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Protocol | Enterprise

Google Cloud wants a bigger piece of the RPA market. Will Automation Anywhere help it?

A product-building partnership is the latest pairing between cloud vendors and RPA providers to help customers robotize their operations.

Assembly lines automate products. Can virtual robots do the same for business processes?

Assembly lines automate products. Can virtual robots do the same for business processes?

Google Cloud and Automation Anywhere are partnering to build a new suite of products to help enterprises automate their most basic job functions, the companies planned to announce Monday, the latest in a string of efforts by top cloud providers to harness the potential of robotic process automation.

The technology has been buzzed about for years but really found its footing during the pandemic. The market for it is now expected to grow at a double-digit pace, reaching $2 billion in annual sales by the end of 2021, per Gartner. And more are opting for RPA tools that live in the cloud.

"Many of our customers brought their 2023 or 2025 digital plans forward to this year or next year," Automation Anywhere CEO Mihir Shukla told Protocol. And "large customers are coming to us and deploying this capability to every single employee. I have never seen a true digital transformation at this scale before."

The Softbank-backed company's name is freshly apt. Hospitals like Cleveland Clinic used RPA to automate the process under which patients sign up for COVID-19 testing, KeyBank and other financial institutions deployed it to help businesses quickly tap federal assistance and call centers used the tech to aid agents in addressing the rising number of customer service inquiries.

Automation Anywhere and Google Cloud are by no means alone in this quest to robotize the enterprise. Legacy vendors like ServiceNow and SAP are trying to convince customers to deepen the reliance on their products, like using the same software supplier for both HR and IT. They argue that automation is easier when the systems are connected on the back end.

Vendors should pursue automation, said Kevin Ichhpurani, vice president of partnerships at Google Cloud. But the reality for many businesses is that they have established, disparate systems. For them, Ichhpurani said, "We see customers wanting Switzerland."

What Ichhpurani is describing — a neutral vendor that can help link applications from different providers — is an area where Automation Anywhere faces stiff competition. Companies like Workato (which has a separate partnership with Google Cloud) and MuleSoft aim to create a new unified data layer across the enterprise, enabling information to move seamlessly between the thousands of apps in use.

The goal: capturing the entirety of how an employee works, which is often using software from several providers; linking those pieces together; and automating the overall process. While individuals in HR may use Workday, for example, the IT team that has to supply new employees with laptops may use ServiceNow. Connecting those two applications though an API — as Workato, MuleSoft and others do — makes it easier for a company to onboard workers with very little human involvement.

Shukla argued there isn't any overlap, asserting that Workato's products "are designed to integrate a few specific applications." A more generalized approach to RPA can be used to integrate "thousands of thousands of applications" without needing to use an API.

"I'm not aware of any other technology available today that can do that," he said.

Amit Zavery, Google Cloud head's of platform, agreed, noting that while Workato and MuleSoft also serve as back-end connectors, the use of RPA allows companies to "go to the next level on top of it and bring those businesses processes a lot closer than the coding required by other services."

Google Cloud is moving a bit later than rivals into this space. Microsoft purchased RPA provider Softomotive in May for an undisclosed amount. And AWS partnered with UiPath in July so cloud customers can tap preconfigured integrations, such as infusing virtual robots into the call center by linking to AWS Connect. That deal looks very similar to Google Cloud and Automation Anywhere's venture.

The partnership between Automation Anywhere and Google Cloud started organically, with customers using the two products together on their own, per Ichhpurani. Now the vendors are "up-leveling the relationship" to more closely integrate their products.

Automation Anywhere customers will be able to run on other clouds, but the jointly developed products won't be able to take advantage of native integrations built for Google Cloud.

Protocol | China

China’s edtech crackdown isn’t what you think. Here’s why.

It's part of an attempt to fix education inequality and address a looming demographic crisis.

In the past decade, China's private tutoring market has expanded rapidly as it's been digitized and bolstered by capital.

Photo: Getty Images

Beijing's strike against the private tutoring and ed tech industry has rattled the market and led observers to try to answer one big question: What is Beijing trying to achieve?

Sweeping policy guidelines issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on July 24 and the State Council now mandate that existing private tutoring companies register as nonprofit organizations. Extracurricular tutoring companies will be banned from going public. Online tutoring agencies will be subject to regulatory approval.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.

It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
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