I vividly remember the days when there was absolutely no integration between software products from the same company, let alone different companies. Automation has progressed a huge amount since then and companies are keen to expose the functionality of their software products through standard interfaces, most commonly being REST API.
While those interfaces have helped tremendously, one often finds the need for human interaction, in order to automate complex business processes. This is particularly true when integrating with legacy applications. While private and public cloud providers are developing AI solutions that replace some functions that may otherwise require a human, they currently have limited functionality and often require a platform move and complete transformation of software and/or systems.
This is where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) comes in.
What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?
Robotic Process Automation is the technology that makes use of “bots” to emulate the actions of a human and provides the interaction that business process workflows typically require in digital systems. Those bots interact with the application’s user interface, capture and manipulate its data to trigger appropriate responses.
Processes that require performing repetitive tasks are ideal for the implementation of such robots, for example:
- Logging into an application or API interaction
- Copy/Paste Data between files
- Extraction and manipulation of content from documents
- Read from or write to databases
- Screen or Web data scraping
and many more.
While it can’t automate 100% of human interaction, the main benefit of this approach is that it doesn’t require huge investments or disruption to existing infrastructure or systems. As these bots are mimicking pre-defined human interactions, they can eliminate most repetitive tasks, while being fast and accurate. That frees up the humans to focus on tasks that haven’t been automated yet or genuinely require a human to progress.
Automation Anywhere is one of the market leaders in the enterprise RPA software space. Their co-founder and CEO, Mihir Shukla‘s vision is automate anything that can be automated and have a future where every worker has a digital assistant working alongside, to carry out mundane repetitive tasks, letting the worker focus on more creative tasks.
Do watch this introductory session by him. His passion for all things automation and the future of the digital workforce does come through in it quite clearly.
What is a Bot?
Essentially, bots are configurable software and are designed to do a certain task with controls built into it. They learn from processes and inputs provided and once created, they can be cloned to perform similar tasks elsewhere or modified slightly to fit a new purpose.
A bot is typically a mix of process, actions, responses and code and it uses various methods to integrate with the various applications or capture response inputs.
Ease of Use
Creation of bots seems like a daunting task, especially to a non-developer. However, Automation Anywhere Enterprise has tools to make the process much simpler and collaborative. Firstly, it has a very nice GUI interface where most actions are clearly defined in panes and have mostly drag-and-drop functionality. That helps a business user without any developer knowledge, to create a process flow with ease. That flow automatically translates into code in another pane. That is extremely useful as a developer can now collaborate with that business user in realtime to interface with different applications and complete the bot creation, quickly resulting in a bot that meets both business and IT requirements.
That creation is also accelerated due to the use of “Smart”, “Web” and “Screen” recorders. They capture the activity being performed on a system or website, which can then be edited, to refine, add loops or decision-making etc. and many other controls. This is also the magic that allows integrating with any system (even legacy systems without modern interfaces) extremely quick and easy.
These recorders remind me of VMware Project Onyx, which many of us used extensively when we couldn’t find the correct programmatic references in the documentation. Just running it and performing the action, produced the code that is executed in the background, which could then be edited and moulded to meet our needs. The different recorders in Automation Anywhere Enterprise give us that functionality and much more!
If you want to learn more about everything that is RPA, Automation Anywhere has created this excellent resource in Automation Anywhere University at everyone’s favourite price: Free! There are courses available for all levels and one can also get certified.
Making such a resource available is quite clever because it helps with the development of knowledge amongst customers or whoever is interested in this product or RPA technology in general. It also results in an ecosystem of knowledge that’s self-developed and maintained.
At this point, it won’t go amiss if I mentioned the excellent presentation by Steve Shah, SVP, Product for Enterprise at Automation Anywhere:
In his presentation, he deep-dives into many topics such as interface, ease of use but also architecture, security etc. I am sure you will enjoy it as it gives a great overview of the functionality of this product.
Any Enterprise-grade system should be deployable globally with centralised governance and capable of scaling seamlessly. I believe this is the 11th iteration of Automation Anywhere Enterprise and it has allowed the platform to mature over time which makes it suitable for any enterprise.
The architecture of Automation Anywhere Enterprise is highly-available with a common database at the backend that highly-available Control Room servers utilise for their services. They are front-ended by a load-balancer which controls the traffic to and from the Bot Creators and Bot Runners. Details of that architecture is beyond the scope of this blog but we discussed some of it in the session. You can also catch that discussion in the video above (at 00:30:02).
There is a lot to like about Automation Anywhere Enterprise but what I liked the most is their emphasis on security.
It's great to see @AutomationAnywh emphasis on security, privacy and compliance for their product.
Makes it an easier sell to the security people and life is much easier. #TFD19
— Ather Beg (@AtherBeg) June 27, 2019
An automation engine of this kind requires access to many other systems, in order to drive them for the required outcome. The speed gained by automation is a blessing when performing repetitive tasks quickly but it can become a curse when it starts going wrong. For that reason, all aspects of security need to be present without compromise for such a system.
Automation Anywhere Enterprise is developed with Enterprise security in mind. They have built all the security mechanisms that you would expect from an Enterprise-grade product. An excellent security whitepaper already exists that explains all those provisions in greater detail so I will spare you the details. You should definitely read it as it talks about all the security aspects that have been considered and built into the product.
Is It For Me?
I am sure it is! That’s because I can’t think of any business where systems don’t have repetitive tasks and that’s true for any size of business. The only difference might be the complexity of those tasks. I have no doubt you will be able to think of many repetitive tasks that no one wants to do, regardless of the size of your organisation.
Automation Anywhere Enterprise has a quote-based model so I don’t know if the cost will prevent an organisation from implementing it. However, given there is a community edition (useable by not only developers but also small businesses), I suspect it won’t be cost-prohibitive for any organisation. I think it will pay for itself by saving work hours that are typically spent doing repetitive tasks and eliminating manual errors.
One does have to consider the learning effort but Automation Anywhere University and Bot Store are there to help. Just like how all of us learnt how to script, one can take someone else’s code and modify to suit their purpose. Starting with basic tasks and learning gradually, every task automated can not only be a great timesaver in the long run but also a huge amount of fun!
Many organisations are using RPA for their applications already (chatbots, mortgage and finance applications etc.) and this is only the beginning. Cost-saving is a major factor in any company’s success and automation allows a business to work smarter and save costs in the process. So, the reality is that the implementation of such automation (along with AI systems) will only increase with time.
Another important factor is that RPA provides the tools to integrate with legacy systems without requiring the applications to change. This is a big draw for companies who are scared of touching their old systems and are desperately trying to prolong the lives of those systems. Automation Anywhere Enterprise allows a chance to such organisations to transform their applications with time and enjoy the benefits of automation, similar to today’s modern digital systems.
Need More Perspectives?
Here are additional perspectives from some of my #TFD19 colleagues on this very subject:
- Automate all the things with Automation Anywhere by Adam Fisher
- Introduction to Automation Anywhere by Marina Ferreira
- Automation Anywhere: what did the bot eat for lunch? by Liselotte Foverskov
- Hot Take from TFD19 – RPA with a Security First mindset by Scott Driver
- Digitalizing workplaces with Automation Anywhere RPA by Pietro Piutti
- Computer, Prepare My Report by Alastair Cooke
Disclaimer: I was invited by Gestalt IT to participate as a delegate for this Tech Field Day presentation. While Gestalt IT paid for my travel, accommodation etc. to attend Tech Field Day 19, I am not being paid or being asked to write anything either good or bad about Tech Field Day and/or any of the companies that presented at Tech Field Day 19. Thoughts mentioned in this blog are my own and in no way influenced by Gestalt IT or the vendor.