Process automation beyond Robotic Process Automation

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been the buzzword driving numerous multibillion-dollar valuations for companies declaring this technology as the answer to almost any process issue. While Nintex wholeheartedly endorses process automation for driving process excellence, we readily recognize that even Nintex RPA isn’t the answer to every problem.

As with any rising technology, the hype can sometimes outshine the realities, and many early adopters of RPA (and other intelligent process automation tools) have come to recognize the importance of carefully and intentionally capturing their existing business processes before they try to apply digital automation solutions.

In fact, the practice of assessing and refining business processes significantly helps identify exactly what kind of automation solution will be optimal for their business.

The core function of RPA is to automate repetitive analytical tasks and processes. The desktop RPA interface is programmed to replicate the clicks and keystrokes of a human user, entering information into various fields and triggering actions to compile data, access applications, and transfer data between disconnected systems.

These automated helpers or ‘bots’ are perfect for automating high-volume repetitive tasks. What happens though, when some of the software it’s using is updated, or the fields change location? Suddenly the system breaks down and tasks can be left incomplete, or processes grind to a halt.

Few automation specialists would choose to interface with modern systems this way because of the frequency of software updates that would endanger the processes and the prevalence of APIs and microservices that render this form of automation redundant.

RPA does have its place, though – tapping into older, legacy type systems that are often the backbone of financial services, healthcare organizations, and manufacturing operations that don’t feature modern APIs.

The truth about RPA

While many of our customers are excited by the “robotic” element of RPA, businesses often overlook the limitations that are inherent in the technology. That leads them to try and utilize RPA exclusively when other potential solutions like automated workflows, digital forms, e-signatures, and document generation might in fact be better solutions for their particular process problem.

Part of this is because of how loudly pure-RPA vendors have declared their product is a ‘silver bullet’ for process excellence. There are two problems with this.

For one thing, most RPA solutions require a significant investment in coding and ‘training’ to get them operational. Few customers are really prepared for the up-front and ongoing professional support those bots require in order to be deployed and maintained effectively.

Second, the vulnerability of bots to changes in the interface or systems is rarely mentioned. Vendors tend to be quiet about how easily RPA solutions can fail because a software layout is updated or has interface changes. That typically leads to companies struggling to utilize the volume of bots they have purchased, with less than five bots deployed being the average for traditional RPA vendors.

There’s more than one solution

Anyone business process, when viewed end-to-end, can be a sophisticated sequence of vastly different components and systems, from cloud apps to legacy systems, paper documents, and manual inputs, each needing to interface and coordinate in order for the process to execute effectively and efficiently.

When vendors only have RPA to offer, it’s not surprising that they would position it as the best solution in any situation, regardless of the availability of more robust, efficient, and effective process automation technologies. Unfortunately, it’s their clients that will discover the pitfalls of a one-size-fits-all approach.

Know your processes first

Optimizing any process, regardless of the automation technology, begins with the process itself. Recognizing the current state, and looking for efficiencies within the activities, is the starting point for any automation exercise. A significant number of enterprises have poorly documented processes or gaps in their process knowledge. That information exists, but usually within business teams and departments at the ‘shop floor’ level, often referred to as ‘tribal knowledge’.

At Nintex, we recommend any enterprise start their automation initiative by capturing that process knowledge in clear, easy to use and understand visual process maps. Nintex Promapp® makes it easy to set a strong foundation of process information by engaging teams at every level in capturing and improving the processes they use.

By describing what they do in Nintex Promapp, teams can capture the essential elements of their manual processes, providing visual maps and procedures that process experts and stakeholders can use to identify where pain points exist. Those documents can help identify inefficiencies, pinpoint breakdowns, and highlight critical processes.

What’s more, by providing clear, user-generated maps of the procedures, it becomes easier to analyze and describe how the processes should function. Armed with that information, management can strategically nominate the best candidates for automation, with a comprehensive view of the process landscape.

As the processes are captured, teams can use Nintex Promapp to identify opportunities for improvement and point out activities or repetitive tasks that are ripe for automation. Using custom tags, they can indicate which automation solution would best suit the task, and where streamlined activities could reduce errors, improve execution time, diminish costs, and add value for both customers and workers alike.

The goal, as with any process excellence endeavor, is continuous improvement. Continually optimizing the existing processes ensures ongoing benefits for the organization, and part of that is making wise decisions about what kind of automation fits the need at any point in the process.

Finding the right automation answer

RPA is the best way to integrate legacy systems into automated business processes that need consistent, repetitive execution in an unchanging environment. That’s not every process though.

Workflow technology is oftentimes a better choice when processes call for human collaboration, a little creativity or judgment, or organic decision making. Since digital workflows can incorporate APIs, they’re also much more robust than rigid RPA bots.

There’s also a place for digital forms, where paper forms are cluttering up process execution. It’s easy to create and dissect digital documentation like standard PDFs, using machine intelligence and type-ahead technologies to validate data at the point of entry and accelerate processing time.

The same can occur on the other side of data processing. Document creation and e-signature technologies are part of the Nintex automation ecosystem, allowing businesses to build and complete signoff on paperwork significantly faster, without a piece of paper in sight.

Automation solutions will never fit every process step, and can’t completely replicate the way humans currently work. They need to be tailored to fit the context, and the right solution should be identified and applied to the most optimized version of the process possible. Any claims of ‘one-size-fits-all’ for an automation technology like RPA is a sure sign that the vendor either doesn’t understand their own product or doesn’t understand enterprise processes.

Use the right tools for the right job

If a business is serious about digital transformation, they’ll look for ways to leverage the most effective automation solutions available to them in a process platform that doesn’t require a huge investment in custom coding. Low and no-code solutions deliver value in days, not weeks or months, with less overhead costs and fewer bottlenecks. That adds up to a lower total cost of ownership, as the tools offer significantly higher ease of use, broader impact, and greater utilization.

We pride ourselves on being ‘upfront’ about process automation. At Nintex we’re committed to providing the most complete, powerful, and easy-to-use process automation and management platform on the market to help companies meet all their automation needs across a wide variety of processes. That’s not just our opinion; Forrester ranks Nintex as the top-scoring leader in its Digital Process Automation for Wide Deployment Wave report.

It begins with process capture and optimization. Then we lead organizations to apply the best automation solution for their needs at every point of the digital transformation journey.

That means any Nintex customer could be utilizing Nintex RPA alongside API connectors and digital workflows, connecting legacy systems and leading enterprise cloud solutions, with the Nintex Xtensions™ framework customizing connectors between the frameworks.

On top of creating solutions, Nintex also offers process analytics and intelligent insights that help identify where process breakdowns or automation bottlenecks could be occurring, and verify where automation is running, how often, and how efficiently.

Moving beyond just RPA

Over 10,000 organizations have chosen Nintex for our leadership and focus on process innovation, ease-of-use, lower total cost of ownership, and our commitment to helping customers find the right solution for their specific needs.

Those same drivers have earned us partnerships with leading technology giants like Microsoft, Adobe, Salesforce, and hundreds of industry-recognized service delivery and implementation consulting partners worldwide.

The attention that leading RPA companies have brought to automation technology is a benefit to businesses everywhere. We’re impressed by the inroads they’ve made in the process market, and appreciate how that interest has helped raise the profile of process automation that drives business performance and supports process excellence.

That awareness and understanding across the market have buoyed the demand for platforms that offer a complete, integrated, low-code solution that will supply sophisticated and tailored automation solutions suited to customer needs. The time is now to discover that there are process automation options available for your business problems, that will deliver fast and effective results with significant ROI both in the near and long term.

 

 

If you are new to Nintex or even automation, start a trial and see how you can easily leverage the Nintex Platform to kickstart your digital transformation journey.

 

 

Harry Lauer

Harry is a member of the Nintex Product Marketing team, located in the Bellevue, WA office. With a passion for product marketing and 25 years of experience leading marketing initiates and go-to-market strategies, Harry enjoys crafting compelling messaging and developing campaigns that grow the business.

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