Wednesday, 09 October 2019 17:33

RPA is 'just a part of the transformation story'

By
Pega vice president of digital automation and robotics Francis Carden Pega vice president of digital automation and robotics Francis Carden Stephen Withers

RPA (robotic process automation) "is not a platform for transforming your business," according to Pega vice-president of digital automation and robotics, Francis Carden.

Rather, "RPA needs to be part of something else," he said, pointing out that technical debt increases if you merely add a layer of RPA on top of existing systems.

Given that he is sometimes referred to as "the godfather of RPA," it's not surprising that Carden still thinks RPA has a role.

"Australia is the pioneer of RPA," he said at the Pega Customer Engagement Summit in Melbourne today. OpenSpan – the company he founded in 2005 and acquired by Pega three years ago – sold its first licences in Australia to a certain large telco in 2007.

That telco now has 35,000 desktop robots deployed on call centre agents' desktop.

However, that is an exception: only 4% of organisations manage to scale beyond 50 bots, he said.

It is possible to obtain a significant ROI from RPA that can watch how users are performing tasks and then apply AI to identify common patterns. There's always something they're doing all day the same," he observed.

But in general, "RPA needs to be part of something else" or there is a risk it becomes "rogue IT - Excel part two," a reference to situations where Excel is used to prepare an analysis or report, but data is transformed possibly several times by different programs as that was the only way the user knew how to extract, combine and reformat it.

Or there may be a temptation to try to automate Outlook as a way of handling email. A better approach – which happens to be the one Pega takes – is to have an automation platform that can handle email rather than trying to do it on the desktop.

The Pega platform can also connect to other systems to help apply machine learning to email processing. For example, such a model needs to know the company's products in order to recognise references to them.

Such a platform should also provide a low-code/no-code environment so that business users can address the tasks they want to automate.

"Low-code is the digital revolution you've been seeking," he said.

RPA then becomes the glue to connect systems that have non-existent or inadequate APIs for the integration required.

The obstacle to automation is often just the backlog of work facing IT departments. Pega and similar platforms provide no-code environments that let business users do a lot of the work, while IT can provide governance without being the bottleneck to execution.

"RPA done right is creating business and IT alignment," Carden told iTWire.

Pega is effectively a mega-framework, making it possible to create 'applications' in days or weeks rather than months or years, he told iTWire.

One example of the level of productivity was described by Commonwealth Bank retail products and wealth head of data and decision science Matthew Malady.

Someone working in a branch came up with the idea of alerting customers to the ways they could use their credit card loyalty points before they expire, and then worked with members of Malady's team to make it a reality in just one day.

More generally, the bank has made extensive use of Pega to integrate multiple channels (branches, contact centres, desktop applications, mobile applications, email, ATMs and more), and to do more for customers.

Examples include generating reminders five days before the due date, on the day, and again on the following day; telling borrowers how they will be affected by an interest rate change within hours of it being announced; and helping customers identify the various rebates and benefits they may be entitled to (eg, as DVA or Seniors card holders).

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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