Automation is hot topic these days, and just about every product on the market has some form of AI/ML built into it. It is becoming evident that whether we like it or not, vendors understand that the relationship between human workers and data is changing at a very quick pace. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we will be soon asking our robot overlords permission to take a bathroom break, but it does mean that we are currently living in an automation driven future and need to embrace it.
Tech Field Day 19 saw the first ever presentation from a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) company. Automation Anywhere presented their RPA vision to the delegates over the course of a few hours and gave us a lot to think about when it comes to this relatively newer offshoot in the realm of enterprise software.
The “whats” and “whys” of RPA
RPA was a fairly new term for me going into TFD19, so I did a little bit of homework to prep for this presentation. RPA is essentially way to automate “robotic” processes that humans perform, typically within some type of application. Imagine on-boarding a new employee into an organization and having to launch a HR application to create accounts, grant permissions, etc. Another use case could be a human launching a bunch of different websites to extract and gather data for further analysis. Mihir Shukla, CEO of Automation Anywhere, presented to TFD19 and explained his companies vision to:
Automate virtually any application that can be automated. In a developer’s language, it is converting every screen into a virtual API so that anybody can automate any application.
Mihir continued to discuss how many jobs today have high levels of robotic processes. Humans still have to do and touch a lot of things that keep us from performing the “creative” work that separates us from our software defined counterparts. Today, only about 4% of jobs in most developed countries require a medium level of creativity. One of the goals of this technology platform is to increase the amount of creative work that is available to the next generation of workers.
All of the software we use changes how we work. Mihir described how excited he is that RPA can possible change the definition of what that work is. His passion is not only in leading a software company that is providing a cutting edge RPA product, but in helping to contribute to our society and work towards bringing about newer, more creative types of work for human beings. It certainly a positive vision of the value that something like Automation Anywhere can bring to people, and one that generated a lot of discussion during the TFD19 presentation.
The RPA product itself
Automation Anywhere brings the concept of bots to the table, where a bot defines and performs a set of processes that would typically be done by a human. Developers have the ability to create bots from an almost limitless landscape of options. Bots are also available via a Bot Store, which provides partner and user created bots for use by anyone within the Automation Anywhere platform.
The use cases for Automation Anywhere don’t fit into one particular mold, and neither does the type of user/organization. Automation Anywhere is proud to show that their platform is built for all markets, user personas and delivery models. While it does seem like larger organizations may be more suitably ready for RPA, any organization regardless of size surely could find some kind of use case and a team that could operationalize a few basic bots.
Automation Anywhere also tries to address the needs of a wide variety of workers. Just because you aren’t a developer doesn’t mean that you can’t consume bots or get benefits out of the platform. There are ways within the platform to provide value to both creators and consumers of bots. Like any other platform in 2019, there are also cloud, on-prem and mobile delivery models. This flexibility lends itself well for Automation Anywhere to stake it’s claim as a platform that can cast a very wide net.
Where the rubber meets the road
All of this is great at a high level, but at the end of the day this is still a product humans need to interact with. Automation Anywhere is very aware of that and has built not only a great community around RPA adoption, but also an educational platform that is accessible to users of all skill sets. You can access this information at Automation Anywhere University, where you can join and even take many online courses for free! Personally, I learn things much better from getting hands on experience, and I wanted to see what building and deploying a bot actually entailed. First, I downloaded the Community Edition of Automation Anywhere, which is free and available to users who are looking to test out the platform. I then signed up for a free university account and delved into the entry level “Build Your First Bot” course. The course is designed to give you some basic information about RPA and Automation Anywhere in a similar fashion to many other self-paced learning platforms.
The course continues to step through the building of a basic bot. In this case, the bot is meant to grab stock values from any website that provides current stock quotes. While the process can be followed along solely in the video, it was much more education (and fun!) to actually click along via the Community Edition that I installed earlier.
The course guides you through every single step that is needed to record your human actions that lead to observing a stock price. Once those actions are recorded, you have the ability to manually enter steps, as in this case displaying the output of that stock price into a message box popup. Interestingly enough, I ran into a “minor” issue where the URL I had recorded was for www.nasdaq.com, but it turns out that a new UI is being rolled out for that site and during the playback of my sample bot, I was automatically redirected to new.nasdaq.com during the first run! That scenario did give me an excuse to play around a little bit outside the parameters of this example, which gave me a great feel for the basic functionality of the work bench and some possibilities for types of bots that could be deployed.
I enjoyed the presentation from Automation Anywhere, as it was great insight into a rapidly growing area of technology that I knew very little about. It was also refreshing to see that one of the underlying goals of Automation Anywhere is to enable humans to spend more time doing the type of work that is hard, if not impossible to automate, which is derived from human creativity.
Much of what we saw and heard from Automation Anywhere screamed another one of IT’s latest buzzwords: Digital Transformation. To me, digital transformation is less about a specific technology or platform, and more about an organization’s ability to understand what types of changes they need to implement, and how it will benefit them. I can certainly see how Automation Anywhere is providing a tool that could be very useful for organizations looking to transform their workforce, but lots of effort needs to go into how that will happen.
It seems like a little bit of a chicken or the egg scenario. Allowing humans to do more creative work by cutting back on the robotic nature of their tasks could lead to some interesting outcomes. At what point though does spending a ton of time planning for RPA, let alone training your workforce to implement, administer and operationalize a new tool with endless amounts of possibilities just bring your ROI so far out that it is too hard to see the value of the tech? Or is that really the point here, that enabling organizations to spend time mapping out their future via digital transformation is the type of creative work that humans should be spending their time on? And in doing so, will it eventually free us up to do new kinds of work that leads to the next big transformation? Either way, I’m excited to see how RPA adoption grows and what benefits organizations realize from it in the present. The future is bright…’
Disclaimer: I was invited by Gestalt IT to participate as a delegate for this Tech Field Day presentation. While my travel and accommodations were paid for by Gestalt IT, I was in no way compensated for this blog post. I was not obligated by anyone to post about any of the presentations that occurred during Tech Field Day. Any blog posts, tweets or other content related to my time at Tech Field Day are my own views for the sole purpose of creating consumable content.