The RPA story is far from over — it’s only just begun
The first generation of RPA solutions (robotic process automation) was conceived to get around the problem of discrete, siloed applications in the business not working efficiently with one another.
Most organisations had moved beyond accepting that one monolithic application could cover all the bases of a large company, and so had deployed numerous point products to provide specific, often specialised tools.
Moving data from system A to system B, however, often meant expensive human operators manually moving information, either by cut and pasting, or interpreting information that would have been difficult for systems to parse: re-formatting data, selectively choosing relevant information, or pulling together inputs from two or three systems to form an amalgamated record elsewhere.
Via each app or service’s APIs, the first RPA solutions could pull and push data, thus replacing human operators that were both expensive and — let’s be frank — bored to death by repetitive, process-based work. To a certain extent, therefore, RPA’s early successes came down to being the middle ground between apps. Low-code and even no-code options for RPA packages pushed the envelope further, as these meant that business-oriented personnel without specific technical knowledge could construct complex workflows.
But RPA’s journey is far from over. Because most organisations are digitally transforming continuously, adopting new solutions and technologies, RPA platforms cannot remain static. Transforming business processes so they work better and work digitally means that the technology itself must be adaptable. Otherwise, the enterprise ends up with the same monolithic technology stack that multiple point products were intended to dispel.
Creating a fluid and scalable RPA solution that provides the type of digital transformation possibilities demanded by today’s businesses and organisations is a complex task, one that requires a significant shift in focus. Here at Tech Wire Asia, we’re looking at three providers of next-gen RPA solutions that can provide this type of solution (see below). So, what features should any company wishing to transform digitally look for in its RPA?
Options for low-code, options for code
Business processes are complex, and inside a single department or business function, it’s difficult to see the bigger, cross-departmental picture. That’s as true for IT development personnel as it is for, for instance, Finance Directors. Expecting professional developers to be able to automate the organisation’s digital business systems intelligently is clearly not to be expected.
Therefore, any RPA solution needs to have the option for low-code development. That means that staff tasked with overseeing enterprise-wide digital transformation can easily model in digital form that business-driven image which the digitally transforming organisation is striving for.
It’s necessary, however, for there to be, additionally, the option for high-end development work when and where appropriate. Any low-code or no-code solution is, by definition, not going to include all relevant detail because of its simplification and abstraction layers. But fine-tuning will always be required, and the days of the IT department’s DevOps teams are far from over, therefore!
Centralise and standardise
The shifting nature of the modern technology stack in any organisation of size means that apps and services will be spun up, deployed and need integrating on virtually an hourly basis. The RPA solution needs to be able to integrate and standardise within the remit of an overall business transformation strategy, and that requires a central point of reference.
While the idea of a single-pane-of-glass oversight facility might hark back to the days of monolithic ERPs, in order to give coherence and scalability to the digital transformation journey, getting the “meta-view” is essential. From standard Change Management processes to wholesale adoption of new rafts of apps and services, ensuring that data interchange and automation continues is of paramount importance.
It’s not all in .csv files!
The benefits of RPA are often quoted in statistics that talk about lowered costs and better productivity. However, there’s a significant amount of information in any enterprise that isn’t structured in any meaningful manner, and therefore is not suitable for ingestion into digital systems without human intervention.
Depending on your vertical, information may flow through significant parts of the enterprise in non-standardised, non-parsable form. That may be handwritten notes or annotations, a broad diaspora of legal documents from multiple sources, images that need to be interpreted, even video footage.
Without next-gen RPA solutions that can interpret this data with significant accuracy, the business “machine” will only be as fast or efficient as its slowest and least efficient part. Typically, that will be human operators typing-up or dictating handwritten documents, or delving through images or PDFs to glean the relevant information.
That is a throwback to RPA v.1 and may be a reason why your organisation has not adopted RPA end-to-end and is, therefore, the reason why digital transformation exercises are faltering.
Here at Tech Wire Asia, we keep our fingers on the pulse of the RPA space and have selected the following three vendors as capable of providing the type of solutions that will pro-actively drive digital transformation across the entire enterprise. While there is no single solution, no “silver bullet” that can be deployed, one of these three have the types of answers to the points raised above given in ways that will suit your unique enterprise.
Antworks is rightly proud of the industry’s first integrated automation platform that utilises different types of artificial intelligence (to use an umbrella term) to resolve what’s indubitably the “elephant in the room” of the RPA industry — unstructured data.
As soon as documents or information do not fit specific types or layouts (anything outside expectations), first-generation RPA stumbles. But the AntWorks ANTstein SQUARE platform uses intelligent, self-teaching algorithms to parse handwritten notes, can mine images for information and is able to cope with those “edge cases” that traditional solutions simply ignore.
The company’s business-led approach means that its IAP is the first solution that provides a cognitive framework in which bots can work; and each bot, like each human in the organisation, is measured for productivity.
That means the full-stack solution is always adapting, always scaling and improving outcomes in every area of the enterprise. Its use of fractal algorithms means that relatively small data sets can train the central cognitive engine, so benefits arrive quickly, and accuracy levels are high at the outset — and only improve.
Its low-code automation building options combine with traditional “high code” interactions where necessary, so this is a highly usable, very powerful next-generation RPA.
We look in more detail at the AntWorks ANTstein SQUARE platform here on the pages of Tech Wire Asia.
A successful digital transformation comprises the twin pillars of both RPA and DPA (digital process automation). That creates a system of comprehensive, enterprise-wide process automation that can be dynamically improved to enhance the organisation’s efficiency.
K2’s main product is a low-code application development platform which lets non-technical staff, specifically business function owners and significant stakeholders, the wherewithal to automate existing new systems and create new apps themselves.
That allows for a sustainable digital transformation where organisations can adapt to the continuous change in the technology and business landscapes, and of course, the rising expectations from customers. The K2 platform brings together RPA, DPA, and machine learning to produce apps and services that emphasise flexibility. That means develop once, deploy many times. Digital transformation’s continuous processes can, therefore, continue without the company incurring costly and repetitive refactoring or rebuilding.
With eight offices across the globe, the US-based company is an exciting player in this space. Click here to read more.
Key quote: “Today, we are proud to say that we have played an integral part in connecting people, processes, and information for over 4000 customers, looking to drive digital transformation initiatives across their enterprises.”
Like many automation vendors, AA comes at the problems faced by “dumb” bots by combining both unattended (autonomous, self-standing) and attended routines which interact with human operators.
That human-centric approach strikes a chord with many in the enterprise, aware that technology is more than capable of undertaking the type of repetitive, day-in, day-out processes that lead human workers to boredom, and therefore, mistakes.
Unattended bots can also be scheduled, which means the heavy lifting of, for instance, period-end reconciliations can be mostly broken down and undertaken by automated routines.
Automation Anywhere has a significant history with Microsoft products, with Azure integration one of the platform’s attractive features to those enterprises with substantial existing investment in Redmond-based technologies.
With collaboration and shared power disseminated to individual desktops, RPA can be deployed by any user, according to need. To learn more about this cloud-based integration with Azure, and the other possibilities open to AA users, click here.
Key quote: “The Automation Anywhere Enterprise platform, turbocharged by pre-built bots and Digital Workers from the Bot Store, helps shift the focus of your human workforce towards activities that require creativity and ingenuity.”
*Some of the companies featured on this article are commercial partners of Tech Wire Asia