This post discusses how to evaluate an automation software company’s capability for innovation and adaptability – and the importance of this capability in the robotic process automation selection process. Looking at today’s software provides insight for today – customers must know how to find indicators and ask good questions to make an educated forecast where the software will be tomorrow – and the day after that.
This series on selecting the best automation software company began with the product, because evaluating the company provides little value if its software product does not deliver what the customer needs. However, because those needs constantly change in unpredictable ways, determining if a software company has a strong potential to mirror those changes with reciprocal product evolution is very important. Finding a discarded BlackBerry at the bottom of a drawer is a strong reminder that continuous innovation is an intangible but essential part of a company’s culture.
While capacity for continuous innovation is intangible – it won’t be found on a company’s balance sheet – customers can find evidence of its existence by looking for patterns of innovative technology.
Patterns of Innovative Technology
As discussed in an earlier post, some might be surprised to see robotic process automation (RPA) software in the same sentence as the word “innovation”. RPA is often viewed as little more than long-standing screen-scraping techniques applied to even longer-standing, swivel-chair, process bottlenecks.
Unlike the promise of automatons with cognitive learning capability, automation software isn’t innovative in a transformational sense. However, there is an innovative quality to how it uses and extends existing technology to create more powerful capabilities. Accordingly, customers should look for innovative patterns along the lines of the following examples:
Mobile Device Capabilities: top robotic automation companies will provide mobile device solutions that go beyond the scope of limited graphical desktop sharing (VNC). Instead, the robotic automation approach will provide robust mobile capabilities while eliminating the three major VNC weaknesses: inability of desktop applications to display well on a small mobile screen; a design restricted to mouse and keyboard actions rather than incorporating touch (a hallmark of mobile functionality); security issues driven by facilitating poorly restricted mobile access to desktop applications.
Dynamic UI Automation: innovative companies will re-engineer existing technologies to give users greater capabilities and automation possibilities. Example: originally screen-scraping technology – a foundational approach to UI layer automation – relied on a specific value to anchor the position of website screen elements. Think of a ship relying on latitude and longitude to locate a small island in the ocean. Now, dynamic screen-scraping technology has been developed: it uses a logical control level approach to automatically incorporate changes in website screen elements; this new design approach is also independent of screen size and resolution. This extension of screen-scraping technology from static to dynamic provides users with much more reliable an accurate data extraction capabilities – an innovative outcome.
Hands-free Workflow Automation: another example of innovative software technology patterns is robotic software that no longer relies on user actions for automation triggers. Instead, the software observes, intercepts, interprets and responds – with a rules-based automation sequence - to specifically defined mouse and keyboard events across a multitude of systems. Example: a business user, formerly required to trigger an automation sequence, is now supported by an automation script designed to intercept a “submit” button click in a CRM application as it creates a new customer. Once the script has interpreted and qualified the click as a defined event, it kicks off a workflow that verifies the new customer’s information from a third-party website.
Automation Lifecycle Steps
Where innovative technology denotes an ability to proactively meet changing customer needs over time, adaptive technology means an existing software product has the capability to be effectively reconfigured across the automation lifecycle – which typically includes the following elements.
Problem-Solving: as the name implies, this type of automation is used in a limited way to solve a specific activity problem within an overall process. An example would be a process bottleneck caused by manually placing scanned invoice data into an EDI workflow. This problem is solved by automation which uses robotic software (utilizing OCR technology) configured with data extraction rules, to systematically post invoice data into the accounting system’s payment workflow.
Projects: automation projects are large scale, time-boxed, undertakings that leverage robotic process automation to accelerate timelines, maintain high accuracy and provide auditable outcomes. An example would be the migration of transaction data from sunset legacy applications into a new EMR system. By configuring all repetitive tasks and scaling automation with to ten runtime automatons, project timelines were reduced by 70%.
Operational Workflows: operational workflows are an ongoing, high volume use of automation across seasonal spikes and dips in workflow volumes. An example would be the automation of repetitive customer service work for investment research and analysis. Fourteen FTE’s spent the majority of their time manually preparing data feeds for nightly batch runs. With robotic software, three people are required to oversee the automated processes and resolve any activity exceptions.
Adaptive Technology and The Automation Lifecycle
Although these examples are taken from three different organizations, they could easily have involved just one company – and good robotic software must be adaptable enough to grow through such a lifecycle of problem-solving, projects and operational workflows. In order to meet this threshold service level, the product must have:
Single User Desktop Automation: the user must be provided with a seamlessly integrated automation toolset, consisting of a designer screen (the ‘canvas’ for documenting process steps); tool ribbon; action recorder, drag & drop functionality and ready-to-go automaton wizards. Note: there should be no feature or functionality difference between the single desktop automation products and platform based automation products. By maintaining identical properties, platform and desktop automation products will allow users to retain the value of all their skills and experience as the system grows in size and sophistication.
Product configuration: client-hosted on desktop/laptop or server.
Enterprise Platform: the product must accommodate a scalable enterprise platform that provides: enterprise-level functionality; process automation design capabilities; console management of enterprise-wide automatons. The platform must efficiently integrate:
- Enterprise Desktop Automation: identical in features with the single-user desktop automation software, this product will also incorporate enterprise functionality such as role-based permissions, custom analytic reporting and network-level security.
- Automatons: robotic software that executes automated processes in the client environment, enabling cloning and decommissioning actions to provide almost instant scalability for workflow fluctuations.
- Enterprise Automation Dashboard: a browser-based dashboard will enable; automaton management, status and performance reporting; consolidated workflow analytic reporting.
Product configuration: provider-hosted, multi-instance on server; client-hosted, multi-instance on server; provider-hosted, multi-instance on major cloud.
Coming Next ...
The final post in this series will address the critical areas of Customer Commitment and Company Credibility.
David Eddy has fifteen years of global application services experience.