At best estimate, there are 45 software vendors who claim to provide robotic process automation. Most of these do pretty much the same thing at the heart; they automate rules-based, repeatable processes normally carried out by humans So, for anyone looking for just that capability, they are, in theory, spoilt for choice. Robotic Process Automation is rapidly evolving into “Intelligent Automation”, in which the capabilities of RPA are supplemented by artificial intelligence through the use of various technologies, so that even highly complex processes can be automated.
Of course, there are some minimum requirements that every buyer of RPA software should look for, and not all 45 will have all of these, so do pick carefully. These ‘must have’ requirements include: enterprise application access; formal release environments; exception handling; error tracking; secure database integration; mainframe access; API access; encryption at rest and in transit; and appropriate role-based security.
You may, depending or your requirements and environment, also look for remote application access (such as Citrix), a visual workflow interface, UI targeting, analytics and reporting, centralised robot management, code embedding, development collaboration capability and a credentials repository. All of these will significantly enhance your RPA experience, but may not be necessary for everyone.
A little Extra: Recorder Function
Some of these vendors also have additional ‘bells and whistles’, including recorder functionality, OCR, unstructured data extraction and even chatbots. The recorder functionality, where the RPA configuration is created automatically by ‘watching’ a person run through the process, is very useful to start automating simple processes quickly, especially for inexperienced teams. More experienced teams working on complex processes will usually want to bypass the recorder function so that they can focus on the process exceptions. Another approach to the recorder question is to use third party process mining software to help build the process maps. There are also AI-enable solutions appearing which can map processes automatically, including all the exceptions, and that have ambitions to actually write the RPA configurations based on these process maps.
RPA becomes Intelligent Automation with AI-based Capabilities
Artificial Intelligence is clearly an active, and rather excitable, area right now, and some of the more mature RPA vendors are starting to build in AI-based functionality into their offerings up to “Intelligent Automation”. These elements, such as the ability to extract structured information from semi-structured forms, increase the capability of the RPA software so that it can automate more processes without human intervention. The more established vendors will have these embedded as part of their core offering, whilst others will have ‘bolted on’ software from other vendors. It’s important to understand how these additional capabilities compare to stand-alone versions and whether it is best to go for an all-in-one solution or best-of-breed.
There are also vendors now which provide complementary capabilities to RPA software. Two of the most established are Enate and Trust Portal, both of which focus on the human interaction with the robots.
TrustPortal provides a front-end, ‘attended’ experience for back-end processes that have been automated with Blue Prism (which is traditionally used for unattended automation). It can provide data entry forms, created by the robot on the fly, to support a contact centre agent, or customer, based on the process being requested. This can significantly simplify, and hide, the interaction between the human and the underlying systems. TrustPortal also has chatbot capability built in so that the human can interact with the robots running the enterprise systems via conversational typing or voice.
Enate helps to manage and orchestrate all processes that happen within an organisation, whether they are carried out by a human or a robot. Through a dashboard that monitors operational activities, it will highlight those processes that are the best candidates for automation. Once automated with RPA, Enate will then balance the workload between the robots and humans on an ongoing basis. It works with Blue Prism, UIPath and Automation Anywhere and can significantly improve productivity of both the human and virtual workers.
So, it’s no longer simply a question of which vendor is best at RPA. Once the ‘table stakes’ are out of the way, there are a host of other options and capabilities to consider, both from the RPA vendor themselves and from third parties. Choose carefully, as these are strategic decisions that can significantly impact the success of your automation program.