I never thought I'd get to begin an interview and see two jubilant hands thrown in the air. During the opportunity to talk to UiPath co-CEO Rob Enslin, I congratulated him on the number of customer voices throughout the event so far. He was certainly pleased that this had come across so clearly:
We care deeply about how our customers feel and we have advisory boards when we listen to them. All of them I would say have a story that they feel they want to tell. And they're doing interesting stuff with us - having deep knowledge about automation and the challenges or the benefits of it or both, and then where they want to take it next because they see the potential.
The theme for UiPath Forward this year has been AI at Work. AI was always going to be a key message, but as mentioned during the highlights from day one, this event wasn’t a ‘We’re doing it too” fest. Enslin elaborated:
We created a 'red thread' for this year, it's been changing all the time, like ‘what is AI?’, and for us, it's changed as well. We've been making certain that we position ourselves correctly in the AI space. We've not been a marketeer announcement type because that's not who we are as a company. But we're still super-excited by it.
We connected that to the thread of AI and then we connected work because we felt that that was the big piece that we needed to get out there - that this is actually good for labor constraints, it's actually will be good for the world as we see it today. We can help build a better world with our solution and it's not going to take jobs away. It's going to allow people that are in some cases even under-educated to actually do jobs that they wouldn't be able to do without an assistant helping them. AI in general can help companies, but automation is a key part of it. You can't really separate automation and AI. They come together.
Making the case for efficiency
AI press releases proliferate. Not to mention the announcements of co-pilots popping up. We joked about how many co-pilots it takes to get a 747 up in the air - but levity aside, how does UiPath stand out to customers motivated by the need to achieve cost savings, greater productivity and efficiency? Enslin reflected that this in some ways has played to UiPath’s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) strengths:
The first evolution of RPA was to solve tasks, right? But tasks don't necessarily solve problems. And I think over time, RPA needed adjacencies, and those adjacencies were document understanding and test suites to build out the bigger play with customers for process orchestration. That's really helped spark us into the automation category because now AI is not something we actually have to hide anymore. We can actually bring it to the fore - we can explain how we integrate and infuse it into the product. We are now able to do automations in seconds or minutes versus hours. And we can take away some of the complexity.
The seconds-versus-hours example wasn’t arbitrary. We discussed one of the demonstrations during day two’s keynote - co-CEO Daniel Dines and CPO Graham Sheldon walked through an example of specialized AI, generative AI and AR core automation, all working together. Autopilot was used to plan a trip to Japan starting with an UiPath event invitation. It translated the context, took into account role seniority, calendar availability and recommended suitable places to stay, taking into account company policies. It checked if Sheldon’s passport was valid or due to expire, and created a ticket in ServiceNow.
Within a couple of minutes, a list of customers attending had been pulled into a table and a summary and put into Slack to send to the team. Expenses reports could be pulled from emails, connections to potential LinkedIn contacts sent, and the code for these steps could be turned into a workflow automation to share with other colleagues. They were able to show the audience how a cross-application workflow actually looks - no small achievement in a live demo.
The pulse of the customer
Pressing on this a little further, I asked what the pulse of the customer is right now when it comes to being ready to embrace that change and make that commitment. UiPath’s platform isn’t a bolt on, that much was clear from customer stories of implementation. Enslin:
If you want to solve automation, if you believe that speed and flexibility are an important characteristic that your company should have, then you have to embrace automation as an opportunity. The platform actually enables you to do that because you're not trying to piece together the different pieces to get the outcome. The speed of technology is so fast today that companies cannot keep up with the changes and deliver following a normal route. Part of our goal is to make that time commitment easier.
There’s no question that RPA can be brittle by itself, but if we take generative AI together with a specialized AI, we can actually simplify it and make it more democratized. Some of the companies at launch are getting value in months, not years. So in many cases, they're able to build a business case to implement automation at scale because they actually can pay for it or they get the return back in months, not years and so on. Companies are surprised that UiPath’s platform is so broad. Because it's not really about process mining. It's about actually understanding how to connect processes and humans to automate tasks and processes and orchestrate them in a way that your business benefits in a really fast period of time.
There are customer examples that I’ll delve into further in a separate piece as I’m almost out of space here, but there was time for one last question. As Enslin steps into the role of sole CEO, what are his next goals on the list?
Well, let me first say, Daniel [Dines] and I will still be very close partners. I don’t think that’s changing. We've done a great job running from a strong financial position in the last nine months. We've got operating profit, now we're producing free cash flow. I believe we are at the place where the company will start growing again and we have a goal of being a rule of 40 plus company. And I feel like automation will be a category that we define. I think it will also showcase how automation and AI together can become a game-changer for companies. So my goal is to have many happy referenceable customers and to build this into a meaningful company that adds tremendous value to the world. Software will be a massive enabler of environmental safety and governance.
Before leaving, I asked Enslin what kept him awake at night. His answer?:
Staying hungry and humble and making certain that success doesn't get in the way. That we continue to be not concerned about the competition, but concerned about making sure that customers are getting more and more value out of them and our solutions.
There would be something amiss if he wasn’t focused on company success, and continuing to differentiate at UiPath. But as an avid reader, I got the strong impression that Enslin is also keen to continue to learn from others.
Besides customers, another message that ran through keynotes, demonstrations and interviews was UiPath’s culture - taking risks to innovate, but with the goal of making workers’ lives easier and adding value. When we talked briefly about the corporate culture, he observed that:
Culture matters when things are tough. It’s all very well if culture is great when everything is great. But not everything is great in the world right now.
The emphasis on customers over product was a reflection of the tone of the UiPath Forward event as a whole. Rather than effusive statements about partners being a family, the point was gently made without being turned into a headline. When Enslin said that customers all had a story they wanted to tell, he wasn’t exaggerating.
His passion for the healthcare system and being able to support medical professionals to really focus on patients and clinical delivery without administrative burdens also came through - both in conversation and in his on-stage discussions. That’s a story for another time.