Blog

Selecting the right RPA tools for your use case

In a previous post, we explored how to select the right processes (use cases) to automate. Now as a next step, let us see how we can choose the best RPA tools to automate these processes.

Many RPA tools have sprung up in various niches thanks to the hype and investment in RPA.  With so many different RPM tools, it’s a bit difficult to understand which tool works best for your needs.

Each tool has its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s therefore important to understand which features are important for your use cases and select the appropriate tool. For eg. If your use cases have a lot of unstructured data to handle, select the tool that does OCR best.

When you are looking to select a tool for your organization, you may want to look at all the use cases and see which tool fits best for your use cases in general.

Here are my top 10 criteria to select your RPA tool

Development Environment

RPA tools provide an “OS” for us to develop and manage bots. It is important that we have the best development environment for our needs. What does that mean?

To me, it means three things:

Ease of use

One of the most sold features of RPA is that the development is “easy” as it is within a low-code (or no-code) environment.

So the tool that you choose should ideally be easy to work even for people in the business who probably do not have much programming knowledge.

Most of the current RPA tools comes with drag-and-drop features which helps you develop workflows quickly as well as make any changes needed quickly as well.

Architecture

Just as any tool, a robust architecture will help you in the long run.

In terms of RPA, the tool should allow you to separate out the logic and functionality. This would help you with the following:

  • Reuse of components – build and reuse across your automation
  • Help different team members divide the work and work independently
  • Reduce the impact of any changes in future

So, tools that allow for better abstraction of work is better.  As we discussed in one of our previous lessons, Object-oriented tools are better for reuse and abstraction though script best tools also have come up with great ways to reuse components and libraries.

Recorder

Finally, depending on the team you’ve got, a recorder may be a very useful thing to get the development started quickly.

The recorder can record the initial steps of the workflow based on clicks and then you can go in and customize the automation to your specific needs.

A recorder is useful especially if your team does not have much development background to start with.

Bot Operations

Most of the RPA tools have a control center to deploy and manage automation solutions. The Control center usually has three important features:

Bot Allocation

Once you build the automation workflow, RPA Control center provides a way to allocate these tasks to “bots”. This is usually performed by administrators who select which tasks a machine should perform and on what schedule.

The administrators allocate the tasks to make the most out of the bot licenses available and the machines (usually VMs)  available. The best RPA tools allow for the assignment of tasks in such a manner to balance the various constraints like Infrastructure, Bots and Schedule.

Monitor and Control

The Bots that are deployed in production needs continuous monitoring and support.

RPA Control center makes it possible for you to monitor, handle and fix errors. A good tool makes it easy for you to monitor for real-time errors and send out notifications as required. It also maintains a detailed log of the errors encountered. This allows for a support team to monitor and fix any errors that may come up in the automation.

Most RPA tool also ensures you can upgrade the environment and automation easily when required.

Analytic Dashboard

Many RPA tools display real-time analytics on an “always-on” dashboard.

The dashboard usually has charts and graphs that help you track:

  • Person hours saved
  • Total cost savings
  • Cost savings per bot / per process
  • Monthly bot ROI
  • Bot License usage
  • Infrastructure Utilization

You can use these metrics to trigger appropriate actions to ensure continuous Improvement in your automation

Security and Compliance

Just like any person in the organization, the bots are also likely to handle information that is sensitive.  So most of the tools have robust security and compliance measures included.

You may want to have a checklist especially from IT in terms of what security and compliance requirements you like the tool to meet. A few key security and compliance considerations I would include are:

  • Provision to clearly separate development, testing, and production environments.
  • Ensure that every RPA access is authenticated.
  • Ability to encrypt and secure data in transit and at rest.
  • Ensure GDPR compliance to keep track of data that needs to be deleted under the ‘right to be forgotten’ clause.

Unstructured data/OCR

More than 80% of data in Organizations are in documents and forms. Digitizing this information is key to enable many automation scenarios.

If this feature is important for your use cases, you may want to look for tools that provide for more reliable handling of unstructured data. Note that none of the tools are 100% reliable as of now (May 2019).

Many RPA tools have now graduated to using AI and ML technologies though to improve the OCR capability of the tool. You may want to check if this improved OCR comes out of the box or is a separate purchase

VDI/Citrix

In many companies especially – Outsourcers and BPO – Clients only allow access to applications remotely due to security considerations.  Citrix is one of the most commonly used virtualization technology for remote access.

What happens in such a virtualized environment is that RPA is unable to manipulate the UI elements directly as it’s only receiving a screenshot from Citrix.  Automating use cases that involve Citrix has been one of the major challenges with RPA tools.

Citrix issues though have reduced quite a bit with the advances in technology. The RPA tools now use computer vision to detect the screen elements in a more reliable fashion. You may want to check how reliable the tool is in virtualized environments if those use cases are important to you.

Process Discovery

Discovering processes suitable for automation has traditionally been a challenge for RPA projects. Of late, many RPA tool vendors have started including Process Discovery and Mining in their tools. Some of the tools offer this capability through a partner.

The process discovery providers claim that the tool collects data while your employees work on the machines and perform daily tasks. They then use various technologies from log analysis to AI to document the process and suggest the best candidates for automation. They also provide you key metrics like time and money that could be saved.

This is a nascent skill for RPA and the usefulness of this feature depends a lot on the process data that is available as well as the technology that is used. So you may want to do your due diligence and see have useful this feature is for your project.

AI / ML / New Technologies

Including intelligence and emerging technologies in the tools is also a new trend. You may want to look carefully at your use cases and see if there is a real need now or in the future to add intelligence or new technologies. You do not want to pay for these features which could be costly if you do not need them now.

Having said that, a provision to include emerging technologies could help you continuously improve automation as the technology evolves. It’s always advisable to find a tool that fulfills your current requirements and also has the ability to cater to your future requirements.

Community & support

As with any purchase, you may want to consider the ability of your vendor to support you reliably and quickly.

For the people using the tool, a Vibrant Community comes in handy nowadays. Many times you get better and faster answers from the community rather than the official support channels.

Dedicated support teams are still important and you may want to check how easy it is to reach them and get fixes for your issues quickly.

A strong community and vendor support backed by detailed documentation can be very helpful with your RPA  initiative.

Finally, as we discussed in one of our previous posts, also look for the type of tools the vendor offers. We saw that there are two types of RPA – attended and unattended. Check if the vendor provides both types if you like to use both types of RPA.

 

Two types of RPA Automation and how to choose

With all the hype, it may come as a surprise to you that there are multiple types of Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

There are two ways a process can be automated with RPA – with an employee initiating it or run completely without any interventions.

Let us look at these types of RPA and how you can go about choosing what is right for your use cases.

Types of RPA Automation and how to choose

There are mainly two kinds of RPA automation based on how the software helps you automate. One of them is like an assistant that you call upon to help you complete the tasks and the other kind of automation is mostly for back office work. What does that mean?

Attended automation

These are the assistants that run on your computer and help you complete a part of the tasks that you are performing. For eg., if you usually search and copy paste data from one application to multiple applications, you can invoke an attended RPA to take over just these set of activities. The control is then returned to you by RPA to carry out the next set of tasks. This type of automation usually helps agents at call centers.

Imagine – with this, the long, repetitive processes are replaced with single clicks! This greatly reduces the time it takes to train your representatives. Attended RPA can hence reduce the average handling times improving your customer experience.

👉 Tech tip: Attended automation solutions are installed on individual workstations. Many times, these desktops differ in terms of resolutions, display settings, and even Graphic cards. This may lead to failure in the automation on a desktop while it was working well on another one.

🗨️ Comment: Blue prism considers this type of automation as Robotic Desktop Automation (RDA) which they say has a higher TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). They consider unattended automation as real RPA. They still have a way to do Attended automation through a partnership.

Open Span (now Pega) though thinks attended is a better form of automation. Their founder pushes for one bot per employee concept.

Unattended Automation 

If you do not need a representative or worker interaction during the execution of the process, you can run the complete process on a back-end server. This is what happens in Unattended automation.

In this type of automation, workflows are self-triggered and run on servers. They run to pre-determined schedules or real time and are available 24 x 7.  In the case of unattended automation, all you would see of an automated task would be the outputs.

For eg. For invoice processing, all you would see is a report indicating the invoices that could not be processed automatically. You can review the report and only work on the invoices that need your intervention.

The automated tasks can be scheduled or started through control rooms. You can allocate tasks, adjust priorities, manage queues and intervene in case of performance issues through the control room.

🗨️ Comment: UiPath and Automation Anywhere have attended and unattended automation. UiPath thinks that attended automation would overtake unattended in 2019. Blue Prism is big on Unattended Automation and calls it “Enterprise RPA”

How to choose – Attended vs Unattended?

So as you may have gathered, you would use Attended bots if you like them to operate under your direction. You would use Attended bots for:

  • Tasks that need real-time human-system interaction
  • Augment your employee day to day work, enable them to do it faster and better
  • Help your employees understand and embrace automation

Usually, unattended automation gives you more control and also more bang for the buck. They follow your rules to complete a process automatically. You would use unattended automation for:

  • Tasks that are structured and can be fully mapped
  • Replace entire roles where possible
  • To gather, sort, analyze and distribute large amounts of data
  • Where you have Desktop differences and unattended may be a challenge

You can use both unattended and attended automation either by themselves or together to give your business a distinct advantage.

So there are multiple types of RPA and it is important the right one for your use.

I would suggest that you have these different types of RPA as well as other technologies as part of your Automation tool kit. I think it is important to start with the Business problem that you are looking to solve and then select the right tool for that use case.

RPA Process Identification and Prioritization

The best approach to identify the processes for automation is to use a funnel concept.

The objective is to first capture most of the processes in the organization across business lines. We then filter them out till we have processes with maximum automation potential and returns maximum benefits.

I suggest taking a 3-step approach to identify the processes. Once the processes are identified, we can prioritize and build them out.

Process Identification

The suggested three steps to identify the best opportunities for automation include functional analysis followed by process analysis and then finally filtering them for the benefits. Let us Look at each step in detail.

Function Analysis

The first step is to uncover all possible automation opportunities within the organization at a very high level. We can go about identifying opportunities across the organization in multiple ways – Lines of business, geography or business function. The approach we have taken in the past is to go at it based on the business functions. So let us take that as an example approach here.

For each area (Business function here), it is advisable to identify a champion to help us coordinate with the group and their sub-groups.  I have seen it it’s best to start by improving the digital or bot fluency of the different groups. This can be achieved by setting up sessions with the group through the champion.

The sessions are then followed by questionnaires to the group to identify the processes and provide data on the same. Once the information is received from each of the groups, you can do a first level analysis for automation. At this stage, we are largely looking for processes that are largely manual and have high volumes. Based on this high-level analysis and based on past experience on RPA, flag the automation opportunities within each of the business function.

You can then come up with a heat map like the one below:

Max potential

  • Finance
  • HR
  • IT
  • Operations

Medium potential

  • Procurement
  • Payroll
  • Marketing
  • Customer service

Low Potential

  • Sales
  • Legal

As part of functional analysis, we took a first-level look at the automation opportunities throughout the organization. We now have a prioritized list of Business functions that we like to start with.

Process Analysis

Now in the next step, we will dive another level deeper into the processes for the business functions that we prioritized. For eg., if we prioritized Finance as an area to automate, we will analyze the Finance and Accounting processes further.

This next level of assessment is usually conducted through workshops with the sub-groups of the identified business functions. During these workshops, the identified processes are analyzed for the following:

Automation Potential

Along with the group champion, assess which of the individual processes for the function are ripe for automation. These processes are usually assessed for:

  • Manual tasks where considerable time is spent on repetitive tasks
  • Process maturity – Processes that are clear and is usually well documented
  • Manual hand-offs: Processes where information is entered repeatedly in the same or disparate systems
  • Processes that involve searching, collating or updating information
  • Processes that require the matching or comparing of data

This should give you a list of processes that are suitable for automation.

Ease of Implementation

Next, look for the ease of implementing the automation based on the technologies that we are looking to use to automate. All the tools have areas that they are strong at and areas they are not so good at. For eg. If the process has handwritten documents, this would be hard to implement automation using RPA.

For understanding ease of implementation, look for:

  • Number of Exceptions. Processes with lesser exception paths obviously are easier
  • Level of Digitization. More the digitization, easier it is to implement
  • Security needs. More the levels of security, the harder it could be
  • Compliance. Too many compliance requirements can make it harder to automate
  • Process stability. It is better to automate when the process is more stable
  • Change readiness. If the team is amenable to change, it is easier

At the end of the above two steps of process analysis, we have a list of automatable processes for the business functions we like to target. These are generally the processes that we now look forward to automating and moving to production.

Before that though, we should ideally be ensuring that the processes meet our benefit objectives.

Benefit Analysis

In the final stage of Process identification, we want to filter the processes based on the likelihood of meeting your strategic objectives.

Some of the common criteria to be considered for this include:

  • Productivity
  • Cost
  • Revenue Generation
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Compliance
  • Risk Mitigation

After this final identification step, generally, about 20 to 30% of the potential processes come through the filters and would be ideal automation opportunities.

You can then prioritize the processes and select the ones most suited for a pilot program and subsequent sprints.

Process Prioritization

You now take the processes that we identified and maintain a running log along with a priority to implement them. This can be tracked in a spreadsheet or any system that you and team are comfortable with.

It is best to use a template to log the processes and rank them based on a scorecard. This scorecard is used to rank, prioritize and build the processes one by one. A sample process prioritization scoreboard could look like this:

You can have more criteria like Productivity, Risk mitigation, Impact, Compliance, etc.

Process prioritization and management enables effective management of the automation pipeline. This sheet can also be used to report the progress of the automation initiative to identified stakeholders.

We now have a list of prioritized processes or use cases to build our bots from.

 

Image slide Template By PresentationGO.com 

Blue Prism’s AI-powered document processing – Blue Prism Decipher

Blue Prism is adding an AI-powered document processing directly into the Blue Prism platform. It is called Blue Prism Decipher and is in Beta right now.

Looks like Decipher is OCR software with an AI component. It seems to be similar concept as Automation Anywhere IQ bot but would be free to use skill from the new Blue Prism exchange.

Apparently, Decipher will be pre-trained and optimized to work with invoices. You can have digital workers input invoices into an Accounts Payable (AP) system and then match those invoices to outstanding purchase orders, seamlessly.

We have to wait and see how good it is!

RPA tools are moving to a Platform model.

All top RPA tools are moving to a Platform model.

  • Blue Prism – Digital Exchange (DX) – “Connected RPA”
  • Automation Anywhere – “AA Enterprise” Bot store with Digital workforce.
  • UiPath – “UiPath Go!” with AI Fabric

The vision of all these platforms is to enable you to solve real-world business problems with new and emerging technology.

RPA is NOT dead

RPA is a promise – a promise to take away all the mundane work. Irrespective of:

  • Terms: RPA, Intelligent Automation, Integrated Automation, etc.
  • Tools: Uipath, Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, etc.
  • Methodologies: Agile, COE, Lean, etc.
  • Technologies: AI, ML, OCR, etc.

the concept will live on.

There is so much mundane work to be removed, so much unstructured data to be addressed that I think we are just getting started!

This is in response to HFS article here and people’s questions on the same.

Typical Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Use Cases

There are specific use cases that are best for RPA. It is best to stick to processes that are well defined and involves a lot of manual effort as you start out on your automation initiative.

Choosing the wrong Process has been one of the major reasons for failed Automation initiatives. We now have a database of processes that are fit for RPA. It is advisable to stick to the proven RPA processes.

Here are a few use cases from the database categorized by business function.

Finance and Accounting

RPA can fully automate 42% of the F&A tasks as per a McKinsey study. Note that it says “fully” automate these tasks. Another 19% of the tasks can be mostly automated as per the same study.

  • Invoice processing: Capture invoice data from scanned invoices or electronic files and process the same in ERP systems. The invoice processing time can be reduced by unto 60 to 80 %.
  • Payment matching & processing: Bank lockbox payments received from various sources are matched against open invoices. These are then processed in the ERP system and remittance receipts generated.
  • Automate journal entries: RPA can process email, perform compliance checks and process the Journal entries in ERP (SAP, Oracle, etc.), and notify the requestor.
  • Account reconciliations: RPA can automate the download of sub-account balances, perform validations and create balancing journal entries to handle discrepancies
  • 3-way matching: Matching of invoices to purchase orders (PO) and goods received notes (GRN) can be automated with RPA. This ensures accurate payment and validates different parts of the supply chain.
  • Automate workflow and approvals: RPA can be configured for rules-based auto approval in the AP system. Any exceptions are raised to the appropriate person for manual approvals.
  • Financial planning and analysis: Prepare forecasts automatically using historical and market data, Load pre-populated balances into the planning system, Create variance reports
  • Regulatory reporting: Capture and cleanse data, generate the regulatory reports automatically. Create complex annual reports to the extent possible.

Read more about RPA in Finance and Accounting here. 

Human Resources

More than 50% of standard HR processes can be automated as per Deloitte. When the survey was done with Shared service leaders, about 74% of them were planning to investigate RPA.

  • Employee Onboarding:  HR teams can assimilate new employees into the organization faster and better with RPA. You can automate most of the onboarding tasks including receiving information and paperwork from new hires, setting up access to systems and notifying concerned.
  • Employee Offboarding: Just as Onboarding, all the tasks to offboard an employee such as removing access to systems, notifying people concerned and creating standard paperwork can be automated.
  • Employee data management: RPA can be used to perform many of the Employee data administration tasks. This includes adding and updating data on current and past employees, contractors, interns, etc.
  • Recruitment Management: RPA can be used for most repetitive recruitment tasks such as scouring websites for candidates and screening the resumes received. RPA systems can work 24 x 7 to source, screen and organize right candidates for you.
  • Compensation Management: RPA can be used to input compensation data for employees into the Talent Management System.
  • Time record validation: Following up on missing timesheets, validate time booked and notify any discrepancies.
  • Earnings and Deductions: Initiate batch creation and imports into the payroll system, complete the standard validations.
  • Payroll payments: With RPA, the bot automatically extracts data from an input source such as an MS Excel file or an email and enter the Payroll payment data into the banking application.
  • Automating process hand-offs: Typical approaches to handing work between functions and people can be inefficient, time-consuming and error-prone. RPA can link both automated and manual HR tasks into an end-to-end workflow

Customer Service

RPA can be used to automate many of the common tasks at your support desk. As we saw in a previous post, attended automation is useful for the Service desk agents. So, the tasks can be initiated by a rep through the click of a mouse. They can also invoke unattended automation through a web portal, via email or SMS.

  • Customer Management: Agents can quickly add or update customer records with RPA. They can also update the details on other systems with a mouse click.
  • Update CRM: RPA can automate the process of sending the Sales & Order information from ERP to CRM and notify the salesperson
  • Access Management: RPA can be used to validate identity, unlock accounts, reset password credentials and pass it back to users.
  • User Administration: RPA can create new accounts across multiple systems and applications.
  • Incident/Change Management: RPA can raise incidents/change requests by creating and/or updating tickets. These tickets can be created from email or can also be auto-created with inputs from monitoring systems.
  • Progress Chasing: RPA can follow up on incidents with users and report the progress on tickets to concerned.
  • Update or Close Tickets: RPA can close tickets after follow-up if the users indicate the incident has been resolved or if there is no response after repeated follow-up.
  • External and internal interfaces: RPA can be used to drive actions in external systems (supplier, partner or customer) or even internal systems with a non-disruptive integration.

Information Technology

Infrastructure support in IT is one of the areas that can be automated extensively with RPA and other technologies. IT can also use both unattended and attended automation to automate manual tasks.

  • Database Administration: Repetitive tasks such as database validation, extending tablespaces, clearing database locks, etc.
  • System Administration: Sysadmin activities including scheduled tasks and intervention using management tools
  • Backup Management: Monitor backup jobs, run diagnostics, restart jobs or alert support team
  • Patch Management: Check the patch levels, Schedule, execute and validate patching using tools and scripts.
  • Daily Checks. Automate all manual system and application checks. Eg. SAP ERP daily checks.
  • Provisioning: Perform server, storage, and network provisioning actions.
  • Network Support: Monitor and manage LAN, WAN devices, load balancers, firewalls, and other network technologies
  • Test Automation. RPA can be used to automate manual testing efforts, user acceptance testing as well as load testing.

These are some use case examples that work well with RPA.

I have a use-case grid that I am updating regularly with RPA use cases that I come across. I am also adding details for each of those use cases one by one – they have links (in blue) that you can click on and view.

Top Seven reasons why Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been difficult to scale

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has its fair share of challenges that we need to be aware of and take steps to overcome.

Some or all of these challenges have resulted in organizations stopping their implementation after the first wave of bots. Being cognizant of these challenges and addressing them ahead could help you be one of the RPA-AI scale champions.

Just as you understand the benefits of automation, and have secured management approval to invest, it would be wise to understand the possible challenges.

Employee resistance

This is one of the biggest challenges I have seen to implement RPA. We have real benefits but people at all levels fear job loss and its impacts. A proper Change management plan with education and frequent communication is crucial. It should keep the employees informed right from the POC/POV stage. This is essential to successful adoption.

Tool Limitations

Let us face it – RPA is still an emerging space and the tools do have their limitations that you discover as you get into the weeds of implementation:

  • Many use cases are hampered by the inability to handle unstructured formats reliably. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is improving especially with AI/ML but still has challenges. eg. complex formats, handwritten documents, etc.
  • Intelligence (AI/ML) is starting to get incorporated into the tools. We may still need to wait some more time before we see truly cognitive automation. AI could remove a lot of RPA limitations (including OCR) in the near future though.

Process variation and Complexity

RPA is simple but not easy. One of the biggest problems crops up when the teams discover that the processes are more complex than expected. This is generally caused by multiple exceptions and system variations. Unfortunately, this is not understood until the Process discovery or even the definition phase.  It is important to understand the processes, look for ways to Consolidate, Standardize, Optimize and then Automate.

Strategic Direction

Many organizations go with the hype and jump in only to be disappointed later. It is important to have sponsorship and executive buy-in on the RPA journey and Roadmap. All the stakeholders should jointly own the results. This is easier if this is a strategic direction and everyone is rowing in the same direction.

I like to say that there should be a “Pull” from each of the business groups involved rather than being a “Push”. It’s much easier that way.

Bot Ownership

RPA is a business tool and ownership should be with the business with IT involvement. If IT considers this as another software tool and goes through typical evaluation cycles, the Business benefits may be delayed or even be a non-starter.

This is a major mindset shift and probably the most important one for successful RPA implementations.

Right stakeholder involvement

It is important to ensure all Stakeholders are involved right from the beginning. Key stakeholders include:

IT: IT’s role in RPA implementations is to ensure proper technical governance (eg. Hosting, Security, etc.). If you do not involve IT early, you could have issues when it comes to IT architecture, infrastructure, and security.

Procurement: Procurement needs to be involved to understand the benefits of RPA and be co-creators of business value.

Audit/Compliance: It is advisable to have compliance teams be involved from the POC/POV stage so that they are onboard and help nip compliance issues early.

Interacting Platform Changes

RPA works through existing interfaces – mostly screens – which can change as the application is upgraded or enhanced. This could break the automation if the RPA tools or the interacting application do not provide the necessary flexibility. The best solution, for now, is to ensure proper coordination with application development teams or vendors to take care of such changes ahead.

RPA thus has multiple benefits and also has a fair share of challenges. It is important to navigate the challenges to realize the complete benefits.

Top 3 Benefits of Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) promises to take away manual, repetitive and mundane work. RPA is an opportunity to automate all the unexciting work you have been doing and go do some exciting work!

You can now gain time to spend on uniquely human activities of connecting and delighting your team, boss and customers.

Here are a few benefits I have seen with RPA.

1. Real Savings

RPA delivers better productivity at much lesser costs.

1a. Improved Productivity

You can usually automate 60% to 90% of the effort of a typical process, which leaves the remaining 10% to 40% exceptions to be dealt with by Employees. Overall the automation will increase the output for each of your employees.

1b. Rapid Results and In-year benefits

This is a key promise of RPA as the tools are usually low code platforms and so the time taken from conception to deployment is in weeks.

Typical Agile Bot implementation can be completed as early as 2 weeks to as much as 8 weeks. Having pre-built components and bot stores also enable faster implementations.

1c. Low start-up costs

Each of the bot licenses can cost between 5K to 12K and the bot can perform the work of about 2-3 FTE depending on the complexity. Considering an agile build process and quick implementation, the start-up costs are low.

1d. Reduced Processing costs

The costs of processing are drastically reduced – the bot costs around 1/3rd the cost of an Offshore FTE and 1/5th the cost of an Onshore FTE.

 

2. Improved Operations

You can complement existing operational excellence programs with RPA.

2a. Improved Quality and Accuracy

Manual errors are reduced for the automated processes. The bots perform the work with 100% accuracy leaving only a few errors in the exception scenarios performed by people. Since the errors are reduced the cost of fixing them (Rework) is also reduced.

2b. Improved Compliance

RPA allows businesses to take control of executing their processes internally in place of outsourcing and offshoring. The RPA activities are saved in a log where they can be reviewed and monitored at any time. This means that you have a greater degree of oversight and control over your operations. You are therefore ready to deal with compliance issues more easily if and when they arise.

2c. Improved Service Delivery

RPA allows for improved service delivery performance by removing common service delivery risks like sickness and rework.

The bot is also able to switch from process to process depending on the demand. You can also add or reduce the Digital workforce as required to meet demands. This brings flexibility to manage service delivery.

 

3. Motivated Employees

Keep your team motivated to address business challenges and ensure customer satisfaction.

3a. Improved Customer Service

RPA can reduce demand for your service representative by taking over avoidable contacts like queries and follow-up.

RPA also allows reps to spend less time updating information across several systems ensuring that no system will be missed when adding new customer information.

RPA also works 24 X 7 without holidays or breaks allowing for longer processing hours.

3b. Reduced Monotonous work

You can free your staff from rules-based, repetitive tasks and move them to more stimulating and satisfying jobs. These higher level jobs are more rewarding and motivate your people to innovate and improve your business.

 

These were a summary of benefits. Note that these benefits are subject to proper implementation and ensuring proper change management. There is initial resistance and if that is not addressed, you may not be able to demonstrate the benefits.

I have come across this and other challenges as we went about implementing RPA. I shall address them in another post.

 

History of Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

When we started a few years back, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) was an emerging technology. We had to explain to people what RPA was. It’s still emerging today however, I can see that lot more people know about RPA (and the hype). RPA is certainly driving computer-based automation in multiple industries, companies of all sizes and across every geography.

RPA as I see, is a continuation of Computer-based automation that has evolved over the ages. 

Process Automation History

We have gone through multiple waves of process automation since the advent of the Information age.

Computerized Automation (1970 to 90)

In this early phase of the Information revolution, we saw computerization of lines of businesses in many organizations. This was lead by Management Information Systems or MIS groups within each organization. This phase of process improvement included Quality management (TQM) and continuous process improvement methods. As organizations embraced process-centric approaches to improve business results, they looked to re-engineer and manage the Business processes better. 

Business Process Management (90+)

Business Process Management (BPM) uses multiple methods to optimize end to end business processes. As the Tech companies of the nineties (including IBM, Oracle) came on board this bandwagon, they brought in multiple automation technologies. This technology enabled the automation of business processes and was called Business Process Automation (BPA). BPM continues to be a driving force today and RPA is considered an emerging field within BPA.

Robotic Process Automation (2000+)

RPA emerged in the 2000s – Blue prism released their first product in 2003, UiPath and Automation anywhere released their automation libraries around the same time (all companies were founded a bit earlier). 

As per Alastair Bathgate, CEO of Blue prism: “We started focusing on the BPO space as a route to market.. .”. UiPath also started seeing traction for their product with an Indian BPO company. So RPA started off as a way to reduce costs in Business Process Outsourcing and moved to Shared Services, IT Outsourcing, and other Business areas. 

Outsourcing reduces expenses by moving lower-level manual tasks and processes to cheaper labor. They were looking at different levers to continue to deliver annual cost savings to their customers. In an effort to continue to reduce costs, RPA started out improving the repetitive processes carried out by these Outsourcing providers. 

History of top 3 RPA tools

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has resulted from the use of multiple technologies to solve business problems. It started by using the humble legacy technologies like screen scraping combined with the Automation workflow software. With the advent of Artifical Intelligence (AI), the cognitive aspects also have started showing up in RPA tools.

Different RPA providers have taken different paths technologically and have evolved into AI unicorns that we see today. All companies have worked with early customers to improve their Digital workforce or bot offerings.

Blue Prism

Blue Prism started off to create an “outsourced workforce” for BPOs.

They claim to have coined the term “robotic process automation”. As per Bathgate, “We were doing robotic process automation before it was called robotic process automation..”

Blue Prism was focussed on creating a Digital workforce from the beginning – they were thinking towards solving the problem of doing things an outsourced robot would do including doing the work and scheduling them.

Blue Prism is therefore built around that. They have a Microsoft Visio like interface to configure the tasks to be performed by the Bot. These Bots can then be deployed and scheduled using an admin console.

Blue Prism is morphing into a technology platform. They have been calling it “Connected RPA”. The aim of the platform is to provide access and foundation for intelligent automation – across multiple industries, companies of all sizes and across every geography.

Tech Tip: Blue Prism is built on the Microsoft .NET Framework. Blue Prism robot relies on business objects to interact with applications. A business object acts as an adapter to the user interface of specific applications. Blue Prism is one of the few Object-based RPA tools and therefore does not have a recorder.

UiPath

UiPath(then DeskOver) started off by building automation libraries and software development kits. These automation libraries were quite popular and used by companies such as IBM, Google, and Microsoft. These libraries are still embedded in some of their products.

It appears that UiPath then set out Productizing these libraries. Initially, their product was not finding much traction. An Indian BPO company that was doing a pilot project to find the best provider of RPA technology discovered them. Through this opportunity, they discovered the BPO world and the repetitive work that can be solved through their product – a product-market fit was finally realized.

Around 2012, UiPath (DeskOver) launched the first UiPath Desktop Automation product line that specifically targeted the RPA market. They had just realized the market fit with RPA and started putting its resources into building a platform for training and orchestrating software robots.

Their Platform – the UiPath Enterprise RPA Platform – thus has UiPath Robots which are designed in a UiPath Studio and can are centrally managed from UiPath Orchestrator.

Tech Tip: Uipath is based on Microsoft Workflow Foundation which is again a Microsoft .NET technology meant to create applications that execute an ordered business process. This is a bit of concern as this is probably not on Microsoft’s Azure roadmap.

Automation Anywhere

Automation Anywhere started off as Tethys Solutions and was founded in 2003. The name “Tethys” comes from the Greek goddess of water. Their vision was to make business process automation be as ubiquitous as water. Quite a great vision and they seem to be succeeding to a good extent on that.

Mihir and team were aiming to replace the scripting applications that were manually done within organizations. Their product, Automation Anywhere allowed for the creation of business process automation designed by the user. They focussed on supporting all aspect of end-to-end business processes.

As per Mihir, they created the product (Automation Anywhere), launched it and went out for a coffee break. When they came back they were surprised to find that someone from Australia had already bought it!

Automation Anywhere still looks quite like the product they released around 2009! The vision is remarkable. They documented the process and also had a built-in ROI calculator!

Automation Anywhere has also started calling it a platform – “Automation Anywhere Enterprise – The RPA platform for the future of business process automation”.  Their core product works like other RPA with a studio to configure workflows and a “Control Center” to deploy and manage the bots. They also have a product called IQ Bot – which is RPA plus AI.

Tech Tip: Automation Anywhere is also built on Windows .NET framework. You can see that all the top RPA tools are built on Microsoft technologies. This works well because many Enterprises use Windows desktops to do their day to day work. RPA works through these Windows interfaces.

Looking ahead 

RPA is in what Everest is calling a virtuous circle – Real value is leading to more capital which is invested in the tools giving more and more value.

With significant capital being infused, we can see that RPA tools will get better and add more features quickly. Here are a few trends that I see:

Wider Adoption

As I said in the beginning, awareness of RPA has increased multi-fold. More and more enterprises are adopting and implementing RPA. There are challenges to scale through which we shall discuss later.

Added Intelligence

RPA is evolving to include AI. What we can expect to see in near future from RPA tools include Unstructured data processing, Predictive & Prescriptive Analytics, and simple judgment based automation.

Process Mining and Discovery

One of the challenges of implementing RPA is that you need to discover, shortlist and prioritize the processes that are ripe for automation. Vendors have been adding this feature and more could follow suit.

Bots as service

It does look like bots would be delivered as cloud services as a natural progression. Most of the RPA tools can work from the cloud even now but is not widely used. There is a possibility that some of the tool vendors would be acquired by Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure in the future, and be delivered as their service along with their advanced AI capabilities.