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).

Monday, May 4, 2015

When is a Robot not a Robot (Software Robotic Automation)?

When I was 17, I wrote my first Desktop Automation. Sure, it wasn't called that 35 years ago! It was called a "Programmable function key". I programmed the F6 key on a dumb terminal that automated a task for every user in a large banking company. When pressed, the robot would navigate the screen to the HR employee record, regardless of where the user was at the time and all it would do was simulate pressing the keys on the keyboard instead of the user doing it, using the shortest route to that screen. We used to stick labels on the F6 key back in those days too :)

One of my other jobs, early in my career as a software performance expert was to speed up the length of time it took to run overnight payroll runs (which in this large bank was starting to take longer than there were hours in the night!). The bank didn't want to throw more people or expensive hardware at the problem so what I did was ran a series of benchmarks and determined there were areas in the source code that were very poorly written. After a few months of re-coding just these poorly written routines, the payroll process actually ran in 25% of the time. Far few people were now needed to complete their work in less time. I remember this story because I was working till 4am, the only times we could test! That was 32 years ago.

I started a terminal emulation business 28 years ago. Our "intelligent" emulator was one of the first that would allow mainframes to be programmed to automate client server programs running on a PC. Long before the days of clever export/import, file sharing and triggers, we allowed users to press a button in a green screen mainframe app and it would move data from the screen(s) into a word processor or spreadsheet (Lotus 123) dramatically cutting process times and eliminating errors. In the 10 years I ran this business, we sold over half-a-million licenses! In1985 we created a product call HostAccess server that allowed automations without humans at all. This was far more robust automation than just programming the keys because our emulator checked what screen the user was on, looked for errors and could navigate in multiple directions!

So, I hope I'm making my point. Any program that does what a human used to do, and either does it by assisting the human or replacing them, could be deemed a robotic process automation. Any software program that nips away at the employees time, and uses the computers time fits this category. Of course, it's a stretch to call software integration a robotic software automation but the end result is often the same! Integration software, BPM, hyperlinks, process guidance, single sign on and even an ATM is a software Robot assisted by a hardware robot that fully automates checking your security, credit and request to give you cash. Robots are everywhere.

OpenSpan has 100's of thousands of Desktop Automation licenses in live production environments, assisting or replacing humans who used to do the manual work that software robots do. Millions of Robotic Software automations (Desktop and Server side) are running on OpenSpan every single day of the year.

So, what's new with Software Automation, and why is it becoming interesting to the large SI, BPO's and big enterprises all around the globe again? Some think the reason the fresh look at automation is to cut costs but in reality, that is only a small part of it. For most enterprises, competition has never been fiercer so significant money is being invested to make sure they grow and maintain their customer base. An impressive customer service is what sets one company apart from another and this problem is common today and needs to be fixed by many big companies. How can you gain customers if your processes are too slow and inefficient? If an insurance company takes too long to respond to a customer request or a customer calling in to a telco call center doesn't get the right information for a new rate plan for their phone - that customer today, can far more easily switch to a one of your competitors!

Automation gets you to this mission much faster. It's been proven the world over and no longer just a tactical solution. It is part of the transformation journey every company wants to make or is making. Typical tried and trust integration works BUT it is hard and expensive and carries with it great risk. The business needs solutions today. Desktop Automation and software Robots are tactically strategic in delivering solutions quickly - with little risk (more risk from Robots as you have to do it all). Desktop Automation robustly automates what your humans already do, so it happens much faster and without costly errors!

What's not to like... Desktop Automation is growing in every part of the world. Here is a snapshot how many industry leaders are leveraging OpenSpan to impact their business and build world-class customer experiences:

·         Three of the UK “Big Four” and five of the top six US commercial banks
·         Eight of the top global telecom / cable providers
·         Healthcare – Four of the top six US managed health plans
·         Four of the top five property and casualty insurers
·         Some of the world’s largest online retailers and global commerce leaders

·         Two of the top five US food and drug retailers

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Rise of Bionic Automation

“Humanator” - The RISE of the Bionic worker - A smarter, faster and more accurate employee!

It’s hard to miss the press around Robotic Process Automation (RPA) these days. Even though it’s been around for many years, the idea of using software to automate other software, through the UI, to emulate a desktop users work, is gaining significant traction. Is this because so many other integration projects have failed to live up to the promises of optimisation benefits or is it because the economy is driving companies to cut human costs even faster? Who knows?

Anyway, what it has achieved, is to draw everyone’s attention back to the human desktop worker (in the Call Centre, Back Office, BPO) and just how much we pay them to do work, on the computer, that in fact that computer could do all by itself! Any end to end transactions that require no human discretion, you have to ask why you still have humans doing them at all! Alas, it’s often because the cost of doing so outweighs the cost of having the human doing it, or it’s been seen as too hard to solve. However, there are still a significant number of process steps that can be automated today. Any organization not looking at this seriously, must question why their team likes to keep humans around doing this work!

Let me get to the real point of this blog - I’m introducing the world to Bionic Automation - yes you heard that right - BIONICS. We all agree, until everything is automated / digitized, we are still going to need plenty of humans doing the work they do well. So, how can we apply the benefits of automation gained in robotics, but delivered when a human is still involved? Simple - automate just the time consuming / error prone steps in their processes. Choose the ones first that require no human discretion and yet consume their time (and your cost) to do it. This is what Desktop Automation is or what can perhaps be described also as Bionic Automation.

Desktop (Bionic) Automation is what OpenSpan has been selling for many years. Large numbers of call centres and back offices in many of the worlds largest banks, insurers, healthcare, telecoms, retail, digital enterprises use Desktop Automation today to improve their employees performance. Hundreds of thousands of call centre agents and back offices workers are already "Bionic" in these organisations.

Imagine a world, where your human call center agents and back office workers are all working super efficiently, fast and without error. Delivering a fantastic customer experience because they are not having to take time navigating across multiple applications, searching, rekeying or calculating. Imagine how grateful your customers would be if it takes half the time to take a payment, buy a product, open an account or buy a new plan (and costing half as much to do the same transactions!).

This is what a Bionic workforce looks like. The same work will be done, but their computer will do more of that work for them, using Desktop Automation. Finding information for an upsell will be done in the blink of an eye and presented back to the agent, making them look like superstars to the customer - who might be used to hearing “hang on a minute whilst I look that up” or “can you give me that account number again”. It goes without saying; there are many automations that could be delivered to your desktop workers in just weeks, that start turning your workforce into a Bionic workforce (smarter, faster and without error).

OpenSpan has been selling Robotic Process Automation for years and many customers glean great FTE savings from it, one department, one process at a time. However, Bionic Automation (Desktop Automation), delivers these same benefits, iteratively, and across your ENTIRE workforce - immediately.

“Bionic Automation” turns your employees into smarter, faster and error free human workers. You’ll need less of them, or if you are an expanding company, you’ll be able to take on more customers, across all divisions, whilst delivering the most enviable customer experience.