Fast-tracking Enterprise Implementation of RPA & Cognitive Technologies

By Anand Vaitheeswaran, Director Global - Business Services, Geetha Ganapathy, Service Improvement Manager Philips Lighting

One of the common challenges across large organizations is the business process complexity. Despite extensive use of software like ERP packages, large parts of business processes continue to remain heavily manual, repetitive, error-prone and time consuming; affecting overall efficiency.

In order to address this, organizations have now started looking towards solutions like intelligent automation. While doing this, the primary question before them is - how and where to start from? Heavy investments and expensive partnerships with niche vendors seem to be the order of the day. This sometimes ends up in a tool-focused, one-size-fits-all approach, totally undermining the complexities inherent in the business processes.

There is a better way to jump-start the automation journey. Rather than looking externally for solutions, the answer may be to look at what already exists within the organization.

Robotic Process Automation

Automation by itself is not an entirely new concept in Information Technology. It has been in use through jobs, scripts, and other mechanisms in domains like IT Operations, Infrastructure Management and Testing for many decades now. In recent times, with vast improvement in computing technologies, automation has gone beyond traditional areas and has expanded into the area of business process execution. Robotic Process Automation or RPA is an example of this. 

According to IRPA (Institute for Robotic Process Automation), Robotic process automation is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a “robot” to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems. RPA is being successfully implemented  in areas like Customer Support and Service Desk, Invoice Processing, Claims processing in the Insurance Sector, to name a few.

Bots like these do not always require proprietary technology for implementation. With some code enhancements and ingenuity, an organization’s existing automation tool or framework can double up as an RPA tool. An automated testing tool is one such option.

Thinking Out of the Testing Box

Typically, any Enterprise that has a mature Testing practice will have reasonably high number of automated test scripts. An automated test script is a piece of code that runs without human intervention to execute a series of predefined steps to test the working of a business process. The first step for enabling RPA would be to leverage these automated test assets.

According to Ernst and Young, a classic candidate for RPA has three key characteristics:

• The actions are consistent, with the same step being performed repeatedly

• It is template driven, with data being entered into specific fields in a repetitive manner

• It is rule-based, to allow decision flows to alter dynamically

A positive automated test case usually satisfies the above three characteristics and so, is a ready RPA candidate.

Consider a product pricing functionality available out-of-the-box in any standard ERP solution. A sales executive uses this particular functionality by entering a particular combination of inputs (product type, country being sold in, sales channel) in predefined screens, to generate price quotes. Once the price quote is generated, the sales executive validates the price for accuracy and uses it as input in the next set of processes that follow. An automated script mimics this user action. It keys in needed data into a predefined template and follows a rule based sequence to test the functionality, satisfying the three criteria mentioned above. With the right set of data inputs it will not take much for test scripts to replace a human operator in production environment. The test script can now act like an RPA bot. Thus, with innovative thinking, existing assets can transform into RPA bots and kick-start an Enterprise’s RPA journey.

The Cognitive Factor

Not all process challenges are simple enough to be addressed by pre-programmed scripts. Some involve human intervention and decision making. This is where cognitive technologies play a key role. According to Deloitte, the integration of cognitive capabilities with RPA frameworks is already happening and presents a huge opportunity as companies evolve digitally.

Cognitive automation enables decision support with the help of advanced algorithms. In the pricing scenario too, cognition can be applied. For instance, after pricing quotes are generated, with the help of cognitive technologies they can be dynamically validated against market sentiments or competitor data and adjusted accordingly. By implementing dynamic pricing via cognition, companies can improve their responsiveness and flexibility, thereby gaining significant competitive advantage.

End Note

Enterprises are getting increasingly complex, and the role of IT systems in ensuring their success has never been more critical than it is now. There is rising expectation that IT systems work without disruptions despite the errors caused due to human mistakes. This is the most crucial aspect RPA addresses. As companies seek to explore the advantages of RPA, the worry of big budgets and complex solutions need not stifle their ambitions. By better leveraging already existing tools, teams and assets, enterprises can fast-track their RPA journey.

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