- Key points to remember when starting process automation
Why are process automation tools relevant now?
1- Scope of automation is increasing. While most major automation projects in 2000s involved IT system upgrades, currently there are numerous tools to automate tasks on a myriad of systems. Improvements in machine vision, OCR and machine learning enabled bots to understand user interfaces and perform actions.
2- Automation has numerous benefits: This is obvious but still it’s the most important reason why automation is now and will remain relevant.
- Reduce manual processes
- Reduce errors in critical data-entry routines like email-marketing programs. Everyone cringes when you accidentally send out newsletters with outdated pricing information.
- Increase process execution speed which improves customer experience. For example, your customers loan applications can be approved automatically rather than waiting for a day for approval.
- Create information transparency which makes it easier to hold individuals accountable for their responsibilities.
These are a summary of the benefits of automation, for more please see our guide on benefits of automation.
What are the different types of process automation tools?
We categorized process automation tools according to two dimensions: 1-Ability to interact with multiple software tools vs focus on a single tool 2- Generalist tools vs specialized tools.
1- General process automation tools
General process automation tools work with multiple platforms and can serve any industry or business function.
1a)RPA & cognitive automation tools
These tools are the most flexible tools in this list thanks to their screen scraping capabilities and their ability to manipulate the user interface (UI) like a human. This is a big advantage in automating legacy applications that only have a user interface but not an API.
Robotic process automation (RPA) tools are new comers to the world of automation. Blue Prism, founded in 2001, was one of the first Robotic Process Automation companies.
We have a detailed guide on RPA but in short RPA bots are the most flexible breed of automation tools. They have integrations with most modern systems and they have advanced screen scraping, image recognition and OCR capabilities allowing them to use a desktop like a human to complete tasks requiring multiple systems.
However, as they gain in flexibility, RPA tools lose in precision. They are not able to deal with as precise, low level instructions instructions as ITPA tools. This also makes them easy to use, most RPA software has simple drag&drop programming interfaces. Any curious office employee can harness the power of RPA systems to accomplish their daily tasks and lighten their workload. So depending on the needs of the project, a more focused or flexible tool should to be chosen.
RPA bots are augmented with AI capabilities that help them learn from previous examples and use Natural Language Processing or image recognition capabilities. These augmented bots are sometimes called cognitive or intelligent bots. They are provided by RPA companies and the line between RPA bots and intelligent bots is quite blurry. Check out our cognitive RPA article to learn more.
- Processing incoming emails buy opening them, saving attached files or pulling out the necessary data from emails
- Completing web forms for you using your guidelines
- Building dashboard reports using extracted data from various information systems
- Completing an advanced series of calculations and then forwarding the results to the rest of your team
- Extracting specific character strings for research using pattern recognition
- Updating your software systems automatically
- Monitoring your security systems to lock down the facility when it senses a threat
- Managing your inventory while tracking purchases, shipping statuses and billing
- Performing quick credit checks and alerting fraud-detection departments whenever they recognize suspicious activity
- Transporting cargo with sensors alerting you about current location, temperature and humidity
- Empowering employees to make basic changes to their basic 401k investment options
- Batch processing of large amounts of data and other transactions
- Building a paperless workflow
- Performing common functions for research-based databases
These are just a few implementation areas for RPA. For a complete list, please see our comprehensive post on the topic.
1b)Low code application platforms
Low code application platforms allow rapid automation of modern applications by non-technical users. They were initially built to rapidly develop applications with GUI (Graphical User Interface). They also involve process orchestration features to enable end-to-end process management.
They are flexible tools that can be used in any industry or business to rapidly develop applications and automate tasks. They are easier to use than RPA tools and can be preferred when automating processes and tasks using modern systems with APIs.
2- Business function specific automation tools such as IT process automation (ITPA)
Business units have specific automation needs and these needs can be satisfied by specialized process automation tools which can automate complex multi-system dependent processes
ITPA is the most popular business function specific automation, helping IT departments automate complex processes. Since these tools are used by experienced IT professionals, UX has been less of a concern in this space.
IT departments have for a long time struggled with the 80/20 conundrum: spending 80% of their effort on maintenance and just 20% on improving the systems so they improve business outcomes and reduces their maintenance effort. ITPA helps IT departments reduce maintenance time by automating common tasks. For example: Provisioning of a virtual server which normally requires numerous manual steps can be fully automated. The automation module would take the steps below and finalize server provision without any IT personnel involvement. It would
- monitor for approved provisioning change requests
- begin the server provisioning process upon receipt of an approved provisioning change request
- configure the server settings
- initiate server deployment
- close out the change request
Incident management is another example. Such an automation modiule would:
- monitor and prioritize alerts from multiple sources
- Analyze alerts and verify them with other legitimate sources
- Prioritizes actions to take and deploys a recommended action plans.
- Reach out to all the key players who require notifications of the activity before closing the support ticket
3- Macros automate processes that take place in a single piece of software/system
Macros are the oldest tools in the automation toolkit. Ever since Excel existed, there has been Excel macros.
If the process you want to automate is simple and requires only one tool like Excel, then creating a macro to complete that task is the easiest way to go.
Macros are extremely useful in creating spreadsheet shortcuts when you have a task that you want to do every day very quickly. Macros organize data and make advanced calculations, text substitutions and mouse shortcuts.
How to choose the right type of process automation tool?
Even before choosing the specific process automation tool from a specific vendor, it is helpful to decide what type of automation tool to use.
Our high level guidance depends on the process. For more explanation, please see our explanations above for each process automation.
Please note that top questions are more important than the questions in the bottom. So you can start from the top and filter solutions with every question to use this framework to make your choice.
- Does the process involve only a single software tool?
- Yes: Automation tools of the software involved in the process. Most software have at least basic automation functionality built in.
- No: Low code, RPA or business function specific automation tools like ITPA. All of these tools can handle automation of multiple software tools.
- Is the process specific to a business function?
- Yes: Specialized automation tools like ITPA could reduce time to develop the necessary automation feature
- No: RPA or low code are likely to be more appropriate solutions
- Does the process involve legacy tools?
- Yes: RPA. Since RPA has been developed to use the UI like a human, RPA is the go-to-tool to automate tasks that involve legacy systems.
- No: Other solutions
- Does the process or the software user interfaces change frequently (e.g. monthly)?
- RPA needs to be reprogrammed with process changes which is labor intensive
- Other automation tools are easier to program and may not require reprogramming with UX changes. This is because they automate by extracting data from other programs via APIs. APIs are designed to be rarely changed as changes break any program that depends on those APIs
This is a high level guideline. Please note that all these tools have their learning curves. If your team is familiar with an existing tool, it could be useful to go with that tool especially if the process to be automated is not significant or complex.
Please sort and filter this table to learn more about the solutions. And if there is a field you want added here, just let us know. Please note that these lists are slightly outdated. We provide the latest list in the links before the table. The updated lists allow you to sort/filter the results and learn more about the products, hope you enjoy it.
|CA Technologies (CA)||ITPA|
|Cortex Intelligent Automation||ITPA|
|Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE)'s MicroFocus||ITPA|
|Linx||ITPA||Free version works as a desktop application|
|Tata Consultancy Services' Ignio||ITPA|
|UiPath Excel Automation||Macro|
Profiles of some leading macro providers:
UiPath Excel Automation is a powerful tool to extract and migrate data. It sorts through data to find and delete duplicates. Use it to compare columns and build analysis reports of your spreadsheets. It also completes your forms using data from other spreadsheets and more.
RPA solutionsThe most comprehensive, objective and transparent comparison of RPA vendors. We could not provide detailed data on especially new companies, feel free to comment here so we can enrich the list.
|Vendor||Free version?||Pricing||Usability - Drag& drop||Usability - Macro recording||Usability - No code RPA||Concurrency||Selected partners||Geo coverage||Minimum system requirements||Support for OS beyond Windows||Marketplace|
|Argos Labs||14 day free trial||per bot||Available||Available||Available||Provided||Global||Low||Supported||To be launched in 2019|
|Atos Syntel SyntBots|
|Automation Anywhere||per process||Available||Available||Accenture|
|Global||High||No support||Automation Anywhere|
|EMEA & North America|
|Cortex Intelligent Automation|
|EnableSoft Foxtrot||Available||N/A||Global||No Support||N/A|
|Epiance Epigenie RPA|
|G1ant||G1ant Developer license|
|GridOne AutomateOne||South Korea|
|Help Systems Automate||30 day free trial||Available||Available||Global||TBD - not tested yet|
|Infosys EdgeVerve Systems Assistedge||Assistedge Community Edition|
|Jidoka||Based in Spain & Colombia|
|Kryon Systems Leo|
|NICE Systems RPA||Accenture|
|Nissho Electronics Bizrobo! Basic||Japan||Medium||Supported|
|NTT-AT WinActor||Available||Available||Available||NTT Data||Japan||Low||No support|
|Pega Robotic Automation||Accenture|
|Softomotive WinAutomation||30 day free trial||lifetime license||Available||Available||Global||TBD - not tested yet|
|TagUI - AI Singapore||Open Source||Free||N/A||Available||N/A||Supported|
|UiPath||UiPath Community Edition||per bot||Available||Available||Accenture|
|VisualCron||45 day free trial||per server||Available|
|WorkFusion||WorkFusion RPA Express||per process||Available||Available||Capgemini|
Profiles of some leading RPA providers:
UiPath is one of the leading providers of RPA bots
Automation Anywhere provides IQ Bots, which are AI programs with integrated vision skills. These bots take machine learning a step further by observing exactly how your employees work. They record that data to program your customized digital workforce. This system can automate many tasks like the processing and management of purchase orders. They manage invoices, insurance claims, tax forms, mortgage applications, contracts and loan applications. It also provides data extraction from digital files and proofs of delivery.
Our checklist to help you assess process automation programs
- Will the program you want be compatible with your current software stack?
- Does it support all of the applications and platforms your team needs?
- Do you work in an industry that requires your data-sharing policies to follow specific regulations? Then you need an automation solution with extra security features. For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act governs healthcare-industry systems.
- If you’re still unsure which processes need automation most, then choose the most-repetitive tasks in your day. Data-entry processes are also easy to automate. Plus, look at where your business experiences the most human errors. Then consult an automation specialist about how to reduce those errors with a better workflow system.
- Next, improve the business processes that you already have. You shouldn’t try to automate an old process with flaws in it and inefficient data-processing policies. First, streamline, simplify and improve your workflow. Then you’ll end up with a faster, better automated system.
- Get other team members onboard with your process automation plan. List for them exactly what benefits they will receive from the new system. Explain which problems the new system will eliminate.
- Talk to a representative from the company you want to work with to develop your robotic process automation or IT process automation. They can describe for you the long-term impacts the software will have for your company.
- Discuss with your team managers how much control the bots should have and when humans need to step in during customer interactions.
For more details, read our in-depth guide to “How to Compare Robotic Process Automation Vendors” here.
Key points to remember when starting process automation
According to most experts, you should start in phases. The main reason for this approach is that it’s much easier for everyone. You set concrete goals that you want to achieve through these RPA programs first. Then you test the initial small process automation to see if it matches those goals. If it doesn’t, then you can try another program. You can cancel the trial easily before you make a big investment of time and money into overhauling your whole system.
Also, make sure every team member gets adequate training before you launch the new process automation tools. It’s not enough to train your employees about what their new roles are in the process. They have to understand the overview of how the entire process works. That way, they’ll know how to resolve any unexpected problems that may come up during the transition phase. It won’t be possible to train your staff completely in one day. Still, the pre-training is essential to ensure a better roll-out and prevent disasters on the first day of launching your new software. Always do an in-house test run first where possible before you begin using the programs with live customers.
Finally, you will need to make sure that your developer includes an “escape route” in your program for emergencies. A real human should have the ability to step in and take over the program at any time. You never know when you’ll need to take charge so that business can continue as usual. Expect that sometimes unforeseen problems occur with the first automation.
If crossing over to automation still makes you feel uneasy, then read about our “Three Alternatives to Consider Before Automation Investment.”