Ingram Micro has forged a global alliance agreement with UiPath, a leading name in robotic process automation (RPA).
The expanded relationship, which builds on earlier collaboration between the two companies in India and China, will serve as the foundation for a new worldwide “hyper automation” practice offering office automation solutions that combine RPA, artificial intelligence, and related technologies.
“For us, it’s a whole new set of capabilities for which we’re getting increased demand from our partners,” says Sabine Howest, vice president of global partner engagement and IoT at Ingram.
RPA technology streamlines operational efficiency by assigning mundane, repetitive tasks to software-based robots. So-called “chatbots,” for example, can handle up to 80% of routine customer service questions and lower associated costs by 30% or more, according to IBM.
In addition to software from UiPath and other vendors to come, Ingram’s automation practice can provide outsourced assistance with developing and deploying bots.
RPA projects offer several revenue sources to partners with the skills and tools to deliver them, according to Scott Zahl, Ingram’s executive director of global partner enablement, beginning with the preliminary business process research, workflow mapping, and architectural design work.
“All of that today is a fee-for-service engagement that then couples with the technology sale itself and the additional professional services that go into the development of the bots and the implementation and the ongoing maintenance of the bots to ensure everything is functioning at peak efficiency,” he says.
Margins on RPA offerings begin at 10 to 20% on average for rudimentary services and climb from there with increased sophistication, Zahl adds. Partners can also resell RPA solutions that they build for one customer to other clients as well, he notes. “This is an opportunity to really create that unique and differentiated IP that I think so many partners throughout the channel struggle to do.”
In addition, the strategic discussions channel pros have with customers during RPA projects tend to uncover follow-on projects, adds Howest. “If they have this kind of conversation around how their customer’s businesses run, they will unearth opportunities for other technologies there as well.”
According to Zahl, SMBs are as much candidates for RPA as larger businesses. “It’s a technology that scales, so it can serve every market,” he says. “It’s not strictly an enterprise-level technology.”
For the moment, however, relatively few channel pros are offering RPA services. “We’re still at an early adoption phase, but I expect it to move through this phase very quickly,” Zahl says. “As the technology becomes more pervasive, as the skill sets become more readily available, and as we now have a real effort to be able to provide this kind of technology and a supporting set of services and practices around it en masse to a channel community around the world, the commercial availability of this becomes significantly greater.”
Would-be RPA solution providers must make upfront investments in enablement, however. “It’s not the kind of thing that you can take a couple hours in a course and you’re ready to go,” Zahl says. “You’re looking at a multi-week, in-depth embrace of understanding how the technology functions and then understanding how to apply that function to your client.”
As a result, Howest expects most Ingram partners without an existing RPA practice to lean heavily on the distributor’s professional services arm at first. Partners will also be able to test proof of concept solutions, stage demo projects, and attend RPA labs at Ingram’s IoT Centers of Excellence, the first of which opened its doors last year.
UiPath caught the attention of observers inside and beyond the IT industry last month, when its IPO produced one of the largest cash hauls in history for a U.S. software company. Ingram is the first distributor the fast-growing company has partnered with.
“They’re putting a lot of eggs into just one big basket, and we’ll try to make it work well for them and for their partners that we’re now onboarding,” Howest says.