Next-gen automation: Optimizing machines with the people who drive them

3 March 2020 | 3780 Shares

Large-scale ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems were an attempt to produce software frameworks capable of running every aspect that could be digitized of every company, in just about any vertical.

Although at a more detailed level, the structure of such solutions was modular, typically modeled along the lines of the enterprise’s internal structure: a module for the finance department, a separate area for human resources, one for operations or logistics, and so on.

The idea was — and remains — that there would be no data silos in the business, and every aspect of the organization would work towards the same goals, using the same information.

What became apparent in many use cases, however, was that specialized software, so-called point products, either were capable of doing a better job for each department or were already so deeply entrenched in working methods that an ERP could not replace them.

But whatever the case, although ERPs still operate very effectively in many companies all over the world, many organizations prefer to build their IT stack piece by piece, and then effectively join the pieces so that there are no discrete data silos. RPA solutions (robotic process automation) both act as the interface between separate pieces of technology and help out, automating dull, repetitive processes.

Where people and processes meet

Many organizations use the installation of an RPA solution (or, indeed, the roll-out of an ERP, too) as a catalyst for overall change. The requirements of an advanced automating system require, by definition, a long and hard look at the processes that drive the everyday workings of the business.

While there’s nothing wrong with that per se, what sometimes happens is that managers make the error of believing that the installation of a new piece of software, for instance, can change for the better the way that the business operates.

That’s especially an error in the case of RPA, which in many cases, if poorly presented, can be seen as a threat to employees: the robots might take our jobs.

But assuming the installation of an RPA platform is well handled from an HR point of view, both the assessment of business processes and the efficiency gains that the platform can produce are undeniably very effective in many cases.

Below we feature three suppliers of RPA solutions that we feel have the capability to make very positive impacts on organizations of any size.

The dangers of top-down

But like any technology solution rolled out a part of a digital transformation process, ensuring that the often significant investment produces the required effect relies upon avoiding two of the notable, very common pitfalls:

– Failure to ask the people you hope to help precisely what would make their working lives more productive.

– Inability to let those same people create their own solutions — or at least, play a large part in the creation of their solutions.

It’s to fulfill those requirements that technology vendors are beginning to create “citizen”-oriented solutions. These include low-code or no-code application development platforms, drag and drop automation solutions, and even robotic processes that will literally move a cursor across a user’s screen, automatically copying, pasting, and entering data.

That’s because even in the most communicative, collaborative, and agile company, there is always a disjoint between the way work gets done, practically, and what managers (and software developers) think it is. That difference is the most common cause of technology roll-out failure (at worst), or spiraling development/deployment costs (more commonly).

Keeping the cohesion between employees and the tools they need is crucial, therefore, and the tools used to create automation and efficiencies must be wielded by the people who are to gain. That means when an RPA is being rolled out, having the end-users create their own solutions is a highly important element in creating a successful digital transformation project.

Those we recommend

This article is not the place to discuss every aspect of planning and enacting an RPA roll-out (there’s simply not space). Instead, we would like to present three suppliers of the types of products that we feel — accompanied by the right project management approach and methodologies — will aid any organization hoping to realize the gains possible from astute transformation projects.

CATALYTIC

As our longer article where we talk to Catalytic’s CEO Sean Chou shows, this is a company that puts the people in a business first when it comes to automation. That’s a big differentiator because almost every person in even a small business uses technology all day, every day. Changing the way people work with each other, therefore, is as much a goal as the automation of processes. In fact, the two are inextricably linked.

The Catalytic engine makes use of AI in discrete and useful ways:sentiment analysis, for example, a technology that uses NLP (natural language processing), can be part of any decision tree, triggering actions as easily as a “traditional” logical check (if this, then that).

For users, the setup of Catalytic is nearly as simple as linking together “normal English” sentences, where phrases like “update Workday record” are undoubtedly more powerful, in terms of engaging the users themselves as citizen developers, than hacking through the back-end database naming schema.

The underlying power of the Catalytic system is abstracted away from the user, but it’s certainly there in spades. There are hundreds of connectors, pre-built actions, and an intelligent automation creation engine that’s as powerful as it is simple.

This is the human face of automation: all the tech, none of the exposed wiring. And your employees will thank you for it.

Read more here on the pages of TechHQ.

KOFAX

Kofax’s solutions are like a glimpse of the future, where new working methods can become an everyday reality. Its Intelligent Automation platform helps organizations transform information-intensive processes, aids the reduction of manual work and errors, minimizes costs, and improves engagement of both internal employees and end-users. The platform is a combination of RPA, cognitive capture of processes, and analytics that delivers compliance mitigation and increased competitiveness, growth, and profitability.

The solution integrates with a broad range of third-party applications and settings, including websites, portals, enterprise systems, Excel, email, and SQL – anything that can interchange data via XML, JSON, or CSV, for example. There’s an API if there is no pre-built connector, such as for non-standard business applications (like bespoke software).

The solution can be installed in-house, or on cloud, and the Kofax platform runs with a server-side in-memory infrastructure and centralized robot execution. That delivers greater scalability with a low total cost of ownership (TCO) and a small virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) footprint. It’s particularly effective in automating web apps, with a built-in web engine removing a need for multiple browsers running in virtual desktops.

AI automates document acquisition, understanding, and integration for business processes—including unstructured data like documents, emails, and images. There is built-in analytics so you can see how well robotic systems are performing, and robots can easily interact with external systems. You can read more about the Kofax solution here.

ANTWORKS

Antworks’s claim is justified: it delivers the industry’s first automation platform that utilizes fractal science to understand data types that businesses work with, whether structured or unstructured. The marvelously named ANTstein Square platform seeks to resolve the “elephant in the room” of the information age, which is the problematic fact that not all information can be ingested easily by computers. In fact, in the RPA industry, processing unstructured data can account for up to 80 percent of data.

As soon as documents or information do not fit specific types or layouts (anything outside expectations — handwritten information being the most extreme example), RPA can stumble. The AntWorks ANTstein SQUARE platform uses self-teaching algorithms to parse handwritten notes, can mine images for crucial information, and copes with those edge cases that traditional solutions must ignore.

The company’s business outcomes-driven approach means that its automation platform is the first solution that provides a cognitive framework in which bots can work; and each bot, like each human in the organization, is measured for its overall productivity.

That means the solution is continually adapting, scaling, and striving to improve outcomes across the business. Furthermore, its fractal math algorithms mean relatively small data sets can train the central cognitive engine, so benefits arrive quickly, and accuracy levels are high from the start — and only improve. With a no-code/low-code environment, this is a highly usable, powerful, and intelligent automation platform.

*Some of the companies featured are commercial partners of TechHQ