Process automation, because of its wide range of application, takes many forms. Manufacturing companies have been using industrial robots to replace activities traditionally performed by humans for some time. Business process automation shares the same goal: to replace business functions performed by humans with software applications. Work activities that are repetitive in nature and require little intelligent analysis and decision making to complete are prime candidates for process automation.
Business software applications, by their essence, are designed to automate processes. Software programmers create Intelligent decision trees to evaluate and refine stored data elements and display that processed data for human interaction or automate the decision making process entirely.
Automation products act upon stored data or capture it for processing. The data is analyzed using workflows (decision trees) and embedded rules. The automation product then performs a prescribed set of actions. The automation product can continue processing by executing additional workflows, prompt for human intervention or complete the process by performing an activity.
For the context of this article, IT process automation is the implementation of software to programmatically automate routine (little decision making required), repetitive workflows and tasks performed by IT knowledge workers.
The Automation Tool Marketplace
IT automation product features and functionality range the spectrum. From niche offerings that focus on automating a very well-defined, specific set of tasks to products that provide a complete framework and set of tools designed to generate more global efficiencies by automating a wide range of activities. More traditional software vendors including database and monitoring tool providers realize that automation features provide their offerings with an advantage over competitors’ products.
The Increasing Complexity of the IT Tech Stack Will Drive the Need for Robotic Automation
I’ve been involved in database and operating system technologies for 30 years now. During that time, I have read numerous prognostications from various industry pundits proclaiming that the next release of so-and-so database would be so simple to administer that the product would no longer require DBAs for support. Replace “database” with any technology, and you’ll find that the same industry mantra occurs.
I'm still waiting for the administrator-less database.
During my tenure in the IT field, I’ve found the following equation to be true:
+ New Functionality
+ New Products
+ New Technologies
+ New Architectures
+ New Business Challenges
= Increased IT Support Complexity
New technology architectures and products designed to solve a business or technical problem or improve operations are unveiled on a seemingly weekly basis. I intended to rattle off a dozen or so disruptive, industry-changing technologies that have originated over the last few years, but any list I generate would not include all technologies that will have a significant impact on IT operations. Plus, we all have our own opinion on what the most important, disruptive technologies will be.
What all IT professionals would agree upon is the statement below:
We understand that the only constant in the IT profession – is change itself.
We know that this continuous explosion of new technologies will never stop and that increasingly restrictive time constraints faced by many IT support personnel prevent them from analyzing, selecting, implementing and administering them. IT professionals need solutions that reduce the amount of time they spend maintaining current systems to allow them to focus on improving future service.
Process automation, although having a wide range of application, has the common goal of replacing human activities with technology to reduce costs and improve the quality of repetitive processes. For information technology departments, the goal will be to deploy robots to reduce the amount of time humans spend on repetitive, mundane, low ROI activities.
Process automation will allow IT personnel to use that extra time to improve business operations, think strategically, plan, innovate and deal with the ever-increasing rise in information technology complexity.
Additionally, process automation will allow IT departments to use the capabilities and strengths that robotic processes provide to fully leverage the benefits of their human counterparts- benefits that cannot be provided by robotic processes.
Unlike manufacturing’s deployment of automation to totally replace humans:
The relationship between humans and robots in the IT space will be harmonious, interdependent and collaborative – not competitive.
IT professionals will interact with increasingly intelligent robotic processes as they would with any technology designed to support their needs.
Benefits of Humans
- Creativity, thinking outside of the box
- Easily adapt to changing inputs and external influences
- Ability to quickly analyze conditions with complex intersecting rules
- Natural curiosity
- Collective knowledge, group problem solving
- Ability to identify key facets of information from large, varied input sets
- Social and cultural understanding
Benefits of Robotic Processes
- Consistency - Repetitive tasks are performed with no deviation. Less deviation = higher quality
- Speed of execution
- Scalability – Build the robotic process once and deploy as needed
- Provide the ability to leverage pockets of tribal, operational knowledge by capturing, standardizing and embedding that expertise in robotic automations
Impact on the IT Profession - Focus on Information, Not Process
A question commonly asked is “will I be automated out of a job?” I’ve been in IT for my entire career, having worked in “think tanks” for several Fortune 500 companies. As I stated previously, I’ve seen product manufacturers and industry pundits make various claims that their product or the latest hot architecture will simplify support to such a degree that administrators will no longer be required. To the contrary, technology is becoming more complex, not less. IT professionals should embrace automation. It will allow them to automate mundane, repetitive support activities allowing them to focus on leveraging technology to improve business operations.
Not being automated out of job is a good thing, but robotic automation will be responsible for an evolutionary shift in the role IT plays in the modern enterprise. Since the inception of the computer, IT support personnel’s primary focus has been on process. As intelligent, robotic systems improve their ability to learn, they will be able to use historical experiences to obtain an understanding of the current situation to select the correct course of action to accomplish the assigned goals. Robotic automation will become responsible for not only process but process improvement. As a result, human personnel's primary focus must, and will, evolve from process oriented to information oriented. IT professionals will be working with business personnel, increasingly intelligent data stores and robotic processes to leverage information to analyze past performance, optimize current operations and predict future business trends
Future IT Departments Will Consist of Both Humans and Robots
A competitive market arena will continue to accelerate the features and functionality provided by automation products. As the offerings mature, they will become more robust, more intelligent and more cost effective.
As a result, the set of activities assigned to humans and robots will be fluid in nature. As more activities are assigned to robots, their human counterparts’ roles will continue to evolve. Robots will free IT professionals to focus on strategic activities that only humans can perform. Robots will not replace us; they will allow us to analyze, implement and administer increasingly complex technology architectures. Architectures that solve business problems, increase competitive advantage, improve decision making and reduce the cost of doing business.
That is a good thing for technology professionals and the business operations we support.