By Colin Redbond, Head of Technology Strategy for Blue Prism
In the 3rd of our series on the important Intelligent Automation Skills of the future Digital Worker, we’ll focus on Planning and Sequencing – a complex yet crucial skill set needed for any software robot to be productive, efficient, and effective in the Digitally Transformed workplace.
Planning and Sequencing, which is sometimes simply referred to as “Cognitive Planning”, is classed as one of the “executive functions” of the brain. It is the skill that is involved in the formulation, evaluation, and selection of a sequence of thoughts and actions to achieve a desired goal. As humans, we do this without conscious thought every day. Even the simplest task you perform – such as making a cup of coffee - requires a carefully orchestrated sequence of tasks to achieve the end goal.
Digital Workers must be able to work within the same operational parameters as their human counterparts, which means that an Intelligent Digital Workforce should be able to cope with complex orchestration and sequencing of its tasks, with the minimum amount of human intervention as possible.
Careful Planning = High Performance and Reliability
To automate a process effectively, the process needs to be captured and optimized for execution by a Digital Worker. Recording and automating broken and inefficient processes—the “Digital Duct Tape” approach - will not generate the results you’re looking for. Neither will it move you closer towards a truly digitally transformed process, because the result will be sub-optimal and guaranteed to require unnecessary human intervention.
To achieve true digital transformation of a process, you must understand that process in its current form - including its inefficiencies - and attempt to repair them before automating. Yes, it’s true that this takes longer than simply hitting a record button (as with up-in-no-time Desktop Automation technologies), but the results are stark, when you look at the ROI delivered by some of our customers over long periods of time. A Blue Prism Digital Worker is designed to require as close to zero intervention as possible.
Take our customer Npower as an example. 2 million hrs of work are currently delivered back to the business annually, with 400 robots. These robots are managed by just 2 people. This efficiency and reliability is just not possible without a methodical approach to planning.
Of course, now there are technological advances, like Process Mining - a feature brought to the RPA industry over a year ago, through a first-of-its-kind Technology Partnership between Blue Prism and our partner MINIT - that are allowing us to simplify this process capture and planning stage.
Process Mining allows you to take unstructured data from logs and other “dark data” and build a picture of your process as it is today. This gives you some valuable indications of where you may have inefficiencies - and therefore opportunities to automate.
However, Process Mining alone is not enough. Dark data will not give you insights into the human driven decision making or intuition that went into the process. Neither will it provide you with the “WHY?” behind highlighted inefficiencies. For that, you need to dig deeper and Blue Prism is diligently researching ways to bring together dark data and human insight in such a way that addresses both aspects of this problem. Our partner DXC is beginning to tackle this problem in their APA platform, by combining customised process mining with human process annotation. Armed with this level of insight and process transparency, business leaders can automate processes in their fully optimised forms.
The Importance of Orders of Operation
While it’s important for you to properly plan the process and program your Digital Worker, all that planning would be futile if proper sequencing and orchestration weren’t in place.
Any process will involve a sequence of steps that are likely to have a very critical order of execution but will also involve many decisions and diverging paths along the way. Many of these will involve re-usable and repeated steps. The Blue Prism platform was designed from the ground up to encourage modularity and reusability. The Blue Prism designer and release manager enables a “build once, use many times” approach to process automation. Once you have programmed your resilient integration with an application, this can be easily used in many business processes with ease. Everything is designed to be parameterized, to maximise the reusability and minimise process specific customization.
Thanks to our advanced Control Room and Queue management system, Digital Workers can work in tightly co-ordinated harmony across one or many different tasks. Building a Control Room was not an afterthought for us – it is a core component of the software that has been embedded and refined for almost 10 years.
This efficient sequencing and reusability means we are able to deliver at much higher scale than other products.
Take our customer Western Union. In just 6 months, they have been able to automate more than 21 processes, realise £1m saving and reassign 48 FTEs to more valuable workload.
Where next? Our current research and product development will focus on making this orchestration fully autonomous – the Digital Workers of the future will be fully self-managing.
Data is the New Gold
It’s important to be sure that all the steps performed by your Digital Workers can be audited and explained along the way—especially because of regulatory requirements and compliance audits - but also because having a strong, built in audit trail and metrics from your processes and Digital Workers enables you to identify areas for greater cost saving and process efficiencies. The Blue Prism platform offers best in class, built in analytics and supports feeding data into an external analytics engine. Ultimately, this data will support greater insights and Machine Learning to further improve your efficiency.
Blue Prism is also the only platform that offers true, enterprise grade audit and non-repudiation. Our platform automatically logs and records every action take and changed to give you 100% visibility into your process workflows. The data collected is centrally stored in a tamper-resistant environment, making it an irrefutable piece of a compliance audit, if needs be.
Final Thought – Planning and Sequencing in an AI Enabled Future
In the world of GDPR and the digitally transformed workplace, non-repudiation and audit will begin to become even more important than ever before. Consider how you will explain to your auditors how you arrived at a decision, if that decision was fully or partially automated? Do you understand which parts of your process are driven by deterministic, rules-based decisions and which are based on non-deterministic, machine learning driven decisions? Can you guarantee that all these steps are audited BY DEFAULT, without relying on a developer to remember to program them into the process?
The Blue Prism platform is already the most prepared to support these new regulatory requirements and our latest research is focused around making it even easier for you to extract the data and create the specialized reports you need to protect your business.