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Building a better business with bots

Neeti Shukla

Neeti Mehta Shukla founded Automation Anywhere with her husband after studying at Bond University. PICTURE: Jim Gensheimer

Neeti Mehta Shukla’s journey to Silicon Valley success began with a cup of coffee.

In 2003, six years after graduating from Bond University with an MBA, after earlier completing a Bachelor of Commerce, Ms Shukla and her husband Mihir launched robotic process automation (RPA) company Automation Anywhere from the guest bedroom of their house.

The couple marked the occasion with a cup of coffee, and it was only when Mr Shukla returned to the bedroom that he saw they already had their first customer – within minutes of the company being launched.

That first customer was based in Australia, and their purchase set Automation Anywhere on a path to becoming a leading RPA company, now valued at $US6.8 billion. Automation Anywhere has its global headquarters in San Jose, California, offices in 40 countries, and a client list including ANZ Bank, University of Melbourne, Dell, KeyBank, Sprint, North Hampton Hospital, and Humana, among others.

RPA allows users to create custom software bots with Automation Anywhere technology that automates manual, repetitive business and IT processes. The bots, which utilise artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, can be configured to perform tasks assigned and controlled by the user.

Automation Anywhere has deployed more than 2.4 million bots since its inception.

Ms Shukla, a coder since the eighth grade, says Automation Anywhere grew in the same way as many technology start-ups – from wanting to solve a business problem.

“Automation was a very difficult thing for most companies to do. You had to hire a bunch of engineers, take two years to document the process, code through it and by the time you do this everything had changed, and the automation no longer is valid.

“We really wanted to bring automation to the end user and simplify it in a way where it could be easily and quickly deployed to increase productivity and business resiliency.” 

As an entrepreneur, Ms Shukla is enthusiastic about RPA and its ability to transform business and people’s lives.

“A bank can now approve a mortgage in as little as five minutes or less, versus the original two to three weeks or one month that a person had to wait. In the healthcare industry, who doesn’t want those test results instantly? Bots can take care of manual, repetitive business processes, giving valuable time back to human workers to be innovative and creative.”

In a year that has seen the world rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Shukla says it is crucial for businesses to adapt and transform.

“Any business that is stagnant won’t last very long. Every business has to be on its toes to pivot as fast as it can, transform as fast as it can, keep its inherent strengths, and lose its inherent weaknesses as it keeps growing. The more resilient and more agile a business is, the better it will survive, the better it will thrive.

“Change is hard, as a human race we’ve seen that. After the industrial revolution we didn’t have certain jobs available anymore. Fifty to 60 years ago there were telephone operators, we don’t have telephone operators anymore, but the technology of communication has come so far.

“RPA is on track to create millions of new job opportunities in the next five, six, even ten years. If we automate everything that can be automated, the potential for new products and services is limitless.”

Ms Shukla, who earlier this year was recognised by the Silicon Valley Business Journal as one of its 2020 Women of Influence, is also optimistic about the impacts technology such as RPA can have on society.

“If (technology) allows the next generation to tackle climate change, or increase space travel, or find an alternative to plastic and plastic consumption, there’s so much we can solve for society at large. Just think of the pandemic, the faster we find a vaccine, the better it is for all of us. So, for any technology that helps us do that, and if RPA plays a part in it, that brings us progress.”

As someone who has blazed a trail in the business world, and who last year joined the Bond Business School Advisory Board, Ms Shukla is keen for others to follow their own path.

“No dream is too big. I think we sometimes limit ourselves in the way we dream. Don’t be, and don’t surround yourself with an echo chamber. That’s why diversity and inclusion is such an important thing, because the more diverse and inclusive your circle is, the better the outcome. The third thing is passion. Believe in your mission, and don’t lose that faith.”

Automation Anywhere’s headquarters is a long way from Bond University’s sandstone buildings and iconic arch.  

But even thousands of kilometres away, Ms Shukla keeps her alma mater close to her heart.

“The education, professors and courses were so impactful and also really diverse. I had the time of my life. All the friends I made there have been for life, and we still keep in touch and meet when we can. 

“It was a good combination of education that stretched my boundaries and allowed me to get the best from the world.”

Ms Shukla’s story appears in Edition 27 of the Arch magazine, out now.

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