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How to measure usability when selecting an RPA tool

If an RPA tool isn't user-friendly and isn't built for the long term, chances are the dividends won't be immediate. Read this before choosing your RPA tools.

Interest in robotic process automation has grown rapidly as more and more global enterprises are realizing the...

benefits of implementing automation software. RPA, in particular, has the ability to perform high-volume, rules-based, transactional tasks in a more cost-effective and streamlined manner. Unfortunately, many organizations are experiencing challenges when deciding which RPA tool will meet their current and future business needs. To help enterprises select the tool that will help them achieve their goals, this series will examine the eight elements of successful RPA deployment.

The first installment of our series focused on the importance of developing a sound infrastructure and framework for an RPA tool. Once organizations have the proper system in place to execute an RPA implementation, they must start to consider the usability of the tool they plan to work with.

The usability of an RPA tool is measured by how intuitively organizations can develop, configure and administer processes. Tools with superior usability can lead to quicker scalability, improved development and higher levels of adoption. They can also make the overall configuration and administration of automated processes more understandable and efficient -- all of which increases the likelihood of near-immediate ROI.

The question is: How can businesses determine how useable their RPA tool is? They can start by looking at the following areas.

The visual and interface design

David BrainDavid Brain

It's no secret that people enjoy software that is simple to use, and RPA is no exception. The user interface design of an RPA tool is particularly important, given that RPA development hinges on providing a clear, workable interface that is accessible to both programmers and tech-savvy business users. Key features of a high-level interface design include drag and drop, configuration assistance and cohesive interaction.

Phil FershtPhil Fersht

While it might seem simple, the ability to drag new activities to attach to the current work in progress is an incredibly beneficial feature that some RPA tools offer. It not only makes for faster and easier construction of projects, but it also allows workflows to be reorganized within seconds. Without a drag-and-drop feature, users will be left having to reconfigure their workflow within the tool, which is time-intensive and unproductive.

Moreover, an RPA tool that includes configuration assistance is much easier to train and work with, as it provides simple tips for users on activity or parameter descriptions. These extra details can help reduce the need to memorize every single functionality while retaining high levels of configuration.

In addition to features that simplify the modification and training of RPA tools, RPA products that offer cohesive interactions can help eliminate the potential for user errors. Some RPA tools offer structure-sensitive modules that can guide the user's actions and omit inappropriate steps completely. Having a tool that can intuitively help users avoid missteps contributes to both faster adoption and mastery of RPA within the enterprise, allowing organizations to accelerate their digital transformation.

The code structure

Every RPA tool takes a different approach to designing and constructing automation. However, most fall into one of two camps: functional and object-oriented structured products. Because these approaches can have a significant impact on the RPA tool's effectiveness, resilience and speed of implementation, it's important that businesses understand what those differences are when making their tool selection.

RPA tools that have adopted a functional structure are easy to get started and quick to program. By default, these tools produce single cripples for the end-to-end processes, which include every element, integration and business rule. They also offer the unique advantage of a recorder function, which can help speed up RPA configuration of the ideal paths within a process. A downside of this function is that the tool cannot capture all routes, meaning that additional configurations will need to be made once the recording is finished. Additionally, failure to manage the recorder function tightly could significantly convolute the configuration process, making it harder for the tool to identify what paths are best to take. When selecting a tool with a functional structure, businesses should consider how those functionalities will be used and whether it wants the ability to create reusable components.

It's no secret that people enjoy software that is simple to use, and RPA is no exception. The user interface design of RPA tools is particularly important, given that RPA development hinges on providing a clear, workable interface that is accessible to both programmers and tech-savvy business users.

Object-oriented structured tools do not often have a recorder functionality and will require a greater level of design before commencement. While they may require more time in the beginning, these tools also provide great reusability and resilience, which can pay off significantly in the long run. With object-oriented RPA tools, organizations can reduce end-to-end build time by allowing multiple people to work on the same automation simultaneously. This frees up the process architect to focus on developing the critical path activities of building the business rules and logic.

When considering either approach, businesses should first consider what they want to get out of their RPA tool, and then focus on the solution durability and business-level organization. If an automation tool requires constant maintenance due to bugs, for instance, it's not built for long-term durability or transformation.

No business wants to experience headaches when it comes to implementing their latest technological investment, which is why it's crucial to measure the usability of an RPA tool before selecting it. If the design isn't user-friendly and the tool isn't built for the long-term, chances are the learning curve will be steep and the dividends won't be immediate. With a product that offers superior usability and a framework that matches the organizational requirements, businesses will be able to create a sustainable automation engine that allows for ease of use, simple maintenance and continual success.

Editor's note: This is the second article in an eight-part series by David Brain, co-founder and COO at Symphony Ventures, a consulting and managed services firm, and Phil Fersht, CEO and chief analyst at analyst firm HfS Research.

This was last published in April 2018

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