Robotic process automation is not a transformative technology — so says a guy whose company has been recognized as a leader in the field. Robotic process automation (RPA), software that automates repetitive, rules-based tasks performed by humans, can save costs, boost productivity and improve a customer experience, said Don Schuerman, CTO at Pegasystems Inc., a business process automation provider based in Cambridge, Mass.
“Robotics is really about making automation modular, reusable and fast to deploy – all great things, Schuerman said.
What RPA doesn’t do, he believes, is change how work gets done. And, as such, RPA bots present a risk.
“The risk is that companies are slapping on Band-Aids to existing processes when what they need to do is rethink those processes to meet the needs of a new class of buyer, a new class of competition and a new set of expectations in the market,” he said.
RPA bots: Repaving the cow path
In the business process management (BPM) space, where Pegasystems has operated for the past 36 years, automating existing processes is known as repaving the cow path, Schuerman said. The pressing need at most companies, however, is reinventing existing processes to become more “customer-centric.”
That effort starts with understanding the outcome a customer wants to achieve — opening a bank account, fulfilling a product order — and then designing a process that gets the customer to the desired outcome “in the easiest, most personalized and most efficient way possible,” he said. Amazon, Uber and Google excel at this.
For many enterprises, however, designing an outcome-based, customer-centric process will be challenging. Most companies were not built from the ground up to deliver a customer experience.
“They were built around systems that largely were developed to handle transactions, not to handle customer journeys,” Schuerman said.
To develop customer-centric, outcome-based processes, companies will need experts who understand design thinking, which includes having an empathetic view of what the customer wants to accomplish. Most important, company leaders must understand that outcome-based business processes typically cross organizational divisions and other business silos.
“Actual transformation means that leaders of different organizations of the business need to sit down together and collaborate across functions to deliver something that is exactly for the customer,” he said.
Indeed, one of the reasons RPA is so attractive, Schuerman contends, is that it doesn’t require making these conceptual and organizational leaps. “I can put in some RPA bots, I don’t need to worry about working across multiple groups to get that done. I can improve some of my operational margins — I can show results,” he said.
Case management approach
Pegasystems, which acquired RPA company OpenSpan two years ago and has clients that have deployed tens of thousands of RPA bots across their contact centers, believes that RPA is a great “bridging technology.”
Companies aiming to transform their business process are better off taking a case management approach, Schuerman believes. In distinction to business process management (and RPA), which focuses on optimizing single repeatable processes, case management provides a view of all the steps — including one-off steps — that are involved in completing a case, be that delivering a pizza, processing insurance claims or running the 2020 Census.
“Case management is really about taking an outcome-based approach to automation” Schuerman said. “What we found with the case management approach is that you step back and ask, ‘First and foremost what is the outcome? What are we trying to deliver?’ Then, at a high level and using your customers’ words, ask: ‘How do we describe the stages or the milestones that we need to pass through to get to that outcome?'”
Digital process automation tools
Once the outcome is defined, then the group — and it is a multifaceted group — can fill in the detail that needs to happen “under the covers:” e.g. the exceptions that need to be captured and spun off when things go wrong, the work that could be done in parallel to drive better outcomes.
That process transformation — sometimes referred to as digital process automation — also requires a set of tools — from business process software to orchestrate the steps, to excellent mobile and web front ends, to APIs and to RPA bots for getting data from systems that don’t have APIs.
“I think the best use of RPA bots is to go get data in and out of systems that don’t have APIs,” Schuerman said. Embedding the rules of the process in the bot, however, just makes the bot another silo — and the process a repaved cow path.