It’s not too hard to get a handle on what business processes make sense to automate. Any repetitive task, even if it’s nothing more than copying and pasting data from fields in one application is an obvious candidate for robotic process automation (RPA). However, unless users have a great experience with robotic software - becoming comfortable and confident “training” a software robot via workflow design, any implementation plan runs a significant risk of failure. Here's a look at four keys that unlock a great robotic software user experience.
In a sense, deploying robotic automation (RA) isn’t different from any other introduction of new technologies or procedures. People tend to dislike change and the need to get past that resistance is nothing new. However, RA does present a few unique wrinkles to the challenge of implementing new tools and ways of doing things.
For one, users of processes targeted for automation are generally irreplaceable as workflow designers. Business processes are often undocumented, and even the documentation that does exist is normally outdated. Other users upstream and downstream from the process to be automated may know about the process, but rarely know the process in any detailed sense. Design responsibility falls on the current process owners. They know the activity steps, rules and what exceptions require human oversight.
Additionally, the process owners aren’t just essential for the initial RA implementation, they are also necessary for the ongoing maintenance of the workflow design. Business processes are constantly changing. Modifications to upstream and downstream business processes will require, at a minimum, workflow reviews and very likely minor or major revisions. A process owner will be just as essential to ongoing workflow revisions as they were to the original design.
The Importance of Users Having a Great Experience
The importance of users having a great experience with robotic software is that it makes the process owner confident of success and willing to actively engage the technology. The initial perception of the software by the process owner must make it apparent the process knowledge they bring to the workflow design is just as (or more) formidable as the software skills to be learned.
Just as the first user experiences must instill confidence and engagement, ongoing perceptions and experiences must encourage the user to be more assertive in two ways: maximizing automation possibilities; and, critically viewing how processes can be streamlined before automation is even applied.
4 Keys that Unlock a Great Robotic Software User Experience
1. More than Meets the Eye: If a picture’s worth a thousand words, well-designed software UIs are worth at least several dozen video tutorials :). So don’t be overly impressed by a UI reminiscent of a Visio diagram. That’s nothing more than a good start. Beyond a designer screen showing connected boxes and triangles, the user needs at least four other visual elements for a great experience:
- A view of applications linked to the active workflow automation design (e.g. for simple point & click text/data field integration)
- Views of related upstream, downstream or parallel automated workflows (helpful reference points for rules and handoffs)
- Tree structure of the active workflow design (simplifies complicated workflows & flags any automation errors).
- Dashboard tool ribbon – logical arrangement and easy access for dashboard tools.
2. Plays Well with Business Users: Like the iPhone, the UI must be an intuitive and simple veneer that: hides complex technology; makes the user feel comfortably in control of the process automation design. Three UI features are essential in making this happen:
- Action Recorder: This feature eliminates the time consuming, one-action-at-a-time, workflow approach that characterized many RA products in the past. Instead – as the name implies, the recorder effortlessly watches & records the actions taken by users as they perform the repetitious task.
- Drag & Drop: This graphical tool allows the user to drag and drop activities onto the designer screen, where the connection is then created between those activities.
- Wizards: These are used for point & click deployment of ready-to-go action and connection types across screen-scraping, UI automation and GUI events
3. Plays Equally Well with Developers: With process owners holding a key role in robotic automation, an emphasis on highly intuitive and visual UIs is expected. However, developers are also an important part of the user experience. Developers will expect the RA product to provide the capability for them to customize and enrich workflow automation possibilities.
In order for this to happen, the Action Recorder, Drag & Drop and Wizard activities and connections on the designer screen should – unseen by the UI operator - be reflected in declarative code that can be extended and customized from a large set of predefined activities in a major language (.Net for UiPath). Developers should be able to easily integrate well beyond the presentation layer, using COM and APIs to integrate across GUI, Application, Storage, OS and Network layers.
4. Friendly with Other Technologies: A great user experience requires robotic software to work seamlessly with a wide spectrum of technology. For example, users will expect the Action Recorder to be as versatile as their own fingers – going well beyond keyboard clicks and mouse movements to handle link clicks, dropdown selections, data extractions, image appearance - and event triggers from external applications. Users will also expect Wizards to simply integrate workflow automation with legacy desktop, web, Citrix, SAP or Java apps – plus email (and attachments), spreadsheets, databases and web services.
In an upcoming post, another element of a great user experience will be discussed – exceeding expectations.
David Eddy has fifteen years of global application services experience.