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What you need from RPA to drive success in 2020

(Image credit: Image Credit: Praphan Jampala / Shutterstock)

Today, many ‘RPA branded’ tools promise ease of use, instant record-and-deploy automations but in reality, turn into code-heavy deployments requiring extensive debugging efforts and high change management overheads. To put this in context, Gartner predicts that through 2021, 40 per cent of enterprises will have RPA buyer’s remorse due to misaligned, siloed, usage and inability to scale. That’s a very high number!

For RPA to deliver on its promise, especially at scale, it must enable business people to inject greater speed, accuracy, productivity, efficiency and innovation across their global operations. RPA should not replicate slow, expensive IT projects, but it should meet all the governance, security and compliance requirements of the IT department.

So why do so many people get this wrong? To avoid failure or a regret-tinged legacy of unfulfilled ambition, below are a few key ‘must haves’ to consider when selecting RPA technology. 

Code free and business-driven

Due to a scarcity of software development skills, those RPA technologies that require coding will soon suffer the same delays as traditional IT projects. That bears repeating: RPA may be sexy but once the hype dies down, any IT-intensive RPA projects are going to have to get back in the queue for those scarce coding resources. The IT department’s proper role in RPA should simply be to uphold the necessary governance, security and compliance requirements for business-led digital transformation.

To make this happen, consider an RPA platform which solves the long-standing integration challenge of system interoperability, by re-purposing the user interface as a machine interface – and providing ‘code-free’ connectivity with any system. This innovation enables Digital Workers to use and access the same IT systems and mechanisms as humans, so they can automate processes over any past, present and future system.

The key is being business-led, which means that non-technical users shouldn’t be coders – but instead use an intuitive operating system to train and control them, simply creating automated processes by drawing and designing process flowcharts, then publishing them to a secure, central system. Users should be able to orchestrate a unique, ‘process definition’ language that both software robots and humans understand, which yields a highly quality business-friendly documentation as an automatic bi-product.

Openness and breadth

To offer real business benefits, Digital Workers should also be a pre-built, human-like, multi-tasking, modular, autonomous, processing capability that “understand” the context of processing tasks. These ‘intelligent’ capabilities enable them to perform activities in the same way as humans, but faster and more accurately.

The universal connectivity of these Digital Workers can also enable users to test and deploy artificial intelligence, natural language processing, intelligent optical character recognition, communication analytics, process optimisation and machine learning deployments.

In fact, to further replicate human decision-making, six skill categories have been added to Digital Workers; knowledge/insight, learning, visual perception, collaboration, planning & sequencing and problem solving. These capabilities are being enabled by the ‘drag and drop’ augmentation of AI, cognitive and other technologies from our ‘Digital Exchange’ (DX) marketplace. 

As these ‘emerging intelligent’ technologies are evolving so fast, what’s required is a balance of in-house, third party and out of the box technologies that ease access to proven solutions that are industry relevant. Only select an RPA vendor that promotes these freedoms, rather than being locked in.

Choose wisely: the tiniest of things can make the biggest difference

Agile transformation at scale is only ever achieved through centralised effort, so insist on collaboration. RPA must enable users to share, reuse and expand automation capabilities by contributing their ‘published’ process automations into a centralised repository. This enables the whole enterprise to manage, share, improve and re-use these assets – connecting more people - any time, any where - as a single, highly productive, unified team. This centralised design also provides clear audit trails of all process automations and greater security too - both are key factors in driving successful RPA outcomes. 

Boogie to a better tune

Within this rapidly growing market, buyers are being misdirected towards a whole swathe of ‘RPA branded’ tools which diverge from RPA’s original ‘no-code,’ collaborative, business-led, philosophy. These RPA vendors promise easy-to-use, instant record-and-deploy automation tools but the reality is code-heavy deployments, endless debugging activities, code-based versioning and project-artefact management, dependency and change management overheads.

To be fair, a record-and-play capability is probably all you need for a simple, single isolated task. But that’s where the value ends; otherwise it’s like trying to create a symphony with a small snippet of audio on a record-and-play feedback loop. It’s rather like, well – ahem – dancing to a broken record.

If you want to create something richer, you’ll need an intelligent way to reproduce the intended result: something sensitive to pace, volume, non-verbatim variations when required and other incidental and environmental factors. Moreover, you’ll want to re-use your results – who wants to manually recreate every single scenario and re-record it every single time it changes slightly?

Those challenges notwithstanding, the principal problem with desktop recording and the notion of a “personal software robot” is that a single human user is given autonomy over a part of the technology estate (their desktop) which introduces a lack of control and, by extension, creates multiple security and compliance issues. Desktop recording spells trouble for the enterprise as it captures choices based on an individual’s interpretation of a process – versus a central consensus for the best path. This obscures a robot’s transparency and hides process steps – which when duplicated over time becomes a potential security threat and limit to scale.

There are two more major drawbacks of the desktop approach to automation. Firstly, if a robot and a human share a login, no one knows who’s responsible for the process – and this creates a massive security and audit hole. Secondly, if a robot and a human share a PC, there’s zero productivity gain as humans can often use corporate systems as fast as robots. So this approach doesn’t save any time or make the process any slicker for a user.

By restricting automation to a multi-desktop environment outside of the IT department or any central control, vendors are effectively sanctioning and using “shadow IT” as part of their deployment methodology. This is potentially damaging for an organisation as shadow IT, in this context, means unstructured, undocumented and uncontrolled solutions that become part of the process flows of a business.

Final thoughts

Selecting the wrong brand of RPA can limit the potential of automation to the confines of the desktop and introduces a variety of risks. Connected-RPA providing the platform for business-led collaboration, securely and at scale, is enabling over 1,800 of the world’s large organisations to achieve major productivity increases, greater innovation and improved process efficiency - so they stay agile, profitable and ahead of their competition.

Peter Walker, CTO EMEA, Blue Prism