Automation as a practice has been popular as long as the existence of computing. Batch processing and shell scripting have long been a part of every system administrator and IT operator’s toolbox. There has been somewhat of an automation renaissance in IT lately with the emergence of new scripting languages and other automation toolsets. Automation is a key component of the DevOps culture that many organizations are attempting to embrace to improve efficiency and consistency of operations.
Developers have been very receptive to the way automation has accelerated development and testing of new applications as well. CI/CD has matured as a practice to the degree that you will see operations teams embrace it as well to help streamline and document infrastructure changes. All of this automation is great for the technical members of a business, but what about everyone else? Wouldn’t it be great if an insurance adjustor could automate the boring and repetitive parts of the claims process? What about a customer service representative who spends a lot of time routing questions and complaints to the correct department? To automate and accelerate business operations we have seen the emergence of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in recent years.
Rise of the Robots
Robotic Process Automation is one of the fastest-growing segments of enterprise computing. By using RPA tools, IT operators, application developers, and even end users can create “bots” to automate their repetitive business processes. Like many existing automation tools, RPA can leverage APIs and scripting languages. However, what sets some RPA tools apart is the ability to interact with GUIs and CLIs when there is no other way to interact with an application.
Recently, delegates at Tech Field Day 19 had the opportunity to hear from a leader in the RPA space, Automation Anywhere. During their presentation the presenters covered a lot of the what and why of RPA, which was a good way to start as they were the first ever RPA presentation at a Field Day event. Where things got interesting for me though was when Brendan Foley, VP for Product Management and Developer Experience, talked about the many learning opportunities that Automation Anywhere provides to help those who are new to RPA.
It’s one thing to say that your RPA tool is so easy to use that anyone can use it whether they are developers, operators, or end users. It’s another thing entirely to provide resources such as a training academy and a community edition. When you are doing something as drastic as bringing automation out of the IT back office into the mainstream workplace, you can expect there to be a learning curve to be overcome.
Living in Harmony
Lest someone think that the RPA bots are here to steal everyone’s job, it is worth mentioning that this discussion has come up pretty much every time some new form of automation is introduced in the workplace. Heck, punchcard sorting was a manual process before IBM created a machine to do it. As Tech Field Day 19 delegate Liselotte Foverskov pointed out in her writeup of Automation Anywhere, automation of existing processes is nothing new and those who embrace it will continue to find advantages over traditional business processes.
— Liselotte Foverskov (@LFoverskov) June 27, 2019
Automation has been mainstream for a long time when you think about it, however, the types of automation typically seen were machines and robots designed to perform manual tasks. Many of the repeatable tasks performed by humans today are done in software, so why not automate all the repetitive business processes being performed by task workers? As part of a digital transformation project, RPA from companies like Automation Anywhere can help companies realize greater efficiencies and better user experiences.