Robotic Process Automation (RPA) was developed to both assist and replace work accomplished by human beings. Processes are standardized, centralized, and optimized with the deployment of software bots which can accomplish tasks with flawless precision and effortless scalability.
Talent within organizations can be redeployed to provide better value to the organization’s business goals. Organizations achieved rapid cost-savings and improved customer experience by replacing high volume, low complex work. The RPA industry exploded.
But not without challenges. Our CEO, Jon Gilman, recently published his ebook, A Better Way to RPA. The ebook takes an honest look at the RPA industry and how companies can prepare appropriately to avoid risking failure with their RPA implementation. The three concerns detailed in the ebook include:
- Misunderstanding RPA capabilities.
- Poorly defining your business processes.
- Selecting the wrong RPA vendor.
All three of these concerns can be alleviated by properly planning and selecting a modern RPA solution. Let’s take a look at the evolution of robotic process automation over the last decade.
Attended Bot Automation
Robotic Process Automation was established in the enterprise finance industry. The manual work accomplished was expensive and very high-risk. Pioneering companies in RPA identified the opportunity to improve accuracy and reduce manpower costs through computer automation. Companies deployed screen scraping technology that literally mimicked humans, programmatically entering fields and submitting the data through virtual clicks.
The RPA industry deployed bots with two modes, attended and unattended.
Processes were broken down into tasks and bots were programmed and deployed to repeat the tasks. Attended modes are initiated by a human and then the bot was executed. Common applications include simple processes in front-office activities.
Unattended Bot Automation
These bots were predominantly deployed in back-office activities where data imports or exports were required to synchronize dissimilar systems. Data may be transformed, filtered, modified, and integrated. Again, the bots replaced simple manual tasks that humans were once executing.
Unattended bots are deployed at specific intervals or when system environments are programmatically detected. An example might be an import bot that’s executed programmatically when a data file appears in a specified directory.
At this point, you can visualize the combination of humans and systems with bots in between. While this is a typical RPA implementation, it’s not seamless. Attended and unattended bots are deployed in disparate, interdependent tasks to attempt to minimize repetitive tasks, reduce manpower, and improve efficiency. The risk of deploying attended and unattended bots is that they are not aware of the overall process and; therefore, the entire process is susceptible to upstream or downstream failures with each, independent task.
Screen-scraping technology adds an additional risk as new user interfaces are deployed to accommodate feature or security releases. Months into an RPA implementation and several bots may need to be reprogrammed and redeployed to repair failures associated with user interface updates. As well, bots may need to be deployed to manage bots and complex feedback loops may need to be developed to detect and overcome issues.
Today’s world of Robotic Process Automation includes a hybrid approach where both attended and unattended bot processes work in tandem with one another to increase overall efficiencies and reduce the risk of failure. Rather than mimicking discreet, repetitive human tasks, hybrid automation can be implemented to control an entire business process, like Order to Cash or Procure to Pay. Hybrid automation systems bridge the gap between attended and unattended tasks to fully optimize the business.
Hybrid, seamless RPA are independent of screens and utilize rapidly deployed user interfaces that are integrated via application programming interfaces (APIs) where issues can be detected and issues predicted and programmatically prevented.
In a hybrid RPA implementation, attended and unattended bots can also work seamlessly and simultaneously to integrate the front-end and back-end without prompting. Productized and REST/SOAP integrated systems are reliable and rarely require modification. Modern, hybrid RPA platforms are codeless, agile, and scalable. Administrators can make modifications easily in the system.
Intelligent Business Process Automation
Managing and optimizing entire processes can now be fully realized with Hybrid RPA solutions like our own. The return on investment is realized in a fraction of time, the systems are scalable and secure, and the platforms are agile to easily accommodate modifications and integrate premise platforms, cloud platforms, and productized integrations with mission-critical, third-party platforms.
Integrations and automation have been around as long as the digital era. Modern digital transformation depends on the ability to take repeatable tasks and deploy programmable bots to execute them. Bots alone can’t fix all the issues necessary to fully realize and maximize automation within any organization, though. Since the Order To Cash process invariably requires human interaction, an effective RPA based solution must be able to leverage a superior user experience, seamlessly orchestrate optimized backend processes, and incorporate the ability to look beyond single tasks and view the OTC process in its entirety.
Hybrid RPA Benefits of Optimized OTC
- Isn’t constrained by the user interface of your ERP. Clear Software can rapidly deploy user interfaces that replace dozens of screens, ensuring OTC accuracy and enforcing standards throughout the process. User experience automation simplifies order entry, quality controls, third-party integration, reduces DSO, and assists your leadership in viewing the entirety of your OTC process.
- Deploys reliable integrations through the ERP and third-party APIs. Traditional RPA providers utilize screen automation, putting automation at high risk as ERPs modify their interface.
- Can provide intelligent, flexible engines that easily convert data elements to diverse formats and that can communicate a single activity to multiple systems.
- Can effectively incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence to pinpoint inefficiencies in your OTC cycle, since foundational data quality errors have been eliminated, allowing learning and improving both the process and predictability of performance.
What’s Next? Intelligent / Cognitive Automation
As more advanced technologies become mainstream, automation will become self-aware and knowledge-based. Natural language processing, data mining, and machine learning will advance business process automation into areas where human decision-making processes can be replaced by utilizing artificial intelligence. This evolution is known as intelligent or cognitive automation.
Mat Velloso, the Technical Advisor to Microsoft’s CEO, recently quipped on Twitter:
Difference between machine learning and AI:
If it is written in Python, it's probably machine learning
If it is written in PowerPoint, it's probably AI
— Mat Velloso (@matvelloso) November 23, 2018
Mat is speaking to some of the hype within our industry where companies are using the term artificial intelligence to describe capabilities that may not be present in their platforms despite the marketing. Some companies are integrating third-party AI platforms and applying the namesake to their RPA platform. That’s not an AI-driven RPA solution. Other companies are utilizing complex algorithms and machine learning to analyze and optimize processes… a significant step forward, but still not AI.
Artificial Intelligence will be a welcome addition to RPA and overall business process automation, but we have a ways to go. Feel free to contact us if you’d like to discuss implementing Intelligent Business Process Automation in your enterprise company.