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).

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