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automation

Open Source “Robin”: A Disruptor in the RPA Industry? | Blog

By | Automation/RPA/AI, Blog

The RPA world just got a bit more exciting with the early release of Robin, a Domain Specific Language (DSL) designed for RPA and offered via an Open Source Software (OSS) route. A brainchild of Marios Stavropoulos, a tech guru and founder and CEO of Softomotive, Robin is set to disrupt the highly platform-specific RPA market. Robin is not the first attempt to democratize RPA, so will it succeed at this feat?

The Robin advantage

RPA democratization isn’t a new concept. Other OSS frameworks, such as Selenium, have been used for RPA. But they weren’t designed for RPA and are best known for software testing automation. And there are other free options such as WorkFusion’s RPA Express, and Automation Anywhere’s and UiPath’s free community licenses. These have certainly lowered the barrier to RPA adoption but come with limits, for example, the number of bots or servers used.

When demonstrating his software environment, Stavropoulos explains that the principles he has applied to Robin are to make RPA agile, accessible, and free from vendor lock-in. This could be very powerful, for example, an RPA DSL could provide more user functionality. Not having to rip out and replace robots when switching to a different RPA software is tremendously appealing. And, availability of OSS RPA is likely to boost innovation as it will make it a lot easier to develop new light programs that simply collect and process data, such as RPA acting as a central data broker for some functions.

What’s in it for Softomotive?

There are four main reasons for an RPA vendor to invest in an open source offering.

First, Softomotive will become the keeper of the code. And while it will not charge for the software, not even other RPA vendors that start to support it, it will charge for Robin support and maintenance should customers wish to pay for those services.

Second, many other OSS vendors grew on the back of this model and got acquired by bigger companies. For example, JasperSoft, the OSS reporting company was acquired by Tibco for US$185 million in 2014, and Hitachi Data Systems acquired Pentaho for a rumored US$500 million in 2015. I’m not at all hinting here that Softomotive is looking to be acquired, but these are compelling numbers.

Third, if Robin is successfully adopted, the user community will contribute to the development of the environment and modules to a community library. There will also be community-led support and issue resolution, and so on.

Finally, Softomotive will still have its own products and will continue to generate revenue based on the solutions it wraps around Robin.

Robin success factors

Of course, while Robin is a great idea, Stavropoulos needs to ensure it is quickly and widely adopted. For it to become the de facto language of RPA, other RPA vendors must support it. And the only way to get them to support it is by forcing their hands with widespread adoption.

There are two ways Stavropoulos can make this happen; via free online delivery and through classroom-based training in key RPA developer hubs such as Bangalore. He is lucky to have a lot of existing users in small- to medium-sized companies. The developers in those companies are likely to try out Robin and give Stavropoulos a flying start.

Getting Robin onto a major OSS framework is also very important.

An RPA DSL on an OSS ticket is an exciting proposition that could significantly disrupt the market. But success depends on adoption and on Stavropoulos playing his cards right.

Do We Really Need a Robot Per Employee? | Blog

By | Automation/RPA/AI, Blog

When I started researching the RPA space five years ago, vendors were working hard to position themselves in the unattended automation space, where robots ran on servers in the data center, according to schedules, typically delivering back-office functions.

This was a departure from attended automation that for some years had boosted (and still does) agent efficiency in the contact center.

Today, the market has come full circle, with a focus on helping other office workers, not just contact center agents, increase their productivity. A robot per employee is a marketing message we are hearing increasingly frequently, boosted by the concepts of lo-code software and citizen developers who can build their own robots with little help from tech developers.

Examples of automation vendor activity in this space include:

  • NICE’s NEVA, an avatar for NICE’s attended automation, to help all office workers automate their repetitive tasks
  • Softomotive’s People First approach, which intends to democratize automation in the enterprise. This applies to both attended and unattended automations, but puts the power in the hands of employees
  • UiPath, which is putting out a robot per employee messages in addition to its Automation First campaign. It has even showcased robot-based consumer apps at its event.

One could argue that going full circle back to attended is because unattended automation is proving tough to scale. That does not diminish the potential opportunities that the concept brings to the enterprise and its employees. But it is not immediately obvious what attended robots could do for the average office worker.

Here are a couple of examples.

At the recent Pegaworld event in Las Vegas, a healthcare payer company showcased several examples of how it is using attended automation, including logging employees in to half a dozen systems, a task they need to perform every morning, through what the company calls “start my day,” and changing passwords on those systems on behalf of the employees, at the frequency dictated by the corporate IT policy. Another is helping with repetitive sales administration tasks, e.g., the robots update daily sales information for reporting purposes.

The big question is, do these kinds of examples, good as they are, justify the investment in desktop/attended automation robots by the thousands? True that attended robot licenses typically cost much less than unattended ones, and vendors are likely to offer good rates for bulk orders. But overhead costs, such as training employees to code their own robots and for the enterprise to support them, also come into play, as do robot performance: how fast can they run on those desktops, and can employees get on with other work while the robots are running?

It is early days for a robot per employee model, but it is high time that we boosted office worker productivity again. It has been decades since the advent of personal office software led to the last productivity revolution.

Personally, I am looking forward to seeing attended automation evolve and become really useful. I cannot wait to “robot-source” some of my daily routine work. First though, we (office workers) have to try attended automation for ourselves and see what works and what doesn’t. Lessons learned in the contact center can help us with this, but hands-on and trial and error is the best way forward.