Automation? How is this new, I’ve been using Excel Macros and screen scraping for years?

Posted by Brendan Canny on 2 March 2018 in: Excel, RaaS, Robots-as-a-Service, robotic process automation, Automation

I’d like to start off by saying that one of the cornerstones of what we are trying to provide with our automation services is a way of saying “yes” to more of our customers' requirements. The ability to say yes to more means we need to be able to vary our approach according to the problem at hand. In turn, varying our approach means we need an extensive “toolkit” that facilitates out of the box thinking.

The ability to say yes to more means we need to be able to vary our approach according to the problem at hand

In the early days, screen scraping or “desktop recording” provided a fairly easy way to implement automation. The main issue, however, was that neither of these approaches provided an enterprise-grade solution, as they either required too much maintenance, such as reworking an entire screen recording every time a slight change was made to a process or, in the case of macros, require far too much human intervention just to get a process started.

These limitations and challenges were, however, not enough to quell the appetite for automation. As this appetite grew, so did the development of the concept of scraping and recording. And these “tools” still play an important foundational role in many of the more modern approaches to automation. Today’s automation software and services have evolved to provide an enterprise level offering by employing modern approaches to technology. Graham Ferguson does a great job of highlighting some of these approaches in his article. The entire article is worth a read, but some of the spefic advances in RPA that he highlights are:

  • Object Orientated Approach - Operations control the robots themselves and have an easy way to create, manage and control the robotics without a programming skill.
  • Robot Intelligence – Robots can still work even if the screen changes due to application updates within the organization, leading to less re-training. This is particularly important in the Back Office where there are hundreds of processes being executed on a daily basis across many complex technology solutions.
  • Exception Handling – Robotics can handle exceptions without human involvement e.g. sending a different letter to a New Jersey Customer vs a New York Customer.Through the use of a Rule Management Engine within RPA the robotics can be trained to behave differently in different situations.
  • Improved handover to Humans – Better hand offs to humans when a cognitive decision needs to be made and then resume work if required.
  • Improved Auditing – Especially in Financial Services, the actions of the robots have to be audited. The current technologies on the market offer this.
  • Improved Management and Reporting – Better reporting to Management on each robots performance. This particularly helps during the initial implementation perhaps during a Proof of Concept but also later in BAU, supporting their existence and further advancement of RPA in the organization.

Macros and screen scraping are to RPA and Open Box, as SMS test messaging is to WhatsApp

So, back to answering my original question. I’d say that macros and screen scraping are to RPA and Open Box, as SMS text messaging is to WhatsApp. While both text messaging and WhatsApp can be reduced to the same core functionality: a way of communicating via text while on the go, WhatsApp is clearly a very different beast to texting. It took the basic concept of text messaging and ran with it, creating a message app on steroids with many more features and benefits -- including things we didn't even know we needed until we had them. And now, we can't live without them.

In much the same way, RPA and the Open Box Automation Engine took the concept of macros and screen scraping and have created a robust, enterprise-wide platform that scales and adapts with your organization. This advancement on the foundation of macros and screen scraping and its implications, will become even more apparent as we begin tackling the concept of AI and ML and how automation is beginning to leverage these technologies to further remove the human from the process.

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