Robotic Process Automation, RPA in 3 minutes, These Robots will not become self aware

Time Flies!
WOW, it’s already been a year since I started the and completed IBM training on BluePrism® Robotic Process Automation software as a special project for an account.  Later this month, I will be working with Python and Raspberry-pi for completely different robotic and IOT concepts  at Palm Beach State College.

Unlike in “The Terminator”, RPA Robots will never become “Self Aware”!!,  WHY? Because they are simply intended to do as the name states in reverse. Automate, Business Processes via Software Robots.

Refined once more, an RPA robot simply executes the repetitive keystrokes,  Mouse movements and clicks with logic that executes business a “well defined business process.

Many enterprises have employees executing business processes at a keyboard, opening an application or spreadsheet, evaluating that data and moving it to another application or pressing an approval button.  Spending 2, 4 or 8 hours a day using Copy/Paste, entering a few keystrokes and moving and clicking a mouse.

In the scenario above, the best case is 2 hours of a resource is being diverted to a lower productivity task and worst case is a full time employee is required.  Opportunity exists for potentially high and quick ROI.  What if, a software tool (Robot) could do the same thing ?  One time cost to write the robot (let’s pretend it doesn’t require update and maintenance).  It frees up an entire resource for other duties or frees up 2-4 hrs of an employee to do higher level more productive tasks.  Robots can be run at night, weekends several times a day, more quickly, with less human error and reduces costs of mistakes.

One just needs to do the math, what is the current labor cost of the resource-cost of developing and licensing the robot.  So that’s the Idea in a nutshell. I suggest reviewing the Everest Research Group RPA report  or the Gartner report as a ready reference for more detailed information about RPA and Vendors.

My teams focus was Enterprise Mobility Services.  So, how I did I get involved with RPA?  A multi-disciplined account team was proactively engaged with a client to address ongoing requirements. The account was looking more for early identification of issues and proactive action as opposed to saving labor. the client had seen some presentations and the question came up, could several their few to several hour time consuming tasks be automated? I was the only one on the greater immediate team with a Software Engineering background to provide assistance. 

Working with a few RPA tools was fun. It took me back to my programming roots.  I had to quickly learn a few RPA tool’s develop,  assess scenarios, create a few prototypes and make recommendations.  It came down to a comparison between WinAutomation®  and BluePrism to recommend appropriate solution for the accounts projects.  Actually a few of the tasks while easily done in RPA were quite simple and Windows OS related that they were done in Shell Script and the more complex tasks left for WinAutomation or BluePrisim.

The example above demonstrated that the appropriate choice can be radically different based on what the robot is expected to accomplish, the repetitive action applications they solve, infrastructure, the complexity,  skill required and cost.  The cases where scripting were used are examples. 

BluePrism provided a greater set of capabilities with deeper integration with applications and processes that benefit from optimization.  However, it required more effort, greater skill set and a greater cost per instance of a Robot.

WinAutomation was easier to work with, required less skill to develop but had limitations in standard capabilities and not as rich  integration with applications and processes that benefit from optimization.  However, much less expensive.

With either provider a robot was a robot, large/complex =$X; Small/Simple  same $X.  BluePrism robot cost was more expensive.  Additionally, unless changed, in the BluePrism cost model,  a Robot deployed to 10 locations = 10 robots and cost 10*$X.  With WinAutomation Develop once, Deploy many and pay for a single Robot.   For a more detailed look at the RPA landscape I suggest looking at the Everest Research Group RPA report  or the Gartner report from a sponsoring vendor

My experience and the Video
While creating ‘Robots’ using Robotic Process Automation tools is not typical software programming (my 1st love), it does use many commonly used algorithms, constructs and logic typical of traditional programming.  This can be seen in the 2nd part of the 3.5 minute video where robot is repeated in single step mode where the code in the tool takes the form of a flow chart including moving to a new chart, calling a subroutine……..

Depending on the skill of the learner, RPA’s “can” be learned very quickly.  I believe at one time BluePrism made the claim you don’t need trained programmers to implement robots.  However, unless you purchase development services, you do need BluePrism accredited developer which assumes 3 months training and 6 months to become a professional.   I would say a good programmer or process engineer would make an Excellent ‘Robot’ Designer.

 With RPA you can do amazing things and free up expensive resources doing, needed, labor intensive, brute force tasks to do other things.

Both of the RPA products BluePrism and WinAutomation are good and it was a fun challenge to create a few robots.  The brief 3.5 minute video below is a screen recording of a sample training scenario where a BluePrism Robot automates the tasks of a worker opening a daily spreadsheet of orders and enters them into an order processing system, even calling out errors.

Hopefully, this BTE brief was helpful,the short video brings RPA into a little better perspective and will be helpful to you.  Please leave comments below and  LinkedIn,  or contact me on  LinkedIn.

Bagel Solves Critical Software Issue

Yes, Bagels are Brain food and bring enlightenment!
You won’t find this in any of the SDLC documentation.

If your the smartest guy on the floor, this may not help.  But , if your an intelligent person on a team surrounded by the brain trust of your organization or you know there are others near by that can help this may work for you.

Buy Bagels and cream cheese and some of your toughest problems will be solved.  Good Donuts can work too.

When I was a less senior software engineer.  I was given many new development projects (device drivers, diagnostics) that were new to me but old news to the geniuses around me.   Some of them were inventors of the laptop or desktop architectures you use today.

Every once in a while I would get stuck.  I didn’t know how to program around something, get something to work or I thought the code was there but it just wasn’t doing what I expected.  I knew I was close, the answer was staring me in the face, or It wouldn’t work that way and needed a new approach.

I knew the resident geniuses knew the key to unlocking the door to my issue answer and could save me days but given their projects, schedules and demands.  So, what was the best approach to get help.

Now, I’m not shy and If I know the right person am very much in favor of knock on door and ask for a few minutes.  But if you know someone does but not exactly who and or it might be hard to find some of their time,  let them find you!

How? Brain Food, Bagels.    When your stuck, have a bit work obvious at your desk.  Bring “good” bagels early,  set them where anyone can see, make it obvious they were free for the taking and wait.  Slowly but surely word will spread and Brains will arrive.  The will asking, whats the occasion, work anniversary? Promotion? ….  to which you reply,  It’s Tuesday, or whatever the day of the week it is.    Tell them feel free to take one.  Now ever good sport helping themselves to a freebie will be polite and offer chit-chat.  How is your morning? what are you working on….etc…

Simply tell the truth. going OK, working on such and such and trying to figure out a problem. or your stuck on a piece of code..  DON’T ask for help!  let it come to you.  be fairly specific in the description.   By the time the brain has finished fixing his bagel, the  brain will say, Let me have a look.   Usually before long the issue was solved and I was back on my way developing or testing the next unit of the program.

Clearly you have to pick your battles and need to do this sparingly.  If your office or cube looks more like a bagel shop than a work place your in trouble.
and If your truly new, people will understand.  Find a mentor or someone senior and schedule regular session to go over how your doing and where your need help.  Your learning,  its expected and will be respected.

And If you come across someone with Bagels, feel free to take one, Ask what they are working on, offer some assistance and maybe take them under your wing, be a mentor, check in and see how they are doing!

I used bagels and donuts.  In your office it might be a healthy choice…
Please leave comments below or contact me on  LinkedIn.

Look for my Extra Tip!!!  Hershey’s kisses for pain relief.
Brain Photo from Yale Scientific article  Your Brain on Food