Date: 25 November 2018
The hot new topic in the IT market these days is RPA… and rightfully so.
Not just process automation
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is becoming an important weapon in the armoury of CxOs seeking to drive out inefficiencies and save costs. Its unparalleled effectiveness is behind the new automation revolution we’ve seen in the last two years.
While its ability to automate repetitive, mundane tasks is usually the driving force behind implementing RPA, there are a number of potentially more exciting applications of the technology. RPAs use as an integrator between systems, for example, offers potential for even greater gains to be made.
Let’s look at an API alternative
If you’re seeking to deliver some level of integration between an ageing finance system which records orders and your CRM – no matter whether it is a rudimentary application or a more sophisticated product like Salesforce or Sugar – what are your options?
The default way is to try and open a path between these two systems through a piece of software that will connect them. Generically known as an ‘API’ (Application Programming Interface), this solution is fine, as long as either:
- It exists as a previously-created product
- The cost of writing and/or maintaining it isn’t too eye-watering
Often neither are pragmatically viable, especially if one of the systems is old and difficult to write code for. Why pay application vendors huge sums to produce one-off connectors especially when they own the access to the underlying software code? You’re inviting them to write their own cheque for the privilege of moving YOUR data around between YOUR systems.
Robotic Process Automation offers an alternative. The key feature of RPA that makes it so attractive from an integration point of view is that we don’t need access to any of the millions of lines of code that make up these CRM applications, ERP systems or ageing Patient Administration Systems. We don’t need to write an API.
How does RPA fit into an integration strategy?
RPA simply pretends to be an imaginary computer user, sat on a swivel chair, accessing information from each of the two (or three, or even 10!) systems that we’re trying to integrate. All we need to know is:
- What information needs to flow between the systems?
- What does the user interface (UI) look like?
- What triggers the need to move information between those systems?
Suddenly, integration between the earlier-mentioned CRM and finance applications becomes a simple, straightforward task of mapping out:
- How a user would move order information between the two
- Replicating that process in an automation script
- Telling a team of virtual workers (or ‘bots’) to wait until an order is entered, at which point they jump into action
Liberation through RPA
Going the RPA route means you are no longer beholden to the vendors of your key business systems when you need to move YOUR data around. Now your users have access to whatever information they need, wherever and whenever.
RPA liberates information and does it for a fraction of the cost and complexity of acquiring and maintaining a huge number of single-purpose, inflexible software connectors.
Many clients we speak to have over 100 crucial, key systems. It’s just not financially viable to provide all of the software connectors to link that number of applications together. However, connecting them robotically through the user interface is a far more realistic, rapid and robust approach.
RPA in Digital Transformation
Better still, because RPA makes integrating your core applications so easy, it also speeds up your Digital Transformation programme. For example, creating mobile applications that read from and write to your primary applications is a simple job if you use a team of RPA bots as the integration layer. The bots behave as secure intermediaries between the mobile users and the central office.
The life of legacy, but nonetheless critical, applications can be extended by using RPA to feed modern mobile and web apps with the valuable information that they need. The legacy app remains stable and untouched by new code.
So, next time you need to integrate multiple systems – or you have a technology transformation project where the core application looks like it needs replacing to achieve your modernisation goals – think outside the traditional programmatic route and look at the robotic option. You’ll be surprised how many roadblocks will quickly disappear.