Ruta N in Medellin, Colombia (Credit: Loren Moss)

The Digital Americas Pipeline Initiative Is Cultivating Automation and AI Talent in Colombia

Frank Casale, founder of the Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence (IRPA AI), has a new project. He is the CEO of the Digital Americas Pipeline Initiative (DAPI), an effort to train new talent for the automation and artificial intelligence space as well as provide expertise for the industry.

Casale and his team came up with the idea more than a year ago. The next question was simple in theory but took some time to answer: Where should the DAPI headquarters be located?

They researched several locations and eventually decided on Medellín, Colombia, an emerging tech hub in Latin America that has been receiving more and more buzz in recent years.

Colombia’s second largest city had the right blend of talent, labor cost, and time zone alignment with North America that Casale was looking for. Beyond that, he says Medellín has an unmistakable energy, along with an ecosystem of startup culture and real government support, that made it the perfect place to launch the Digital Americas Pipeline Initiative.

Loren Moss, executive editor of Cognitive Business News, caught up with Casale after the recent DAPI launch event at the Ruta N technology complex in the city. They discuss the goals of Digital Americas Pipeline Initiative, the importance of developing talent, and the reason for picking Medellín.

Loren Moss: We are here at Ruta N in Medellín, Colombia, and you just launched a very exciting new initiative. Why don’t you tell us about this new project? I know that your background is that you are the founder and run the Outsourcing Institute and you have the Institute for Robotics Process Automation. But tell us about this new initiative that in conjunction with Ruta N here in Medellìn you brought to life.

Frank Casale: Well, I’ll be happy to, Loren. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and your audience. So, as you mentioned, my background — if you go back 20 plus years — is in outsourcing. As you mentioned, I founded the Outsourcing Institute back then, and we still have the Outsourcing Institute. But, as no surprise to you, kind of the hot trend recently is more around robotic process automation, intelligent automation, and artificial intelligence.

What we decided to do — about five years ago — is really create a separate institute focused on RPA and AI, and that in essence is IRPA AI, as we call it. It is a global membership organization. We have over 10,000 members and its growing rapidly. We’ll probably have closer to 20,000 by the end of this year. This, as far as I am concerned, is the hottest, most-exciting mega-trend in technology today.

So, how did I get here? Well, here is a quick version of the story. As we emerged ourselves in this ecosystem and got a good sense of what is going on — who’s looking at what technology, what problems are they trying to solve, what business cases are these, how are they justifying this — a few things became clear to us.

One is that AI is no longer the future — AI is the present. And in this world of technology, the biggest challenge for most enterprises is not tech. It’s the talent. So, based on a lot of interactions with our members, we found that the best thing we could do to help them ease the pain — beyond the events we are doing, beyond all the publishing, and all the things we are doing, and all the support we provide them — is really built kind of a hub for training and certifying talent.

“AI is no longer the future — AI is the present. And in this world of technology, the biggest challenge for most enterprises is not tech. It’s the talent.” – Frank Casale

Then, the next challenge was, OK, where do we park this thing? I’m based in New York although our network is global. But New York is way too expensive. The rest of the U.S., for the most part — although we evaluated several second- and third-tier cities — was too expensive. We looked at Eastern Europe. There is a good amount of talent there and expertise. But also pricing wasn’t right, and the time zone was off. India has a lot of talent and is certainly known and respected in the outsourcing world. But the biggest issue there, again, is time zone and proximity.

Because what we have here is an interesting intersection of advanced automation of AI with the new Agile programming methodology, which really drives people to more of a nearshore and similar-time-zone scenario.

So it was clear to us that we had to find a spot in Latin America. And after evaluating most of the obvious players — countries like Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, or Brazil, and all those are fine locations and they have great people and talent — what really jumped to the top of the list was Medellín Colombia. And that’s why we are here.

Loren Moss: How did you connect with the Ruta N, and tell me about their support or involvement in the initiative?

Frank Casale: Our first meeting here was in Bogotá, maybe a year ago with the wonderful people at ProColombia. I shared my vision with them: “Here is the business story, here’s the local impact and the social impact on local businesses, on the students, on the local workforce, and the job impact, and the commercial impact, the impact on the local economy.”

They loved it and urged me the next day to immediately fly to Medellín to meet with the Ruta N team. We came here, met with the Ruta N team. They loved our idea, and we loved them. And then we set off to do this. They got it immediately. It was clear they understood it. It was clear that what we were doing was in line with their charter, and also we were very impressed with this team. This team here is dynamite — intelligent, quick moving — and we knew we were in the right place.

Loren Moss: Yeah, I’ve become a fan of Ruta N over the years. I know about them even before I lived in Colombia, but I think part of why I decided to settle down in Medellín is because of the openness, the treatment, the respect, the collaboration, and the help that I received — not just from Ruta N but from successive local administrations in the government here. There is a true public/private partnership here that you don’t see in a lot of places that I’ve been in any country.

Frank Casale: I agree totally. Most agencies in most parts of the world say it, but they walk the walk here. But just to play off of your experience here — you’ve been here much longer than I — I’m the new guy on the block. But, as I explain it to others, there are the requirements that we had on our checklist. And then there were things that just became apparent — that just really resonated with us.

Is there talent here? Yes. Is there sizable and thriving tech startup community? That is great as well. Wage levels? All that is good.

However, as we got to know people in this city, it was clear that there Is a vibrancy here. It’s tough to explain. You know it. You are here. There is an energy here. There is a vibe. And the city, the leadership, and the people — they are doing better, they want to do better, they want to evolve. So this is the right place.

My prediction is: You look at this city now — it’s already a wonderful place — but you come back here in three years, four years, as result of a lot of this tech and the AI field activity, this is going to be the go-to place. Certainly in the Americas. We will help see to that. And there is Ruta N, and our collaboration with you. But as you see the community evolve, there is is just going to be this secondary wave beyond what is going on now. So, I think we are all here at the right place at the right time.

Frank Casale, founder of the Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence (IRPA AI), speaks at the launch event for the Digital Americas Pipeline Initiative (DAPI) in Medellín, Colombia. (Photo credit: IRPA AI)

Frank Casale, founder of the Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence (IRPA AI), speaks at the launch event for the Digital Americas Pipeline Initiative (DAPI) in Medellín, Colombia. (Photo credit: Loren Moss)

Loren Moss: Now tell me about more specifically about the initiative. If I understand it correctly, it is to develop talent and to develop that specialized high-level talent — artificial intelligence, robotics process, automation, machine learning, deep learning — that these new disruptive technologies need. They crave talent and there is talent shortage in this area. How will your initiative address that?

Frank Casale: There are a lot of plays. There are a lot of plays you could play in this movie of evolving enterprise AI. The part we’ve committed to playing is being the go-to source for expertise.

There is no shortage of tech out there right now. In fact, one of the bigger challenges for buyers is that some would say it’s too much. It’s kind of like overwhelming. There is a significant shortage of talent. Think of it this way: Software scales, people don’t scale. So there’s a tremendous gap — it’s sizable and growing — between what people need as far as the managers and what’s available in the marketplace.

Although this is a sophisticated marketplace with cool tech and data scientists and algorithms, our model is really simple. We are going to recruit really good people, we are going to train them, we are going to certify them, and we are going to have them available for the marketplace. Certainly, here in Medellín, in Latin America, and in North America. That’s basically it.

If you need specific people for specific types of platforms, we will have them trained. If you are looking for technology-agnostic people over time, we’ll have them as well for you. From a business standpoint, we are filling a gap — a void if you will. And then from a local impact stand point: jobs, jobs, jobs. So, we’re happy, Ruta N people will be happy, and the mayor is happy.

“There is an energy here. There is a vibe. And the city, the leadership, and the people — they are doing better, they want to do better, they want to evolve.” – Frank Casale

Loren Moss: Those companies in North America — and not just North America but a lot of other places in the world — are in a constant search for talent. In my time as an analyst, when I speak with enterprise customers in context, it was never as people outside the businesses think. “Oh, they’re just looking for the cheapest price.”

No. The first question I get from any executives is, “How is the talent?” When we talk about location, when we talk about an up-and-coming location and an established location, people ask me, “What’s the talent like there?” That’s their first question. Then they go into red tape, logistics, transportation links, and ease of doing business, and costs and everything like that. But the first question that I always get is talent.

And here, I find that pretty much everybody that’s educated is bilingual, a lot of people have been educated in the U.S. or have family ties in the US. With our own operations, we’ve sent people, it’s just a three-hour flight, we’ve sent people to get software training in California. They get a visa and they just go to California and they come back. I’ve gone to the airports and said, I need to be in the States this morning and I’m in the States by noon. It’s a three-hour flight. So, it’s not like you are going to the other side of the world. It’s not like you’ve got to take four or five days just in travel time to get somewhere. We have a client that is visiting us right now, they came down for a day, they are leaving tomorrow. And it’s not a big deal. It’s like flying to a different city in the U.S.

Frank Casale: Yes, the only trade off is that there is only one season here. It’s a perfect spring.

Loren Moss: It’s 70 degrees every single day of the year.

Frank Casale: Oh, my goodness. I mean if you could turn this camera around and point it out this window. It’s wonderful.

But, as you say, talent is key. You could take two people that have similar technical acumen, but one of them is more ambitious, one of them is more innovative, and one of them is more collaborative. And my team did due diligence on multiple time zones and multiple continents. My network is global. We know all the people. We know we know all the players.

So for us to end up here, it’s not only great for us, but it’s a testament to Medellín — what the business leaders and the government leaders are doing. So we are delighted.

My message to your audience is, if you need qualified RPA or AI talent, come look us up — whether you are in Latin America or in North America. And for those here in Medellín that are looking for a job — that want to get in the game — we have the onramp.

Loren Moss: How can they contact you?

Frank Casale: The best way to do it right now is to visit our website: DigitalAmerica.ai. Or just contact the people here at Ruta N because we just opened up the office.

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