What’s the hottest new technology to hit organizations across all industries that are looking for ways to reduce costs and make a significant impact to the bottom line? Robotic process automation (RPA), of course. The concept is quite simple: RPA’s foundational technology is an army of powerful, intelligent software robots that mimic the actions of real people and eliminate manual, repetitive processes that would otherwise be performed by users.
For example, a robot can mimic the actions a user takes when:
- Working between systems and applications (e.g. ERP, CRM)
- Copying and pasting data from a web site or portal
- Extracting and inputting data from a legacy mainframe app
- Aggregating data into an Excel worksheet
These automated actions are combined with intelligent business logic like transforming the data and handling exceptions for routing work to an employee—creating a digital workforce you can design and deploy in a matter of weeks or even a few days.
Robots can eliminate the thousands of hours your employees perform every year for the most mundane tasks, freeing them up for more valuable work.
The emergence of RPA does not stop there. This army of digital robots will become more sophisticated over time, leveraging technology such as machine learning, Natural Processing Language (NLP) and predictive analytics. Organizations will have an opportunity to call different robotic services to handle simple tasks like copying and pasting data between two systems, as well as more complex tasks such as understanding the context of a piece of content and using the information to take action versus having to route it to a user for handling.
A lifesaver for IT and a bonus for business
RPA is an emerging technology that can solve the challenges organizations face with automating processes that involve legacy systems while also dealing with the growing number of external data sources (websites and portals) and desktop applications (Excel and email) that are an integral part of your business.
So why haven’t these challenges been addressed yet? It’s not always easy to connect all these applications and data sources. Traditional business process automation approaches can be expensive and take months or even years to roll out, and no IT department has unlimited time, budget, and resources to address the needs of the business. Often this is referred to the “long tail” of automation, where RPA is focused on the process activities that have historically not been addressed by IT.
What some vendors don’t want you to know
When was the last time you bought a vehicle? There’s nothing like that new car smell, but the process of evaluating different car brands, models and features can be overwhelming. Salespeople seem to be telling you more what they think you want to hear than what will truly benefit you in the long run, and sometimes it’s hard to tell just which features are the right fit.
When evaluating RPA solutions, it’s important to have all the facts. Make sure you watch out for these 7 “gotcha’s” when discussing robotic process automation with various vendors.
“We’ve always had robotic automation.”
Beware of vendors who are simply retooling their products and positioning themselves to capitalize on the market. In all likelihood, the functionality will be limited or your use of the technology will be confined to one area of the business and bolted into other technology you may not need.
Consider the history and background of each vendor. While RPA is a relatively new term to most, the vendors who have been advancing this technology for years understand the concept of a “robot.” In particular, you will find a select few vendors who have hundreds of customers running thousands of robots.
“Writing code is a requirement.”
If an RPA product is built around writing lots of code, you’re not going to fully realize the benefits you should expect from automation. Unfortunately, some RPA product design environments are intended for developers. While coding is needed in some cases, a design environment tooled for a developer will have a far greater learning curve and reliance on IT. The idea of working Microsoft Visual Studio and writing code to inject into application could be completely counter to what your organization envisions for RPA—simple and accessible use by business users.
“Cost of services to software license may be higher.”
That’s right. You could be paying more for the services then the actual cost of the software. It is important to not be blindsided by a contract in which you’re tied to the hip of a software vendor professional services team or a system integrator who’s constantly billing you to build next robot.
“The product requires extensive training.”
One system integrator I talked to said it took his organization a couple months to become proficient with one RPA product. That’s a red flag, as RPA should be designed to support rapid design, testing, and deployment of robots. Ideally, training should encompass education (classroom or online training) and a reasonable amount of professional services to help your team build and deploy the first couple robots and provide you with the knowledge to go off and build, deploy, and manage the environment going forward.
“Our software does it all.”
This is a classic overpromising marketing or sales rep. The reality is some of the RPA vendors just got started a few years ago and like to talk a big game. When you watch their presentation, look for the color coded boxes in the platform that indicates components that come from third-party sources. For example, if part of your business problem is processing documents (paper and/or digital), then consider an enterprise capture offering rather than a vendor whose presentation is full of colorful technology boxes. Analytics and process intelligence is key to an RPA offering and should be core to the solution you choose.
“You need Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make RPA useful.”
Don’t get me wrong. RPA is the beginning of something big when it comes to robots, and discussing where cognitive computing has the potential to solve problems within your organization needs to be a part of your conversation with the vendor. However, diving straight into AI and making the discussion all about advanced learning could result in many months (or even years) of time and large software licensing investments that don’t deliver a clear ROI.
Instead, start with your obvious process challenges and address those first. A key to success is working with the vendor and/or its partners to create an RPA strategy that establishes an automation maturity curve that looks at process prioritization, development approaches, technologies required and a set of best practices. You can get early wins with RPA and not ever touch advanced learning technology. If you need more advanced capabilities like content analytics and natural processing language, choose an RPA vendor that has the technology and expertise in those areas.
“Our software is enterprise ready.”
“Enterprise” is a term many software vendors like to throw around, but if you’re evaluating basic macro recording software that runs on the desktop, think twice. That is not enterprise software. These macro recorders require you to run them on user’s desktops, which quickly becomes a complex environment with deploying, running, and managing updates of hundreds or even thousands of these desktop recordings. This brings back memories of the old client-server days, dealing versioning updates, incompatibilities, and so on. Organizations investigating RPA solutions should consider how the robots are designed, deployed and managed.
A vendor whose robots run on a centralized server is going to have far greater control and manageability then a vendor whose robots run on a desktop. And don’t be fooled by how some RPA vendors describe their centralized robot management. The reality is most RPA vendors require all of their bots to access a virtual desktop environment when executing a bot process. In contrast, a true enterprise architecture—with a built-in browser engine and native connectivity to mainframe terminals—does not require connectivity to a virtual desktop for web or mainframe bots, significantly reducing hardware and software licensing costs and the setup of a virtual desktop infrastructure.
Learn more about choosing the right RPA solution for your organization in The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Robotic Process Automation solution. Download your copy today.