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Episode #63: Can Automation Survive iPaaS + AI?

In today’s podcast, we interview Gaurav Dhillon, Chairman and CEO of SnapLogic

The trenches of technology’s marketplace battlefield are strewn with the remains of high-tech leaders, undercut by adversaries marching in with the next great innovation. It’s a manifestation of Creative Destruction, economist Joseph Schumpeter’s famous theory about the continuous cycle of annihilation & creation that enables the new to replace the old. Of course “old” is a relative term in IT, but some are beginning to view automation in its current form as a legacy encumbrance. If it is, then what’s next?

To find out we turn to Gaurav Dhillon, Chairman and CEO of SnapLogic, a leading provider of Integration Platform-as-a-Service. Integrations are the synapses of the online world, enabling creation of neural circuits between applications, which ultimately coalesce into a computational nervous system we call the internet. Gaurav believes that combining iPaaS with AI will redefine how enterprises interact with their employees and their customers. The result will be organizations whose whole is greater than the sum of their parts.

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Guy Nadivi: Welcome, everyone. My name is Guy Nadivi, and I’m the host of Intelligent Automation Radio. Our guest on today’s episode is Gaurav Dhillon, Chairman and CEO of SnapLogic, one of the world’s leading providers of Integration Platform-as-a-Service, also known as iPaaS. The ability to integrate data, applications, and devices, especially in the cloud, is fundamental to digital transformation. Robust integration capabilities enable the convergence of technologies, which powers the internet of things and other ubiquitous computing paradigms. When everything is integrated, automation, analytics, and AI can have a profound impact on the way things work, as well as the future of work. So we’ve invited Gaurav onto the podcast today to get his high level perspective on the state of integrations and what direction things are going in. Gaurav, welcome to Intelligent Automation Radio.

Gaurav Dhillon: Thank you, Guy. It’s a pleasure to be here, and I look forward to our conversation.

Guy Nadivi: Gaurav, you’ve been leading SnapLogic for over a dozen years now as Chairman and CEO. How has the role of Integration Platform-as-a-Service, iPaaS, evolved during that time?

Gaurav Dhillon: Well, it’s funny. You don’t look at these things as much as you should, but yeah, I mean, we came up with the idea. We did some research for a couple of years, and then we’ve been building this out for the past, I’d say seven odd years. So yes, the time adds up on these things. The evolution has been towards greater and greater automation, hence our interest in this podcast and the topic of your conversation is very, very much of interest to us, and to the kind of folks we talk to. If you think about integration in the age of the cloud, there are two things you want to do. You want to do things simpler. You want to embrace more and more people in the enterprise, and at the same time you want to corral, lasso, be able to connect as many endpoints as the enterprise is building up today. So the only way to tackle that ease of use and scatter diagram is to have a high degree of automation. And I would say the evolution of iPaaS has been towards automating more and more of that.

Guy Nadivi: Is there a single metric, like ROI, that best captures the impact of incorporating Integration Platform-as-a-Service into an automation project?

Gaurav Dhillon: Well, intuitively, we do know that the way to do integration is to use a product, any product, or to have their own team do it. So at a very back of the envelope level, it’s a build versus buy, and then you have to manage the break-fix or whatever you’ve built. But I think the better understanding is we had a group of folks from Forrester Research conduct a survey of our customers … they independently go out and do these things. To look at a total economic impact of somebody using SnapLogic to do their work. And what we found is that the customers they surveyed got nearly a million dollars in incremental revenue per year. They were able to reduce their costs on doing the integration by about 70%. And they found a savings of $1.7 million over three years, and about $770,000 in productivity gains. So when you add it all up, it was like 498%, and I was thinking to myself, boy, we should try harder. So a 500% return on investment on using SnapLogic iPaaS in the enterprise.

Guy Nadivi: That’s amazing. Gaurav, the pandemic has created a lot of disruption over the last year. What role do you feel automation has played in enabling the remote workforce to survive or even thrive during the pandemic? And has working from home perhaps made resiliency more important than things like cost savings as a justification to invest more in automation?

Gaurav Dhillon: I would have to agree. Agility, the ability to deal with large changes and requirements, being nimble, has come to the fore like never before. We have so many customers who had to quickly adjust to a working from home reality. We’ve got airlines whose planes aren’t flying, retail customers whose stores are closed. So agility, being nimble, being resilient, I think has come to the fore in the pandemic. And this is very important because when you think of enterprise apps, you don’t think … so the first things that come to mind are more personal productivity apps like, oh, how do I go to Zoom? And how do I make sure all the email and personal productivity apps can work from home and all that. And since we do so much of that, I think that is what people think about when they think of this pandemic pivot. But the reality is, not being in the office at all means even your back office apps have to be wired very differently. And for many, many customers, it means they have to invent new processes on the fly, within a week, to cater to the new reality of everybody working from home. Not having stores, not having the ability to return products in the store that you might have ordered online, and how do you invent a completely new process for returning? For a law firm, it means that partners have to be able to use a bunch of apps from wherever they might be. And accelerate the move from traditional back office apps into cloud apps so they can access the various bits of information they need about their clients anywhere in the world that might be, and these days, at home. So that has been absolutely key.

Guy Nadivi: Where do you think things go from here for automation, and how will its role evolve in the post pandemic recovery period?

Gaurav Dhillon: Right. We think a lot about that and we’ve been polling our customer advisors about that a lot. The accumulated weight of that is that there will be … A) the vaccine has arrived. And for some of us there’s this new have-have not class of people isn’t there, now? Those who have the vaccines and those who don’t. But that vaccine has created, I certainly would say a new hope. Also created a new normal. The world of being offline and being online are going to coexist forever. I was speaking to a customer in the pharmaceutical business, and they mentioned that because of the vaccine, in one of their geographies, doctors are coming back. Patients are able to come back in. If the doctor is vaccinated, the patient has a vaccine, you can come in and you can have more in-person visits. But the online nature of being completely shut down in the pandemic is not going away. And this is true everywhere. I think businesses are going to operate in a new normal where you don’t go into the office because you have to, you go into the office because you want to. And I believe we’re going to see people start to think about their output, start to think about what they got accomplished in a way that gives them flexibility. And that is going to require another set of agilities. Another, would you say, pivot into the new normal.

Guy Nadivi: I’m sure you saw some very interesting applications of iPaaS during the last year due to the pandemic. I’m curious if there were any particular ones that stood out for you due to their impact in improving business processes or helping organizations pivot during that time?

Gaurav Dhillon: So we sure did, Guy. And I have to say hats off to our customers, some of whom in the retail business, in the pharmaceutical business had to deal with massive changes or massive new pressures to help their own customers and to be more productive at that time. Boy, a few examples that spring to mind, Browns Shoes, a big retailer, had just become a customer of ours about the early part of last year. Then the pandemic hit, and they had 68 stores close. Everything shut down. So literally, less than two days, they added new applications and processes to support how the distribution centers work in a time where there is no more retail. How do you rewire the inventory? How do you automate the processes of returns, automate the processes of customer loyalty and other kinds of things in a completely work from home, no stores kind of world? Other stories come to mind are DaVita, they’re in the business of providing dialysis. They had to deal with how do they track COVID inventory, vaccine inventory. They have to track with how they comply with new regulations, various reporting statuses, and so on. And do that all, literally, in real time, because when you’re going into the facility to get dialysis, you have to … I mean, this is the definition of mission critical. Aramark, the giant services provider, a customer of ours, had to deal with a complete shutdown of sports. They have 80,000 employees. They do much of the work that you see in sports, in stadiums, the food services, other kinds of services. They had to completely rewire. They had to go from things that could be done in paper, where you would have a ticket, you would have some kind of form you could fill out, to a completely touchless experience, a completely smartphone experience. And make sure all those things work, not just at the phone level, but at the back office level. And perhaps hats off to our customer AstraZeneca, who has had to rewire so many things to ramp up production of the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine, and to be able to ship that, to track that, and move that around globally.

Guy Nadivi: We’re beginning to hear more and more about hyper automation, a new term to characterize the integration of automation, analytics, and AI to bridge silos within an enterprise. Will hyper automation democratize technologies so people outside of IT will be less reliant on IT? Gaurav Dhillon: Yes, and to some extent, no. So let me, first of all, jump in and say, we are pleased to see a recognition in the industry, whether it’s Gartner with hyper automation or Horses for Sources [sic], Phil Fersht with his integrated automation platform’s bold headline, RPA is dead, long live integrated automation. So to answer your question directly, we feel, and I certainly feel that this way of bringing together multiple ways to connect the enterprise into a combined unified platform does help. Because most of the frustration and most of the reason why people brought in RPA initially, and then now hyper automation is things don’t connect in the business. And therefore using all sorts of piecemeal solutions to try to connect them, whether you have end user solutions or you have back office solutions or APIs or whatever, doing them in multiple places creates yet another layer of headache and just a different kind of sprawl. So bringing it into one place, one place that is easy to use, that has a lot of AI, I believe is going to help end users do automation in a way that is going to really cut through that sort of Gordian Knot, if you would, that mess jumble of how things talk to each other. And then going into the pandemic and coming out of the pandemic, creating additional time pressures and a lot of band-aids that need to be thought through.

Guy Nadivi: There’s also a lot of talk these days about low-code, no-code automation and the rise of citizen developers as a result. How will iPaaS help accelerate the mainstreaming of citizen developers?

Gaurav Dhillon: Yeah. If you think about low-code no-code, it is a natural outgrowth. Someone in an enterprise is these days, much more computer savvy than they were 20 years ago. Millennials may not be programmers, but they understand how to work with technology in a way that is radically different from 20 years ago. These millennials are tech savvy, in my mind. And given the right kind of interface, whether it’s at a personal level, like an iPhone, when you’re setting up an email on the iPhone, or you’re setting up ways in which you can connect across various apps, or in an enterprise context using a modern iPaaS, it’s something that is easy to use. Which is sadly very rare in the enterprise, but modern products like ours have worked very hard to provide scale and self-service at the same time. So using self-service, we see end users, or we see citizens being able to cut through log jams in a federated way that lets them have their cake and eat it too. What do I mean by that? I was just listening to our customer Schneider Electric, present how they’re working with the citizens at Schneider Electric, to be able to wire up, to be able to manage their needs for data access, to connect the apps and to connect the various back office systems. By going to a self-service model that is federated, you have central IT involved with the business people. Central IT looks at the security concerns, system performance, data governance, et cetera, type of centralized concerns. And the citizens can get data and they can build these connections themselves with the right platform … We would say SnapLogic is a fine one. And then central IT blesses it and it goes into production. So in that federated model, we get to have our cake and eat it too in the enterprise. Because if we just give people something and say hack at it, you’re very quickly going to create a whole new set of sprawl and disorganization, security holes, system performance issues. And if we keep it too centralized, you run up against sort of the DMV model and the five-year plan of the Russian … from the communist era, where nothing happens and half of these things fail, it takes too long. So that federalized model with the iPaaS frees up citizens in a way that is quite magical and has been, I would say, one of the most satisfying things that I’ve seen over the past 10 years as we built out the company.

Guy Nadivi: Gaurav, given the growth in deployments of automation, especially this past year, I think much of our audience will be curious to hear your answer to this question. Regardless of whether I’m a college graduate entering the IT job market, or a seasoned IT professional looking to change specialties, what skills should I focus on acquiring to accelerate my career in the automation field?

Gaurav Dhillon: Great question. So let’s take it into somebody who is in college or recently graduated or something like that. And let’s then look at what might be the right piece of advice of someone who’s a seasoned professional. So for someone who’s say still in college, I would say understand or take courses in business that gives you empathy for the organization. How you manage the books, what are some of the underpinning of how capital and cash flows through a company? What are the fundamental principles of product positioning place, marketing demand generation are very important to know. So getting the business basics are very important. And I would say the way to get empathy for data, which is the underlying driver of a lot of automation projects, is to become smart about economics. Take a course in economics. It’s very hard to get seasoned data scientists. There’s like a shortfall of 300,000 jobs. But if you have computer savvy and you understand economics, you can become a data scientist, particularly if you have some business empathy. So I would say developing an empathy for the organization, which as a new graduate or a student, you don’t have, and developing an empathy for data. Do that combined would be just a fantastic way to enter the field of automation. And many, many colleges these days, even if you’re getting a degree in say biochemistry, one of our e-Team members, one of our executives’ daughter just graduated UCLA with a biology degree and she had to take a course in Python programming to get a degree. And there’s some wisdom to that. You don’t want to need to become a programmer, but understanding how modern languages work is a good thing. So to me, that’s advice for somebody who is new in their career. For a seasoned professional, I would say understanding the leverage in today’s platforms, understanding the impact of artificial intelligence, to be able to recognize patterns and getting from manual to automatic, getting enterprises from manual labor to automation, gives them so much benefit. We’ve had enterprise customers, retire tens and tens of millions of technology debt by moving to automation using iPaaS rather than the legacy integration approach. So getting a grasp of the impact of modern automated platforms, most iPaaS, ours included, is cheerfully willing to provide training for free. And getting that learning management system, getting that training is a valuable step in then being able to apply that into an enterprise.

Guy Nadivi: Given your perspective on iPaaS and automation, what do you think are going to be some of the biggest disruptions we’ll see in the next one to three years in those fields?

Gaurav Dhillon: Guy, our earliest investor was Andreesen Horowitz. And I had worked with them in the past, but I really like what they came up with as part of their strategy in building their venture firm. And their bold prediction was software eats the world. And our take on that is AI is going to eat iPaaS and automation. I shake my head in disbelief when I look at some of the graphical editing tools with which you can build RPA flows. Like, why? Why would you automate manually? So I think the biggest change is going to happen in the next, say three to five years, maybe not in two years, but I would say in the three year time horizon, is AI eats RPA. The recognition that these processes are processes that a mining technology can find and the right artificial intelligence with the right data sets can recognize and automatically put together ways in which you can get a purchase order, in which you can have a customer make a journey through various systems, ways in which your employees get onboarded. And when they retire, how do you systematically remove their access to various degrees? That being truly, truly automatic. By using AI and really good connectivity at the end points, I think is going to be very, very much a reality in the next three years. Possibly five, depending on the kind of business somebody is in. But for common business problems, it’s going to be real automation, not manual automation as you see today.

Guy Nadivi: Gaurav, for the CIOs, CTOs, and other IT executives listening in, what is the one big, must have piece of advice you’d like them to take away from our discussion with regards to implementing automation and iPaaS at their organization?

Gaurav Dhillon: That’s a great question. For somebody, a CXO or a senior person in any enterprise today, the challenge is how to innovate at scale. We see innovation around us in our personal lives, from Google’s auto-complete to smartphones, to a variety of technologies that we use and enjoy, streaming services, video, et cetera. But it’s very difficult in the enterprise to provide the same kind of wow factor. And to my mind, it is difficult because to innovate, you have to bring in a lot of things, but to do it at scale, they have to work together cohesively. The most important consideration for a CIO, a CTO is how to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts, because there’s too many parts. And if things are done piecemeal, to Gartner’s hyper automation point, to Phil Fersht and their point about piecemeal RPA is dead, long live integrated automation. Making the whole greater than the sum of the parts, having clear architecture, having good platforms that bring it together is absolutely key, or the sprawl will kill you. That sprawl, something coming in here, something going there, having hundreds of applications that are not quite orchestrated, is a recipe for disaster. Is to my mind, is a career-risking move. And people really ought to figure out how to have clarity in their architecture and then a high degree of automation to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Guy Nadivi: Intriguing. Alright. It looks like that’s all the time we have for on this episode of Intelligent Automation Radio. Gaurav, it occurred to me during our discussion that integrations are one of those things people really don’t think much about because they’re in the background and they just work. It’s kind of like that old commercial about the Maytag repairman being bored all the time because Maytag’s appliances were so reliable there was nothing for him to do. And I think it’s the same with integrations and with iPaaS, it’s just so reliable and yet so critical to the delivery of so many services that perhaps we don’t appreciate the complex value propositions that iPaaS and integrations provide. Thank you so much for coming onto the podcast and illuminating the important role companies like SnapLogic play in our modern data-driven world.

Gaurav Dhillon: Thank you, Guy. It was my pleasure. You’re right, it’s a bit of a back office topic, but becoming more important by the day as more and more SaaS applications and more and more data comes into the enterprise and in every job function.

Guy Nadivi: Gaurav Dhillon, Chairman and CEO of SnapLogic. Thank you for listening, everyone. And remember, don’t hesitate, automate.

Gaurav Dhillon

Gaurav Dhillon

Chairman and CEO of SnapLogic

Gaurav Dhillon is the Chairman and CEO of SnapLogic, overseeing the company’s strategy, operations, financing, and partnerships. Dhillon is an experienced builder of technology companies with a compelling vision and value proposition that promises simpler, faster, and more cost-effective ways to integrate data and applications for improved decision-making and better business outcomes. Prior to SnapLogic, as the co-founder and former CEO of Informatica, he guided it through a successful IPO and global expansion to become a market leader.

Gaurav can be reached at:




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