Global IT services providers and business process outsourcing firms have always been focused on the goal of addressing customer needs through cost-effective, timely, and high-quality service offerings. Increasingly, such companies are helping their customers deploy platforms like robotic process automation (RPA) to automate business processes. What’s more, though, is that many of these IT companies are actively engaged with such technologies themselves in both the back and front office.
In fact, according to a 2016 report by management consulting and research firm Everest Group:
(...) service providers are building capabilities in RPA, and adoption of RPA is rising, as an increasing proportion of new contracts signed have RPA in their scope. The percentage of new, signed contracts [specifically in the healthcare BPO market] that include RPA in their scope has increased from 7 percent in 2012-2013 to 14 percent in 2014-2015.
The percentages provided by the aforementioned Everest report are expected to continue to grow through 2017 and also are expanding to include IT and BPO applications far beyond just the healthcare field; customers in other fields also include insurance, finance & banking, telecom, manufacturing, and more. In order to shed more light on RPA’s deployment in the IT industry, let’s examine the two domains of RPA in IT services, how RPA is being used by IT service providers, and what can be expected along the way for those companies taking the leap into automation.
RPA’s domains in IT services
Within IT services, RPA can be characterized into two domains, namely end-user computing and enterprise computing:
End-user computing deals with whatever the user touches, specifically any and all applications ranging Excel and Word to virtual environments such as Citrix. In establishing automation, RPA robots gain entry to and interact with end user computer systems just like a human IT employee would.
RPA cooperatively works alongside IT support staff, in a form of attended automation, to help them become more productive in the front office and allow them to agilely move between platforms in customer-facing situations. To put attended automation in more concrete terms, RPA can aid a service desk employee in answering calls and emails that arrive to their workstation, enable them to quickly create user accounts, or support them in addressing password reset requests.
Enterprise computing, on the other hand, deals with back end, namely the servers, security measures, infrastructure, and databases that front-end users do not see.
Unattended automation works well within this domain of enterprise computing, particularly because it involves automation of the back end where large amounts of data are constantly being collected and manipulated. Rather than requiring the intervention of an employee, automated actions are triggered by RPA’s robots. Moreover, unattended automation is carried out continuously in batches on a 24/7/365 basis and can be monitored and audited remotely in real time. Use cases include the automatic monitoring of server logs for alerts, application testing, and the integration of IT service management platforms.
Use cases: Where does RPA fit in IT?
So, now that we’ve investigated two realms for RPA in IT services, let’s examine a handful of specific instances or use cases where RPA supports the two previously established domains within the IT sphere. For any given number of critical IT functions, tasks, or processes, IT services providers that deploy RPA are finding the following results easily achievable:
Streamlining system integration
The majority of RPA software interacts in the presentation layer, connect to a range of UIs, and do not touch underlying software, meaning they are able to bridge various legacy systems without requiring a restructuring of the existing IT setup.
As an example, RPA is highly effective in IT service management integration scenarios. Some customers do not have unified platforms globally and may, for instance, rely on both Salesforce and ServiceNow; in this regard, RPA is the easiest way to migrate tickets between platforms on the back end and ensure that activities are consistent across them without human intervention. To avoid IT headaches, RPA products tend to be flexible, extensible, and easily integrated with various platforms and technologies ranging from BPMS, to cognitive tools, to CRM, ERP, and Citrix applications.
In many cases, especially with UiPath’s RPA software in the service of the IT sphere, various kinds of recorders (rather than one, where workflows need to be manually fitted) enable seamless automation across different applications in desktop, web, and Citrix environments. Because RPA projects do not require the development of new front-end interfaces or back-end applications by IT employees, the software can generally be implemented by IT service providers for themselves or for their customers without difficulty.
Improving service quality and consistency
RPA is able to improve service quality and consistency by up to 70 percent by reducing human error and taking actions automatically in response to user requests. Take, for example, the case of a front-office service desk employee receiving a call from a customer who is having problems with an application. Within a few seconds, RPA software robots can pull up information about the customer: “Has the user logged a ticket? How many times has the customer reached out? Has their request been resolved?”
The attended automation provided by the robots enables the service agent to be proactive and access the customer profile without putting the user on hold. RPA is also able to quickly create user accounts for individuals by gathering email and address information through an automated workflow. Password reset requests, which are highly transactional and repeatable, can also be dealt with by RPA in 95 percent of all instances. In such scenarios, RPA robots can reduce the average IT call from eight minutes to a mere three.
Increasing IT resources productivity
Forms of unattended, back-end automation allow IT resources to shift their attention from menial responsibilities and allow them to, instead, increase their productivity by focusing on value-adding IT activities. By automatically monitoring the storage quota of a server, as an example, RPA robots are able to submit requests for more storage space when the quota limits are neared. This means that expensive admins are only needed in the few cases when intervention is required.
Robots are also able to replicate human activities in application testing by following certain sequences through a set of screens or pressing certain buttons. Rather than requiring IT staff to test applications, RPA robots will note whether or not such a test was successful and alert a human employee only when encountering unsuccessful instances.
Embracing RPA in the IT world
We’ve seen that RPA software robots are able to streamline the enterprise computing domain by enabling the automation of IT service management integration as well as application testing and server monitoring. Moreover, RPA can automate certain help desk IT operations such as responding to requests for account access and password resets on the customer-facing side. In fact, in their 2016 US CEO Outlook report, KPMG’s management consulting leader Steve Chase emphasizes that:
(...) companies that focus on the customer experience while bringing automation, speed, and agility to the back office will be well positioned to respond to market dynamics.
Driven by the capabilities of RPA, many IT services companies are quickly embracing automation in this way. However, many of the IT services industry professionals still see RPA as an upgraded version of Macros, too simple and not really non-invasive. They manifest discomfort with the thought of implementing RPA within their organizations and are not typically the champions of this technology within their companies. A mentality shift is arguably overdue.