The Evolution of Process Automation technology
Advances in process automation technology over the past 45 years are now allowing organizations to automate virtually any rules-driven routine workflow, with greater flexibility, at a faster time to market, and at lower costs.
If you are in a service industry and your operations require humans to perform repetitive routine tasks, you can be certain that at least one of your competitors are leveraging a Digital Workforce to automate those same processes. Process automation empowers organizations to do more with fewer FTEs, and free up employees to focus their energy on high value work involving judgement and customer interactions.
But process automation software is nothing new.
In the in the early 1970s ERP systems were born out of the first Manufacturing Resource Planning solution from SAP. ERP systems standardized business practices with pre-built processes that companies could adopt to operate more efficiently.
Enterprises typically developed code on top of their ERP systems to modify or replace pre-built processes. But since ERP systems aren’t inherently designed for this, these organizations eventually found themselves carrying significant IT overhead. And it became extremely costly to adapt business processes or drive operational improvements.
In the mid 1980s “digital workflow” systems eventually evolved to Business Process Management (BPM) software when IBM began providing system-to-system messaging between mainframes with its MQ Series. This matured to API-driven and operationally focused IT process automation that business users could manage to drive continuous improvement in process automation.
But BPM software is limited through API/SDK integrations, and rapid changes in modern enterprises (e.g. regulatory changes, the explosion of third party web based applications) have left humans filling business process gaps.
Adding headcount has been the only way to keep up, so we find customer support and back-offices doing the equivalent repetitive, manual work of early 20th century assembly line workers. Processes become slow, monotonous, and error prone.
Introducing the Virtual Workforce of software robots.
The concept of “Robotic Process Automation” was coined by Blue Prism in 2012, having evolved from an automation consultancy for the banks and financial service companies. Blue Prism extends existing enterprise applications – at the presentation layer – and allows business and IT to collaboratively leverage the same systems as users (same validation, same security, same rules, same data).
Instead of tasking humans to operate those systems, Robotic Process Automation allows you to create an automated process – a robot – to work the systems in the same way your users would. So once you’ve trained Blue Prism in the same way you’ve trained a user, you can put that process – that virtual user – onto an application server in a data center and run those processes at scale.
And because RPA use your existing systems there’s no new data, there’s no new security concerns or access. You’re just layering on what a user can already do by creating a software robot that executes that process.