Guest blog by David O’Brien,
Senior Manager, Technology Transformation at Dell Technologies.
Automation and A.I. have been on everyone’s lips for the last decade but where do you need to start?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been named by Gartner as the fastest growing enterprise software category with the market growing by 63% in 2018 alone. The pandemic that has disrupted 2020 is only going to accelerate this growth and that’s not a bad thing.
RPA technology at its core is very simple. It essentially automates a repetitive process that a person would carry out through replicating the keyboard inputs and mouse clicks required to process that task. A macro on steroids that can touch any application that an employee can, in their normal day to day.
It’s relatively simple to understand and even a non-technical person can automate a workflow quickly with a bot (if you’re technical though, it’s going to be a better designed automation). If you can plot simple decisions throughout, and the data is structured, essentially any office task can be automated to at least a significant degree.
RPA is not intelligent by any means, at least not yet, but most repetitive work does not deal in shades of gray. What you do get is a virtual employee that ensures:
- Scalability to demand
- If the data is right, it will always be processed right.
The simplicity of the concept has been RPA’s ace card. It means some automations don’t need to be put off as initiatives that would have traditionally required multi-year major IT roadmap projects, expensive consultancy or outsourcing to contract labour. This scares employees away. “This will be too much effort to change the status quo” and “my task is not important enough to for corporate to prioritize”. Employees now understand that there is a new way of replacing tasks that can be spun up quickly.
I’ve personally seen RPA adoption drive engagement in business areas that were resistant to IT change. Instead of a job threat or future that’s not realistically achievable, it’s allowed folks to take part in how they define their roles and explore areas of opportunity for their roles.
In a lot of cases, RPA may not be the most elegant looking solution (e.g. it might takes 20 seconds to process a timesheet rather than the next to instantaneous backend job run), but “Barbara in HR” is no longer processing all of the 1000 timesheets for payroll submission every 4th week, she’s now only validating the 10 kicked out as exceptions by her bot on the last day of every month. This means that Barbara is not being the robot in the process. She’s working on higher-value work that needs human touch.
RPA has a huge impact but it’s not as easy as switching on the lights. Everything I’ve described is a lot of work and needs to be approached in a serious manner. Be warned, if not done correctly, you can end up taking on an unsustainable overhead that becomes unwieldy to manage and maintain. What you don’t want it to do is end up with the modern equivalent of the MS Access database running on a server under a desk. Your accounting department depends on this run its operation, but no one knows how it works and are too afraid to touch it since “Rodney the developer” left 4 years ago!
The good news is that the automation industry is maturing fast and it’s an incredibly exciting space to be in. The RPA industry itself is looking to move up the complexity curve by adding capabilities such as
- Optical Character Recognition
- Process Mining
- Value Stream Mapping
- AI models
- Natural Language Processing
- Native integrations to major enterprise applications.
This direction is evolving the industry into ‘Hyper-automation’ and ‘Intelligent Process Automation’. Whatever buzzwords win out, ultimately, vendors are distilling the automation technology stack into a multi capability “automation ecosystem” that will be essential for every company’s operating model. RPA is the workhorse that connects it all together.
The challenge will be how companies maintain this new layer of technology while ensuring strong governance, strong security standards and a robust and maintainable environment which is complimentary with your IT roadmap.
Enterprises that don’t adapt will find themselves lagging behind their competitors unless they can start to consider automation a key strategic priority.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for technical flexibility and the good news is that it’s not too late. We’ve seen enterprises adapt to remote work practices in a very short period of time. It’s time to include our virtual employees in how they can help change how we approach problems?
I’ve seen the impact of this automation technology and how its scales firsthand, it’s going to be very exciting to see how this ugly duckling will mature over the next few years.
The nature of work is changing, make sure you’re not left behind!
About the author:
Dave O’Brien, Automation Center of Excellence, Dell Digital
David O’Brien leads the business engagement and solution consulting team for the Automation Centre of Excellence. As a transformation strategist, David’s main goal is to expand the adoption of automation technology across all key business functions and encourage a culture of digital transformation. His responsibilities include automation programs/projects, operations, training and enablement for business teams. Today, his team’s focus is on expanding the capabilities of the existing automation offering and bringing together a full automation suite from RPA to AI across Dell.