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Technology

SoftBank-backed US software company on track for first profit

Automation Anywhere CEO eyes Asian market as COVID forces digital shift

Automation Anywhere CEO Mihir Shukla said “the opportunity in Japan is greater for us, because of the presence of so much paper.” (Nikkei montage/source photos by Automation Anywhere)

TOKYO -- SoftBank-backed U.S. software company Automation Anywhere is on track to reach profitability for the first time, its CEO said, as the COVID-19 pandemic boosts demand for process automation.

"We will likely reach profitability, or near profitability, by the end of this year," Automation Anywhere co-founder and CEO Mihir Shukla said in an interview with Nikkei Asia. If the company generates a profit for the year ending January 2021, it will be its first.

Automation Anywhere's software lets companies automate tasks in the office, such as moving sales data onto a spreadsheet or responding to customer inquiries. The company uses artificial intelligence to help identify tasks that can be automated. Founded in 2003, the company has more than 4,000 clients and was valued at $6.8 billion in a $290 million funding round in November last year.

Shukla said demand for its cloud-based software surged during the pandemic as companies were faced with unprecedented challenges. Airlines, for example, needed to respond to a flood of requests from customers over flight cancellations, while banks had to process millions of requests for financial aid. Other companies simply needed to cut costs. At the same time, they needed to keep workers at home.

There were "about 18 different industries worldwide where there was a significant requirement to manage new demand that is placed upon a business with a bot," Shukla said.

A swing to profit will likely raise speculation over a public offering of Automation Anywhere shares, amid strong investor appetite for cloud-based software companies. Snowflake, a U.S. developer of data storage and analytics software, raised $3.4 billion in an IPO last month and has a market capitalization of about $74 billion.

Asked about his company's prospects for an IPO, Shukla did not answer the question directly but said, "We look forward to the coming months."

The majority of Automation Anywhere's clients are in the U.S. and Europe, but Shukla said he expects the process automation industry to expand in Asia, where many tasks are still paper based. The Japanese government, for one, has made "digital transformation" a key policy priority after its cash handouts in response to the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic were delayed because it was difficult for people to apply online.

The growing push to digitize has intensified Automation Anywhere's battle with U.S. rival UiPath, which was valued at more than $10 billion this year. Major overseas information technology companies like Japan's NTT have also started offering automation solutions. One bottleneck has been finding engineers who can develop software that meshes with local languages and applications.

"The opportunity in Japan is even greater for us, because of the presence of so much paper," Shukla said. "The pandemic will force us to change faster."

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