizen developers, and integration specialists who contribute their recipes regularly. To date, we have over 100,000 public recipes where customers are able to find recipes that meet their needs and customisations.

Where do you foresee automation being applied in the enterprise that may not be so obvious today? How will emerging technologies like AI, ML, and 5G affect automation’s evolution?

Security automation is one of the more unexpected areas we are seeing automation happening. Cybersecurity is an evolving practice and, with cyberattacks increasing in sophistication and frequency, we expect organisations to rely more on automation to provide frontline operators with the tools required to reduce repetitive tasks and build a more efficient and robust security team.

Though still in nascent stages, there are now a number of automation tools that can alert you to security risks and create actions based on those alerts. A customer example would be ExpressVPN, one of the largest providers of VPN services. ExpressVPN was spending hours investigating false positives in security alerts and had less time to focus on investigating real security issues. Needing a solution that was quick to implement, resilient, and scalable, they turned to Workato to automate security breach alerts to eliminate false positives and streamline its security breach management process.

When these automated processes are further empowered by emerging technologies such as AI, ML, and 5G, just think of the speed, efficiency, personalisation, and insights that organisations would gain from both an internal operations perspective, as well as external engagements with customers and partners.

That said, only when organisations, developers, and business users understand and are able to leverage integration-led, end-to-end automation, will businesses be able to fully reap the benefits of automation. I look forward to seeing how businesses will leverage automation in unexpected ways.

You were an early employee at Salesforce and held several leadership roles. What specific lessons learned there are you able to apply at Workato? What was the most interesting part of working at Salesforce?

I learned every aspect of the classic “keep the lights on” IT in my early days at Salesforce. My later years of running IT at Salesforce taught me two major lessons, which I continue to apply to my current role as Workato’s CIO.

One, the true value of a strong IT leader lies in being able to effectively manage business applications that help run the company. Managing these applications gives you a better understanding of the company’s near and longer-term technology needs, and empowers you to have important conversations with your business partners. This, in turn, enables IT leaders to drive more effective partnerships and become more strategic.

Two, it is important to articulate IT’s value both up and down the management chain. If IT leaders do not put in consistent effort to define their team’s relevance and value, their teams may find it hard to secure the resources needed to deliver results.

Most interestingly, being at Salesforce allowed me to be a part of a company that was defining an entirely new space and business model in technology. Salesforce created the software-as-a service technology stack with a subscription-based business model, transforming the entire software industry. Being at the forefront of that was a truly eye-opening and valuable experience.

What are some of the most exciting developments in Workato’s laboratories at the moment? What other emerging technologies do you plan to adopt in the future?

Workato pioneered workbot for Slack and MS Teams to allow for user interaction with the processes that companies automate using Workato. But the demand for user interaction and apps goes beyond Slack and Microsoft Teams. As great as these tools are, our customers want more. They want to build completely standalone, branded applications with their own URL, embedded within a portal, and available on multiple devices.

Workato is building Workato Apps. This low-code application development platform aims to help customers create applications at key points in their processes. For example, imagine a process needs an interactive status page, or a landing page to publicly share provisioning availability. The opportunities are endless in this space!