Tom has a technical background and got his start in publishing literally publishing his code to magazines. He got exposed to RPA when he was writing his book on AI and found there wasn't much available about RPA. In digging into RPA he spoke with several CEOs and immersed himself in the space. We chatted about what is happening in this space. His response - the winners are winning. There are over 70+ vendors in the space and the competition is tight. Most companies interested in adopting RPA are likely to rely on a Gartner report to even start the vendor selection process.
What of mid-market RPA? Enterprise RPA is growing and the ROI is convincing. We chat through the notion of how the smaller companies may benefit but the adoption issues that come from licensing to start. Why can't you just get a clear picture of what it will cost to use most RPA software?
We chat through the players and recognize that Microsoft wants it all. The price compression in the space (for licensing) is not yet happening but will. Tom predicts that Amazon and Google will likely get involved through acquisitions.
Tom teaches Brent what BPM software is and how it got it's roots. We cap off the conversation in talking about open-source RPA and the unique challenges and possibilities it contains.
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Interview with Tom Taulli author of the RPA Handbook & AI Basic
Tom Taulli, Mark Percival, Brent Sanders
Brent Sanders 00:02
Hey, it's Brent. Today's episode we talked to Tom Taulli was literally written the book on RPA and AI. We talked about the business side of RPA, what trends to prevent? Thanks for listening, and feel free to check out our show notes and other automation resources at formulatedautomation.com.
Mark Percival 00:19
Hey Tom, thanks for joining us. I think the best way to start off would be just to get a quick background on you. Obviously, you know, I'll do a real quick, brief background, I guess you've written the RPA book, you also wrote an AI book. He also I've written several finance books, and then you've got a Python course. So I know you have a very varied interest. Very background in terms of, you know, what got you into RPA? I'd love to hear more about that.
Tom Taulli 00:47
Yeah. So yeah, in terms of my background, generally, it's more of the technical side. So I've been programming computers. Since I was a kid. I was way back in the 1980s. And, and then I founded several companies in the tech sector, and sold a couple of those companies raised funding for it. So I come from that perspective. And but I've also learned along, you know, the years have done a lot of writing primarily on technology and finance. Forbes is kind of the main platform that I write for. And I've always been interested in artificial intelligence. Since I was a kid, actually, since I watched movies, science fiction, but never got into it, because it was never really ready for primetime. But of course, the last 10 years that's changed and that, so I wanted to write a book about artificial intelligence, that was easy for just the normal person who doesn't have a PhD could figure out. And then when I was writing that, I started learning more about robotic process automation. And I thought, you know, maybe I should have a chapter about RPA, in this book. And so I did that. And then my editor came to me after the book was published, and she said, you know, we really want to write a book on RPA. There isn't a general purpose book on RPA in the market, and it's, you know, we could be the first one in the market. And I noticed that in your, your AI book, yeah, the, you know, the chapter on RPA, would you be interested in writing that? And I said, Yeah, that sounds pretty interesting. So kind of a long, long way of saying, that's how I got into the RPA area in terms of writing about it. But even before then, I was writing about it for Forbes.com. And one of the first articles I wrote, I didn't even think it would do very well. But it actually did extremely well. And it surprised me. So I did another one just to see, is this just an outlier, you know, my data and an outlier? And then it did well, too. So I realized that there's a lot of interest in RPA. And so it's combination of those two things. I'm not a developer of RPA. I'm not a bot developer, I don't work for a company in RPA. So it's mostly from an agnostic perspective that I take a look at RPA.
Mark Percival 03:09
So when you dove into that, I mean, what was that? Because obviously, if you type in, type in RPA, now it's so easy to get kind of pushed in different directions. There's enterprise platforms, there's, oh, gosh, there's all the older testing automation frameworks is like, how did you kind of dive into that and become versed in RPA? Or did you kind of start with something like open source tool? Or do you start with something more like UiPath? When automation?
Tom Taulli 03:30
Yeah, well, my first foray into it was actually talking to the CEOs of the different companies, blue prism automation anywhere. I do that? Well, when we used to have flights, I used to travel a lot to the Bay Area, I met with the CEO of automation anywhere. And so my first step was just to talk to those who built these companies and the pioneers in these companies and see what they had to say. And then once I did that, my next step was, well, how easy it is to create a bot. So I downloaded UiPath and took some of the courses and started learning how to create some bots. I mean, well, I guess I'm not a bot developer, but I just wanted to get my you know, I'm a technical person. So I want to get the, you know, get a feel for it. And then, you know, we did get me really interested in this. It's just the growth that will couple things, just the growth in the market. It's, you know, apparently, it's the fastest growing sector of software in the world. And the other is for enterprise software. It's remarkable, because the ROI is fairly good. Usually. Yes, so many different fail implementations in the enterprise world. So that that was the other thing that really caught my attention. So it was a lot of just curiosity to see what is this really about? And that's how I approached it.
Mark Percival 04:50
Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I think that's, that's certainly where everybody's I think gets, at least from my sample I got an introduction to it was just the idea of what that ROI looked like, and especially When you saw other enter, if you've ever worked in enterprise software, you're gonna seen how quickly things can go awry and not have the payback that you expected or just not even get, you know, shipped. RPA has a very exciting place. So, you know, going from that, so you kind of you built this RPA book, or you already wrote this RPA book. And then from there, you know, you've also done some Python development, are you still doing some development on the side? Is that?
Tom Taulli 05:27
Yeah, more I would say, if I'm more of the hobby stage of development, my life. You know, earlier in my life, I would do it for pay. Me, this is how long ago I used to program I used to write for some I got published. And when I was in high school, so I was there these magazines in the 80s, that you would actually the magazines would have the code in the magazines. And people would type the code on their computer.
Mark Percival 05:58
Oh, yeah. This is like Apple to see all the way. Right, exactly. Yeah, Commodore 64, it was a very exciting time.
Tom Taulli 06:05
That is the early days. So I used to code that I used to create these programs and sell them to magazines. And that's how I started. And then when I got into college, I was never really good at taking exams. So I developed software to take exams, and it did very well. And it turned into a company. So those days are, you know, I'm getting sold now that the, you know, entrepreneur, all startups tech and coming young guys thing, but are young guy, young gals thing. But I, you know, right now, I still have the curiosity. And you know, I love to learn. And I've, over the years, I've learned different languages, Swift, I've learned swift I've developed, you know, just out of fine, I developed the published iPhone apps and things like that. So I just like to, I think it helps with my writing and understanding what the markets are doing to you know, you know, to start trying these things out. And nowadays, it's all open source, you just go download it. Yeah, working with it. Yeah.
Mark Percival 07:11
So I think the other piece I'd love to go into with you, I think this is where you have a great set of experience here, which is just in the marketplace, in general, because you do talk to these people on a day to day basis for these articles. And, obviously, if you're paying attention to RPA in the past year, you know, it's been our two years. But obviously in the last year, we've seen so many things happening, we seeing UiPath raising, I think now trying to raise again, at 10 billion, we saw Microsoft acquire went automation, we seen RPA, you know, there's been some movement towards making it easier for people to get involved in RPA. So I think UiPath and the rest have kind of become a little bit easier for somebody who wants to come and develop on their own and learn, bring into their organization. But just in general, kind of can you go over where you think the market is at today in RPA? And what how it contrasts to maybe where it was when you first of all?
Tom Taulli 08:02
Okay, yeah, you know, when I started looking at it, it was growing fast, and it's continuing to grow fast. But it still remains a concentrated market that if anything, the winners are probably getting more successful. Because companies want you know, if you have the other 70 vendors, at least, if not more on the market. And if I'm a company looking to implement technology, there's no way I'm going to look at 70. What I'm going to do is probably look at a Gartner report or IDC report and see what the three or four or five top players are, and start from there. And that's ..., I mean, assuming that that happens and continue to happen. So that you know, the rich are going to probably get richer, they're going to raise more funding, they're going to, you know, and they're going to start acquiring. So I think what we're going to see, I think that the difference now is what I think is interesting is there hasn't been a lot of difference up until now in the last few years. Because I would have expected more consolidation, I would expected more companies just to bow out and say let's, you know, we just can't we can't we got to throw in the towel. I think I would have expected more on AI. You know, so I think, you know, part of it is that, you know, I think there's definitely a lot of growth momentum. But it does seem like I do think it's going to break one way or the other. I think we're going to see either more consolidation or some IPOs or just something that's going to spark things. But it seems like things have been kind of hold has been, you know, kind of the same for the last few years, I would say.
Mark Percival 09:43
Yeah, that makes sense. coming at it from a I guess, you know, you're looking at it from seeing from an enterprise standpoint, are you seeing anything in the small to medium sized space with RPA? Because I think waste when we kind of talked to those companies, there's still a lack of understanding of RPA from small to medium sized businesses or at least Maybe so unwillingness to tackle it because it seems complicated or expensive, but it just doesn't seem like that markets really been fully fleshed out.
Tom Taulli 10:08
Definitely, you know, when it comes to enterprises and RPA, it's, I would say it's getting more mature. And also with Microsoft, you know, validating the market, like by, you know, going aggressively into the market tells big companies, it's, you know, it's a real deal. You know, we're not wasting our time with RPA. And it just that the ROI, the ROI, and so forth is convincing to a lot of companies, but aren't. Oh, yeah.
Mark Percival 10:34
Oh, I can say so just to go into the Microsoft piece. Yeah, Microsoft buying soft motive that went automation software, is that, you know, do you view that as that them aggressively going into this market? Do you think they are going to start tech tackling sort of the UI pass of the world? Or do you think they're going to kind of stick this and to say, you know, making this more palatable to the medium sized enterprises, pricing, changes, things like that.
Tom Taulli 10:58
Both, I mean, they want it all, Microsoft is a world Dominator that they want the enterprise, they want the midsize, they want the small market, they want it all. So I think they're gonna go at it as hard as they can, at all parts of the market. And, you know, there has been rumors that they would buy UiPath, there's, you know, Krista, the CEO was formerly with Microsoft, and there's a connection there. I wouldn't be surprised with that. I mean, Microsoft's market values, you know, so high, now it's it, you know, it's pocket change for them to buy a company like UiPath, even at 10 billion, that seems like a small amount for so I do think the next couple of years, either, you know, these companies are either going to go public or sell out. And Microsoft, you know, I know, we're going to probably see more Oracle, maybe even Amazon or Google move in, so and they can't build all this from scratch, they're going to have to buy companies. So I think the inking for a lot of bigger companies is I think eventually they're just gonna become part of bigger, much bigger companies.
Brent Sanders 12:01
Yeah, this consolidation, I feel like is on the edge of happening. One of the trends that we were talking about earlier as well, was just the entrance cost, right? The cost to I mean, there's community Additions for things like UiPath. However, once you make that leap, to really put your first bots into production, the cost can be significant. And seeing that getting lower and lower and seeing the cost actually moving towards and this is just a prediction, but we think that the cost is gonna start moving towards the AI and machine learning side where, you know, the cost to get started and build bots will eventually be driven down to nothing. But then there will be hosted services, right? So if you want to process your invoice and turn into structured data that's going to cost, you know, 30 cents 40 cents a page, or more depending on who you're using. And that's where the value is going to be derived. I mean, how do you feel about that?
Tom Taulli 12:55
Yeah, I completely agree. I, part of the other shocking thing in the last few years is we haven't seen much price compression. And in bots, to me, it seems kind of ridiculous with with now, if you could get away with it, it might as well, but I think companies are going to catch on, especially as they start scaling out this technology, it's just not going to be cost effective anymore for them to do that. And, you know, I think next and then they're going to see privacy, more open source solutions come onto the market, and that that's going to drive down and commoditize the market and Microsoft moving in aggressively is going to do that they have a budget, you go to a lot of cloud companies nowadays. And you know, you go on the top of the navigation bar, and there's usually something called pricey. Yeah, I dare you to go to a top RPA company and try to find that navigation.
Brent Sanders 13:48
Why do you think that is?
Tom Taulli 13:49
Yeah. Because I think if people really saw it, they think Wow, that's pretty ridiculous. You know, what, they're getting away with highway robbery here. I you know, you always put pricing on there. Because, you know, I mean, I would because that's one of the first things I would think of, if I'm gonna buy software, I wanna know the price. And it's amazing. I'll talk to different people, and they'll, you know, potential customers, and they'll say, you know, what does this really cost? I don't, I can't really figure it out. No, you're not alone. You're not alone there. It's expensive. I mean, it's, I, I have all the power to them that they've been able to do that, because most software markets do commoditize the pricing, you know, does get a lot lower. And we haven't, we have not seen that yet. But it's quite
Brent Sanders 14:41
Yeah, it's interesting. So, you know, to our listeners who have no idea I mean, you're talking 10s of thousands of dollars for a license to, you know, it'd be thousand dollars in. I think my cents on where this comes from is somebody who's tried to sell enterprise software in the past and found it to be difficult, but there's this There's this idea of the cost of the problem, like, what's the cost of problem? And so if you start the conversation there, you can kind of have a limitless, right? If you have a problem that's costing you $100,000 a month, and I can solve it with my tool, would you pay 90? I'll save you $10,000 right now. I mean, it's a much different negotiation and conversation to have around the value being created. And I'm sure the publishers and the software companies want to keep the conversation on those tracks. Versus Yeah. You know, hey, you know, what's it actually costing a software company to ship another license? You know, it's it. It's a much harder conversation to defend, but we are, we are seeing, you know, again, 70 plus vendors, you're absolutely right, we are seeing newer players in the space that are creating tools, and they're just looking at what their competitors are charging and cutting that in half. So,
Mark Percival 15:52
yeah, yeah. And, and this is why they Microsoft's an interesting player, because if you kind of remember the 90s, when they had SQL Server, it was sort of the same thing, which was databases were very just complicated and enterprise II and expensive. And then Microsoft kind of came in and took SQL Server and really blew that up into it's a product that people were less afraid of, from a pricing standpoint. It's very clear.
Brent Sanders 16:14
Tom Taulli 16:15
Yeah, no, yeah, they have the playbook. I mean, they know what they're doing. And they have incredibly, you know, their customer bases enormous. They're their supporters. And, you know, they've all these, you know, community ecosystem developers. I mean, I mean, I would not want to go against fine.
Brent Sanders 16:30
Yeah. Yeah, I agree. There'll be good pants out of me.
Mark Percival 16:37
But what would it look like? But what do you think it would look like for somebody like Amazon or Google to tackle this market?
Tom Taulli 16:44
Well, I mean, Google probably buy into it. I don't don't see them building this. So, you know, they bought Looker, which is a data analytics company. So in there, they're definitely moving more aggressively down the enterprise path. And I think that's going to be via acquisition. Amazon's a little interesting. I mean, you know, they tend to have a culture of, you know, developing in house, but they do have all of acquisitions as well. So, but with their AWS platform, and so I think anytime you have, you know, a company like Amazon, or Google or Microsoft, and they just have these big enterprise hosting platforms, I mean, they're in such a great position to just add stuff there. I mean, they don't, they don't have to build stuff. I mean, they could, they don't have to buy it either. I mean, they could just have resell agreements. I mean, snowflake is, you know, one of the fastest growing companies, they're going to go public pretty soon. And they're one of the biggest drivers of revenue for AWS and Google Cloud. And in, you know, you don't have to own these types of services that make a lot of money with them.
Brent Sanders 17:58
Yeah, it's a, I've been, you know, seeing new little things that you can tack on to your AWS suite, in my email on almost a monthly basis, right, we have this feature, we have that feature just turned on. In our last podcast, we were talking about, you know, Amazon Sage maker, the machine learning platform where you know, as I like to repeat Mark's joke is, it's like Excel BFP, by the minute, you know, it's like, completely, completely metered. And it's funny, you know, because it's, you get access to some serious power tools. But it's, it's a great model, you can you kind of have the shop floor at your disposal, and you just kind of pay per month or per However, they you know, whatever the services, but it's interesting to see it, it's very accessible. I mean, I think that when it comes to, you know, you have all your infrastructure on Amazon, why not put your automation there as well. And, you know, that a thought of, hey, we're gonna keep everything in one nice secure spot. But that does seem like an attractive proposition.
Tom Taulli 19:00
You know, just recently, Amazon released their low code system, too. So, you know, they're definitely moving, moving, you know, aggressively in these areas. And I think RPA is becoming big enough of a market where it gets the attention of a company like Amazon.
Brent Sanders 19:18
Yeah. One thing that I'm interested in understanding is do you interact much with like, I know you're not practicing an RPA necessarily as a consultant, but do you interact with people in the space? And if so, what you're hearing, what are you hearing from them that's working and not in general?
Tom Taulli 19:37
Oh, yeah. So I've talked to companies like into it, or Voya or Symantec who have done implementations of RPA. And generally, at least the people I talked to, it's been a, you know, good experience with the technology. It's become strategic to them. It's something that they will continue to invest in and improve and You know, they really skill, you know, their employees, so they will train them to be bought developers and, you know, to, you know, try to bring more of it in house, a lot of these companies will start off with consultants, and then, you know, try to wean themselves off of that. But, you know, the companies that I've seen that have been very successful RPA are just really good companies. And I'm assuming those companies that are really not good companies RPA may not really save. Because, you know, software is just a tool, soft software only makes sense, if you have a great organization that, you know, is really serious about, you know, making things happen. And so a company, like, into it, you know, its successes in their DNA, and then obviously, technology is too and so they've approached it in a way where, you know, they, it's, it's all very well planned and disciplined, and, you know, metrics driven, data driven, all the kinds of things you need for success when it comes installing, and implementing enterprise software. So I would say, the people I talk to, you know, if you want to be successful, you know, this is, you know, just throwing some RPA into your organization, it's not, it's not going to do it. Yeah. You know, you have, you have to have the right type of mindset to make it.
Brent Sanders 21:24
Do you think you have to have the right type of business, like in the sense that, you know, we've, like, we talked about engineering culture or like, proximity to technology. We think that that's a factor?
Tom Taulli 21:38
It helps. it helps, Yeah, I really do. I do. Now, I, you know, Voya is not necessarily a technology company, it's a very well run company. And, you know, they do work with a lot of technologies, they don't really build them per se, but I do think if you're, if you're a well managed company, and you have a lot of experience with using technology, absolutely. You know, I don't think you have to be a, you know, a technology company, you know, pure technology company, but I think you definitely have to have a lot of experience with with working with the technologies and, and change management and yeah, I'm sure things, you know, happen and keep happening, you know, cuz Yeah, yeah, yeah, those things are six months, everyone starts doing it. And then month eight, nine, people start losing enthusiasm before you before you know, you're kind of bad you start.
Brent Sanders 22:36
I'm wondering, uh, you know, where do you see in the people that you have spoken with? Where do you see RPA fitting in with, with, like, legacy systems? I mean, because that's what Mark and I really drew us into the RPA space is just kind of a passion around, hey, there's all this legacy software out there, what's going to happen to it in the next 5,10,20 years?
Tom Taulli 23:00
Yeah, it's going to stay, it's going to stay? Yeah, we saw this with COVID with COBOL. In the, you know, the new jersey governor had to put out an advertisement on television saying we need some COBOL programmers to make sure our unemployment benefit system works, because it's all based on COBOL. You know, I, you know, integration is key and and, you know, with RPA I mean, you know, these vendors and RPA, that the pioneers, you know, like blue prism. I mean, they came from a world of mainframes, and, you know, a whole different kind of way of looking at things and so, they built software for that. So, yeah, I mean, I think that's been the key here is that people call it more of a band aid, or, you know, kind of some snarky or snarky way of calling RPA but band band aids are actually useful. I get cut. I'm a big fan of band aids in certain circumstances. So I you know, it's you know, do you have to always completely uproot your system and completely transform it, and he won, he don't have the money in two, he just don't have the time and the bandwidth and the organization will crumble and band aids is just going to have to find really good band aids and, and in RPA, did that they, they found their product, product market, you know, fit, it was perfect, and they just gone with it. And because, you know, we've had BPM for a long time. And it's great, but it takes a lot of work and a lot of time to do that. So I think RPA has found its niche, and it makes a lot of sense, given the fact that COBOL is probably gonna be around after.
Brent Sanders 24:53
Yeah, yeah, we had a conversation about this. It's like, you can't knock it because it works and it worked enough. And yeah, you know, you can think about re-imagining it and rewriting it or re implementing it, but it's like, are you really gonna do a better job? Or are these just hard problems? Yeah, I mean, I'm sure you can make it faster. I'm sure you could optimize. But yeah.
Mark Percival 25:15
Yeah, there's always gonna be under the COBOL. Right. And right now, there's another language out there. That's the next COBOL. And it's stuck everywhere.
Tom Taulli 25:22
Yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah, that's exactly the day a new language is implemented, it becomes legacy. And, and, yeah, I've been looking a lot of coupon. You know, there are COBOL programs that were written in the 60s that are still running. Yeah, perfectly. I mean, just think about it.
Brent Sanders 25:43
Yeah, you didn't have to do a service. It runs.
Tom Taulli 25:47
It just works. So, um, I don't know why anyone would want to get rid of that. So I That's right. Legacy is just going to be our legacy. I mean, we're just going to have it, but you have to evolve. And I think technologies like RPA are a good way of thinking about that. You know, because I think we there's just a lot, so much of a focus on revolutionizing disrupting, and I think, you know, these big companies See, I think they talk about it, but they're not a position. Yeah. But they need to evolve and grow. And I think things like RPA.
Brent Sanders 26:20
Yeah, but to your point, I mean, it's, it's a, it's not a good use of the company resources to rebuild sometimes. Yeah, you know, bridging is that's the word. That's the diplomatic word I like to use around RPG bridging systems where we're not going to Yeah, you know, build the hybrid of, you know, NetSuite and SAP and figure out how to glue them together, we're just going to bridge things where we need them and let the the diversity of legacy software just be I think that there's a certain way in aspects of embrace it.
Mark Percival 26:52
That's very hard to do, though, to have developers don't have a bias, right? Oh, yes. Towards free writing and fixing them in a perfect world?
Tom Taulli 27:00
Yeah, well, that's the problem with AI. You know, sometimes the simple solution is the best solution. But if you get a data scientist who spent, you know, all their time getting their PhD, they go, I don't want to do that, you know, I want something really complicated and challenging. But, you know, I, you know, if I'm paying the person, I'm thinking, we're trying to run a business here, we're not trying to do a science experiment. So you know, it's, it's, you know, sometimes you just, you know, look at the simple solutions, yes. And then if it doesn't work, you know, get more complicated, but, you know, we always, there's the reflex of like, we need to just do this crazy deep learning model, and just, we're gonna, it's gonna be magic, and it just says.
Brent Sanders 27:44
I think that's where the marketplace is gonna be in the space is gonna be very interesting, right? So you have just recently looking at Abbyy, you know, the image recognition software and comparing that against what Azure has, I'm going to misspeak, this specific product, but it's like their core vision library where you can, you know, hit an API, pass a receipt to it, and it will turn into text for you. And I think that's where the value is going to be added. Right. So it's like, let them do the model building and the specialization and the values there, right, rather than paying the 10s of thousands in licenses, pay for per user per call on that API endpoint, you know, build those models. I'm curious, have you? Do you agree with that sentiment? And what have you seen in this space around sort of come back? commoditizing. But what's a better word for the like, getting more specific offerings in terms of API's and tools?
Tom Taulli 28:42
Yeah, yeah. Well, I think there's a lot of pre-built solutions, that just you know, why reinvent the wheel? And by the way, who would have thought it was car would be such a hot market? The I remember in my school days talking about our OCR, but, you know, the, the the thing is that when I look at, you know, when I wrote my book on on AI, you know, my, my thing was, you know, you know, probably having an AI project is great, but first look at what you already have, you know, if you're doing forecasting of sales, have you checked out if you have Salesforce, have you checked out Salesforce? I mean, they have Einstein, right? why not just use that? It has all your data. It has pre built models, and it deploys it. I mean, it does everything for you. Why would you want to do all that on your own unless there's something very unique or strategic about it? There's so much into and it's just getting better and better. These platform technologies are just adding onboard so you don't have to do the APS. You know, it's just built into the software you're already using. It's just a lot of what these companies do. Now they even have it.
Brent Sanders 30:01
Yeah. One example that I was really impressed with was Insta base when they This is a while ago, but they released a YouTube video or a demo of, you know, they're doing a loan pre qualification. I was like, Okay, that makes sense, sort of this purpose built channel where, you know, they may have diversified the product bit more, but it seemed like it was great for if you're running a bank, or you're just general finance operations where, which is where we see the the bulk of the interest start in most organizations, it's usually a payroll or finance department that's trying to fix some slow process.
Tom Taulli 30:36
Right? Yeah. Yeah, there's a goldmine there. Well put, there is a goldmine there. Yeah, there's a goldmine. And, you know, we kind of were talking a little earlier about mid size and smaller businesses in this area. And you know, RPA is a hot market. But when I used to go to Silicon Valley, talk to people there and I mentioned I write a book on RPA, I get a lot of blank stares, totally, no one will ever admit that they don't know something in Silicon Valley. They everything is. But I could tell they didn't have they have never heard of that, you know, those three letters before us that way? And so if if the, you know, awareness is not as high in Silicon Valley, you can be sure it's not, not that high. And, you know, in small and mid sized companies, I think I'll part is if I'm a mid sized player, you know, looking for the midsize market opportunity, my challenge is just going to be education. And that's a tough, it's a tough challenge.
Brent Sanders 31:35
That's that's we share that belief, I believe. I mean, it's funny, I mean, because Mark and I both started talking about RPA, maybe a year or two ago, just be like, wow, this is just such a gap here. This is a this empty space within the, you know, the tech techs or the high tech sector. Yeah, where I've seen people be more literate has been more around product management. What are the people that like manage process? I'm there's drawing a blank for the job title, but it's usually
Mark Percival 32:12
the easy one. Yes,
Tom Taulli 32:13
Exactly. Yeah, say, lean or lean, or six sigma. I've a whole chapter on process methodologies in my book of Lean Six, sigma, six, sigma, all those, all those things we know we heard about in the 90s. And it's starting to make a comeback again, because of our
Brent Sanders 32:28
Yeah, yeah, I mean, you know, the gun, I'm struggling to remember, you know, some of the job titles I've heard. But process management is basically, you know, the thing, going back to you had mentioned and just you'd mentioned, BPM had its time, you know, just for the sake of, you know, my learning, like, tell me about, you know, I don't know much about because I know business process management, and there's software for it, there's like, a UML, like toolkit that you can use to model your your BPM and turn that into software. Tell me what you know about that, and give us a quick history?
Tom Taulli 33:05
Yeah, well, the history is, it's been around a long time, since the 80s, BPM software, and some of the theoretical aspects of EPM. Go back to the 70s. We had some academics, you know, they were looking at organizations and saying, you know, how can we reef configure organizations to make them more efficient and more streamlined. And then what happened was some entrepreneurs took some of that academic material and built companies Pega, Pegasystems is kind of the pioneer of the BPM space. And there, they continue to be one of the dominant players in that. The thing is that there's a lot of change a lot of consulting, a lot of change management, black belts, Six Sigma lean, you know, it's such a, it's, it's a, it's an investment, I mean, it, it's not something you just kind of plug and play, but it is transformative, but you have to, but you really have to be committed to making internal changes in your organizations, and then the software will kind of help manage what you've put in place. Now, in the last 20 years, we've seen some new players come in, like Appian. And they've kind of have more of a cloud web based approach, the software tends to be easier. And they've been a fast grower. They went public a few years ago. And what's interesting about them, is they've glommed on to the whole low code revolution. And they kind of mostly thrown out the whole BPM phrase, and now slow code. So you know, you can, you know, you don't have to be really sophisticated technology person to start using this technology. And then you can do all these great integrations and it's all secure and there's guardrails in place, and there's governance and all that all Stuff that, you know, you'd have to spend a lot of time on a software system like Appian, can do that now. And I really have good friends actually with the folks, the CEO and CTO and the CTO of Appian wrote the foreword to my books, I know that pretty well. So I could talk a little smack about them. And they probably won't, they probably won't be too concerned about that. But it's kind of funny, because last year, I talked to the CTO about RPA. And he was kind of down on it, and said, Yeah, there's these problems, kind of a band aid, blah, blah, blah. And of course, if you know, three or four months ago, they bought an RPA company, and the stock went up on that. So, you know, things changing quickly in the technology around. So I do think that BPM players are going to start moving into the RPA. space. And even pega did a RPA deal few about five or six years ago, although I don't think it really was that successful. But I do think, as companies start scale is technology and want to get, you know, make it more robust. I think having something that I can Appian being a part of that I can can really take you to the next level.
Brent Sanders 36:11
Yeah. Good to hear.
Mark Percival 36:12
So we actually ended up talking to the CEO of Robocorp. Yeah. ago. And so obviously, you have some knowledge, I think chapter in your book is actually on robot framework. And these guys are taking robot framework and kind of, you know, I will say re-purposing it, but it's been typically looked at as a test automation platform. And now being useful RPA. I'd love to get your take just in general on open source versus sort of these larger platforms like UiPath and automation. Never know where that's going where you think. Yeah,
Tom Taulli 36:39
yeah, so I do think I, by the way, I talk to the co-founder a couple times, Robocorp. So I'm pretty familiar with the company. And then the chapter I wrote in that book on open sources. Another part of shocking thing about RPA is how few open source projects there are. The show you how few of them there are, I think I talked to all of them. I did not talk to every RPA vendor for this book, there's not enough time, but I probably talked to every open source vendor. And a lot of them were just you know, except for RoboCorp. That's not just one or two people. So there's open RPA, which is really, really interesting and really sophisticated. But it's really two guys. The coders, one of the is credit genius coder, though he's incredibly productive. But so I look at this way that any type of enterprise software usually goes through some evolution with open source. I mean, if you look at almost every part of software, you know, databases, we got MongoDB, just almost like all the middleware, and so forth. So I do think the same is going to happen with RPA. And that's going to continue to come outization. And I do think that's going to allow for more the spread and the education of RPA. And I do think larger companies like the open source model, or to have some, you know, to play with it to some extent, because they can modify it, customize it to their own, to their own needs. But it's, you know, other than Robocorp, but I think it's a very immature market. At this point, it's probably going to take a few years until it reaches probably some critical mass or maybe Red Hat moves into a I don't know, you know, maybe a bigger player moves into it, but it's so far.
Brent Sanders 38:39
Yeah, I mean, you see how much work goes into building a knowledge base, you know, even deciding on the libraries that you have, you know, everything's still in motion. And I feel like there's potentially more work for an open source team, because not only do you need to build a knowledge base and have tutorials and education going, you also have the community involved in a lot of the development. So you have to manage in the whole open source, thankless awful job of being an open source maintainer on top of going to market and all the other, you know, challenges.
Tom Taulli 39:14
Yeah, yeah. But I, you know, I look at, you know, speaking of MongoDB, I mean, that company has been wildly successful. So I think if someone can figure out and puts the right team together, and with some money, and maybe that is Robocorp I don't know, I think they can be very successful. Yeah,
Brent Sanders 39:32
I agree. I was a, we've we both kind of jumped into robot framework recently. Because in digging into the space mean, getting into UI paths, easy from a community aspect, but it's, it is much more our nature as developers to maybe pull the packages down, run some tests and easily dive right in and, yeah, it's been a breath of fresh air. I think this space really does need a little bit more of that, like I know, and that's where I'm hoping it will go right. So this is of the consolidation, bot creation becoming free and open and easy. And then it comes down to Okay, where am I going to run this? And what tools Am I going to use to really be effective? You know, I have your my basic screwdriver in, you know, sanding tools, but if I really wanted to use a power tool, I can rent that from Amazon or wherever the provider?
Tom Taulli 40:22
Yeah. Yeah. Like I said, I mean, benchmark is investors. And, and, you know, they have a good understanding of how the built new markets and so you know, that that might, you know, it's going to take a big venture capital firm, or a group of them and a lot of money and time to make that happen. But I think
Brent Sanders 40:47
Yeah, they've definitely been kissed by the venture capital gods, that if you're going to pick a VC firm to pair partner with, that's probably the best one. Right? That's, that's one of your top option.
Tom Taulli 40:58
That's right. Yeah. Yeah, tier one. Tier One. They've been there, they've been there, done that. So it's more than money, too. I mean, they, they build open source, you know, judgments. I mean, they know how to do it,
Mark Percival 41:12
you know, you've written or you've written an AI book, you've written a book, you'd love to get like an just a take on just you know, you've we've talked about the specific RPA or sorry, specific AI instances, like OCR, but in the future, where do you kind of see this this going on the AI side? Because I think there's a lot of hype in the market around Oh, AI is gonna solve all these problems, like bots are brutal right now, but they won't be in a year once AI comes in. Yeah, I will fix everything. Where do you kind of see that going, though? do there are some areas where AI is going to become much more reliable or much more people lean on?
Tom Taulli 41:48
Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, AI, I mean, in some ways, AI is making incredible advances. I agree about that, the hype, part of it that, you know, when I started, you know, what, you know, two years ago, I mean, I get pitched a lot for Forbes to do for writing stories. And two years ago, I've rarely get a pitch about an AI company, you know, now, it's like, I get 10 pitches a day, from AI companies, from companies that I can't even remotely understand how they could be an AI company, because they have no data, you know, so, the, I think that there's a lot of hype note there, no doubt about that. But there are some companies doing some incredibly sophisticated things. I mean, I, you know, open AI, billion dollars from Microsoft, you know, they're doing the general AI, and you go to YouTube and put in open AI Rubik's Cube, and it's a robot hand that solves a Rubik's cube. So it has the intelligence to figure out how to solve it, but also, it's it, it can, you know, coordinate that with a hand that can manipulate the Rubik's Cube, and also can see the Rubik's Cube, that's a very difficult thing to pull. So that's not an easy thing to do. You know, you know, we're seeing now with the amount of data, you know, it used to be, you know, you have millions of parameters in a deep learning model, you know, then it was billions, you know, now, Microsoft just recently announced they have 100 and 20 billion parameter model. You know, we're probably gonna see quantum computers really, you know, make great advances in terms of the compute power. I mean, these, you know, there is some very cutting edge things that probably are under height right now. But then there's kind of the rest of us, and, and, you know, you know, so in the RPA world, I do think there's been some lagging in AI, although I've been very impressed with automation anywhere. I think some of the things I've done with the discovery bot, and really, really important. But I do think that when I talk, in fact, when I did talk to the CEO of automation anywhere, he made the claim that within five years, he believes that an AI system will be able to understand any contract around the world. It could. So I like that idea, because he's at least he's got a really big vision. And it's kind of specific. And it really does play to the power of, you know, yeah, machine learning and deep learning and so forth.
Brent Sanders 44:37
That's super interesting. Yeah. Because if you think about it, you hear the term, oh, it's a legal ease, but that the language has mechanics built into it that makes sense. And you could probably teach a bot to or teach something to, you know, speak legal ease because you know that it's almost like certain legal terms. They have argued with them, right, you're going to pass along certain things. That's really wild. Yeah. Very cool.
Tom Taulli 45:06
Now, so I think something like that, I think taking a part of the business world that's complicated. And, you know, reading contracts and understand, we attorneys ought to read and understand contracts, which, you know, the scaling is kind of the issue there. And we deal with contracts all the time, we deal with invoices all the time. And, you know, if we could get some really like, super AI models do that. And now we're at these hundred billion parameter models. I don't see why not. So. So I do think in the next few years, we are going to see some major breakthroughs. And you know, part of it will be RPA. But just across the, the spectrum of technology, and I think some of it will be, you know, really mind bending.
Brent Sanders 45:49
Tom, do you have any closing thoughts for us?
Tom Taulli 45:52
Yeah, I would just say that, you know, that, you know, I think you're onto something, you know, I mean, I've spent a lot of my time writing this book, so hopefully it wasn't a waste of time. So I, you know, I do you know, and I've been immersed in this for a few years, and I'm definitely super bullish on RPA. And what's happening in that market, and I did it before Microsoft blessed it. So that was encouraging. So I think anyone out there, whether it be a developer or whether it be a company, or whatever part of the spectrum you play, you know, it's definitely worth the to get an understanding and start thinking about RPA. You know, what you can do with it.
Mark Percival 46:39
Thanks, Tom. That's really, Yeah, super helpful. Um, and, yeah, this was a great conversation. I really enjoyed the interview.
Tom Taulli 46:47
Great. Yeah, I did, too. Yeah. Cool.
Brent Sanders 46:51
Tom, thank you so much for your perspective and for joining us on the formulated podcast.