Low-Code: Collaborator or Challenger for the RPA Crown?

Low-Code: Collaborator or Challenger for the RPA Crown?

Last week was the Largest ever low-code conference ever globally, hosted by Mendix in Rotterdam, it boasted around 5000 visitors across 2 days.  So what is low-code, what has it got to do with RPA, and should I care?

Low-code is an approach to development that uses visual modelling and configuration instead of traditional programming to create applications.  Many RPA tools are referred to as low-code, as are many of the ecosystem products such as Appian or TrustPortal because they follow this same principle.

Reinforcing the similarities even further, the target users for these products are often the business and not IT.  Mendix refers to this audience as Citizen Developers, and similarly to RPA benefit from business experience above a technical background.  

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The Low-Code and RPA markets are similarly buoyant with predictions that low-code alone will reach $21 Billion market size within the next 3 years.  It seems surprising that there hasn't been more recognition of these similarities sooner.

Low-code and RPA also provide high levels of integration between separate applications so you can understand at first why there may be an assumption that they do the same thing.  But, the devil is in the detail and it is at this point Low-Code Application Development Platforms (to use the full title) and Robotic Process Automation diverge and become powerful in their chosen areas of operation.

Low-Code delivers fully developed applications across a variety of platforms, include the ability to build entire databases, and have strong change management, version control and application deployment capabilities as a core component.  Building entirely new applications at 10-times the speed of traditional programming tools is the wheel-house of low-code development.

In contrast, RPA mimics human interactions to provide a digital-human layer (rather than application layer), is focused predominantly on windows and browser-based applications, uses the data only from underlying applications, and orchestrates the actions of your team of digital workers.

While the development approach and target audience have many similarities, there are many benefits from having both low-code and RPA at your disposal to deliver a comprehensive programme of digital transformation.  Utilizing each tool for its own strength will open up new opportunities to develop integrated solutions.

The RPA Academy is here to keep you informed in the rapidly developing ecosystem.  We are continuing to develop new insights and opportunities to further your knowledge.  Contact our team to learn more, check out our newly updated blogs and videos sections on the website or browse our catalogue of training options.

Rob 

RPA Is Dead

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How timely. 

Easter. A resurrection.

Done at a 21st century speed.

Who needs to wait 3 days nowadays?

Yesterday RPA was dead.

Today it is back to life.

I knew something was up when I woke to emails and LinkedIn messages saying, “Help! I am an RPA developer. I have been doing this for 2 years. Is RPA really dead? What does this mean for my career?” 

Obviously HFS sends out its newsletters at different times, according to your timezone. So by the time I was online in NY, most of the RPA world had seen this. 

But let’s be super, super clear. 

RPA is not dead. HFS did not say HFS is dead. They just worried a load of people.  And triggered lots of questions. Ultimately for the better. 

Dig deeper into the article.

It is 100% what we’ve been preaching for several years. RPA is not a standalone “thing”. It is one of many tools an organisation has at its disposal. It fits very nicely with Lean Six Sigma. It works really well alongside BPM. It helps you leverage your OCR investment. It facilitates some AI opportunities. And so on.

11/10 for this point alone. Successful organisations have, “a broad and ongoing change management program to enable the shift to a hybrid workforce”.

And 10/10 for calling out the Analytics opportunity. I’ve always believed that the data that RPA creates will be the defence mechanism that any old-economy business can use to beat off any new, legacy-system-free, competitor.

And if you want proof that RPA is not dead, have a look at the life going on here.

A Change of Pace

The last three weeks newsletters have been packed to the brim with news from several conferences, large and small, with groundbreaking news on current and future developments in RPA, AI and the growing inter-connected ecosystem of solutions.

This week is a change of pace as I write this from an apartment balcony in Cyprus overlooking the blue Mediterranean Sea and reflect on this weeks newsletter.  It's a location that provides a welcome reminder that it is the customer interactions, the level of  service, the banter and the entertainment that will remain untouched by automation, even if it were possible to do so.

Looking back over the last few weeks it's been great to see the technology roadmaps of all vendors advancing, but on reflection this opens up two new challenges.  First, the business skills needed to develop and grow an automation program are still scarce; Second, the RPA ecosystem is growing at such a pace that it's difficult to keep up.

We've already started to develop the business skills: check out our Executive Briefing webinar and the new live-online Business Side of RPA course, which will help you to cut through the jargon and deliver the insight needed to start, scale an sustain a successful automation program.

Meanwhile the ecosystem is already huge, and all vendors are announcing an ever-growing list of technology partners.  Here at the RPA Academy we're seeking ways to help you all navigate these new opportunities, expand our technical training to include these topics and build a program of webinars to help raise awareness.  To whet your appetite, here are a few areas we'll be exploring in the coming months:

  1. Process Mining and Discovery

  2. Document Identification and Classification

  3. Natural Language Processing

  4. Dealing with Unstructured Data

  5. Computer Vision

  6. Orchestrating the Human and Digital Workforce


You'll be pleased to hear that normal service will be resumed next week as I'll be investigating whether RPA and low-code development platforms are competitors or collaborators!  For now though, I'm off to enjoy the sun and a bottle of local brew.  

Rob King

When you need some information, what do you do?

When you need some information, what do you do? For most people, the answer to this question is “Google it,” our new fountain of wisdom for everything from David Bowie trivia to the meaning of life.

There are 1.15 billion answers to the meaning of life, I’m glad we’ve sorted that one out.

When google works, it works great, and it should always be our first port of call, but when it doesn’t work, it includes lots of superfluous information that is not needed.

This is a signal to noise ratio: it’s difficult to hear the valuable signal because of the level of noise. This problem translates directly into our own RPA world, where there is a mountain of materials, but the quality varies greatly. At the RPA Academy, we curate well-researched knowledge to share with our members on the entire RPA ecosystem.

One size never fits all, and our flexible ‘learning path’ approach allows you to target the knowledge needed at the point of need for you and your team. The RPA Academy team have launched an innovative new brand called The Beacons, providing ongoing training for all your team. Our online subscription service starts from just $349 per month, contact our team to learn more.

The World of Connected RPA

Blue Prism World arrived in London last week and it was big! Really BIG! Claiming almost 3000 attendees at its peak, the two-day conference was undoubtedly the largest RPA event Europe has hosted so far.
The morning of day 1 focused on partners, providing advance information and a partner-only awards ceremony. The theme of connected-RPA is just another way of describing the growing importance of the partner ecosystem providing tailored capabilities not included in the core platform. Here are some of the highlights from across the two days:

The digital exchange (dx) which provides an open library of shared modules (or skills) features prominently at the centre of the growing community with plans to open it up app-store like in order for developers to sell their work.  

A new browser-based interface really gave the whole thing a new polish, and an updated architecture which now facilitates a centralized view of multiple environments is a welcome step for global operations.  

BP Decipher was announced, providing a new ML engine to convert unstructured data into structured, an overdue addition to the portfolio that disappointingly concluded with the reality that the product was still in development and an invitation to join the invoice processing trial would be coming soon.

A new Success Accelerator program has been soft-launched to help customers overcome the hurdles in scaling up and share good practices. This is a great step, but reading between the lines, it’s also a step to make sure customers stay in the fold and don’t stray to competitors. The market is getting tough and looking after existing customers is a positive step.

The announcement of a cloud-based trial version was a bit of a let down with many in the audience looking for a simpler set up for customers interested in dabbling for themselves that was more similar to community editions provided by other vendors. It's not entirely a surprise that they didn't go quite that far but we can dream.

In the end, it all comes back to the partners and the ecosystem, connected-RPA linked together almost every presentation, and it’s clear the future developments are going to come from the combination of core RPA and partner capabilities.

If you’re interested in learning more about the ecosystem look out for upcoming webinars as we introduce ecosystem training into our core curriculum. The RPA Academy is an accredited Blue Prism Training Partner; we continue to provide flexible, tailored and innovative approaches to learning. Check out The Beacons, for cost-effective training when you need it or contact the team to tailor an on-site course to your specific needs.

As Blue Prism would say: "Automate Together, Automate Better, Automate More"

4 Blue Prism Development Best Practices

1. Single Launch and Login Page

It is a common practice to create a single Launch and Login page.

However, these should be 2 different pages.

This gives us flexibility to recover when the Launch of an application fails.

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We generally retry Launch failures and never retry Login failures since a bot will never mistype the

credential unless it has wrong ones saved.

2. Not using Attach Action

Beginners tend to ignore the use of attach actions. One needs to call attach pages across the object

pages as soon as the start stage to help seamless switching between multiple applications running at the same time.

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3. Hard Coding timeouts

Newbies tend to hard code timeout stages of wait.

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Instead you need to use global data items which help you change the timeouts easily. Changing the

time outs on a single page would affect rest of the pages!!!

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Building all the logic on main page

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Break logic into multiple pages which help everyone one the team to understand the code and fix bugs in case of your unavailability.

4. Building huge objects

People tend to build huge objects. However, there are a lot of benefits when you break object into

smaller ones.

4.1 Multiple developers can work simultaneously.

4.2 Fewer items would break when changes are made.

4.3 Consumption of lower memory.

Good Naming convention: APP NAME + SCREEN NAME

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Training is least likely to help those most in need

The World Economic Forum emphasizes that it is crucial for employers to support their current workforces by training in order to address the skills gap.

Employers indicate that they are set to prioritize and focus their reskilling and upskilling efforts on employees currently performing high-value roles as a way of strengthening their enterprise’s strategic capacity, stating they intend to target employees in key roles and in frontline roles which will be using relevant new technologies.

Furthermore, 41% of employers are set to focus their reskilling provision on high-performing employees while a much smaller proportion of 33% stated that they would prioritize at-risk employees in roles expected to be most In other words, those most in need of reskilling and upskilling are least likely to receive such training.

See The Work Economic Forum: The Future of Jobs (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2018.pdf) for more information.

Your best employees are made, not found

The World Economic Forum emphasizes that it is crucial for employers to support their current workforces through training in order to address the skills gap. Within the next five years, it is expected that over 50% of employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling.

Meeting this demand through traditional recruitment methods is simply impossible, there are insufficient skills on the market to tap-into in the first place. Developing your existing talent is the only option to keep up to date and achieve your business goals.

This will require some bold steps and new ideas.

The Skills Gap Threatens Progress

According to a survey by PwC, 77% of CEO’s see the availability of key skills as the biggest threat to their business.

Furthermore, 80% of business and IT Executives expect skills and knowledge in 10 years to have little resemblance to their organizations today; there is an urgent need to implement a continuous learning model into today’s operations simply to survive.

Successful enterprises of the future will become learning businesses, where lifelong learning is becoming part of the culture and the natural way of working within the organization.

The Rate of change continues to accelerate, keeping pace with the change requires a new model where knowledge is available at the point of demand and the point of need. A knowledge as a service model which delivers the company needs.

Do you agree that the US should consider taxing robots who replace human workers?

I do not.

The complexity of how such a tax may be calculated fairly in the first place is incomprehensible. Never minding the fact that the definition of ‘robot’ is unclear.

Also, productivity growth is in decline [1] so slowing the progress through taxation could have even greater negative economic impact, rather than the reverse perhaps implied by the question.

Governments have to function, true, but a simpler manner of taxation is needed than the blunt instrument of ‘robots’ and this gets even more complex if you add AI into your question

Rob King (VP Product, UK Country Director at The RPA Academy)

https://www.quora.com/Do-you-agree-that-the-US-should-consider-taxing-robots-who-replace-human-workers

How do you estimate the number of bots required for a project in RPA?

How do you currently calculate the number of people you need for your business? The difference with RPA is not that significant, there are more similarities between RPA and your human workforce than you’d first imagine.

Also different vendors licence their products differently, giving some variation on how and what you need to calculate. The three extremes are costing by bot, costing by transaction, costing by time/processing. These differences are important to understand.

The most significant dependency is the frequency of work over time. Some businesses have seasonal peaks, all businesses have fluctuation throughout the day. So an assessment of which pricing model works best for your business is important.

At a simple level you generally have to calculate the number of bots necessary to deal with peak volume.

Rob King (VP Product, UK Country Director at The RPA Academy)

https://www.quora.com/How-do-you-estimate-the-number-of-bots-required-for-a-project-in-RPA

Are there any regulations and risks that apply to Robotic Process automation (RPA)?

Every industry has its own level of regulation so this is the first consideration, you need to comply with all relevant regulation as applied to the area you’re working in.

It can get complicated though, because regulation was written with people in mind, and RPA robots can work differently.

I’ll extend your question to include a bit of machine learning, the two most frequently occurring examples of where regulation challenges the way you implement automation are:

  1. Segregation of Duties

  2. Accountability (Traceability)

Segregation of duties is an internal control to prevent errors and fraud. By assigning at least 2 individuals to separate parts of a task, for example in payroll or payments, no one person is in complete control of the process. It makes sense and is a common procedure, but makes no sense at all if a bot does the job. Having 2 separate bots do the job follows the human process but would now fail the control as the same individual could now be responsible for working and deploying both bots.

Segregation of duties are still needed, but the controls need to be placed at the development/test/deploy to be effective.

Accountability in regulatory terms are individuals with recognized responsibilities within the organization. They often have specific skills or training and are the person who will have to go to court if any breach of regulation occurs. A bot can never have accountability in law, it has to be a real person. So every decision needs traceability (which can be difficult when machine learning is used, most models cannot work backwards to the reasons why).

Risks

Risks are really a separate, but hugely important, question. Companies embarking on any programme should weigh up the risks and establish mitigation (things that will be done to reduce the risk) and contingency (things that will be done if the risk occurs). Common examples of risk are:

  • Loss of knowledge from the business

  • Resistance from business areas (culture) delays/slows progress

  • Resistance from IT prevents progress

  • Over governance slows down progress

  • ROI not attained

  • Incompatibility of systems

  • Loss of control (change management)

  • Costs overrun

  • ‘Solution fails to meet business needs

  • Unable to find / retain the right skills

  • Over enthusiasm (behaviors)

you get the idea, spend some time thinking about these things. They’re no difficult to fix if you plan in advance.

If you’re interested in learning more, there are a few areas you can follow up: I have written a book on the Digital Workforce[1] which covers both business and technical side of RPA, I provide corporate training through The RPA Academy[2] who can tailor skills to your specific needs, and I consult[3] with businesses who are looking to understand RPA or troubleshoot their problems scaling RPA.

Best of Luck

Rob King (VP Product, UK Country Director at The RPA Academy)

https://www.quora.com/Are-there-any-regulations-and-risks-that-apply-to-Robotic-Process-automation-RPA/answer/Rob-King-125

Can 10-year-experienced Windows system administrators do an RPA course?

Anyone can learn RPA as mainly the applications use a workflow and UI to automate and expressions. Anyone with some IT knowledge should be able to easily relate to these concepts.

However there are many other things to consider: the tool — is it user friendly and drag and drop or specifically designed for developers, the trainer (if applicable) — how experienced they are, your skillset — your ability and level to use the tool will vary on your skillset

Azim Zicar, RPA Consultant at The RPA Academy

https://www.quora.com/Can-10-year-experienced-Windows-system-administrators-do-an-RPA-course/answer/Azim-Zicar

At what point should a start up start automating tasks?

This question pops up quite often when I’m speaking at conferences on RPA. From a startup perspective there are probably two views depending on technology.

The first is there is no need to automate (in the RPA sense) because the technology stack is configured in such a way that everything is straight through processing from the ground up.

The second view is that technology is not a key element and the startup begins with separate unconnected technologies that run the business. For example a web sales system, a customer CRM, a finance system and maybe even a separate order management system. All disconnected technologies. Hypothetically speaking, automation should start as soon as the company has established what processes they need.

In reality, in scenario 1, eventually something doesn’t connect into the ecosystem correctly and here automation can be used to serve the purpose of integration. This would happen at point of need rather than at any specific time.

Scenario 2 on the other hand tends to be an unrecognized need and doesn’t happen quickly enough! The barriers to automation have really fallen and the price point for getting started is zero. However, it’s easier (but more costly and less efficient) to add staff than add technology when the startup is less technologically competent.

Not deliberately getting into sales mode so my apologies but scenario 2 was one of my motivations for writing a book on this topic (see profile if interested), it was clear small businesses had lots of opportunity for RPA but falsely perceived that it was out of their reach.

From a learning perspective, I also run exec briefings, these are short interactive sessions to provide leadership teams with the insight into RPA. These are interesting to run as they also serve as myth busting, there are more incorrect perceptions of RPA than correct ones it seems!!! This serves to reinforce the point that businesses start thinking about automation a lot later than they should.

Rob King (VP Product, UK Country Director at The RPA Academy)

https://www.quora.com/At-what-point-should-a-start-up-start-automating-tasks

What are the steps you should follow in implementing RPA to get the best possible results and less RPA failures?

I’ve seen a similar question before: Rob King’s answer to What is the life cycle of RPA?

This takes a macro view but gives you phases and steps to follow. Fundamentally though the simpler answer is good planning, some preparation and an environment that supports starting small and growing.

As a consultant I would recommend tapping into experienced practitioners who can help you to understand and integrate RPA within your business. It’s not that you can’t do it alone, but focused consultancy will accelerate your progress and help you to avoid the pitfalls. It’s a simple equation and from my own perspective having someone familiar with the market will help you select the solution that is right for your business needs, probably the most important of the early steps.

The second consideration is ongoing knowledge and training. RPA solutions have several major updates every year, and it’s not really about just using one solution but the entire ‘ecosystem’ of solutions that together you will adopt to meet business needs. Learning companies like the RPA Academy provide Robotic Process Automation Training and the ongoing relationship to keep you up to date too.

I have written a book about this, Click Home, which was designed to take people on the whole journey from getting started, to growing and scaling up, this would be my final suggestion. By following the steps in the book you can avoid most of the pitfalls, making a few mistakes is fine so long as you learn from them. Good Luck.

Rob King (VP Product, UK Country Director at The RPA Academy)

https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-steps-you-should-follow-in-implementing-RPA-to-get-the-best-possible-results-and-less-RPA-failures/answer/Rob-King-125?ch=10&share=9b277171&srid=CPChY

Does Learning Path = Earning Path?

Learning Path

We’ve been exploring "Learning Paths" over the last few months.

It gets pretty complicated. 

Just look at the Blue Prism paths we’ve been sketching out.

This is simplistic.

Learning Paths

It ignores the real barriers individuals face.

Everyone has different needs, pressures, plans, objectives, and visions.

All at different times. With everyone moving at different speeds.

The logic is very simple: “Have More Knowledge = Drive More Value = Get Paid More”.

It will happen, either with your current employer or your next employer.

If you can tick the following boxes, you’re going to rocket:

  1. Know what can be done

  2. Know how to do it (or get it done)

  3. Know how to solve or get problems solved

But how do you access that knowledge?

Just within the RPA zone, the platforms are evolving, and Ecosystems are growing up fast. 

The potentials are becoming almost unlimited.

Our Unlimited Live Online Learning model is designed to support you across your learning path (and earning path). You’ll learn what can be done, how to do it, and how to get help when you need it.

Don't even look at these jobs. RPA Job Ads That Will Kill Your Reputation

Some words of advice - for Developers, COE leads, and Recruiters.

Most companies don’t really have a grasp on the skills they need to implement RPA. 

As a result you’ll see recruiters with long wish-lists in their postings. 

This is only creating the RPA equivalent of the duck-billed-platypus.

You’ll see people post lists like this:

  • 3+ years of Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere, UiPath or Workfusion [Just a weird combination as a starting point]

  • 10+ years of .NET, VB, C++ or similar [Ok - not that bad]

  • Experience establishing a Center of Excellence [are they looking for a technical developer or a consultant]

  • Able to analyze and prioritize processes for automation [ok, now we’re looking for a business analyst]

  • Can work with the process owner to redesign processes for automation [Arg - now you’ve got to have Lean Six Sigma skills]

  • Experience of the PharmafinancialinsurancebankingdefenseBPOITOandtherest sector is a plus [Hmmm!]

  • Available to start immediately [Like I’ve got all of the above skills and am just waiting around until this job vacancy popped up]

  • $5 an hour [Great - finally I can afford to eat]

  • Corp to Corp or W-2 considered. GC holder or US citizen [Darn - I ticked all the boxes until this. I curse my parents for letting me be born in Scotland and not migrating before I was 18.]

Your options are:

  • Laugh and move to the next opportunity

  • Apply and try to educate the recruiter along the way that no one has this combination of skills

  • Recognize that the recruiter doesn’t have a clue, so has just parroted a fantasy list from their client [but it is their fault - recruiters should advise their clients]

  • Apply knowing that you are sub-superhero and tick 2 of the boxes

  • Apply, get the job (yay!), and then suffer as you’ve obviously bluffed about your superhero capabilities.

Let’s just help the market. 

That’s what we spend much of our time doing.

We are not HR folk, but we are always talking about the HR issues - change management, resource/skills planning, job descriptions, succession planning, reward structures etc. 

While much of our work is around technical training on Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere and UiPath - online and onsite around the globe - RPA success requires people with the right skills at the right time.

Without that, none of this is going to work.