RPA News & Views

RPA PoCs – Are you doing it wrong?

Proof of what exactly?

For any technology adoption, a proof of concept is the usual approach to evaluate the usefulness and effectiveness of the technology. Howeve,  RPA is a different animal altogether. The usual proof of concept does not work because it’s not even clear what is being proven.

The unknowns in any RPA roll-out

  • Ease of use of the RPA tool?
  • Does it work with the applications that need to be automated? RPA tools are very finicky and sometimes even the simplest looking automation needs are hard to accomplish.
  • What’s the performance and accuracy?
  • Is it enterprise grade? What’s the approach to technology best practices around documentation, version control, peer reviews, testing, release and configuration management, security, auditing etc.
  • Will it work in the environment it needs to be deployed?
  • Will it scale?
  • Will it seamlessly fit in the companies processes – release, change management, deployment, support. What changes are needed to the processes?
  • Are the company’s processes standardized enough to start RPA journey?
  • How will the employees feel about automation of their tasks?

Of all these questions a typical RPA PoC only answers the first question. An irrelevant question that usually gets an incorrect answer as well. At the end of these PoCs the bot created is nothing more than a demoware, which quickly gets forgotten.

A better RPA test

A good test for RPA is to pick a real process which has just enough technology and organizational complexity that provides a good test bed but not so much to kill the project even before it gets started.

  • Process involving a complex mix of technology. Don’t go easy here. If the process is a candidate for RPA, then RPA should be able to work with all of the technical stack. It’s better to get a realistic picture of what are the limitations of the RPA tool now.
  • Process should involve multiple business units to check the organizational dynamics
  • Process should have some number of business rules and data quality issue
  • Take a process that’s performance sensitive – either high volumes or large effort but which is not critical. You should be able to take the bot live without much risk.

During the enter development, deployment and production phase make copious notes of what went right and what did not meet expectations. After at least a month of going live, hold a retrospective on the same and try to answer the questions laid out in the first part of this article.

When you have all the answers you can decide the outcome of the POC and the next steps.

Delivering the RPA Hype

Look at any sales or marketing pitch around Robotic Process Automation and you’ll see these statements repeated in some form or other.

  • 50-80% reduction in cost.
  • It’s easy to get started. No special skills needed. Even the process executive can ‘train’ the bot
  • By extension, this is not coding and doesn’t need formal processes/change management
  • RPA can automate (almost) any manual process

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TCS’s Santhanam brushes aside the fears of robots taking over jobs, dubbing them an “exaggeration.” It is merely the next level after the past few decades of digitisation.

I agree with him. Read more at https://qz.com/1000424/tcs-is-quietly-transforming-itself-to-take-on-indias-emerging-it-scene/

RPA – The golden duct tape

At my last company, while optimizing the business processes, I had a ringside view of robotic process automation (RPA) in action. We used to work closely with the RPA team and identify process steps that are good RPA candidates and help build a business case for the automation.

In my current role, I’ve jumped into the ring and now delivering RPA solutions to our customers. I’ve started this blog to document and share my experiences around robotic process automation.

I’m both excited by the promise of what RPA can do, as well as feel let down by the infancy and immaturity of both the vendors and the practitioners. In the upcoming posts, I’ll highlight the key issues and suggest possible solutions to derive the benefits RPA has to offer.

Before I get to the dark underbelly of RPA, let me first present the rosy front.

Robotic Process Automation – The IT duct tape

RPA is like a versatile duct tape that can stick together applications that need to exchange data, but needed a human to do it. Just like a duct tape is a temporary fix that can last a long time with proper maintenance, similarly RPA solutions can be tactical solutions that are quick and cheap to implement, while the strategic IT initiative might take time or might never get prioritized.

RPA tools aid in extraction, manipulation, validation and exchange of data. They work with the current IT landscape without needing to change the underlying systems. At the simplest, they can mimic a user by controlling the keyboard and mouse. However most RPA vendors come with a lot of advanced ways for automating application interaction.

The promise of Robotic Process Automation

RPA tools can deliver great value by automating the long tail of automation needs. This results in the following benefits.

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