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.

What Do Sneakers and MDM’s have in Common? The One Thing You Need to Know about Mobile Device Management

It has never been about the device!

To be current, MDM’s, Mobile Device Management systems have evolved beyond Mail, Calendar and Contacts into Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) Suites by including Content, Access and Application  Management with Device Management at the cornerstone.

However, one simple fact remains,  it has never been about the device.  It has always been about the data.  What data can be accessed? by whom? How can it be done to ensure integrity and security.

This becomes absolutely obvious in events that occur every day: a device is accidentally dropped in the dishwater, is fumbles out of your fingers and breaks on the concrete, or is run over by a car.    At that point, do we really care about managing the “device”?   No, from an individual perspective we really only care about the inconvenience but mostly  that we may have lost contacts, pictures and other data that can’t be restored to a replacement device.

The Enterprise concern about a “broken” device is replacement and lost productivity.   A security issue does not exist.  An enterprises main concern is  about the device that’s lost, stolen or compromised so things like this can’t happen.

We all have moments where we temporarily misplace a device or it falls between the bed and night stand.  That’s why there are apps to  to have the device ring out, come find me.  But, at the point that we frantically discover our device is truly missing,  lost or stolen the action we take is is to immediately request that the device be remotely disabled, data wiped and service canceled.   The answer proves once again that it’s not the the device itself that’s important but the data it contains and can access.

From an MDM/EMM perspective, for all intents and purposes the device you carry is simply a black box.  An MDM/EMM is really a means to protect data or securely rendering content on the device by manipulating device features through security policies that control access to the data, should the device get into the wrong hands. Now that was a long sentence, with a lot of meaning, so let me break it down:

  • We’ve already established that what’s on the device that can’t be restored is more important than the physical device itself.
  • What is of real concern is what data can be accessed or transferred by the device, in the right or wrong hands.

Whats needed is :

  • An understanding of how to manage, secure and protect a device and it’s data.
  • To understand the business, it’s data, concepts and assets that need protection.
  • To adopt a business strategy determine the processes and data to extend to mobile employees.
  • A mobile strategy to utilize the most appropriate software, tools, methods and devices to securely implement the business strategy.
  • Understand the various employee roles and associated access needs to business processes, applications, data, and the protection needs for corporate and employee owned devices.

Discussing MDM is not really much different than when friends and family who know I work at IBM ask me, “What computer should I buy?” or “What’s the best smartphone to get?” My first question to them is, “What to you want to do with it?” For my wife and a couple of cousins, a mobile device is only used to make phone calls. No texting, no apps, nothing.  For them, why get a smartphone and data plan? Another cousin wants a device to support her medical research. In that case,  how about a reasonably powerful laptop with sufficient storage?

Again, It’s not about the device—the phone, smartphone, tablet or 2 in 1 computer.   It’s about you—what you need to do as an individual or business, what data and applications you will be working with, what and how much needs to be protected, who needs access, where and when. These things will be the foundation of a strategy, which will determine the applications and supporting software infrastructure needed, which will determine which devices best render that data to your employees and customers, which will lead you to the MDM solution that allows you to seamlessly provide protected data to those who need it, where they need it, when they need it.

The bottom line with MDM: it’s never been about the device. Just as Cosmo (Ben Kingsley) told Marty (Robert Redford) in the 1992 movie “Sneakers” , “It’s not about who’s got the most bullets [the tools]. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think … it’s all about the information!”

Its the same with MDM, the enterprise needs to control or manage “the information”, the data, it’s content and access.  I helped establish these services while at IBM using IBM and Vendor MDM/EMM tools.

It was “Cosmo’s” dream come true, “It’s about who controls the information”, and with MDM/EMM’s,  YOU manage,  protect and control the enterprises information.

To learn more, ‘Gartner’ typically a publishes an MDM (now EMM) report annually called the “Magic Quadrant” containing details about product and service providers.  A free copy of the current (2016 )report can be viewed at this link or from EMM Vendor websites.

I hope this was helpful, Please leave comments below or contact me on  Linkedin or any means appropriate for you.

Including comments about the movie ‘Sneakers’.  Full Disclosure,  I loved the movie, I own a copy,  Dan Aykroyd‘s character,  ‘Mother’ is too funny.                 My voice is my passport, Verify

Telecomm Expense Management, Riddle me this, When is TEM not TEM?

When it’s MDM or EMM.

Several mobile device management (MDM/EMM) products have a feature that is suggestive of Telecom Expense Management (TEM) but is still far from being a significant or complete  telecom expense saving solution. MDM/EMM product features offer an limited opportunity to reduce a few specific types of mobile expenses such as “roaming” charges and unused/under used devices  While these features focus on a subset of devices they do have value. However, these features  should not be confused with a true telecom expense management system that offers a broad range of significant saving opportunities across all devices.

I don’t intend to detract the value of the isolated and limited expense features of MDM/EMM solutions, but I want to put them in the proper context of a mobile telecom expense management perspective.  In this post, I will explain the savings features of an MDM/EMM, how they differ from a TEM and why an effective TEM generates larger savings.  …

How do MDM/EMM and TEM Differ?
To start with Expense is TEM’s middle name. MDM/EMM manages devices and TEM manages expenses.

How do MDM/EMM features help manage telecom spending?
The most popular MDM/EMM expense feature is “roaming notification” or alerts.

Roaming is when you are using your wireless device in an area not covered by your home carrier but that of a “local” carrier. In agreement with your home carrier, signal coverage is provided by a local carrier at a premium cost, allowing you to continue using your device as if nothing has happened. In the Past, you’d typically, get the next  month’s bill  with some surprisingly huge charges from the network providers on which you roamed. Very little can be done after the fact to get those charges reduced.

Fortunately, today US carriers as well as other countries and regions have agreements within local boundaries, and users won’t have such surprise additional fees and is less of a concern.

Unless they travel Internationally!  With International travel, all bets are off. You exit the plane, turn on your phone and it get picked up by a foreign carrier. Before you know it, you’ve agreed to pay astronomical roaming charges. It is not unusual for a typical $100 monthly bill to become a few thousand dollars. Regular travelers can simply pay modest extra amount for an international calling plan and get a reasonable monthly rate (but much higher than a standard rate).  Depending on the carrier, sometimes you can get an international rate just for the month potentially saving thousands.

MDM/EMM’s can detect that an individual is roaming off the home network and generates a user alert so the individual can choose to continue or not. The MDM/EMM solution may also send an an alert to administrators, which may be able to assist the user in getting an international plan before incurring extra expenses.  It’s limited, but can be significant preventing a few occasions may justify the feature.  It may be more effective to identify frequent international travelers and update their plans.

The other main claim of MDM/EMM’s is that they can identify most active users and least active users.  MDM/EMM solutions can create usage reports that management can act upon by changing heavy user plans or removing low-use users.  Some reports only reflect messaging use not voice.  Therefore, it is important to define the usage base.

These features are real and have real value but are not, “real” mobile telecom expense management (TEM) systems.

How is mobile Telecom Expense Management different?

Mobile Telecom Expense Management is by far a more robust end-to-end lifecycle concept. Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Do you know how much you’re spending? If not, dollar signs might as well be spewing from the tablets and mobile devices in your infrastructure.
  • Is your organization getting the best rate plans available for your size?
  • Are the carriers actually billing you at the proper rates? Applying discounts?
  • Do Joe and Mary, who have the same devices, have the same plans? Same features? Are they billed at the same rates?
  • How are you ensuring your employees get the right devices, features and plans?
  • How do you dispute issues or incorrect bills and ensure you get credit?

If you’re unsure about any of these, a true mobile telecom expense management assessment and service can help provide answers.
A TEM service typically quickly begins saving money and has a short breakeven point.

With a telecom expense management, you can help reduce telecom expenses by typically 10 to 20 percent and increase control over voice, data and wireless costs. Typical payback ranges from three to nine months.

How TEM works
TEM typically starts with an optimization and expense review of all invoices, statements and bills for the past three months. This exercise can determine how much you are overpaying for mobile services.  Mobile TEM is a mobile device lifecycle management service. A few of its key attributes are that the TEM service can:

  • Based on its industry benchmarking, negotiate rates, terms and conditions with your carriers on your behalf, resulting substantial savings
  • Process your monthly invoices, audit to verify accuracy and even process payment to the carrier, reducing your burden and costs
  • Manage disputes and ensure proper credit if an invoice is found to be in error
  • Facilitate usage by assisting in the development of user personas and profiles identifying classes of need and arranging for plans that fit the profiles; or on a larger scale helping purchase bulk minutes, data and text at lower rates and then allocating to individuals and apportioning those reduced costs down to organization or department levels
  • Provide a user portal for employees to select approved devices, rate plans, services, accessories and so on, and process them, including approvals, submitting and tracking orders with the carrier, ensuring shipment to the user and proper activation and provisioning

Comparing MDM/EMM and TEM solutions
The complete TEM  picture is above and you can’t get these services and associated savings from an MDM/EMM. MDM/EMM’s are necessary and have their own value proposition.

But an MDM/EMM alone can’t tell you if you were billed incorrectly, inform you that you’re eligible for a device upgrade, order a device and more.MDM/EMM and TEM complement each other and in many cases can be integrated

IBM had a long history of TEM Services prior to the Wireless age.  Keep in mind Mobile TEM only relates to the devices connecting to cell towers.  True TEM includes all the other connections (wired) supporting a business on the internet, including switches, routers and  gateways

Tangoe enhanced capabilities in 2015 when by purchasing IBM’s Emptoris Rivermine Telecom Expense Management,  A software solution which provided expense data is in a single database managed from a single system not one for fixed and one for Mobile. When TEM is integrated with an MDM/EMM solution, it can Leverage the MDM/EMM to also lock or wipe devices and to reset passwords.  GSGtelco has a strong reputation for pulling together TEM,  Device Life Cycle Management and Cloud Hosted MDM/EMM.  MOBI and other Solid vendors are available.

However independent TEM information is scarce these days,  Gartner has not written a Magic Quadrant for Telecom Expense Management since March 29, 2012  even access to the 2013,  report on critical capabilities for TEM has expired. While Gartner has published  a paper “Competitive Landscape: Independent Telecom Expense Management Providers, 2016“,  at $1,295, I have not found one of its providers sponsoring free access.

To learn to know more about TEM and how TEM services can reduce your costs and increase your bottom line?  I suggest reviewing:

 

 

 

Do you know a Business Technologist?

A Business Technologist is a bridge between technical and business/management teams in an organization. The Business Technologist facilitates and fosters the flow of business/technical information and understanding by translating between management, enterprise technology teams and clients, enabling more efficient productive projects and moving the business forward at reduced costs.

Looking back now, my first glimpse of the role was in college. At Florida Atlantic University, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering students needed to take a business or non-technology elective “to round off their pointy heads” and provide a broader educational experience.  Likewise, Business and Finance students needed to take a Technology course as technology is an essential tool in modern business.

A required course in common was “Technology and Society”. The gap between Tech and Business couldn’t have been more obvious than in this class. A history of how technology, inventions and innovations influenced society and culture over time.  Including the creation of new industries while destroying an existing industry and displacing workers. How this activity changed business and human behavior while creating Moguls, Millionaires and Philanthropists.

In the 1000ft view:

What’s old is new again. Cars replaced the horse and buggy and all that went with it. Digital Cameras replaced film, its manufacturing, processing, photo paper/chemical production including the jobs family income and or lifestyles (children’s education) that went with them. Walkman’s replaced radios. Today cellphones/smartphones have replaced pagers, the Walkman and in many cases cameras. Impacts on Society: we have seen the introduction and pervasiveness of Instant Messaging, Snapchat, and the infamous “Selfie” phenomenon.  Consequently, we see less verbal communication, increases in Carpal Tunnel, thumb and hand other health issues.  The “selfie” alone is causing accidents and deaths from careless or distracted users.  There are many old examples as well as ones we see in headlines today. All as a result of what otherwise would be benign innovation.

Business and Finance students understood business management actions, motivations but didn’t get why it would create tension with workers, community or influence behavior.

Computer Science and Electrical Engineering students totally got and loved, change, innovation and invention that obsoleted old ways, but could not grasp or understand its impact on society and how it affected behavior those workers displaced. Progress for the sake of progress if you will.

The disparity was reflected in early class exam scores, hard core Business and hard core technology folks each got about half right. Then there was a group that excelled getting high marks. They were the Business Technologists.

The Business Technologists understood the automobile meant independence,

more travel, need for roads and increased hotel/motel accommodations. To drive local revenues, locations now thought of themselves as “attractions” in an effort become “destinations”, creating travel and tourism. More destinations increased auto demand, creating a cycle.

Business growth needed more and larger trucks. Congestion of cars and trucks required safer highways and the Interstate Highway System. Which in turn decimated small towns and local business as state and local roads were bypassed.

People’s habits changed in the late 60’s and 70’s from shopping at stores down town on main street to Malls, putting many small shops out of business. Today we see it again, how the rise of computers, mobile devices, apps created mobile internet shopping and are turning some malls into Ghost Towns.

Is another revolution beginning to take place? Reports are, Amazon is constructing a large Grocery store in the Northwest. But there are no Aisles for shopping. Shop and pay on line. Drive up and pick up. Can you shop in store, sure, enter the “retail room”? use a tablet and wait for your groceries to be brought to you. A tremendous amount of innovation, automation, elimination of cashiers, shelf stockers….  It’s not a completely new concept In the US there were catalog stores “Service Merchandise and “Best Products”, you looked at their catalog in the store or a single display item on the shelf. Then fill in your order with pencil and paper paid at a register and picked up in the back by a delivery shoot. In the UK home appliance retailer “Argos” was similar.  Today, Service Merchandise and Best are gone and Argos appears to exist as order on-line and pick-up at store or home delivery.

But will society accept an “Amazon” Grocery store?  Are you willing to buy fresh Steak, hamburger, vegetables or seafood “sight unseen”, or do you need to go elsewhere which defeats the purpose?  Will another new shopping revolution occur? Only time will tell.    These factors and many others are what a modern Business Technologist considers in their respective industry roles, disciplines or specific positions.

The Business Technologist understands the technology, business climate, impact on the enterprises and customers. The BT bridges understanding gaps and translates concepts into the language of the audience, management, R&D or Customer.

I saw this first hand in my career at IBM in leading-edge R&D, hardware, software and development teams. The successful Business Technologist helps management understand Development’s issues with why a new feature won’t work or has to be delayed until a future release. While also counseling development the need for urgency, cost of delays, need to meet a market window impact on sales, market leadership and reputation.

In new product and service development the Business Technologist attempts to ensure management and marketing don’t over promise or oversell product features or service commitments, (they don’t always win) as they try to cram every requested feature into plans or products when they may not be technically feasible.

While even the modern Business Technologist might not predict the “Selfie”.  But once the “Selfie” exists and someone has an idea to take strategic commercial advantage of it, the Business Technologist understands a business’ strategic imperative’s, the products underlying technologies and the market to help make that idea a success. The BT can relate to the needs and can discuss fluently at all levels: Investors, Management, Finance, Clients, Development, Engineering, Architecture, Support, Planning, Project Management.

Internal and external forces business and technical teams face at times conflict. The modern Business Technologist positively bridges the knowledge gap between institutional teams to produce more positive outcomes. Attributes of a Business Technologist may come naturally or cultivated over time and seen in the more astute Developer, Engineer or Manager.

The modern Business Technologist may also be the byproduct of experience combined with that of formal education in “Business Technology” the “Management of Technology” (MOT) offered at major universities and within the International Association for Management of Technology (IAMOT) communities.

Can a Spreadsheet Save Your Life?

Spreadsheet with the power to save lives, your life!
“Time is Muscle”, “Time is Brain”

Cardiologists say,  “Time is Muscle”.  The more time it takes to address a Cardiac issue results in long term heart tissue damage and yes, maybe death.

Neurologists say, “Time is Brain”. Similarly, The longer to a stroke results in increased brain damage and yes, maybe death.

It has to do with one of the first questions asked by Doctors Offices, Emergency Room staff, and First Responders.
The all-important question…What Medications are you taking?

I just witnessed this, this past weekend when my elderly neighbors dog was barking oddly.  The Neighbor had fallen on hard surface and I called 911.  Responders spent almost as much prepping patient for the trip as they did gathering medication information from several slips of paper and taking her weekly Med dispensers. However, they asked Questions on the phone and on arrival to rule out Stroke or Hear as the cause of the fall

When your health is in crisis, you may not be able to

respond. Your loved one may be too stressed to remember and it’s also the wrong time to gather the pill bottles from the medicine cabinet.  For all emergencies, including heart and strokes, precious minutes can mean the difference between Death, Survival and full or near full recovery.  Having a medication list and significant history available or not, can save those minutes or cost a loved one’s life.

So, what does this have to do with a spreadsheet?  Creating a medication list in a spreadsheet and having it with you can save time in those critical moments.  Doctors need to know what you’re taking to ensure you don’t end up with too much of a drug, give you a drug known to have adverse reactions to what you take, or if your allergic to medication to name a few.

Ever since my first experience, my mother in-law spent far too much time with the ER nurse before seeing a doctor because we were trying to figure out her medications.  Since then,  I have prompted all my, friends, loved ones and

“Mended Hearts” patients I visit to create, maintain and have ready somewhere a “Medlist”.

Other than the first long and stressful wait and my neighbor (fractured hip, got a pin and doing well) , I don’t have a personal horror story to share where having the list made the difference between life and death.  All I can say is, too often we needed to use the list and fortunately we sailed through the ER Triage, saw a doctor and got quick treatment.

Someday soon your prescription drugs will be available automatically. For example,  in an office environment Modernizing Medicine’s medical office software products can download your medication list directly from most pharmacies.  I don’t know if such technologies are available at hospitals yet but even still they are unlikely to have your history, a list allergies, supplements, or Over the Counter medications you take.

Be your own best healthcare advocate:

  • Be your own Medical Records Manager!
  • Create and maintain the list (for yourself, spouse, parents….)
  • Keep a copy near the front door to take to the ER or give to responders
  • Travelling keep a copy on you, In your luggage, brief case (if you still carry one), I also saved a copy as a .pdf file and emailed it to myself and wife.
  • Have a hard copy available for doctor visits. Many, if not most, have your list in their Electronic Medical Records and you can use the PDF on the phone to review and confirm.

What about the Spreadsheet? There are several ways to do it. Use any available spreadsheet tool to create the list.  From my experience the format shown below has worked great for going to a new doctor, existing doctor and at the ER.

The medlist should contain:

  • Your name and date updated (to help make sure your using the current copy)
  • Your Pharmacy, Name, address, phone. (when you need something called in….its in your chart.
  • List of drugs your allergic to or have had bad reactions to (preferably in RED)
  • Lust of medications you take, who prescribed, strength, how often you take them and for what condition
  • Any OTC medications, Vitamins and/or Supplements
  • Immunizations, important for children and adults, date of last Tetanus, Flu, Pneumonia, Shingles…..
  • Your Doctors, Name, Specialty, Phone and fax numbers
  • Finally, Important and/or recent or past diagnosis, tests, hospitalizations

Yes,  a Spreadsheet can reduce the time to get critical care to a loved one or your self and hopefully help prevent the worst possible outcome and Save a Life?  Start a Spreadsheet med-list for someone today