Ok, hands up, the headline was a little bit click-baity. Unless you are white collar worker who carries out lower level administrative tasks such as data transfer. At least, for now.
U.S. ‘office AI’ specialist UiPath has announced the completion of its latest investment round in which it successfully raised $568 million at a valuation of $6.4 billion. That catapults the company into the ten most valuable technology companies in the USA still under private ownership.
Established in New York 14 years ago by Daniel Dines, a Romanian software developer and Microsoft alumni, it appears that UiPath’s AI technology has suddenly come of age. Two years ago the company had revenues of $8 million and was valued at $70 million. Revenues have since leapt to $200 million and its valuation skyrocketed to almost six and a half billion dollars.
RPA, or ‘robotic process automation’ was until recently an experimental or limited sub-sector of corporate software solutions. But UiPath’s methodical but slow development of RPA AI, at least in the context of the usual pace at which blockbuster tech companies grow, has now intersected with a combination of leaps forward in technology and changing attitudes in the business world.
The rise of Cloud computing power and data processing economies has led to quantum leaps in AI over the past few years. Cloud computing suddenly meant that AI algorithms could be cost effectively fed with the huge volumes of data that allows them to ‘learn’ more effectively, turbo-charging the technology’s advance. That’s making a big difference across numerous sectors and technologies from pharmaceuticals and energy efficiency to driverless vehicles.
Software has been used for repetitive office jobs such as data entry, movement and comparison for some time now. But it has been inflexible and had to be programmed for very specific tasks. The expense involved in that meant that it has only made sense for companies that have a large volume of one or a few repetitive tasks. Or for tasks and needs that are similar across enough companies to be offered as a SaaS (Software as a Service) product.
Now, however, advancements in AI mean RPA software has become much more adaptable. It can be relatively cheaply customised to various tasks. It can ‘learn’ what is required of it based on initial input that doesn’t require a high level IT expert’s level of knowledge or a lot of time. That’s piqued the interest of companies that spend a lot of money employing relatively low-level administrative staff to move data around different software applications.
The result has been an opening of the investment floodgates, pouring cash onto the most promising RPA companies, further accelerating the quality of their products. UiPath hasn’t been the only beneficiary. Automation Anywhere, another U.S.-based RPA company last year raised $550 million at a $2.3 billion valuation and the UK’s Blue Prism, which is already listed on the London Stock Exchange, is valued at around £1.5 billion ($1.95 billion).
In coming years, RPA solutions will be further refined to make more intelligent decisions around information it is tasked with processing. This would be expected to lead to ever more complex administrative roles being taken over by software. But if you’re in an office role that involves any kind of decision making, judgement calls or creativity, you probably don’t have to worry about software being hired in your place for a while yet.