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Robotic Process Automation Rules OK

By David Norfolk, Industry Analyst, Bloor Research

RPA was born out of business process analysis and the majority of RPA effort is focused on that rather than IT processes
RPA was born out of business process analysis and the majority of RPA effort is focused on that rather than IT processes

When I think of how a Mutable Business (i.e. a business in a constant state of evolution and change) can be made to work, I think of maximum possible automation. Not just automation of the business process, but automation of the necessary governance too.

What’s more, this needs to be ‘clever’ automation that exploits machine learning and AI to automate every routine, freeing up people to deal with the hard stuff, otherwise the complexity of changing systems will get out of control.

I prefer to define AI as Augmented Intelligence (rather than Artificial Intelligence). It rather depends on how one defines ‘intelligence’, but I think we are approaching – or are already at – an inflection point in the acceptance of machine intelligence, where things could move quite quickly from hype to disruptive actuality. Of course, predicting just ‘when’ it will take off is risky – one can’t predict past inflection points…

The big question
I have been following workflow automation – IT’s hidden little secret – for years. The question I have is, how does new AI-based automation – often known as Robotic Process Automation or RPA – relate to the workflow automation I know and love? Has workflow automation evolved into RPA or is RPA a fresh start?

I asked Andrew Burgess, a Strategic adviser on AI and RPA, for his thoughts.

He said: “From what I understand, the concepts are very similar (managing processes across multiple applications), but I think the IT and Business Process worlds have evolved along different branches. RPA was born out of business process analysis (from a team at Barclays, actually) and the majority of RPA effort is focused on that rather than IT processes. I think the difference is due to the users – RPA is designed to be used by tech-savvy business analysts rather than process savvy developers.

“Also, I wouldn’t really describe RPA as a ‘fresh start’, as it brings together lots of different ideas (macros, scripting, process visualisation, screen scraping, etc.) into a single, (hopefully) easy-to-use software solution.”

A good fit
That fits well with the ideas I’m forming around RPA, remembering that many ‘fresh starts’ can be firmly based on existing, but under-utilised, technology. In fact, most are.

In my view, the comment “RPA is designed to be used by tech-savvy business analysts rather than process savvy developers” highlights the major issue facing development and automation today. The business-developer silos MUST break down, partly because the business increasingly owns automation, i.e. the automation budget, which is why I like ‘citizen developer’ approaches to systems development, such as Mendix and Bizagi.

Siloisation is the killer stalking Mutable business automation – and attempts to make the Developer silo more business friendly, such as DevOps used (in my opinion) inappropriately, might actually be part of the problem, rather than the solution.

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2018