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The honest truth about RPA and process automation

A handful of companies have recently achieved multibillion-dollar valuations by driving awareness of the potential benefits of robotic process automation (RPA) and positioning this technology as the answer to nearly every process problem.

Nintex agrees wholeheartedly about the value of automating processes, but is concerned that RPA, even Nintex RPA, isn’t the automation answer for every process challenge.

Hype around new, disruptive technologies (like robots and artificial intelligence) can at times get ahead of realistic expectations. Early adopters of RPA and other intelligent process automation technologies are increasingly requesting assistance to more thoughtfully describe and plan how best to optimize existing processes, before choosing the type of digital automation technology they should employ to best drive rapid, robust, and cost-efficient improvements.

RPA is principally designed to automate repetitive analytical tasks and processes. This is accomplished by programming a desktop RPA interface that one teaches to mimic clicks and keystrokes to replicate a human typing information into various fields, to access systems and compile information in spreadsheets or transfer data between disparate systems.

Leveraging this kind of “bot” for well-defined analytical tasks is great, but if the fields change location or interfaces change within systems it’s easy for bots to break and fail to complete tasks. Moreover, no technologist would automate this way if they could use more modern APIs and microservices.

So, RPA is most useful for automating tasks that tap into older, legacy systems often found in financial services, healthcare, and manufacturing that lack modern APIs.

The challenge with RPA 

The challenge we increasingly hear from customers is that while the “robotic” part of RPA has captured everyone’s imagination as an alternative to humans, many businesses fail to understand RPA limitations and overlook other valuable forms of digital automation (like digital forms, workflows, document generation, and e-signature technologies) which are better suited for many process challenges.

We often hear that pure-play RPA vendors oversell their solutions in two main ways.

First, they fail to inform customers about how challenging it is to deploy and maintain the operation of RPA bots. Most RPA solutions require significant coding to get up and running which means budgeting for up-front and ongoing professional services, and the time and expense to properly implement.

Second, RPA vendors also fail to point out that bots tend to be brittle because they are hardcoded to key fields and frequently fail with each change in the layout or position of fields within a system user interface. This has resulted in companies struggling to implement and maintain bots with traditional bot vendors averaging less than five bots deployed at a company, despite much larger initial purchase levels.

The truth about digital processes

The truth is that sophisticated business processes generally include multiple components, which often are very different from each other and must be well coordinated to drive effective, reliable automation. A single process, viewed end-to-end, may involve interaction with legacy systems, paper forms, cloud applications, and create documents that require signatures.

But vendors that offer RPA as their only form of automation, not surprisingly, tend to position their technology as the answer to nearly every automation need, despite availability of more robust, purpose built, and lower cost process technology.

Understand your process

Many enterprises have a poorly documented understanding of their processes before they begin their automation journey. How work gets done varies from company to company and ideally one should gain specific departmental tribal knowledge to accurately understand the current state before optimizing or automating a process.

Nintex recommends enterprises start their digital transformation journeys by quickly mapping and documenting their current processes with an easy to use procedure-to-visual process solution like Nintex Promapp.

Teams that operate current manual processes or automate processes quickly describe procedural steps in Nintex Promapp, which creates interactive visual process maps that process experts and key stakeholders leverage to identify processes that are most important, most painful or ineffective, and outline how they should function.

This helps companies explore the landscape of processes, set priorities, and take a more strategic approach to automation.

Along the way, teams identify repetitive tasks that are ripe for automation and identify which process tasks should be prioritized for optimization. They also tag which process automation technology would best streamline process tasks, avoid errors, accelerate completion, reduce costs, and eliminate unsatisfying human work.

The goal should be to continually optimize current processes and make smart decisions about which type of automation to apply to each element of the process.

The right answer

RPA may be the best answer for interacting with legacy systems and automating processes that run the same way, time after time, without deviation, and with little need for human interaction.

By contrast, workflow technology may better be used to automate processes that require human collaboration, creativity, judgment, and decisions. And because digital workflows use APIs, they are frequently more robust than brittle RPA bots.

Paper forms are automated with ease to create or ingest digital ones like standard PDFs and may use intelligence and type-ahead technologies, for example, to validate data as it is entered.

Document-generation solutions with e-signature capabilities are also natively leveraged within Nintex to dramatically accelerate the time to complete required signoffs within a process or document.

As enterprises progress in their digital journeys, they create cultures that reward the identification and capturing of continuous process improvements.

Automation should be tailored and intelligent, not merely replicating how humans currently work, and should not be seen through a lens of “one-size-fits-all” RPA – or any other single form of automation.

Leverage a broad range of automation software tools

Companies truly dedicated to competitive digital transformation should leverage process platforms that provide a broad range of automation solutions and that don’t require expensive, time-consuming, often backlogged custom-coding. Leading companies appreciate the value of no/low-code solutions that deliver value in days, rather than the months required with code-heavy solutions.

No/low-code process automation platforms offer major advantages in ease-of-use, accelerated time to value, breadth of utilization and impact, with a lower total cost of ownership.

At Nintex, we pride ourselves on being an “honest broker” of process automation solutions – and are committed to providing the most complete, powerful, and easy-to-use process automation and management platform to help companies deploy automation in a wide variety of process areas. In fact, earlier this year, Forrester ranked Nintex as the top-scoring leader in its Digital Process Automation for Wide Deployment Wave report.

We start by helping customers understand their processes, then guide them to apply the best form of automation to various process components.

Nintex customers utilize Nintex RPA and digital workflows together and with API connectors to leading enterprise systems. Customers with specialized or legacy systems also leverage RPA and/or the Nintex Xtensions framework to build custom connectors.

Nintex provides process analytics and intelligence that help customers understand where, how often, and how quickly their processes are running, so they can easily identify and tune automation bottlenecks, usage blockers, or breakdowns.

Digital transformation – beyond RPA

Nintex’s leadership and focus on innovation, completeness, ease-of-use, TCO, and helping customers select the right capability for their specific automation needs has inspired tremendous adoption, enthusiasm and loyalty among the 8,000+ enterprises that have chosen Nintex.

The same factors have also earned Nintex’s leading technology a partnership with Microsoft, Adobe, Salesforce and with hundreds of service delivery and implementation consulting partners across the globe.

We’ve been impressed by the attention and valuations that leading RPA vendors have achieved in recent years. We appreciate that this has helped educate the enterprise market about the importance of process automation in driving business performance and, by extension, the importance of effective process management.

This awareness is helping drive better understanding and appreciation for platforms that offer complete, integrated, no-code solutions that help customers apply sophisticated, tailored automation solutions that deliver rapid results with incredible near and long-term ROI.

 

Interested in discovering what the Nintex Platform can do for your business? Contact a Nintex representative or sign up for a free trial today! 

 

Dustin Grosse

Dustin Grosse is the Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer at Nintex. He has more than 25 years of management, strategy, and go-to-market experience with leading high tech companies at various stages of growth. He previously worked at Microsoft, DocuSign, McKinsey & Company and P&G, and holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management. Follow Dustin on Twitter @Dustin_Grosse.