Consultant’s Corner: Robotic Process Automation in 2020
In this article, ProData Consultant & RPA Developer Tomasz Przeor opens the door to the world of robotics, describing the practices and possibilities available in Robotic Process Automation today as well as giving us a glimpse of what the future holds for RPA.
Welcome to the Consultant’s Corner series, our blog for independent IT freelancers. Here you can find out what fellow high-end IT consultants are up to in their current or recent projects. Read about trending technologies, and get inspiration from the freelance journey of other like-minded IT professionals.
...Process Automation is here! Right?
It is not a big secret that Process Automation has been with us for decades, whether it be within production companies or financial institutions. In many forms, it is present throughout the top industries. What is behind the term “Robotic” that made banking, insurance, accounting, tax services, audit and assurance sectors go “all-in” on RPA? Cost reduction definitely plays a significant role here, but RPA also brings process optimization - it makes the processes more simple, efficient and easier to understand. It also ensures that all processes are properly documented, which is not always the case without the touch of RPA. In many cases, companies that introduce RPA also go through a digital and/or agile transformation, which enables the discovery of more automation potential and creates a positive feedback loop.
...Robotic Process Automation in a nutshell
RPA is not a technology as such, compared to Java or C#. Moreover, it does not have a defined programming language. It is more of a process within itself, a method or an approach. There are quite a few vendors that provide the technology or software, if you will, to implement RPA within a company. The biggest players on the market as of now are Blueprism and UiPath, while Automation Anywhere is just behind the two. Microsoft also decided to try their hand with Power Automate tool, although it serves a slightly different purpose. However, RPA is still a fresh topic - quite often a mystery, even for IT experts. On many occasions, I have had developers ask me, what this entire new “tech” is all about. The answer is, as you can clearly see by now, complicated, but allow me to try and shed some more light on this subject.
The result of applying RPA to a regular business process is often an end-to-end solution, where the manual work is substituted by automated steps performed by the Robot with the same outcome. At first, it was there to automate the most mundane and repetitive computer-based tasks. Right now though RPA is tackling very complex processes, but more about that later on. Of course, there are different types of automations - for instance, when human interaction is needed, or if it is possible, the Robot is using APIs instead of GUIs. Modifications and optimizations of the processes are allowed and most-welcomed as long as the automation provides the same value as manual work.
The greatest benefit of applying Robots is perhaps, to many, cost reduction. I know what you are thinking. Cost reduction equals FTE reduction and layoffs, right? Not exactly. If applied properly and thoughtfully, Robots would allow employees to thrive at work and evolve asprofessionals. How is that possible? Well, the Robots are taking care of the most basic tasks, leaving their human colleagues to focus on more complex processes. Moreover, robots evolve too and will be able to handle operations that are even more advanced. This is a positive feedback loop where each participant of the automation is able to flourish with each step along the journey.
As mentioned before, the main players on the RPA scene are UiPath and Blue Prism. I have been lucky enough to become an expert in both. The competition in the market is huge, which is good because both tools are being constantly improved upon; on many occasions, the vendors are learning from one another and implementing each other’s solutions to their own softwares.
A company can go about implementing RPA a few ways. It could be a simple setup within a Shared Service Centre (SSC) or a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) where the team is responsible solely for the process automation and nothing beyond that. The other concept that I find particularly interesting is the Centre of Excellence (CoE), where the RPA team not only provides the automations but also improves and optimizes the processes while creating solutions, constantly working with the business. If a company stays with the CoE model chances are that the development of simple Robots can, after some time, be handed over to the business side, whereas the RPA team focuses on the most complex tasks. I believe that this model is the most beneficial, as it brings continuous improvement to the company. In addition, it is worth saying that most CoEs start from a SSC and as the experience and RPA awareness grows, the Centre of Excellence starts to form.
...Latest on RPA & what the future holds
More and more companies, which employ Robots on the regular, have now started discovering even more automation potential when RPA is combined with Machine Learning algorithms. The marriage of the two is often referred to as Intelligent Automation, where the Robots are not only able to make decisions based on predefined conditions but rather make them based on provided data. That is a huge step forward when it comes to creating solutions, as more and more complex tasks, which previously required human judgement (based on data, too) can be handed over to a Robot. Take, for example a chat-bot, that is able to conduct a text to text or text to speech conversation with a customer in a bank, asking a few basic questions, being able to book a meeting, and close or open an account without the assistance of a human specialist.
The vendors are in a constant race to provide as much content and features in their software as possible. Before, I mentioned Microsoft and their Power Automate tool, which is mainly focused on business developers. The tool is web-based; therefore, in a simple setup it does not require a separate IT infrastructure. It has a friendly UI and does not require coding or programming knowledge. It features simple drag-and-drop activities and a workflow designer.
It is rather hard to tell what the future will bring for the Robots, as it seems that news about new developments come in every day. Certainly, vendors will bring smarter tools to the market that require less technical knowledge, as I described with Microsoft. Is that good for us, developers? I am not sure. What I am confident about though is that we need to be up to speed with everything that is released into the market. Otherwise, we will be left behind. In addition, I truly believe that the full-scale integration of Robots and Machine Learning is close.
... Robots in my life
Being a part of a RPA journey has been truly exciting for me. What I find most appealing is working with the business - being able to get familiar with processes that will be automated. It is as well all the people who I have been working with. The countless workshops that I have held in order to help businesses prepare processes for automation. Being an RPA Consultant now and an Expert with UiPath and Blue Prism is something that I did not dare to imagine just five years ago, but it has definitely been a really great experience to get to this point.
If as of now, you are a developer and looking into changing your career path, then I cannot recommend enough giving RPA a go. For starters, you can get familiar with UiPath Academy, which is free of charge. The job offers are there too, it seems like the current Covid-19 pandemic did not affect the high demand for developers. I even dare to say that it made the CEOs and managers more aware that process automation of some form is required to ensure smooth operations during times like these.
If you are already in Robotics, taking your first steps, my advice is to learn as much as you can and monitor RPA news. Stay open-minded to all of the software and when you are stuck or in doubt, search the web! There are tons of forums, and chances are somebody already had the same problem as you are having right now.
Tomasz is a skilled RPA Developer and RPA Business Analyst with commercial experience predominantly from the banking and financial sectors. He is highly proficient in process automation, optimization, and simplification with a LEAN approach. He has excellent practical knowledge of RPA software, such as UiPath and Blue Prism, and he is a certified UiPath Developer.