A Note from Our CEO: Why Intelligent Automation Is Essential to Digital Transformation

Hi everyone. I’m Vijay Tella, the CEO of Workato.

Today we made two big announcements as a company. First, we announced a new round of funding: $10M from Storm Ventures, Salesforce, and Workday, which brings the total investment in Workato to $16M. But we’re also pleased to have announced a major update to our platform: the Workato Turing release.

I was fortunate to be part of the team that created the very first integration platform in the late eighties and early nineties. It was called The Information Bus or TIB and it was a designed to be the software analog of a hardware bus with a similar goal of getting disparate, complex (in this case, software) components from different vendors to work together seamlessly. This led to TIBCO and a wave of middleware technologies and public companies like Informatica, BEA, IBM, Webmethods, and Oracle and then to more cloudy versions of those with products like Mulesoft, Boomi, Snaplogic, and Jitterbit.

We thought we had solved The Integration Problem back in the day and moved on to other things like SaaS, consumer, and big data. There was a sense that middleware products and technologies had become mature and full-featured. However the urgent and, now, the universal Digital Transformation imperative and the explosion of Cloud apps and APIs unleashed by it has changed everything. It has become both the biggest opportunity and an existential threat for companies to transform to dynamic digital companies in the mold of innovators like Amazon, Salesforce, Netflix, GE, Starbucks, and Walmart and avoid the fates of a Blockbuster, a Borders, or a Kmart.

All of this has meant an incredibly high rate of change across the board:

  • In the business strategy as new threats and opportunities emerge.
  • In the number of apps and cloud, big data and AI technologies being adopted.
  • In the markets and competitive landscape.
  • And even in their own employee and customer expectations which are set by the revolution that’s been happening in the consumer tech in their lives.

Such high level of dynamism has put tremendous stresses on business and IT groups across the company to speed up the painfully slow transformation programs. There are the two major problems holding back companies today: one is a technology gap in the technical capabilities required to for modern integrations and a social gap in the form of Business-IT divide.

A new paradigm, Intelligent Automation, and supporting tooling based on a digital native approach is required to address these gaps and unlock the power of digital transformation in your business.

What’s holding back digital transformation?

The high rate of change across the board has created three fundamental problems that threaten the speed and even the ability of organizations to execute digital transformation effectively.

The Technology Gap

Traditional integration tools—which were created over a decade ago—are inadequate for both handling this level of dynamism and for supporting digital customer journeys and workflows that cut across your apps and extend into your customers’ and partners’ systems

1. Customer data is more fragmented than ever.

The average large company now uses over 1300 applications. Your customer data is splintered across hundreds of apps across your IT and business groups. At best, this fragmentation means poor visibility into customers, inconsistent or incorrect info about them stored in different places, and incomplete or irrelevant customer info in the hands of your workers. At worst, the uncontrolled data sprawl increases business and compliance risks due to poor transparency and lack of governance around critical customer information. Either way, it results in subpar or counter-productive digital engagement with your customers—the antithesis of digital transformation.

2. Integrations are now much more dynamic and pervasive.

It used to be that integrations were between a few departmental System-of-Record apps, like ERP, CRM, marketing, customer support, HR, and ITSM. Once set up no one expected these integrations to change much. The traditional integration tools were created for use by IT and specialists to solve this smaller set of integrations between systems-of-record.

Integrations now must also cover hundreds of Systems-of-Engagement (like Slack, Email, Twilio, Zoom, and social media), Systems-of-Insight (like Redshift, Tableau, and Splunk), and Productivity apps (like JIRA, the Google Suite, and Trello) across departments. This scenario is significantly different from what traditional tools were designed for, because:

  • The scale of integrations to be done is much greater and growing rapidly.
  • Integrations must happen fast—in hours to days, not weeks.
  • Integrations need to change frequently as business needs evolve and the set of apps change.
  • Integrations need to be created by business users—not just IT—as it is the business that’s driving the growth of apps.
  • Integrations still need to governed, secure, and compliant. Otherwise, they’re just even more shadow IT.

3. Digital customer journeys & experiences require more than integration.

An intelligent automation platform has to do a lot more than back-end integrations of a few big departmental apps. It must be able to:

  • Automate digital customer journeys for better CX.
  • Deliver smarter, faster process automation with AI and machine learning.
  • Empower employees to better serve customers by delivering them timely, relevant information, assist in the automation of their personal workflows across all of their apps.

A. They help automate digital customer journeys to deliver a modern, engaged CX.

Digital transformation, at its heart, is about delivering new products and services to customers in new ways, via new channels, based on new business models to engage them better. Transforming the customer journey with things like streamlined lead prospecting, enhanced customer onboarding, preemptive churn reduction, and accelerated quote-to-cash is at the core of digital transformation.

Workflow automation is essential to defining and orchestrating detailed business processes across all your systems, people, partners, and customers. From a technical requirements standpoint, it means:

  • Complex logic and process automation.
  • Across thousands of apps, APIs and technologies.
  • Human workflows and approvals.
  • Transactional workflows: processing events exactly once, in sequence.
  • Rolling back busted transactions via compensating transactions.
  • Re-entrant processes to support long running workflows
  • Google Docs-like auto-versioning of workflows to make it easy to go forward or roll back.
  • Automated error and exception management.
  • The ability to process millions of transactions per day and scaling up on demand.

B. They deliver smarter, faster process automation with AI and machine learning.

Even with a great workflow automation tool, re-inventing the wheel to solve the same problems from scratch that thousands of other companies have already solved is not very smart. As a company with an aggressive timeline, you want to start with the best practices and then apply your secret sauce or point-of-view.

What would it mean for your business if you could access smart, customizable workflows automatically created for you based on proven results from thousands of other companies doing similar things? An intelligent process automation platform gets you to smarter processes more quickly. It changes the digital transformation game because:

  • It applies machine learning technology to a rich corpus of popular business workflows being used by thousands of other innovative companies. Such technology would automatically create customizable workflows for you that are smarter and more well-thought-out than you would likely get by  starting from scratch.
  • It weaves in rich, third party AI technologies like Watson, Cortona, and Einstein to create smarter workflows than before. When a customer support request comes in, for example, having Watson analyze the tone, urgency, and emotion of the message can help you dictate smarter automations surrounding how that request is handled.
  • It helps you vastly simplify B2B and business process outsourcing. Business workflows must extend to engage thousands of companies and individuals in your customer and partner ecosystems. Brute force, one-at-a-time workflow execution is expensive and error-prone, and it lacks digital engagement. Workflow-as-a-service can drastically simplify operations, reduce costs, and improve engagement.

C. They put your employees in charge with the help of intelligent work bots.

The fragmentation of apps and splintering of customer context is not just a back-end or a plumbing problem for IT. It impacts every employee in the company as they work with dozens of business apps to get their jobs done. The customer context needed by a support rep is spread across a dozen different apps—not just in, say, Salesforce. Employees’ individual workflows and tasks are fragmented across these apps, with tens of tabs open in their browsers or their mobiles. They can miss time-critical business updates, must constantly app-hop to gather context, and then must open even more apps to take actions before repeating the process all over again. All of this is is incredibly frustrating and productivity-killing. Today’s employees and customers expect a smarter, more fulfilling work experience.

Enterprise chat products like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Facebook@Work are vying to become the single place from which employees can collaborate with coworkers and get most of their work done. But for such platforms to realize these ambitions, they need a digital assistant that:

  • Watches over their apps and prompts them with the important updates across their apps that are relevant to them and their jobs.
  • Provides 360° customer context or relevant historical data around those alerts.
  • Helps employees take actions in their apps without leaving the chat console.
  • Does all of this respecting the privacy and security of data an employee is authorized for in a shared, collaborative work setting—like Slack or MS Teams.

A smart digital assistant empowers employees to be like mini-CEOs, with access to  everything they need to get their jobs done quickly and well to enable next-gen customer journeys and experiences.

The Social Gap

While fragmented data and the digital platform technology gap are significant hurdles for transformation, perhaps the most important challenge to overcome is the Social Gap or divide between business and IT. True transformation requires that you harness the full power of your entire organization.

Enterprise-grade tools are accessible only by IT and developers, while the digital business initiatives are being driven by business users across the company. Since IT is not able to keep up with all the integration requests from the business, it has resulted in a vicious cycle of rogue IT in departments leading to poor visibility, lack of governance, high corporate risk, and  a huge divide between business and IT. IT and business teams using different tools and working at different speeds, on different wavelengths, for different  purposes is the biggest obstacle to companies becoming dynamic digital businesses. Bi-modal IT (control OR productivity) is a Faustian bargain; your company needs both to succeed.

More than ever, businesses need an intelligent automation tool that bridges this divide, aligns the organization, and makes it viable for business users to create robust automations in collaboration with IT for governance, compliance, transparency, and security. Business users should also be able to operate these integrations themselves. An intelligent automation platform must be accessible to all and work differently, drive teaming and governance between business and IT,  and leverage the power of business community to execute faster and smarter. Specifically:

Going digital requires ‘digital literacy’ far outside of IT.

Business users must be able to automate workflows themselves or maintain those created by IT so they can make ongoing changes as needed. “Citizen developers” and “citizen integrators” are among the most misused terms when it comes to integration platforms, because:

  • A normal Salesforce admin or a marketing analyst just cannot use the “citizen integrator” tools out there. These analysts and admins know their apps, but not things like XML, XSLT, REST, SOAP, or deployment concepts that traditional tools require them to know. Intelligent automation tools must present an entirely different, business-friendly level of abstraction around these technologies.
  • An intelligent automation tool must present a rational, humanized API-level interface so an average business user can create workflows and maintain them. With the existing integration tools, implementing an integration or a workflow that is logically ten steps when written down on paper often devolves into 100 micro-steps with a ton of look-ups and low level API calls in order to get the job done. Such integrations are hard to create, impossible to understand, and painful for IT to maintain— let alone business users.
  • Exceptions are the norm in enterprise automations. Handling these should not force work back onto IT. Business users must be able to operate the integrations themselves in a governed, secure manner. A digital native approach means automating the automations to recover quickly from data or process errors. It supports an intuitive ability to review errors, fix the data or process, and re-run them. An intelligent automation platform lets you set custom recovery and notification policies to proactively detect and resolve the inevitable data, process, or other exceptions.

Digital platforms must work differently!

You don’t go to your Instagram account and “provision” it for certain number of photos, videos, shares or comments; you don’t think about setting it up for “peak loads”; you don’t configure (or be forced pay for!) “high availability” so the service is Always On for you; and you certainly don’t operate the sharing your posts and feedback! However, today’s cloud iPaaS and ESB tools work exactly this way. This is incredibly backwards in today’s enterprise platforms!

Having done popular consumer products for years at Qik and Skype, it became super clear an intelligent automation tool—whose goal is enabling speed, agility, and dynamism with beautiful experiences—must be based on a digital native architecture and operate very differently in 2017. It must work more like an Instagram account (where everything but taking the pictures is automatic) than like a camcorder, where you have to do literally everything.

An intelligent automation platform, one that is based on a digital native architecture:

  • Is highly productive, fun, and delivers instant feedback and quick gratification.
  • Has instantaneous “deployment” of workflows—not a long, technical process. No need to think about or set up nodes, servers, atoms, or molecules!
  • Scales automatically. No guesswork needed around “provisioning” (and paying for!) sufficiently overhead server capacity that sits unused 99% of the time.
  • Is Always On, just like your Instagram. Redundancy and high-availability are built in, not options you can opt into and be forced to pay for.
  • Recovers automatically from common errors like API rate limits, network disconnect, API going down, and expired authentication tokens.
  • Drives secure, collaborative, fine-grained IT governance. There will not be real empowerment without security and compliance to corporate standards. Security and empowerment are two sides of the same coin.
  • Supports a role-based collaborative integration project lifecycle across the different different roles and orgs.
  • Detects automatically, anomalous data traffic patterns (via ML) and prompts admins with courses of action.
  • Operates in real time with built-in analytics.
  • Is open (composable) to enable complex business workflows from simpler ones.

Automations at scale must be community-powered.

Automating workflows mainly consists of two things:

  • Thinking about the automation challenge and designing a solution for how you will automate.
  • Transcribing this design into a workflow automation tool to actually create and run workflows.

The traditional approach to automations is that of a lone-wolf working on their own on the integrations. They (typically an  integration specialist) rethinks integrations from scratch, implements them from scratch, deploys them from scratch, and then hands them over to business or IT. This is how developers worked, too, until GitHub and the open source movement came along. Now developers are vastly more productive by collaborating with other developers and leveraging the work that thousands of others have done. GitHub solves not just the productivity problem around writing code; it also solves the thinking problem around designing what code to write!

Similarly, intelligent automation for digital businesses demands a collaborative community of business users around automations within your company, across companies and industries, i.e. a GitHub for Automations. Community-powered integrations:

  • Have more thought behind them and are more whetted than lone-wolf integrations.
  • Are at least 10x faster to get done and function better out of the gate.
  • Are secure and protect your unique value differentiation via private integrations and automations that cannot be shared back to the community.

Intelligent automation is needed to bridge both the Technology and Social Gaps.

We founded Workato to create a new type of platform, an Intelligent Automation platform, that addresses not just the Technology Gap but also the Social Gap in today’s dynamic business environments. The platform must do more to support the technical requirements of digital transformation and must work differently to bridge the social gap by helping align your organization, business users, and IT with common tooling.

Functionally, Workato platform does the following:

  • Dynamic Integrations to handle the scale, speed, and change of today’s integrations.
  • Intelligent Process Automation to drive better customer journeys and experiences.
  • Intelligent work bots to help workers harness their apps and get their work done.
  • Customer 360° to get complete, correct information about customers where it’s needed.
  • Workflow-as-a-Service for smarter, simpler B2B and BPO workflows at sale.
  • API Gateway & Services for reuse of workflows; drive API adoption by business users.

Operationally,  Workato delivers the digital native experience necessary to fix the social problems slowing down Digital Transformation and empower all.  Digital native experience consists of four things:

  • Enabling business and IT—not just integration specialists—to create, maintain, and operate powerful automations.
  • Driving collaborative, secure, policy-based IT Governance to ensure transparency, security, privacy, and auditability across your digital projects.
  • Enabling supportive (rather than just control-oriented) teaming via a role-based collaborative integration project lifecycle, delegated administration, encryption of data, and selective data masking of sensitive fields.
  • Harnessing the power of community within your company and across your industry to get better automations done more quickly. Workato has created a GitHub of Automations, with over 150,000 public automations across hundreds of apps that can be cloned, reused, improved, and contributed back into the community.

The Workato Turing Release

 

With its Turing release, Workato delivers the world’s first truly intelligent automation platform that helps you get in front of your Data Problem and your Technology Gap, and bridge the Social Divide in your company. Some of the highlights of this release are:

Recipe IQ

  • Machine learning-driven suggestions to build integrations and workflows based on billions of events processed by our platform every quarter.
  • AI-driven process automations via integrations with Watson, Einstein, and other AI platforms.

Workflow-as-a-Service

  • Make any workflow multi-tenanted to simplify your business process outsourcing operations.
  • Easily provide APIs for your workflows to enable your customers and partners to invoke workflows from within their apps and processes.

Business and IT Collaboration

  • Enable business teams and IT to collaborate to build and operate integrations using Enterprise Teams and Integration Lifecycle Management.
  • Automate your automations with exception handling, like recovering from data or process errors and to rollback or complete unfinished processes. It also features an admin app that can be used to build automations to automate your recipe operations.
  • Enhanced security with Single Sign On (SSO) through SAML, Okta, OneLogin, and Sailpoint.
  • Supportive IT governance to manage access, usage, and reporting policies across all your integrations and automations to avoid issues that can potentially arise from shadow IT.

For more information, read our press release here.

  • Sandhya Rajput

    Awesome!