Businesses need to start hiring robots to retain competitive advantage. Management of the entire process and combined digital workforce (humans and bots) will be the deciding factor in whether businesses thrive or fail in this 4th industrial revolution.
The World Economic Forum’s latest report warns of the scale of impact of AI on the financial system whereby nifty newcomers will dance on the graves of the larger players purely by riding the wave of new technology and clutching to big data.
And it’s not just the financial industry; every industry will be affected by the increase of artificial intelligence (AI). If businesses are to harness the full benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation to remain competitive, they need to find a successful way to manage this new digital workforce before it turns to chaos.
As Kit Cox, CEO at Enate, says, “Bots are coming and coming at volume. If you haven’t got a management system in place, you’re unmanaged and open to chaos.”
But what exactly are the management options?
The RPA golden ticket?
Robotic process automation (RPA) software offers a low-code option to allow companies to automate tasks quickly rather than redesigning back-end applications by simply interfacing with the back-end. Quick win! Right?
Unfortunately, RPA alone cannot deliver the operational results and business transformation required to gain a competitive edge. RPA pilot projects are yet to reach their full potential because the question of scale and management has become more pressing.
While one or two RPA bots are easily monitored, what happens when you have tens or hundreds of bots working alongside human workers? Being unmanaged isn’t a problem if everything is working, but without end-to-end visibility of the human and bot workload, it becomes more difficult to deal with peaks and troughs in volume and demand, and unexpected service requests.
Speaking to TechWire Asia, IBM’s automation expert John Sneh says, “An organisation could have hundreds of bots running simultaneously, but, over time, one of them might break down, and the business needs to know what has gone wrong.”
Traditional process management
Business process management (BPM) is the stalwart software for providing structure to processes by documenting a data model and allowing businesses to monitor, analyse and improve.
BPM vendor Pega says, “RPA is a perfect fit for BPM: if an automation fails or is unavailable, BPM can easily route the request to a pool of humans to complete.”
But there’s a tremor threatening to crack the foundations of the BPM fortress. The emergence of more and more AI technologies is demanding greater agility from businesses. As a result, BPM could hinder fleet-footed business decisions.
As EY says in its report, ‘Get Ready for the Robots’: “Most software delivery methods are over-engineered for RPA – especially as RPA rarely changes existing systems, and processes are documented in the tool. Companies should look to challenge and simplify existing methods and use an agile delivery approach to deliver at pace.”
New technology demands an agile platform equipped to deploy software at a competitive pace of change to elevate customer experience. Broadly, within BPM, the tool needs to access all the data required to run a process. It then manipulates the data and uses it to make decisions. The problem arises when organisations use old, clunky systems that don’t have application program interfaces (APIs). Integrating new technologies with existing systems could then require applications to be re-engineered or replaced entirely.
While RPA software allows developers to create scripts to enter and retrieve data via the user interface, RPA vendors are warning that automating in silo may “miss the forest for the trees”.
UIPath’s chief strategy officer, Vargha Moayed, wrote in a blog: “Launching an RPA project provides a great opportunity to truly re-engineer a process. It requires an intimate knowledge of a process at the keystroke level. By not involving experienced process consultants during the RPA projects, clients desiring to automate might miss the forest for the trees. One may fail to realise how the process connects with the bigger picture when they choose to automate in detail a sub-process or task “as-is”.”
Analysts agree. Forrester states, “As organisations undertake digital transformation efforts, an important realisation emerges: process matters. Investments in beautifully designed web and mobile experiences won’t move the needle unless application development and delivery (AD&D) professionals ensure that the processes on the back-end align to support a true end-to-end customer experience.”
BPM is ideal for defining and standardising processes. However, standardisation is not always achievable, or desirable, at the required speed.
“BPM is really useful if you want to automate and seriously streamline a transactional process in the banking world that’s high volume and has limited variants,” says Kit.
“The more commoditised your service, the more appropriate BPM is going to be. How standards and variants is handled is a common problem. Standard services aren’t perceived as valuable,” he adds.
New era of governance
For service providers, with lots of variants due to geography, clients or products sold, BPM is not always fit for purpose because of the sheer scale of projects. Infamously, BPM projects can take months and years to implement while they encapsulate and document how processes are achieved within a business. This costs money and time.
As such, analysts are predicting BPM will have to evolve to respond to shift from cost reduction to customer experience fuelled by the flood of digital technology. Forrester is calling evolved models of BPM ‘digital process automation (DPA)’ while Gartner uses the term ‘iBPM’. Analysts predict some BPM vendors will successfully navigate this transition. But many will not.
This is where Enate's robotic service orchestration (RSO) offers a philosophical - and crucial - difference in managing a business end-to-end process. RSO offers simplified service automation rather than process management and focuses on the orchestration of an entire service.
Automated systems can be rapidly scaled up or down to meet demand and new technologies can be introduced. RSO doesn’t replace any existing systems, so IT processes don’t need to be re-engineered. RSO steers away from structuring processes as much as possible. Instead, it grants oversight of the entire service to empower a business to make decisions quickly.
Compared to a BPM process diagram that’s littered with decisions, Enate’s RSO diagrams have few ‘diamonds’ on them because variants are managed in different ways.
“We only need data and rules in the system that support decision making around what resource does what work and when, which tends to only be a tiny fraction of data and rules required by a BPM system. The light-touch service orchestration approach actually allows you to be agile,” says Kit.
“In any IT project, the more analysis and integration that’s required, the longer it takes and the higher the likelihood of [the project] getting canned and losing investment,” adds Kit.
If you’re working in a more elegant way, then the way you code your bots changes. Instead of coding according to management by exception (as with BPM), RSO allows you to only code happy paths for every task – automating a task by up to 70% and freeing up team members to do other work.
Another key shift is the approach to managing workloads. BPM uses a ‘push’ approach to draw in workers when they’re idle, dishing out tasks according to how long the work takes on average. This could mean too much, or too little, work is given out. Enate’s RSO platform uses a ‘pull’ approach, which introduces greater efficiencies in getting work to your resources.
Managing a digital workforce
This shift in handling workloads is driven by the emergence of a new workforce. We’re moving from classic system integrations towards a combined digital workforce. Humans and bots will now work together and businesses need a way to manage them effectively as a combined team. If bots do something wrong, humans need to be able to pick things up.
This is more commonly known as keeping ‘humans in the loop’. RSO allows you to flip work between humans and bots as default. If a bot doesn’t complete something, it flips back to a human. We either call these ‘airbags’ where there’s a single failure or a ‘fire break’, which is more of a systemic failure.
“Handling consequences of digital workers is best in the Enate system,” says Kit. “Only when you’re running RSO approach can you make sure you’re running at optimal capacity.”
Keeping an open ecosystem
As intelligent automation evolves, the robotic workforce’s skills and capabilities will inevitably change. Our perception of management must evolve if businesses are to fair the AI storm and come out fighting fit. Instead of laborious documentation, we need agile oversight.
With the market shifting so rapidly and new technologies launching all the time, RSO is designed to orchestrate an open ecosystem of technologies to facilitate rather than hinder change.
If you’re looking to refine and streamline your processes, then business process management (BPM) software is for you. But, if you need agile out-of-the-box technology that allows you to ‘plug-and-play’ RPA software and prepare for future AI deployments, RSO is the solution.
“Do stuff faster. Change the way you think, fail faster, learn faster and be more innovative,” says Kit. That’s what’s required to remain competitive amid the fast-moving fourth revolution.