Category Archives: RPA

RPA just wants to be free: @WorkFusion RPA Express

Last week, WorkFusion announced that their robotic process automation product, RPA Express, will be released in 2017 as a free product; they published a blog post as well as the press release, and today they hosted a webinar to talk more about it. They are taking requests to join the beta program now, with a plan to launch publicly at the end of Q1 2017.

WorkFusion has a lot of interesting features in their RPA Express and Smart Process Automation (SPA) products, but today’s webinar was really about their business model for RPA Express. This is not a limited-time trial, it’s a free enterprise-ready product that can generate business benefit. Free to purchase and no annual maintenance fees, although you obviously have infrastructure costs for the servers/desktops on which RPA Express runs. Their goal in making it free is to bypass the whole RFP-POC-ROI dance that goes on in most organizations, where a decision to implement RPA – which typically can show a pretty good ROI within a matter of weeks – can take months. With a free product, one major barrier to implementation has been removed.

So what’s the catch? WorkFusion has a more intelligent automation tool, SPA, and they’re hoping that by seeing the benefits of using RPA Express, organizations will want to try out SPA on their more complex automation needs. RPA Express uses deterministic, rules-based automation, which requires explicit training or specification of each action to be taken; SPA uses machine learning to learn from user actions in order to perform automation of tasks that would typically require human intervention, such as handling unstructured and dynamic data. WorkFusion envisions a “stairway to digital operations” that starts with RPA, then steps up the intelligence with cognitive processing, chatbots and crowdsourcing to a full set of cognitive services in SPA.

This doesn’t mean that RPA Express is just a “starter edition” for SPA: there are entire classes of processes that can be handled with deterministic automation, such as synchronizing data between systems that may not talk to each other, such as SAP and Salesforce. This replaces having a worker copy and paste information between screens, or (horrors!) re-type the information in two or more systems; it can result in a huge reduction in cost and time, and remove the tedious work from people to free them up for more complex decision-making or direct customer interaction.

RPA Express bots can also be called from other orchestration and automation tools, including a BPMS, and can run on a server or on individual desktops. We didn’t get a rundown of the technology, so more to come on that as they get closer to the release. We did see one or two screens, and it’s based on modeling processes using a subset of BPMN (start and end events, activities, XOR gateways) that can be easily handled by a business user/analyst to create the automation flows, plus using recorder bots to capture actions while users are running through the processes to be automated. There was a mention of coding on the platform as well, although it was clear that this was not required in many cases, hence development skills are not essential.

Removing the cost of software changes the game, allowing more organizations to get started with this technology without having to do an internal cost justification for the licensing costs. There’s still training and implementation costs, but WorkFusion plans to provide some of this through online video courses, as well as having the large SIs and other partners trained to have this in their toolkit when they are working with organizations. More daunting is the architectural review that most new software needs to go through before being installed within a larger organization: this can still block the implementation even if the software is free.

I’m looking forward to seeing a more complete technical when the product is closer to launch date. I’m also looking forward to see how this changes the price point of RPA from other vendors.

OpenSpan at Pegaworld 2016: RPA meets BPM

Less than two months ago, Pega announced their acquisition of OpenSpan, a software vendor in the robotic process automation (RPA) market. That wasn’t my first exposure to OpenSpan, however: I looked at them eight years ago in the context of mashups. Here at PegaWorld 2016, we’re getting a first peek at the unified roadmap on how Pega and OpenSpan will fit together. Also, a whole new mess of acronyms.

I’m at the OpenSpan session at Pegaworld 2016, although some of these notes date from the time of the analyst briefing back in April. Today’s presentation featured Anna Convery of Pega (formerly OpenSpan); Robin Gomez, Director of Operational Intelligence at Radial (a BPO) providing an introduction to RPA; and Girish Arora, Senior Information Oficer at AIG, on their use of OpenSpan.

Back in the 1990’s, a lot of us who were doing integration of BPM systems into enterprises used “screen scraping” to push commands to and pull data from the screens of legacy systems; since the legacy systems didn’t support any sort of API calls, our apps had to pretend to be a human worker to allow us to automate integration between systems and even hide those ugly screens. Gomez covered a good history of this, including some terms that I had hoped to never see again (I’m looking at you, HLLAPI). RPA is like the younger, much smarter offspring of screen scraping: it still pushes and pulls commands and data, automating desktop activities by simulating user interaction, but it’s now event-driven, incorporating rules and machine learning.

As with BPM and other process automation, Gomez talked about how the goal of RPA is to automate repeatable tasks, reduce error rates, improve standardization, reduce requirement for knowledge about multiple systems, shorten worker onboarding time, and create a straight-through process. At Radial, they were looking for the combination of robotic desktop automation (RDA) that provides personal robots to assist workers’ repetitive tasks, and RPA that completely replaces the worker on an unattended desktop. I’m not sure if every vendor makes a distinction between what OpenSpan calls RDA and RPA; it’s really the same technology, although there are some additional monitoring and virtualization bits required for the headless version.

OpenSpan provides the usual RPA desktop automation capabilities, but also includes the (somewhat creepy) ability to track and analyze worker behavior: basically, what they’re typing into what application in what context, and present it in their Opportunity Finder. This information can be mined for patterns in order to understand how people do their job — much the way that process mining works, but based on user interactions rather than system log files — and automate the parts that are done the same way each time. This can be an end in itself, or a stepping stone to a replacement of the desktop apps entirely, providing interim relief while a full Pega BPM/CRM implementation is being developed, for example. Furthermore, the analytics about the user activities on the desktop can feed into requirements for any replacement initiative, both the general flow as well as an analysis of the decisions made based on what data was presented.

OpenSpan and Pega aren’t (exactly) competitive technologies: OpenSpan can be used for desktop automation where replacement is not an option, or can be used to as a quick fix while performing desktop process discovery to accelerate a full Pega desktop replacement project. OpenSpan paves the cowpaths, while a Pega implementation is usually a more fundamental innovation that may not be warranted in all situations. I can also imagine scenarios where a current Pega customer uses OpenSpan to automate the interaction between Pega and legacy applications that still exist on the desktop. From a Pega sales standpoint, OpenSpan may also act as the camel’s nose in the tent to get into net new clients.

IMG_9784There are a wide variety of use cases, some of them saving just a few minutes but applicable to thousands of workers (e.g., logging in to multiple systems each morning), others replacing a significant portion of knowledge work for a smaller number of workers (e.g., financial reconciliations). Arora talked about what they have done at AIG, in the context of processes that require a mix of human-required and fully automatable steps; he sees their opportunity as moving from RDA (where people are still involved, gaining 10-20% in efficiency) to RPA (fully automated, gaining 40-50% efficiency). Of course, they could just swap out their legacy systems for something that was built this century, but that’s just too difficult to change — expensive, risky and time-consuming — so they are filling in the automation gaps using OpenSpan. They have RDA running on every desktop to assist workers with a variety of tasks ranging from simple to complex, and want to start moving some of those to RPA to roll out unattended automation.

OpenSpan is typically deployed without automation to start gathering user analytics, with initial automation of manual procedures within a few weeks. As Pega cognitive technologies are added to OpenSpan, it should be possible for the RPA processes to continue to recognize patterns and recommend optimizations to a worker’s flow, becoming a sort of virtual personal assistant. I look forward to seeing some of that as OpenSpan is integrated into the Pega technology family.

OpenSpan is Windows-only .NET technology, with no plans to change that at the time of our original analyst briefing in April. We’ll see.

Pegaworld 2016 Day 1 Keynote: Pega direction, Philips and Allianz

It seems like I was just here in Vegas at the MGM Grand…oh, wait, I *was* just here. Well, I’m back for Pegaworld 2016, and 4,000 of us congregated in the Grand Garden Arena for the opening keynote on the first day. If you’re watching from home, or want to catch a replay, there is a live stream of the keynotes that will likely feature an on-demand replay at some point.

IMG_9776Alan Trefler, Pega’s CEO, kicked things off by pointing out the shift from a focus on technology to a focus on the customer. Surveys show that although most companies think that they understand their customers, the customers don’t agree; companies need to undergo a serious amount of digital transformation in order to provide the level of service that today’s customers need, while still improving efficiencies to support that experience. One key to this is a model-driven technology environment that incorporates insights and actions, allowing the next best action to be provided at any given point depending on the current context, while supporting organizational evolution to allow constant change to meet the future demands. Model-driven environments let you create applications that are future-proof, since it is relatively quick to make changes to the models without changing a lot of code. Pega has a lot of new online training at the Pega Academy, a marketplace of third-party Pega applications at the Pega Exchange, and the continuing support of their Pega Express easy-to-use modeler; they continue to work on breaking free from their tech-heavy past to support more agile digital transformation. Pega recently sponsored an Economist report on digital transformation; you can grab that here.

wp-1465232175851.jpgDon Schuerman, Pega’s CTO, took over as MC for the event to introduce the other keynote speakers, but first announced a new partnership with Philips that links Pega’s care management package with Philips’ HealthSuite informatics and cloud platform for home healthcare. Jeroen Tas, CEO of Connected Care & Health Informatics at Philips presented more on this, specifically in the context of the inefficient and unevenly-distributed US healthcare system. He had a great chart that showed the drivers for healthcare transformation: from episodic to continuous, by orchestrating 24/7 care; from care provider to human-centric, by focusing on patient experience; from fragmented to connected, by connecting patients and caregivers; and from volume to value, by optimizing resources. Connected, personalized care links healthy living to disease prevention, and supports the proper diagnosis and treatment since healthcare providers all have access to a comprehensive set of the patient’s information. Lots of cool personal healthcare devices, such as ultrasound-as-a-service, where they will ship a device that can be plugged into a tablet to allow your GP to do scans that might normally be done by a specialist; continuous glucose meters and insulin regulation; and tools to monitor elderly patients’ medications. Care costs can be reduced by 26% and readmissions reduced by 52% through active monitoring in networked care delivery environments, such as by monitoring heart patients for precursors of a heart attack; this requires a combination of IoT, personal health data, data analytics and patient pathways provided by Philips and Pega. He ended up stating that it’s a great time to be in healthcare, and that there are huge benefits for patients as well as healthcare providers.

Although Tas didn’t discuss this aspect, there’s a huge amount of fear of connected healthcare information in user-pay healthcare systems: people are concerned that they will be refused coverage if their entire health history is known. Better informatics and analysis of healthcare information improves health and reduces overall healthcare costs, but it needs to be provided in an environment that doesn’t punish people for exposing their health data to everyone in the healthcare system.

We continued on the healthcare topic, moving to the insurance side with Birgit König, CEO of Allianz Health Germany. Since basic healthcare in Germany is provided by the state, health insurance is for additional services not covered by the basic plan, and for travelers while they are outside Germany. There is a lot of competition in the market, and customer experience for claims is becoming a competitive differentiator especially with new younger customers. In order to accommodate, Allianz is embracing a bimodal architecture approach, where back-end systems are maintained using traditional development techniques that focus on stability and risk, while front-end systems are more agile and innovative with shorter release cycles. I’ve just written a paper on bimodal IT and how it plays out in enterprises; not published yet, but completely aligned with what König discussed. Allianz is using Pega for more agile analytics and decisioning at the front end of their processes, while keeping their back-end systems stable. Innovation and fast development has been greatly aided by co-locating their development and business teams, not surprisingly.

wp-1465232200882.jpgThe keynote finished with Kerim Akgonul, Pega’s SVP of Products, for a high-level product update. He started by looking at the alignment between internal business goals and the customer journey, spanning marketing, sales, customer service and operations. The Pega Customer Decision Hub sits at the middle of these four areas, linking information so that (for example), offers sent to customers are based on their past orders.

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  • Marketing: A recent Forrester report stated that Pega Marketing yields an 8x return on marketing investment (ROMI) due to the next-best-action strategies and other smart uses of analytics. Marketers don’t need to be data scientists to create intelligent campaigns based on historical and real-time data, and send those to a targeted list based on filters including geolocation. We saw this in action, with a campaign created in front of us to target Pegaworld attendees who were actually in the arena, then sent out to the recipients via the conference mobile app.
  • Sales: The engagement map in the Pega Sales Automation app uses the Customer Decision Hub information to provide guidance that links products to opportunities for salespeople; we saw how the mobile sales automation app makes this information available and recommends contacts and actions, such as a follow-up contact or training offer. There are also some nice tools such as capturing a business card using the mobile camera and importing the contact information, merging it if a similar record is found.
  • wp-1465234409405.jpgCustomer service: The Pega customer service dashboard shows individual customer timelines, but the big customer service news in this keynote is the OpenSpan acquisition that provides robotic process automation (RPA) to improve customer service environments. OpenSpan can monitor desktop work as it is performed, and identify opportunities for RPA based on repetitive actions. The new automation is set up by recording the actions that would be done by a worker, such as copying and pasting information between systems. The example was an address change, where a CSR would take a call from a customer then have to update three different systems with the same information by copying and pasting between applications. We saw the address change being recorded, then played back on a new transaction; this was also included as an RPA step in a Pega Express model, although I’m not sure if that was just to document the process as opposed to any automation driven from the BPM side.
  • Operations: The Pega Field Service application provides information for remote workers doing field support calls, reducing the time required to complete the service while documenting the results and tracking the workers. We saw a short video of Xerox using this in Europe for their photocopier service calls: the field engineer sees the customer’s equipment list, the inventory that he has with him, and other local field engineers who might have different skills or inventory to assist with his call. Xerox has reduced their service call time, improved field engineer productivity, and increased customer satisfaction.

Good mix of vision, technology and customer case studies. Check out the replay when it’s available.