Robotic process automation: Part III of a five-part series

Part III: Choosing the right process automation solution

Do a search for process automation or robotic process automation (RPA). You’ll get hundreds of results for tools that let you build software robots. Does it really matter which one you choose? They’re all the same, right?

Wrong!

What’s right for one department may not be right for you. Your team IT might have a solution they’d like you to use, but it may be complex and too expensive for you. So how do you really choose an automation solution?

Choices

Understand the problem

First, you need to understand the problem you’re trying to solve.

  • Are you trying to reduce head count, or simplify a process so as to increase productivity?
  • How complex are your processes?
  • Do your processes contain a lot of complex logic, or are they fairly simple?
  • Do you have to access a lot of applications, or just one?
  • Will you need a high volume of robots, or just a few?

There are two types of automation solutions available.

Process automation, also called business process automation, is a server-based solution that uses application programming interfaces (API) and Web services to interact with applications.

The other is RPA. It runs on a desktop PC and interacts with applications the same way a human does — through the user interface.

Both have advantages and disadvantages. Multiple factors will influence your choice. Don’t choose an automation tool simply because of the hype surrounding it.

So, again, we come back to . . . how do you know which way to go?

Maybe you have very simple processes that anyone can learn to do in a short time. If a human can learn the process with less than a day of training and maybe a few days of experience, that’s a simple process. In that case, you probably need only a simple RPA product. However, if your process has many different scenarios, and each can take a week or more of training and several weeks of experience before a human can perform it, you have a complex process. If that’s your situation, you should be reluctant to purchase an RPA product until you do your due diligence.

Hybrid solutions

Let’s say you determine that you have a complex process and you therefore don’t believe an RPA tool is appropriate for your needs. What do you do?

You could contact your IT department and see if it has a process automation solution that can handle complex processes. But that will work only if your application has an available API with which the automation solution can interact.

However, there is an alternative.

There are some hybrid solutions that constitute the best of both worlds. They’re server-based solutions that can interact with applications using an API or Web services. They also have RPA components that can interact with applications through their user interfaces. These hybrid solutions usually aren’t considered to be RPA, so they’re a little more difficult to find in a Web search — but it’s worth your time to seek them out.

Hybrid process/RPA products allow you to handle complex processes while still utilizing applications’ existing user interfaces. This type of solution can be implemented and managed by your IT team, and it fits into their overall automation strategy. In addition, some business units have been successful implementing this type of solution without IT involvement, because it doesn’t require complex programming or special interfaces. One cautious reminder, though: if you’re going to implement this type of solution, it’s important that you have a good automation strategy (see Part II).

Part IV: Pitfalls in implementing process automation.