Robotic Process Automation – Cutting Through the Hype
Service bots provide the next level of automation for companies that are looking to reduce costs and speed up manual processes. Despite all the hype in the marketplace, current robotic process automation (RPA) solutions do not heavily utilize machine learning, AI, or Cognitive capabilities…yet. That will come soon. For now, I would like to provide some clarity around the current RPA capabilities for folks looking at these solutions.
Most current RPA technologies allow you to automate a lot, if not all, of rule-based manual processes that have a defined set of paths. They allow you to configure service bots to follow the same "manual" path taken through applications by a human using a combination of user interfaces, but include the capability to make smart decisions along the way. You can implement simple desktop data entry-type use cases using these bots, or you can configure a cluster of bots at an enterprise level to extract data from multiple data sources and enter it into a series of UI screens.
Here are some important design considerations when deciding when to use a service bot:
Assessing the Efficiency Level of Your Processes
What is the level of manual data entry in your existing processes? If you decide to automate these manual data entry steps, then does the overall process have defined rule-based paths? Or do they require a very high level of expertise to make judgement calls?
You often have very highly qualified individuals (read: expensive!) performing repetitive data entry tasks, and it would be in your organization’s interest to replace these people with service bots while refocusing their attention towards meaningful, high-quality tasks. Service bots also provide you with the ability to execute these processes outside of normal working hours, which might or might not be an important factor to you.
Concentration of the End-to-End Process for Maximum Business Value
It’s always better to take the overall end-to-end view of your business process, and especially of the business problem you were trying to solve when you built those processes. Have those business problems now changed? If yes, then you might have to consider reengineering your end-to-end processes. RPA could be an important component of this overall solution. Service bots allow you to automate a lot of the manual tasks in legacy processes, which would enable you to deploy bimodal solutions which integrate your legacy systems with digital applications.
Choosing the Right RPA Technology
Can any of your existing BPM tools, with limited customization, allow you to deploy a pseudo-service bot? This would allow you to showcase the business benefits of an RPA solution without having to make an investment. Any RPA tool you choose must be able to interact with and handle multiple data formats from multiple sources. It must have the ability to schedule processes and be able to leverage complex business rule sets to govern these processes. The selected RPA tool should be able to work using both user interfaces and programmatically using APIs.
The Human Element
Lastly, as always, the most important factor for successful implementation of any automation exercise is the human element. Organizations need to have a clearly defined and articulated plan for all their workers that are being replaced by these RPA solutions. I have seen a lot of automation projects fail because of fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the minds of IT teams, especially around losing their jobs. I have also seen successful automation implementations in organizations where the leadership honestly communicated the plan and clearly articulated how the workers would be retrained and refocused in the new world!