“It is the framework which changes with each new technology and not just the picture within the frame,” says Marshall McLuhan.
With the advent of the new wave of Robotic Process Automation, not only has the picture within the frame of the 21st Century world changed tremendously, but along with it, a systematic framework of planning, developing and applying the same has also been developed. Undoubtedly, the idea of developing and applying bots to various sectors and domains sounds exciting and interesting. However, is it feasible to apply RPA to every area, and for every task? More importantly, even if one were to correctly figure out the specific domains where RPA can prove beneficial, is it possible to directly begin the process? Are there any steps involved before and after the bot is designed and applied?
We are back with a blog once again; and this time, we shall discuss the ‘behind the scenes’ of automation – the amount of extensive planning and process that goes (and should always go) into the making of your brilliant bot:
Benjamin Franklin rightly said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
The same definitely holds good for RPA as well. When an RPA project is intended to be taken up, its purpose and potential benefits need to be defined very clearly. Automation is advisable only when the task in question is repetitive and rule-based, and hence, a thorough evaluation of the nature of the concerned task is crucial right at the start.
Detailed end-to-end processes may sound extravagant and exciting, but these might end up causing a hole in your pocket if the budget is not estimated prior. Besides the rationale and budget estimation, one also needs to plan the time-frame within which the project needs to be completed; conduct a review with stakeholders regarding the scope of the project; and produce project charters, handbooks, a project scope template, and estimation template. Last but not the least, there has to be a formal intent between the clients and the RPA company that seals the deal between the two parties, taking the decided scope and budget estimate into consideration. Phew! Quite some work even before the work begins.
2. A good process is the way to progress
When there is a process in place, there is a framework you can always fall back on during times of doubt and uncertainty. Again, the same is the case with RPA. When the detailed plan of the RPA process is established, and the contract is approved, the Standard Operating Procedure, or SOP, which is a methodical sequence that breaks down and explains complex rule-based operations step by step, is established in order to ensure easy programming of the bot. The infrastructure necessary for the potential bot development is established, thus creating a conducive environment for the bot-to-be. It is also important to conduct business process workshops, and capture control points and handoffs in order to ensure that the results of the procedure can be clearly defined and set. In addition, the process calls for validating the business process map, as well as any exceptions to the same. One also needs to design the process capture template, modeling standards and process maps, before the actual development procedures commence.
3. Gathering the data
The next step is to extensively gather information that can be crucial during the development stages. One also needs to capture the attributes in data collection, including volume, processing time etc. Another important stage is process standardization, which involves the establishment of certain technical criteria or standard, based on the ideas and opinions of different concerned individuals or institutions. Process standardization ensures validity and consistency of the RPA development strategy. A gap analysis, concerning an analysis of the discrepancy between the stage in which the plan currently is, versus the ultimate desired goal of the project, is carried out at this stage. This data should be further validated in order to ensure credibility and authenticity of the same. Templates and databases concerning best practices should be formulated and analyzed; and the questionnaires and templates used to gather data, as well as the cost analysis template must be presented.
Here, the specific processes to be used in the RPA development project are earmarked, and the possible elimination of unnecessary procedures are carried out. One identifies the activities within the concerned domain that need to be automated, and detailed analyses of cost benefits, technical and general feasibility, and complexity; as well as prioritized and automation roadmap recommendations are carried out at this stage. Towards the end of the stage, an automation roadmap sign-off takes place, which is an agreement between the concerned parties regarding the mutually discussed plans and processes. Recommendation report templates and transformation roadmap templates are also carried out here.
5. And let the games begin!
The RPA development process begins once the recommendation report templates and transformation roadmap templates have been approved. The Target Operating Model, intended at providing a vision to the RPA project; as well as a Technical Design Document, designed by the solutions architect, consisting of the detailed technical process to be followed in developing the bot, is conducted at this stage. The Knowledge Management System (KMS), and Configuration Management Database (CMDB) are updated in accordance with the current RPA plan, so that any changes may be successfully documented for future reference. The bot report and KMS & CMDB updated should be validated, and the coding documentation is reviewed. Lastly, templates regarding TDD, coding documentation and KMS are created.
6. The proof of the pudding…is in its eating!
And for this reason, it is important to carry out User Acceptance Testing, where a person with expertise in the concerned domain applies the bot to perform the repetitive task, and gauges the benefits of the same. A ‘mock’ environment is created, and the test procedure is captured on a video. This is followed by exit criteria and reporting, and test closure. Next, a test suite, as well as an incident closure report and UAT report are prepared and validated. Lastly, templates on test-case, handover and incident report are prepared to culminate the stage.
7. And the bot can see light of the day!
With the validation of these templates, our bot is now ready to face the real world, where it is put to work, and allowed to contribute effectively to the workforce. Post this, the TDD and coding documents are handed over to the client, and constant back-and-forth communication between the clients and developers takes place in order for any faults in the bot to be reported instantly. A back-up of the bot is preserved on the CMDB for future reference. Feedback and Return-On-Investment report are carried out in order to measure the relative efficiency of the newborn bot, and customer satisfaction is also gauged. Lastly, the ROI template and customer satisfaction report are prepared.
The making of a process robot involves extensive planning and analysis, and the continuous contribution of a number of individuals and groups from different areas. This collaborative, intensive process is surely not cake-walk. But when the entire process is carried out with utmost care and enthusiasm, it surely helps to make some tasks a cake-walk.