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Annette Maier: ‘We look at a process from its value creation to the end’

by Dr. Harald Karcher

Annette Maier has a sucessful career in technology of over 20 years in general management. She was Sales Director Software Germany at HP, Vice President Germany at VMware, Managing Director Google Cloud Germany and since 2021 she is Area Vice President Central and Eastern Europe at UiPath. Dr Harald Karcher sat down with her to discuss trends in automation.

How do you define RPA?

RPA stands for Robotic Process Automation – the automation of processes. But RPA is not everything. We look at a process completely, from its value creation to the end. At the beginning of process automation entails process mining, i.e. the analysis of the process: is the current process correct and efficient? Which tasks are assigned to this process? Previously manual processes are then automated with the help of RPA, and at the same time they can be made even more efficient and easier for the users with different intelligences.

Let’s take an example: you get invoices for orders that you have placed. With  RPA, not only is the invoice then compared with the order and automatically released for payment, but you can also read documents with a technology called Document Understanding and assess what kind of discrepancies have arisen. Over time, the system can learn what information is also relevant to the document. We always like to talk about RPA, but the entire process chain is in fact supported by our platform.

Furthermore, you have an infinite number of applications in a company nowadays, and if you want to automate a process, you need information from the individual applications. You have an SAP application, a Salesforce application, and so on, from which you need to draw information in order to map the entire process. Our platform provides this engagement layer, as it is known, and can also support the automation of application testing. What does this mean? Today you have an application with version 4 and tomorrow you are working with the next higher version 5. So as a user you now have to make sure that all the features you need are available. This is usually checked manually by the business users. Users can automate these manual tests with UiPath so as to save time and effort.

How quickly can you get started with RPA?

We have attended and unattended processes: The latter run through without human intervention. Attended means you have a process where human intervention is still partially required. I’ll give you an example: all invoices under €20 are paid automatically. Invoices from €50 or more have to be explicitly checked and approved again. This is called an attended process.

You can also build a robot that automates very simple manual processes, e.g. to search your inbox and filter out e-mails that contain invoice documents, and then use our technology to file the result automatically in a folder labelled “invoices.” You can actually build such a robot yourself as an employee.

You have to imagine the software robot as a digital assistant that looks over your shoulder, records the manual processes that are repeated and then casts them into a process that automates the time-consuming manual processes quickly and efficiently.

How long does it take to create a simple robot?

Our colleagues can automate a simple process for you in one to two hours. Another example is the processing of population register requests, which is still mostly done manually today. The registration request comes in through the citizens’ portal. A comparison is made with the recorded registration data, on the basis of which a confirmation of the registration certificate is created as a PDF and filed in a folder for documentation. This PDF is then attached back to an email and uploaded to the citizen portal, where the citizen can then download the certificate. This is a simple process. There is no intervention in many different applications, so the process can be automated quickly and easily.

Repetitive office work, then?

That’s right. Repetitive tasks and those with high error rates are at issue, because you have to draw data manually from different areas and/or copy them. If you automate this, you avoid transmission errors, for example. This also applies to very complex processes where different information has to be extracted from different applications.

Are you also involved in industry and production?

Yes, everywhere where there are recurring processes. For instance, you boot up your computer in the morning, open five applications, have to enter your password everywhere, and you also have to copy five Excel files from A to B.

With the help of the assistant installed on the laptop, The repetitive tasks are recorded over a certain period of time with the help of the assistant installed in the laptop (path capture), and a sample process is suggested on the basis thereof. You can accept or adapt it and let this process take over your manual work in the future. It doesn’t matter if an employee in the office or in production is concerned. It simply depends on whether it is a repetitive task. KUKA, a German manufacturer of robots and systems for factory automation, also uses our software automations.

Are there parallels between a KUKA robot and a UiPath software?

We complement each other: these physical robots also automate repetitive tasks. In our case, it’s annual financial statements, for example. There is a lot of potential for automation, especially in the financial sector.

At KUKA too employees often have to consult an infinite number of catalogues for new projects to out the parts they need to equip the next upcoming project. This can be done automatically. Finding suitable parts, searching for the corresponding prices, configuring the project, creating a quotation, etc. are always very similar or identical processes.

Do you get to companies via the financial sector?

We are very strong in the HR sector, for everything that concerns onboarding and offboarding, because a whole lot can be automated there. But yes: finance, annual reports, financial statements, tax consulting, auditing, etc.  – process automation can  be used wherever you have to reconcile figures and documents.

Does RPA run in the Cloud also?

I am a cloud fan. You can run everything in the cloud, so it is the customer’s decision to go to the cloud or not. We provide on-premise and off-premise solutions. Our software also runs in the cloud. Only Task Capture runs on your laptop. Everything else is available in the cloud. You are also free to choose which cloud provider you want to use.

What are the arguments in favour of the cloud?

These are the classic parameters that you generally have for the cloud: Performance, agility and costs: In other words, you only pay for what you use.

Can you explain agility?

You are more agile with the cloud. If you have your own data centre today and you are at the end of capacity, you can’t ramp it up immediately. Procuring and installing the new hardware takes time. You don’t have such an issue in the cloud, as new storage is available there immediately on-demand.

And you can add the components of our solution flexibly, exactly according to your needs. Let’s take Document Understanding. If you need to read 50,000 documents today, 100,000 the day after tomorrow and 300,000 before Christmas, then you are more agile if you can do so from the cloud as and when you need to.

We also have companies with a very well streamlined data centre: they use some applications in the cloud, and others locally. Only the public sector is rarely found in the cloud. On-Prem is often still requested there.

Does the Cloud pack more performance?

Yes, of course, which company today has such a data centre available, such support and so much security as Google, Amazon or Microsoft? No company can offer that in this way and form.

And does UiPath run on all three hyperscalers?

Yes, on all three.

Why did you leave the rocket ship Google?  What is so great about UiPath?

You already answered the question yourself when you said you watched 80 minutes of YouTube with our CEO Daniel Dines from the Forward 4 conference Las Vegas 2021 in the run-up to our interview:

The UiPath technology is sensational. For me, it has a lot of focus for the future, and I believe that automation is an essential component between on-Prem and cloud. As long as everything is manual, we can have as much cloud as we want: You have to automate it first, otherwise even the cloud won’t help. In this respect, our automation is also a cloud enabler of sorts.

The second thing is the corporate culture, which is simply outstanding here.

The third is the task I have here. And for me it was also exciting to experience the IPO. I saw how a start-up, described as one of the most valuable in Europe, can be even more successful when it goes public.

When you say the corporate culture, could you be more specific?

The values we live by are humble, bold, fast, and immersed. You can see this again and again in our founder and CEO Daniel Dines. I have rarely come across a person who is so down-to-earth, so modest, but always courageous and with his heart and mind on the job. That is very fascinating for me. I mean to lead a company so transparently and also with a lot of accountability to the employees, is very inspiring. We call such passion for technology and how you can change the market automation for good.

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