WHAT IS A BOT? The digital workforce that will be joining your team

What is the purpose of a “bot”?

Digital transformation is a huge wave sweeping the business world, where companies are using cutting edge technologies to modify themselves, upgrade existing and creating new processes to increase speed and accuracy of service, make huge cost savings and improve customer experience.

Robotic process automation (RPA) is arguably the backbone of this, as it’s one of the easiest technologies to set up just so powerful it can transform teams in a matter of months. With this software developers can create automated processes to use the User interface to click and types as if it were using a mouse and keyboard. These “virtual workers” are calls Software Robots or “Bots” and are extremely versatile.

Building “bots” with RPA is like giving your staff teams virtual assistants to automate repetitive, menial manually intensive tasks so that your staff can focus on my intellectual, creative and value-adding tasks. If you’ve not heard of RPA before, hopefully after reading this you will start to appreciate the massive potential and the impact this technology can have on you, your business and your work in life.

These digital workers don’t have intelligence, but they can do all the odd jobs around the business that don’t require any human judgement. Bots aren’t limited to small straightforward processes. Bots can handle huge end-to-end processes as long as the process has logical, rules-based decision points, the input data the bot uses is standardised (can only understand pre-determined data rather than free text), and the process and applications the process uses are stable (can’t handle constant changing applications or webpage layouts).

For example, a robot can easily fill out a form using data from an excel spreadsheet, but it can’t make a decision from instructions in an email. However, if you mixed RPA with Artificial intelligence capabilities (this is called Intelligent Automation), then automation can do so much more

A Bot is able to save your team hours of time and staff effort, as it can work to assist staff, can work behind the scenes, or it can work overnight. Using bots to automate processes can also reduce human errors, improve compliance, and even track workloads to provide more accurate performance insights.

How does a Bot work?

For a bot to work, you have to map the step-by-step actions and decisions that you want the robot to do. Defining exactly what link or button to clicks and where and what to type and logically define how the Bot needs to make a decision. For example, if the bot needs to process a customer’s details differently depending on whether they are married or not, the decision would need to be defined as:

IF customer is married send form A

ELSE IF the customer is not married send form B

For the Bot to follow these steps the developer would drag-and-drop these actions and decision points onto the RPA applications “studio”. The Bot will also need to know how many cases it needs to process, so that it can repeat the steps before it is finished

These images show you what an automated process looks like in RPA studio for different software platforms. The two main layouts are drag-and-drop shapes (like in Blue Prism and UiPath), or drag-and-drop lines code (like Automation Anywhere and IBM RPA). I, and most other developers I’ve spoken to prefer the graphical layout as it’s so much easier to understand, especially when editing someone else’s work.

Once built, you can press play and watch the Bot go step-by-step, looping through your process until it’s finished. When watching a Bot at work, it’s like an invisible pair of hands open applications and websites on your desktop, logging in, typing in text fields and clicking on buttons on your screen, and even pulling data from multiple places to compile it into a central location like in an Excel spreadsheet.

In reality, automation activities typically work in the background, so even if you had it running on your computer you would hardly see what it is doing. To reduce costs further by outsourcing infrastructure, most robots now operate in the cloud away from human view

How can I build one

The method of building a simple Bot is really quite straight forward. To get started with building your own automated robot, click visit your chose RPA software platform and download a free edition:

UiPath: https://cloud.uipath.com/portal_/register

Blue Prism: https://www.blueprism.com/free-trial/

Automation Anywhere: https://www.automationanywhere.com/products/enterprise/community-edition

Once you’ve launched the RPA studio, you essentially do just a handful of things:

1. Drag and drop different steps into your process map

2. Configure for each step to tell the bot exactly what each step does. E.g., how to access the website, where to find a certain element on a webpage, what button to click on or where to locate an excel file

3. Add a loop so that the Bot can repeat the process

4. Define the trigger. Will this process start at 09.00am every day, or will an action trigger the process, like when the Bot receives an email from a specific email address?

RPA development is as simple as it sounds (for less complex processes), through RPA can handle extremely complex processes as well. And RPA software companies are making development even easier and intuitive as they head towards what many RPA execs call “Citizen development”, where eventually any person in the office will be able to build automated processes themselves without relying on RPA developers.

There are a lot of training online if you wanted to started developing automation properly, and as a result anyone will be able to do it. This inevitably will cause a lot of issues in the near futureas automation is too powerful for teams of staff to start building without some sort of governance and control. It is a good to empower staff however bots need to be developed and tested correctly before they are launched, otherwise they could wreak total havoc all across your business, doing things that the creators didn’t intend, or the work they were supposed to do, isn’t done at all.

‘With great power, comes great responsibility’ to do things right so if you want to learn more about Intelligent Automation in your office, subscribe to my YouTube channel Tony IA (Intelligent Automation, Simplified) for videos created weekly, to simplify intelligent automation for business leaders and professionals who are new to automation to level-up your knowledge.

You can also learn more from my book, Business @ the Speed of Bots: The AEIO YOU method HOW TO IMPLEMENT ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION THAT SCALES. Get ready for the new digital transformation age for more information. The foreword is written by Guy Kirkwood, who is the Chief Evangelist at UiPath, and a very well-known advocate of RPA with over 20 years of experience in outsourcing.

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Tony IA

Tony IA

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Simplified Intelligent Automation for business leaders and automation teams