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With Semantic Automation we make robots more intuitive and human-like: Arun Balasubramanian, VP & MD, India & South Asia, UiPath

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AI-powered robots have already changed the game for human touchpoints in a business. From mechanical-voiced chatbots to large language model like Chat GPT a lot has evolved with AI in a very short span of time. Moving ahead, enterprises are looking to integrate robotic automation where the robots are more-human like. The bot that understands business context and not just the command on an application window. Giving life to such ambitious demands, UiPath has come up with robots intergrated with semantic automation to add a human-like feel to the mechanical beings. Arun Balasubramanian, Vice President and Managing Director, India & South Asia, UiPath opens up on the subject in an exclusive interview with Express Computer.

What is semantic automation? How can this revolutionise the automation industry and redefine business operations in the times to come?

After robotic process automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the next technology to significantly advance automation will be semantic automation. Semantic automation means adding a semantic layer across a platform, such that software robots can deal with interfaces and documents more like a human—with a higher level of understanding. 

Semantic automation will enable software robots to understand the business context of everything they’re tasked with, rather than just seeing the construct and layout of the document or application screen. With the ability to understand like this, software robots will make developers much more productive, by allowing them to focus on trying to solve business problems, instead of mundane tasks like interacting with document constructs or user interface (UI) elements. Semantic automation will be a giant leap forward in the automation industry. It will accelerate and simplify automation development, improve the reliability of automation, and expand automation use cases. For example, imagine you have a tax form where you want to extract personal information such as name and address to input into a line of a business system. It’s now possible to program to automatically extract personal information without indicating “look for first name, last name, and address.” This means, the robots of the future will be more intuitive and can simplify laborious tasks swiftly and more efficiently.  

UiPath is working to make its robots increasingly sophisticated and emulate a range of human behaviors. We will break new ground with robots that can understand higher levels of abstraction in the data, documents, applications, and processes they use. For example, in 2021, we launched Forms AI, a semantic-automation-powered document understanding tool. With Forms AI, there is no need to define a template for each new document type, as the robot can understand and extract data from the fields of a new document type that it’s never seen before. This is poised to revolutionise the automation industry as software robots will become smarter, and more efficient in executing complex tasks. It is safe to say that this technology will help us save thousands of hours. 

A major chunk contributing to the Indian economy is from the MSMEs and the unorganised sector. How could semantic automation be of help to these sects?

Small businesses are the backbone of the Indian economy – the MSME sector comprises approximately 63 million enterprises, which contribute 30 percent to India’s GDP. Automation holds the key to accelerating this promising sector’s growth. According to an IDC report released this year, one-third of Indian MSMEs will increase investments in automation and digital tools by 2026. They will do so to make up for the shortage of workers, reduce manual processes and human error, and boost productivity. For MSMEs, automation at large will be able to streamline certain business processes such as billing, data entry, payroll, and vendor onboarding amongst others. India is currently facing a major shortage of labor of 15-30 percent in various sectors, including healthcare, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals. Bottomline is that technologies like semantic automation will improve the productivity of MSMEs which in turn will positively impact the Indian economy. At the same time, we can also enhance the automation potential for fast-growing businesses, providing capabilities that can help smaller companies become large, more successful enterprises faster. 

Can it also pose a game-changer for e-governance in India?

Yes, this technology can pose as a game-changer for e-governance in India. There has been a digital wave in India over the past few years. The Government of India is digitising several admin processes. With the use of semantic automation, several manual tasks which are time-consuming for employees can be streamlined, leaving more room for upskilling and more bandwidth for other priority tasks. Automation helps employees in the public sector to better serve citizens without being too cost-intensive or time-consuming. To give you an example, a person who wanted to renew their passport used to end up spending the entire day in the passport office. Now, these processes have been digitised. With the registration and verification process being automated, it has streamlined every other process which follows. Several organisations in the public sector are relying on automation to modernise their way of working and handling the pandemic-influenced shift to hybrid work. Data collection for a country like India is a laborious task for the government. With semantic automation, data collection and interpretation can all be automised, saving thousands of hours.  

As per UiPath, semantic automation is bridging the gap between the robotic process and the human touch. Will it be right to say that the aim is to nullify human intervention? If yes, won’t it create a scenario of unemployment for the junior clerks/staff in a country like India where people are already dealing with reduced purchasing power and comparatively higher inflation?

Automation doesn’t take away jobs but creates more jobs and opens other opportunities for the workforce. The primary role of automation is to streamline manual tasks and ease employees’ workloads. Digitalisation helps reskill existing employees into other roles or train them to use some of the newer disruptive technologies available for public use. In fact, automation can help address challenges in a labor shortage. India is currently facing a major shortage of labor of 15-30 percent in various sectors, including healthcare, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals. However, sectors such as BFSI have seen an increase in automation maturity and implementation, which has resulted in lower dependence on clerical jobs. As mentioned above, according to an IDC report released this year, one-third of Indian businesses will increase investments in automation and digital tools by 2026 to make up for the shortage of workers, reduce manual processes and human error, and boost productivity.   

In India, people adapt to new technologies very quickly. When digital payments were launched, there was a steep learning curve for everyone but now if you go to a market, close to every seller has a QR code on their stall. The workforce would have to learn new technologies, but this does not mean their jobs will be replaced, rather this is an opportunity for them to ease their workload, giving them the freedom to be more creative and discover better, smarter, and groundbreaking ways of doing things.

To ensure that economic development occurs in tandem with social upliftment in the nation, there is a need to concentrate on skill development by skilling/reskilling the workforce sufficiently across all sectors of the economy. This will allow for a smooth transition from a labor-intensive to an automated economy. 

Since a lot of enterprises are already using automation tools from various providers, do they need to completely replace their existing tools with your product to deploy semantic automation or you can retrofit their existing infrastructure and enable them to use your technology?

We believe that an automation platform is the best way to deploy AI in an enterprise. In addition, we believe in AI that be used by organisations and will fit with their IT posture and required controls. The UiPath business automation platform combines our industry-leading RPA with a full suite of capabilities for end-to-end enterprise automation. Organisations can use the UiPath Automation Platform to automate tasks involving databases, business divisions, technologies, apps, and functions. There is no need to completely replace existing tools, as UiPath automation tools can be integrated into the existing infrastructure. 

It increases the number of procedures that can be automated, from easy to difficult. Excellent ideas can come from anywhere, it also broadens who can make use of automation, allowing both beginner and professional engineers to do so. Using low-code tools, solution accelerators, automated testing, and other techniques, development is sped up.

What is the future roadmap for UiPath?

As a company, we are focused on delivering best-in-class services with our highly innovative AI-powered Business Automation Platform. Our platform changes how enterprises operate, innovate, and grow, enabling our customers to quickly see a meaningful return on investment. We will continue to make our automation platform accessible to all and become the preferred partner for seamless digital transformation journeys. 

During our annual AI Summit last month, we announced the strategic integration with Open AI. We recently launched our GPT connector, which will allow users of our low-code development tools to easily utilise GPT to generate content in automation. Our customers can now advance their businesses by integrating with industry-leading AI innovations across the entire AI ecosystem including AI services from Google and Microsoft, AWS SageMaker models, and Open AI and Azure Open AI. During the summit, we also announced Clipboard AI, a tool that integrates UiPath AI with Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT, Google, and others. This will bring the power of automation to anyone that has to copy/paste data in their routine work. 

We recently announced our strategic partnership with Amelia, the enterprise leader in Trusted AI. With this partnership, our customers can harness the power of the UiPath Business Automation Platform with Amelia’s enterprise-grade Conversational AI to create a fully integrated IT digital agent solution. Our aim is to bridge the gap between powerful automation and simplified user experiences with an integrated solution that reimagines the employee experience and delivers measurable improvement in productivity and net promoter scores (NPS). Employees can make support requests via chat, messaging, or voice. Amelia processes the request and natively integrates with UiPath software robots to resolve the issues with workflow automation and AI. Once complete, Amelia summarises the resolution for the employee via their preferred channel. Requests that cannot be resolved are escalated to support agents, with the combined solution learning from the interaction to better address similar issues in the future.

With the investments made in AI over the past couple of years, we are now reaping their benefits. For instance, we use AI to build large language models for capabilities like Document Understanding and Communications Mining, which we acquired with Re:infer. With the acquisition of Re:infer we are able to offer the most innovative solutions like- the ability to interpret customer sentiment across millions of emails, which would help reduce manual processing, and client churn and enhance customer experience. Moving forward we will keep leveraging Re:infer’s expertise to offer best-in-class automation solutions. 

Our mission is to democratise automation. The automation market presents a massive opportunity, and we remain focused on building a generational business that drives growth and innovation.

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