Sam Gross Discusses Ruta-N’s DAPI Initiative: Training Colombian RPA Talent & Connecting It With The World
Digital Americas Pipeline Initiative, or DAPI is a binational company founded last year with offices in Colombia and the US. The Colombian operation is housed in Medellín’s Ruta-N. The company seeks to train and provide RPA (Robotics Process Automation) and other IT talent to enterprise clients in North America, Colombia, and elsewhere.
Finance Colombia executive editor Loren Moss recently spoke with DAPI cofounder Sam Gross (above) to understand this startup, that further establishes Ruta-N and Medellín as South America’s technology hotspot.
Finance Colombia: So, I am here with Sam Gross. What is your title Sam?
Sam Gross: I am the Chief Technology officer and co-founder of Digital America´s Pipeline Initiative, often referred to as DAPI.
Finance Colombia: What is DAPI?
Sam Gross: Digital Americas Pipeline, is an organization that focuses on creating talent in order to begin to fill the void that enterprises have with respect to skilled RPA talent, skilled Machine Learning talent etc. So, there is a tremendous shortage of those skills and that has a macro economic effect on businesses because they are unable to automate as many projects as quickly as they like, because they can buy all the software in the world but they can’t find people to implement it. So, we look to solve that problem.
Finance Colombia: I imagine that it goes beyond cost arbitrage. Less expensive labor has been around for a long time, people outsourced it to the Asian Pacific region and things like this, how does this go beyond the simple notion of Labor Arbitrage?
Sam Gross: That is exactly the point, so, in a couple ways, that is quite fascinating. Number one, robotic process automation is ultimately intelligent automation, actually the future is going to be Digital Arbitrage, evolving of what previously was Labor Arbitrage, so that´s the first thing that´s really interesting. These automation technologies will profoundly change the services industry in any way that you can think of. What is different is that because these technologies are new, there is nobody out there that can say “I have five years of experience building RPA, or I have five years of experience building computer vision,” these technologies have not been available commercially for that long. So, how it is different is in the way that we are actually building the talent pool. What we are really focused on is actually manufacturing that talent, training that talent, creating the methodologies to train and doing that at scale.
This is not about finding somebody who works for less, this is about finding people who have been trained on the latest technologies and are continually being trained on those technologies and doing that in a way that becomes not only elastic but affordable. So, the reason why we are in Latin America, is because that does answer the affordability question, but that´s only one aspect. Perhaps for enterprises it is an important aspect, what that translates into is where are you able to get that kind of work force in an elastic fashion, on demand, at low cost. It lowers the threshold of the ROI for the automation project that you want to take on. So, instead of going elephant hunting in your automation, you can go around and collect fingers and toes. When you put five fingers and five toes together, you have half an FTE, find 10 fingers and 10 toes you have a full FTE, so it lowers that threshold. One of our objectives is to make it possible for automation technologies to be much more ubiquitous in the enterprise, so, that is just not going to happen with traditional models. (FTE: Full Time Equivalent)
Finance Colombia: It´s interesting how things are changing, and I think there are going to be a lot of winners and losers. For example, in the US, we see that in a lot of areas, traditional formal education is not as relevant, and then I see other countries in the Caribbean and in Latin America; it’s not that you don’t need a formal education, but for example, I know a CTO of a large company whose actual Bachelor´s degree was in music, but he has learned technology because people said, “hey, take this project, take this project…” 30 years later, he is the CTO of a company. The way that people learn now is different, people are trained by their employers, they are trained outside of the traditional education system. How do those people that set educational policies, how do they respond to that? How do they stay relevant and keep their people prepared?
Sam Gross: A couple things. I think the first talks about curriculum content. In the universities, a lot of them have launched data science curriculums, maybe some with some machine learning. At the fringes I see computer vision and things like that. The challenge is that although those are relevant and will become important and are part of the future, what they have missed is what businesses are asking for now, and the reality is as unglamorous as it really is, businesses are starting with robotic process automation, RPA, and they are not jumping in to doing computer vision projects. The universities are giving them an important skill but that doesn’t change their employability. I am certainly not an educator, I don’t know how to make that gap go away, but it’s a real gap. Just today, I had the opportunity to speak to about 50 college students here in local universities in Medellin, and actually only one had ever heard the word RPA; one out of 50, and that is what the jobs are.
Finance Colombia: That´s fascinating and it´s terrifying also, because people are studying things that maybe their professors learned 20 or 30 years ago, but are not necessarily relevant today, and that leads to digital haves and have nots within the IT community; and that is interesting. DAPI is an interesting initiative, it operates now in two continents. Obviously there were certain things that the local government and local entities did to make this area attractive. If you were in the investment promotion area, if you were working for either a local or national government entity, what would you do, and what policies would you implement to try to make your location attractive to entities like DAPI, to say, hey we want to go here and set up, we want to expand here next? What should students who are interested in this — young people who want to participate in it and be part of this future — study today? How can they be preparing themselves so that they are qualified to help shape this future?
Sam Gross: I’ll give you one of my favorite little sayings. It used to be said that the meek shall inherit the earth. That is not true any longer. Mathematicians will inherit the earth.
If algebra is key, algorithms are algebra. You need to know how to write an algorithm to work in the field of automation, intelligent automation, and artificial intelligence. But it helps a lot if you really understand the science underneath it as well.
Sam Gross is also the founder of ChoiceWORX.AI, a company dedicated to intelligent automation of end user support and device management, IT infrastructure management, and RPA.