Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why every worker should have their own Robot (RPA at scale)

To gain the biggest value from RPA, you should also have a robot on every desktop (RDA, also known as RPA Attended)) as well as server room robots (RPA unattended).

Put simply, very few jobs are composed exclusively of repetitive, non-cognitively driven tasks – fewer than 5%, according to McKinsey’s research. However, the same research found that 60% of occupations could have 30% or more of their constituent activities automated.  

So if you have 300 people in the back office, you could start with trying to de-humanize their rote work through automation and put the robots in the server room (RPA unattended bots). Automating 5% of the 300 is equivalent to about 15 people and 5 robots (1 Robot per 3 workers). That's not too shabby but how long does it take to automate 100% of peoples work and then get these robots into production? Some are quick but most are not.

But what if you could also use RDA (RPA attended) bots to automate just that 30% of the common activities of most of these same 300 workers? The ROI would be quicker and significantly greater. In fact, in less than 9 months, a banking client achieved 50% automation across a back office team size of ~300 people. That meant that the same number of people can now do twice as much work or half the team can be moved onto other more important work! Since RDA attended bot automations can be implemented and deployed to large groups of desktops with an agile delivery methodology, this client automated the equivalent work of 30 people in just the first 3 months from the start, and accelerating each month from there! That’s what deploying RDA attended bots on the desktop looks like.

OK, even if you double the savings with RPA unattended bots to go from 15 to 30 people in that group, it still on its own doesn’t come anywhere close to the ROI both RPA methods will get you. And by the way, RDA (RPA attended) bots just run on your existing user desktop hardware as is, alongside your workers!

So, having both RPA models combined, gets you a much bigger ROI and much faster using the exact same automation technology. The difference being is that if you build 100% automations up front, or eventually where 100% of the work is automated, you simply move those automations to the server room when ready. If it never makes it to the 100%, which for many processes becomes cost prohibitive or complex, you just keep the robotic automations on the desktop and allow the worker to get two (or three or four) times as much work done as before. One product to learn, two ways to deploy.

There are lots of RPA customers that have fallen into the trap of believing they only need RPA unattended bots and quickly start reaching the wall trying to automate 100% of harder and harder processes done by less and less people. This is because many RPA vendors cannot provide an RPA attended option at scale and thus don't even introduce the idea of the approach or give some excuse as to why you don't need it. There are already major use cases in financial services, telco’s, insurance, healthcare etc., companies, some using over 20,000 RDA (RPA attended) bots and RPA unattended bots together in their enterprise every single day, automating billions of transactions. 

Check out the Gartner market guide authored by Cathy Tornbohm where she speaks of the different RPA vendors and their different capabilities, attended, unattended and much more.

Monday, August 15, 2016

When Robots Integrate!

Why would you use a Robot to do integration?

We often hear from the less technical savvy that “Integration is easy” when in fact integration can be extremely hard to impossible for much more of a project than most realize. Alan Trefler uses a term that clarifies just how hard integration can be with “Applications that cannot be opened, even with a can opener”. Funny but true. And my old adage was “if it were that easy, it would have been done already”.

Let me clear up something else not always so obvious. Accessing a database and accessing business “data” are two different things. Databases of course contain data but most data is meaningless unless you first pass it through the years of custom developed business logic. Imagine writing a balance to a credit card field straight to a database without first calculating all of the interest, currency rates, charges etc., Or in reverse, reading a data field that looks like “last name” but actually needs to be used to part verify one of many names on an account as to who owns the greater share in an LLC.  This is why building API’s is hard. Many application developers never envisaged this data being accessed through anything other than the 1000’s of man hours of business logic they’ve evolved. If only they had a crystal ball in the past to have  considered;

Providing access to business logic level data through API’s
SOA and Enterprise Service Busses open up new worlds of accessibility
Their own applications would one day become legacy (or historic even!)

So, if  building API’s on top of old legacy applications is hard, what are the alternatives? Enter the world of Enterprise Grade Robotics. Robotic Desktop Automation (RDA) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) from Pega are truly Enterprise Grade.

Pega Robotics  allows you to put a wrapper on the one interface that pretty much guarantees to go through the business logic and security layers when you extract or enter data. That is, the user interface. These applications have been built to run on desktops to display and take data all day long from workers, and ALWAYS go through the business logic layer securely.

Using Pega Robotics to build an API through automation (wrapper BOTS) to write or read business data against the desktop applications UI solves a significant problem quickly; How to deliver time to value for any BPM, Transformation and/or digitization project without having to break the bank and risk missing key critical security, governance or business logic.

So, with Pega Robotics you could automate an entire process (say to open a new account) and then when some or all of the account opening capabilities become available as fully-reengineered API’s, you can switch to them quickly. More importantly and uniquely, Pega robotics can partially automate just the key steps in real time, or in a longer running process by running alongside the workers (assisting) on their own machines. These Enterprise Grade Robotic options give great flexibility when you want deliver value quickly, to scale and robustly.

Any Pega Robotic Automation that is built can be called from a fully integrated server process, from another Robot, via BPM or Customer service application etc., In fact, Robots can even call Robots and self monitor their own work to your set SLA’s. It just makes sense to stop paying people to do work if it can be automated. Let your employees, do what they are best at, interacting with customers or using their intelligence where it’s required.

Pega Robotics has been designed to work fast (most competitive RPA only products are 3-5 times slower and require you configure more servers than is really necessary). In addition, Pega Robotics is fully integrated into the Pega platform meaning every aspect critical to enterprise security, auditing and control becomes part of the fully integrated solution as if it had been designed from the ground up to do so.

So, the next time you hear that building API”s is easy, think again. Build API’s using Robotics and it is much easier but more importantly, buys you time, and delivers value early so you can reap the rewards or whatever transformation journey you are on.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Why I am at Pega Systems

As you know, OpenSpan was acquired by Pega Systems recently. Proud of the founders, the management and the OpenSpan team, I am now very excited to be a "part of Pega" and their incredible teams. What a great fit.

I for one have always been passionate about application development done right and the subsequent importance of the end user experience. It is critical in the race to remain competitive, not just from what customers see, but also how cost effectively enterprises can serve those customers.

However, over the years, more and more legacy systems have become unchangeable or stretched to their limits to the point where many of them are beyond legacy - they are antique! Don't get me wrong, they can and do work but the business models in IT to support these old applications has run it's course and it is no longer acceptable for enterprises to ignore them and expect to remain competitive. To be quite honest, if they don't transform, over the next few years, I see it hard to see how they will survive!

Pega systems brings me back to my rapid application development days but on steroids. Where you are able to quickly build and easily change applications to match business requirements. But more than that even, the Pega 7 platform is a combination of all things phenomenal in application development ; it's fast, has the right visual tools, it's open, it can be deployed in cloud and on-premise, it's secure, it's flexible, you can build/adapt code quickly, without "coding", it allows instant creation of standards that drive reusability that is critical for long term maintainability  - and the applications built can run on any platform! The Pega 7 platform is core to any business that wants to transform - To me, Pega is transformation.

So how does the OpenSpan Robotics play in this space? First, it allows us to bring together amazing product teams but second, it allows Robotics (RPA and RDA) to be at the critical start of the transformation journey whilst living and breathing with it. Robotics is tactical, no-one will argue with that, delivering great ROI, quickly and without question, enabling businesses to be agile now. Just imagine, having this agile Robotics engine that starts the transformation journey and then runs along side it for as long as necessary why the full transformation journey takes place. Need to rapidly bring one of those antique applications into the transformation journey whilst you build out it's replacement in Pega? Use the Pega robotics. Want to have a robot or two execute an entire process or single task that runs across 1, 5 or 20 of those antique applications? Use the Pega robotics. Want to have a robot or human continue a task or process that is an integral part of  your BPM, Case management or new development strategy? Use the Pega robotics.

You see, Robotics has been waiting for Pega and I'm excited by the future, I am excited for what this brings to the Robotics space and transformation journey combined.

Friday, March 18, 2016

When is a Robot, not a Robot?

I live and breath Robotic Automation every day for my enterprise customers so I thought I'd wrap up this week on something for you all to ponder on!

A few weeks back I brought an Amazon Echo. It's a lot of fun, and if your into tech, you just gotta get one yourself.

However, would you consider the Amazon Echo as being a "Robot". Perhaps not literally but let me explain why she (Alexa) very much might be!

Take one simple chore in our lives... going grocery shopping. "Do we need milk" isn't a difficult question/chore a but in reality we have to maintain some kind of shopping list back home. When we realize we need something, we need to find some paper or existing list, a pen (or phone), open up the app/paper and write on it. Then we need to remember to take the list (if paper) with us. Repeat throughout the week and we all get to eat!

This shopping list task is no different to an enterprise worker, opening up an application, looking for information, taking notes and/or remembering to pass information onto a customer.

Either way, we waste billions of hours globally, doing stuff we could simply "automate" to Robotic Automation.

So, is the Amazon Echo a Robot? You tell me because now I use it to fully automate my shopping list gathering process. Whenever I realize I need something, all I have to say is "Alexa, can you add milk to the shopping list please" (Please is optional by the way but my Mum brought me up to be polite). That's it. Alexa (the amazon echo) automatically adds that to your "cloud" list and when you go to the shops, you pull up the amazon shopping list and hey presto. Also, anyone at home can ask Alexa to add items to any kind of list. She's not fuzzy who speaks to her.

Most of these "micro" tasks, at home and, more importantly, in the enterprise, are readily auto-matable with technology. The benefits in cost savings to the enterprise are massive once you know the technology exists. And now you do... Robotic Automation

Friday, March 11, 2016

Robots prefer Intelligence !

I've had fun over the last 2 weeks with my new found friend of the most "intelligent" photo album application I have ever used - Google photos. That gave me an idea for a blog - I hope you like it.

If you are embarking on any Transformation program, for Robotic Automation (RPA, RDA), BPM and/or re-engineering program, check out why I believe the games changed on how you figure out where to start. No more guess work on  where the opportunities for improvement are ripe... Robots will be deliver significantly more value if you base their work on real intelligence of the workers work first!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Taming The Robots - Hype v Reality of Robotic Automation

The last 24 months has seen more attention to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) than any other “UI” automation approach since the invention of the term “swivel chair” integration.

In fact, as a side-note, if we were to actually assume that most kinds of integration could be considered a “software” robot then in fact there is already a Googolplex of software robots in the workplace today. Architecturally incorrect but food for thought given the end results are the same - human optimization!

Using software Robots to do the work, in the same or similar way as a human, was often called swivel chair integration. This had it’s benefits, even if sometimes a little brittle! But now the technology has dramatically matured into significantly more robust “Robotic Automation”. For further clarity, Robotic Automations that do all of the work of a human is more commonly today known as RPA (Robotic Process Automation) whereas Robotic Automations that works alongside the human, solving the swivel chair conundrum in real time with the human, is known as RDA (Robotic Desktop Automation). Collectively all known as Robotic Automation.

So, what’s the hype v reality? 

Well after 10 years, RPA case studies are showing us that this still really has only ever achieved savings in the few 100’s of workers in the larger enterprises across the globe. Not too shabby but replacing a few hundred employees in a 10,000 or 50,000 employee back office business with multiple years of development effort isn’t exactly going to win any big CEO pats on the back. Still, it's very powerful and cannot be ignored by any serious organization on their transformation journey.

However, when RPA is combined with RDA, the case studies and testimonials for large ROI are rampant. Some of the worlds largest banks, insurers healthcare and retail companies are using Robotic Automations on tens of thousands of desktops with hundreds of thousands of Robots (RDA) deployed globally. Offering the opportunity to more rapidly enhance the productivity of the larger workforce groups with 20-50% improvement in a matter of months starting with RDA, and then implementing RPA where applicable provides a significant contribution to the transformation strategy.

The C’suite is learning that you need to pick the right Robots for the right tasks. A 20% improvement in productivity and increase in customer satisfaction for the front office is highly important. Robotic Automation can be everywhere, front office, back office and in the branch. Taming these Robots, for RDA and RPA, to run the right ones, to provide maximum value for each environment is key to success.

2016 - This is the year of Robotic Automation….

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Definitive Guide to Robotic Automation (well mine anyway)

Definitive Guide to Robotic Automation

Robotic Automation describes a task or groups of tasks of processes that would normally be completed by a computer user but are now automated by software.

For any benefit of doubt, I am not talking electro-mechanical robots, but rather simply, software automating some other software.

Robotic Automations can;
run on the desktop alongside a human (Desktop Automation)
run in a server room (Robotic Process Automation) without humans

Desktop Automation is also known as Interactive or Attended Automation
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is also known as Autonomous or Unattended Automation

Robotic Automation uses new forms of software specially designed to automate the software applications that humans normally use. Although this might sound strange, it allows humans to work much faster and provide greatly improved customer experience whilst also in some cases, may mean not needing humans at all.

All kinds of software integration and re-engineering projects occur to optimize tasks and transactions so that the need for humans to process them is reduced or eliminated. IT might be on a path to Nirvana of needing no workers through these transformation projects but in the meantime, just count the number of humans in the contact center and back office across the globe and you’ll see they still have a long way to go.

The need for Robotic Automation has never been stronger. CEOs are expected to run their businesses efficiently and deliver increasing shareholder value; added to the fact that enterprises cannot just cut costs to the bare bone and ignore the strong competition facing them. Improving customer experience and staying ahead of their competition at lower costs is paramount. How do you deal with this conundrum?

Robotic Automation in more detail

Users sit at a computer terminal most of the day processing tasks using legacy, web and windows applications. For the sake of argument, let’s say everything the human does (pressing keys, moving/clicking the mouse, reading/thinking) is manual. So, if we could train a physical robot to sit in the user’s chair and press the same keys and click the mouse accurately every time at super-fast speed then we have Robotic Automation. Obviously, a robot on the chair approach is not practical to replace the manual computer- based work of humans. However, the computer is already capable of being the “robot,” (in fact, it already is a robot, but generally restricted to operate within the bounds of a single process or application,) we just need to teach (automate) this robot to correctly read the business applications (both on-screen information and non-visible object information), select the right commands, apply the right thinking (rules) and navigate. If we put the trained piece of automation software on each worker’s computer and do just that, we have Robotic Automation.

Robots to replace or augment humans to make them more efficient
If we use Robotic Automation to do everything a user does from end to end, then we do not need the worker to perform that task anymore. This work can be transferred off the worker’s desktop to a server, mimicking  pretty much the same user environments. You now have autonomous Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

If we use Robotic Automation to do much but not all of what a user does, building automations more gradually, we can dramatically increase the amount of work they do and reduce their error rates. These Robotic Automations run on the user’s computer at exactly the same time the user is still using it. This is called interactive Desktop Automation.

RPA or Desktop Automation?

It is not whether you use one or the other; you should plan for using both. Robotic Automations are built to replicate tasks done by a human. These tasks can be automated together for a complete process automation or called independently and dynamically as the user performs their work

Sample things to automate might be;

·      Find the 5 pieces of data across 4 applications that allow verification of a customer and put them in clear view automatically (heads up display)
·      Move 7 fields from 1 application to 2 more applications (e.g. address change)
·      Providing the customer with intelligence (via phone, text, email or letter) confirming their installation details
·      Refund 50% of a charge by changing 3 systems after supervisor approval
·      See if customer exists in any of systems of record for compliance
·      Work out (5 rules) if customer is eligible for upgrade or credit
·      Check to see if insurance claim is a duplicate – deny if yes; approve and pay if no.
·      If Insurance claim is a duplicate or not approved, deny it or route it. If routing requires opening a new case, open and enter all appropriate fields and notes.
·      Check four or more 3rd party websites to validate customer address and sort codes
·      Update the systems to instigate a payment to a customer

All of these tasks start life with a human logging in (if not already in) to perhaps 3-10 desktop applications (windows, web, green screen, java) and remembering everything they have been trained to do. They jump around, hunting down information, applying learnt or hard coded rules and making decisions to update yet more systems. Some desktops are a myriad of complexities resulting in processes being completed extremely inefficiently.

If a live customer / worker interaction isn’t occurring during the transaction process and the tasks within are fully mapped, allowing for the entire process and all its variations to be automated, then the Robotic Automations can be run on a back-end server with no human ever present (RPA). If however, the user is working with a customer on the phone or in complex process requiring human intervention in many of the steps, then you will likely need to be able have some or all of the Robotic Automations executed interactively with human involvement as and when required at the computer (Desktop Automation).

Virtually no enterprise exists today, where both Desktop Automation and RPA would not be applicable. However, it is imperative a business prioritizes what is the most important. Whilst RPA can at first look the most attractive as vendors tout 100% savings, finding enough repeatable RPA opportunities to deliver large savings in short order is much harder and often impossible. 

With Desktop Automation the initial savings can be delivered in weeks across a much larger workforce because you build the interactive automations that affect the largest groups in the workforce first. RPA tends to be the other way around and thus target opportunities found are for much smaller groups of workers. In contact centers and larger back office groups, Desktop Automation doesn’t just save dramatically on the cost side but it can have a major impact on improving the entire customer experience.

Because Desktop Automation runs interactively on the human desktop, the end users application and computer systems are also dramatically enhanced. New user interfaces and enhanced 360 degree customer / task views, process guidance, upsell, assisted sign in, auto notes, guided reconciliation are deliverable as part of the same solution.

Robotic Automations in a server (RPA) is typically trying to eliminate the worker and deliver 100% savings so what’s not to like? However, companies find mapping and automating these much smaller groups take much longer to deliver large value.

Robotic Automations in a desktop environment that can deliver benefits immediately to much larger groups of workers and the same automations can be moved to an RPA model as well. Desktop Automations can call RPA if that’s feasible too. These automations of tasks can be re-used interchangeably between servers and desktops.

More to follow on how the different vendors support each of these technologies and also, how the technology behind the "software that automates" software actually works.

There is also a disconnect on how long RPA has been around. Recently it has been touted as new and that's the reason there are few very large scale case studies. However RPA is not new and nor is Desktop Automation  What is driving the market for these technologies is the need to cut costs and/or improve the cost to the business for processing transactions (Back Office and Contact Center).