The Robotic Process Automation (RPA) space is lauded by some as a means to sweep tedium aside with digital employees, so stressed human workers can focus on adding value to the business. Unsurprisingly, others dismiss this as shorthand for firing low-skilled staff en masse and automating their tasks. Meanwhile, many analysts see the RPA market as having had its day, a cynical way of saying that investors haven’t made a fortune.
But what if a company promised to give your money back if RPA didn’t work for you? Would you start automating then? That’s the promise made by Chinese intelligent automation specialist Laiye.
The company is certainly muscling into the UK and Europe. China is automating faster than any nation on Earth and now spies huge opportunity in markets that local players have, for whatever reason, failed to set alight.
To achieve its aim without seeming too Chinese for nervous Western buyers – in the political long tail of Trump’s US-China trade war – the company has set up Laiye International. The region is under the leadership of Barcelona-based CEO Ronen Lamdan, who has a 25-year track record of expanding tech sales between Asia and Europe.
Meanwhile, the parent company is moving fast. It has just completed a $160 million Series-C fundraise to accelerate its plans for intelligent automation in Europe and beyond. Also this month, it acquired Paris-based chatbot/voicebot platform Mindsay for an undisclosed sum. And as part of existing $50 million EMEA expansion plans, Laiye will soon open an R&D centre in the French capital.
All this and Gartner is predicting that process-agnostic software tools such as RPA, AI, Intelligent Document Processing (IDP), chatbots, and process mining will help the automation market hit a valuation of $46 billion by 2025. In short, RPA suddenly seems energised again.
A money-back guarantee
If that wasn’t enough, Laiye is now enticing customers towards intelligent automation by promising to refund 100% of the licence cost if its solutions fail to achieve their business goals. The move will begin in two industries: ecommerce and healthcare.
A statement from the company says:
Laiye will work with customers to determine the pre-agreed business metrics, which may include employee productivity, cost reduction, increased revenue, reduced error rates, improved customer Net Promoter Score (NPS), or better compliance and auditability.
“Laiye is the first Intelligent Automation and RPA provider to materially back its trust in the success of its products. No other automation company offers such a risk-free incentive to businesses.
It won’t be the last. But is Laiye taking a huge risk with its investors’ money? CEO Lamdan explains the concept:
The performance guarantee is critical for us. The RPA market has gotten a lot of press, but much of the coverage has been one-sided. McKinsey recently said that 50% of RPA deployments fail, because they don't meet their business objectives. We’re seeing some of the ramifications of that in announcements from first-generation RPA players.
In order to address those negative aspects, we’ve put out this performance guarantee. The message is we are committing to business outcomes. This is not about the number of bots, or CPU utilisation, or technical metrics. This is around business results, which could be revenue growth, increases in team productivity, or cost reduction. It’s very focused on business impact.
Our guarantee is very simple. If we don't meet what we've committed to in writing, working with you on your objectives, we will refund 100% of the licence fees. There are no caveats to that.
Technology implementations often fail because organizations neglect the cultural, change-management, and skills implications of new systems: they see the technology, but not the human challenges. Is that the case with RPA? Lamdan responds:
There's definitely an element of culture in why any technology program fails. There's a statistic out there that says 84% of digital transformation projects fail and the biggest reason for that is an organization's culture, plus a lack of executive sponsorship.
But it's deeper than that with RPA. A top reason for failure is that the process chosen for automation was the wrong one. That’s critical. Some of the reasons are human centric: vendors pushing in that direction, for example. Typically, when many companies have started on RPA programs, the thinking was, ‘Let's automate the simplest process’. But often it was never a process, it was just small tasks.
Choosing the right process is critical to the success of automation in driving business impact. So, we did a lot of work to identify what is a best-fit process. It really needs to be something that will drive significant business impact, and at the same time have a high likelihood of success.
It’s all about documents, he adds:
First-generation RPA did an amazing job in making automation accessible to the business user, but in terms of the technology there was zero intelligence in that. It was just a script, whether it's low code or no code, that executes a deterministic bot in a very specific way and doesn't allow for variants.
However, if you look at the core processes that are fundamental to the way companies operate – insurance claims, banking, Know Your Customer [KYC], or processing invoices – there's something common to all of those. There's always a document that underpins a core process.
But the first generation of automation projects didn't even touch documents. Because you need intelligent document processing that can use machine learning. So, it's a subset of artificial intelligence that classifies, extracts and validates information from documents.
Interesting, but none of this addresses the risk to Laiye and its investors. What if customers want to make the same mistakes as they always have with RPA? Will Laiye really just hand back the money? Or will it refuse to engage with a project in the first place, because it might lose its shirt?:
We obviously have to work closely with the customer in the initial phases to understand the business objectives behind an automation programme, to understand the intended outcome. If they say, ‘We want to eliminate a certain percentage of our workforce’ that's not a great objective. It needs to be around the growth of the business, the productivity increase. Especially with the ‘Great Resignation’ [workers leaving their jobs after working from home in lockdown]. This is one of the biggest problems that companies face today. Then we go back and say, ‘Alright, what are the business processes that are very manual, repetitive, error prone, and are frankly very boring to execute?’
The reason we're launching this today, and could not have launched this two or three years ago, is we've had experience of implementing 1,000 use cases in retail and healthcare. We've developed expertise. That's the key to being able to guarantee the outcomes.
But if Laiye doesn’t believe an automation programme will work for the customer, would the company still implement the project? Or walk away?:
We typically recommend a two-phased approach, a pilot, for that initial engagement. Let's work on something that has a very high likelihood of success, and that's going to drive real impact.
During that time, we get to know the customer a bit better and work through their business objectives. They get to know the capabilities of the technology, the native AI capabilities. Then the second phase will typically be a more innovative project, once the bi-directional knowledge has been established.”
But would you walk away?:
No, I mean, listen, it's very determined by the relationship that's being built. If it's a transactional relationship, and a situation occurs where we feel we don't have enough experience in this domain, or we feel the likelihood of success is low, our advice to the customer is - don’t do that.
We find when we get into that more consultative discussion, where we understand each other’s capabilities, and we get to know them a little bit better, it becomes a more productive conversation in the later stages.
But to answer your question directly, if we think there's not a high likelihood of success, our advice to the customer is not to start that particular initiative in the first place. Maybe there is something that will deliver similar results, but in a different area.
So, Laiye will be working as an automation consultancy, conceivably kickstarting consulting revenue streams? The answer is firm:
Absolutely not. We are a software company. We work very closely with partners and the performance guarantee is open to our partner community to engage with. We bring our intellectual property, they bring their intellectual property, and we'll have a consultative discussion, but we are not a consulting company.
So there you have it. A bold move, for sure, and one that will definitely set the bot among the pigeons. Now, does anyone want to automate any questions?