All Posts By

Matthew Oen

Identifying RPA Use Cases

By | Automation Initiation | No Comments

A very common issue we have seen in the last 12 months is identifying RPA use cases in organisations. In our workshop events, we regularly have discussions with attendees around their existing RPA use cases, and it is not uncommon for attendees to really struggle to identify a single existing business process that they think would make a good candidate for automation. However, we actually know from experience that this, in fact, is a good indicator for automation opportunity. This blog post explains how and why the most successful organisations with RPA usually have a difficult time getting started, and what to do if you are in a similar situation.

The Problem

The first part of the automation initiation journey is simply to identify and assess RPA use cases within your business. There are many ways of going about this, ranging from internal business process analysis to sophisticated process mining technologies. Ultimately though, a business will need to identify a single RPA use case to act as a proof-of-concept and good kickstarter to their RPA journey. This candidate use-case will typically possess the following attributes:

  • Clearly defined benefits that have objective advantages
  • Very few downsides, risks or reasons not to proceed with developing it as a proof-of-concept

However, we have seen and spoken to many businesses who say they struggle to identify a single good RPA use case. Common traits for these businesses are that their:

  • Processes are not written down anywhere
  • Processes are not formally revised and updated regularly
  • Staff cannot clearly articulate what it is that they do each day/week/month

At this point, businesses might well be thinking that automation is either too difficult or not presently applicable, and will abandon pursuing RPA altogether. But the reality is that if a business is really struggling to reconcile their internal processes with automation, that is not such a bad thing. In fact, if you can’t identify a single good candidate for RPA, that is a good sign that you are in need of automation. This is because it says that your business, and specifically business processes, are far too reliant on your staff and/or systems. Your business is likely to be operating purely thanks to the efforts of long-term staff, who personally hold all your process knowledge in their brain, and legacy systems that are not being fully utilised, or at the very least, are not being continually challenged as to how the technology can be improved/redesigned to improve efficiencies.

This ‘make-do’ attitude means that your business is exposed in two ways:

  1. You are more at risk and indeed affected by staff turnover. When existing staff leave, tremendous business process knowledge leaves with them, significantly impacting both short and long-term business.
  2. Your business is obviously inefficient – there simply MUST be processes in a business which can be more effectively outsourced to automation. No business has ever demonstrated to us that it did not possess a single process that could not be more efficently done via automation, and certainly all big-businesses and market leaders utilise automation in their organisations.

Despite the abovementioned risks having significant consequences, very few businesses take any steps to meaningfully address or manage them. But managing these risks is actually very straightforward.

How to Solve the Problem

The key is to first recognise that this perceived absence RPA opportunities is not because of a true lack of process candidates, but is because of an internal, cultural approach to business, which over relies on staff/systems to execute processes. By recognising this approach, you can begin to enact change to inject good habits and policies into your business. These will typically take the form of:

  • Documenting all your processes in detail
  • Implementing a continuous improvement framework for your processes (including regular reviews and assessments for risks and opportunities)
  • Implementing proper process discovery technologies, such as UiPath Process Mining, Task Mining or Task Capture

After making the above changes, businesses will very quickly begin to accumulate lots of information about their processes, both known and unknown. More importantly though, they also begin to enhance business processes because the knowledge has now been taken from the minds of employees and put on paper, allowing that knowledge to be collectively analysed. This strategy of diversifying process knowledge away from staff not only reduces the risk of business disruption from staff turnover, but allows existing processes to be challenged and enhanced, making them ripe for automation. It is at this point that the original problem of identifying RPA use cases is now solved, because your business is now flush with well documented and well evolved processes.

It’s surprising that the most successful organisations with RPA have usually gone through the above experience: struggling to get started, realising what that struggle actually means, resetting their approach to business process, and succeeding in RPA initiation and implementation. If you want to succeed with RPA, you need to recognise and accept this experience within your own organisation, and understand what it means and how to successfully navigate it. Otherwise, rejecting the opportunity for RPA can be a very costly mistake that could have been easily avoided.

UiPath Product Updates 2021

By | Automation Initiation | No Comments

Despite a global pandemic, it has been a big year for UiPath in terms of growth and reach. For us at Talos, we have seen a marked increase in the demand for RPA work from customers, and UiPath has been our tool of choice in delivering solutions to our customers. With this boost in interest in RPA, it is important to understand what the UiPath product is now, as it has grown significantly in scope and sophistication over past year. This blog post covers the UiPath product updates in 2021, highlighting the features that we see as gamechangers in the growing world of RPA.

The UiPath product updates are best understood in the context of the different aspects of platform. Generally speaking, the platform is composed of 5 components:

  1. Discovery
  2. Build
  3. Run
  4. Manage
  5. Engage

Each of these serve a specific function and have some new features worth mentioning.

Discovery

This is by far the area that has undergone the biggest update, and rightly so. Discovery refers to the initial phase of RPA candidate detection. This is often the most difficult part of the RPA journey, as it can be tricky to identify and articulate what a good process is. Luckily, UiPath have made massive changes to their offering, namely by rolling out tools such as Process Mining, Task Mining and Task Capture.

Process Mining – Only for the most mature RPA organisations, this highly sophisticated tool plugs into systems like ERP and CRM, and analyses logs and other information to generate analysis on potential end-to-end processes, including quantifiable impact on the business. This analysis can then be very easily transferred into an actual workflow file, greatly speeding up implementation and reducing information error.

Task Mining – Caters for the middle-of-the-road RPA users, this tool uses AI to watch and learn users based on their day-to-day tasks. Using Machine Learning, the tool eventually crafts together tasks it believes makes up a process and generates a ready-made workflow file that can be easily implemented or utilized for quick bot development.

Task Capture – A useful offering for the smaller implementations, this tool is a very simple task recorder that users can instruct to watch them perform specific tasks. As a discovery tool, this helps speed up the requirements-gathering phase and greatly helps developers by providing the skeleton of the process that only needs to be augmented for enterprise-ready deployment.

 Build

Build refers to the development area of the UiPath platform. Very much the backbone of the product, Build has gone through some modest updates this year including Studio X and Document Understanding changes. These changes highlight UiPath’s commitment to democratizing RPA and making it more compatible with business processes.

Studio X – Studio X is a light version of the flagship Studio tool, targeting less technical users to help them develop simple automations easily. By slimming down the Studio tool, Studio X is far more accessible to the broader employee base, whilst not comprising on automation quality. Studio X means that developer resources do not have to be spent on automating smaller, niche tasks.

Document Understanding – With data extraction such a universal role in business process, it is no surprise that UiPath has upped its document understanding and interpretation capabilities. Easily integrate sophisticated data extraction technologies into your automation, and include other capabilities such as handwriting extraction, user validation and AI learning.

Run

The driving force behind RPA, Run refers to the various robots that are used to execute the automation. Not so much has changed when it comes to Run, but UiPath have broadened their offering from just attended and unattended to now include the useful Test robots in the bot family.

Test Robots – These are unattended type bots which are specifically designed to run automated text cases against systems or workflows. Larger implementations of RPA will find these useful for managing the testing phase and reducing workload on testers.

Manage

Manage is the area where organisations can manage, deploy and optimize their RPA across the organisation. Big changes in this area include updated offerings in Test Suite and AI Center, both tools required for large scale RPA implementations.

Test Suite – Testing was once an underdeveloped aspect of UiPath. However, with Test Suite, the platform is now fully equipped to facilitate proper testing. Test Suite allows you to perform test planning, requirements, execution and defect traceability, whilst seamlessly integrating with 3rd party tools such as Azure DevOps and Jira. Expect to see this grow as more organisations take their RPA to enterprise-quality levels.

AI Center – Business processes often require a level of critical thinking that is too difficult for the average bot to execute. AI Center is the tool that fixes that. This offering allows you to easily develop, test and deploy machine learning models that can be used by your robots. UiPath offers several out-of-the-box models for you to quickly deploy, or you can bring your own and distribute it throughout the business.

Engage

Another big area in terms of updates, Engage refers to the ways in which robots and people collaborate as part of an automated solution. UiPath has recently unveiled Apps, Action Center and Chatbots to help improve this collaboration.

Apps – Build and share business apps to connect people and robots. Using a low-code approach, users can build beautiful web-based apps that can then be shared across the organisation and used as the backbone for a bot. This comes in handy when building a process that requires data from users and there is no existing system in place to do so.

Action Center – Bring a human in the loop by giving them oversight on large, complex processes. Action Center acts as a single point of contact between bot and person, where the bot can raise exceptions, escalations and approvals for the human to review and provide instructions on. By combining person and bot, complex processes can be automated very easily and effectively.

Chatbots – Outsource the admin tasks by utilising pre-built chatbots. Trigger chatbots to do simple tasks like retrieving order status or posting customer data.  Enable chatbots to respond to customer messaging or even voice commands. This is a big offering for those in customer service.

Automation Cloud

It should be noted that UiPath has very much a ‘cloud-first’ approach, meaning that new and updated offerings arrive on their cloud platform (UiPath Automation Cloud) first before being available on-prem. This approach has catapulted the popularity of their cloud product, making it very easy to get started with RPA. If Cloud is not an option, they have improved their offerings to include on-prem as well as a hybrid approach. This variety of implementations has been useful in catering to the diverse needs of customers, and will no doubt satisfy all organisations.

Take it from us, the recent UiPath product updates are pretty amazing. In the last 12 months, we have seen tremendous changes in the range and sophistication of the UiPath platform. Discovery has been the most impressive and is likely to see continued growth in the coming years, whilst the offerings in Engage and Manage have already been showing positive results for customers.

If you have any questions on the UiPath platform, please contact us.

UiPath Academy Live – Jun 2021

By | Automation Initiation | One Comment

With the financial year-end looming, Talos hosted another UiPath Academy Live event in June to help introduce more businesses to the world of UiPath and RPA before heading into the new financial year. With more events scheduled in the coming months, this post recaps the June event, the feedback we got and what you can expect from the next Academy Live event.

What Is It?

UiPath Academy Live is a free half-day course designed by UiPath and delivered virtually to help managers, analysts and developers explore the basic capabilities of UiPath. Attendees learn about RPA, get familiar with the UiPath product, follow a step-by-step lab manual and talk about potential RPA opportunities with experienced consultants. Through guided learning, attendees can kickstart their RPA journey and create a functioning bot in a matter of hours. No matter what their capabilities are, the workshop is designed to be accessible by everyone in attendance.

The June event this year was loaded with attendees from a diverse range of industries and roles. From business analysts to project managers, Academy Live was a hit for all those in attendance looking to skill up in UiPath. From the Talos perspective, this was the ideal audience – a diverse range of attendees interested in seeing what RPA is and how UiPath works. The benefit of Academy Live is that it can help anyone who is interested in RPA development, and this was no more evident here with the variety of attendees.

From the feedback we collected, the most valuable part of Academy Live is the roundtable session. This is a unique session dedicated to helping attendees identify RPA opportunities at their business. The Talos team were on hand to deliver one-on-one advice with every participant, with questions ranging from a technical perspective to more opinion-seeking advice. This is the best part of Academy Live, and what makes this event like no other. The consulting team love automation, and seeing attendees talk about their opportunities for RPA was as exciting for them as it was us.

Customer Onboard

Another unique benefit of Academy Live is the showcase session. Towards the end of the event, the Talos team showcase some real-world UiPath RPA examples. The audience gets an inside look at how we understand RPA problems and how we use UiPath to solve them. Learning about the functionality of UiPath is one thing, but seeing how it is applied is where you truly realise the benefits

Why Should I Go?

UiPath Academy Live is an event like no other. Designed by UiPath and delivered by professionals, Academy Live introduces attendees to the world of RPA without overwhelming them with technical knowledge. Attendees learn the skills and best practices needed to develop successful UiPath RPA  solutions in their business, and leave with a custom bot that they have built on the day. Based on the positive feedback from attendees, these events have been instrumental in getting UiPath quickly adopted in several organisations.

If you want to know more about UiPath Academy Live events, please contact us for more information or check out our events page for upcoming sessions.

Azure DevOps Power BI Reporting

By | Data & AI | No Comments

Azure DevOps (ADO) is fast becoming the application lifecycle management tool of choice for modern organisations. With boards, CI/CD pipelines and Git repo capabilities, Agile practices have never been so easy to implement in project management. However, as a DevOps tool, it is understandably not designed and equipped to be a fully-fledged reporting and analytics solution as well. Luckily, Power BI can be used to integrate with ADO to deliver the kind of enterprise reporting that project managers need to properly monitor their projects. This blog post covers Azure DevOps Power BI reporting and also some examples of what kind of reporting is available.

Connecting to ADO

A connection to ADO is made possible via the OData feed option available in Power BI. Once connected, you will need to select the relevant tables to begin building a data model. For most project managers, the main objective in ADO reporting is getting clear visibility of the progress of work items. For that reason, the tables imported into the model should contain information relating to Work Items and Iterations.

Once imported, some simple transformations are required to clean the data. It is crucial that the correct relationships are created between work item tables. This is because work items in ADO are hierarchical, starting with Epics, Features, User Stories and Tasks. This hierarchical logic must be captured in the model in order for the reporting to make sense.

Once the model has been created, the report visualisations can be built. Based on experience, a clearly constructed table outlining key work item information including Sprint, Epic, Feature, User Story, Task, Assigned To, Completed Date, Task Number and Sprint Percentage is precisely what project managers want to see. Although not the most visually compelling report, these tables  clearly articulate work progress in a single view, something not easily achieved natively within ADO.

What Reporting Is Available

As mentioned previously, ADO reporting is primarily concerned with reporting on the progress of work items. However, the OData feed is able to capture most of the ADO backend, meaning that additional reporting on things such as pipelines and test results is also possible. Some typical reporting examples include:

  • Sprint progress reporting
  • Resource burndown and capacity
  • Work item cycle time
  • Work item predictability and productivity
  • Task completion forecasting
  • Work item distribution
  • CI/CD pipeline failures
  • Application testing and release results

Virtually any reporting can be custom built using Power BI and the OData feed.

Developing Power BI reporting for ADO is also useful because of its scalability. The OData feed can be re-pointed to any ADO instance, meaning that your reporting can be easily reproduced in other ADO instances. At FTS, we offer a pre-packaged report that can be easily implemented in any instance. It contains the most relevant reporting out of ADO based on our experience and has been very useful for us in managing our projects.

Finally, Power BI reports can be easily embedded back into ADO via the native web-embed functionality. A dashboard in DevOps must be first created, and include an iframe dashboard widget. Then the Power BI report can be embedded into the widget in the dashboard, thereby allowing you to view your custom reporting within the DevOps browser. This ability to embed reporting elevates ADO into being an all-in-one development management tool, greatly assisting project managers keep track of resources and progress.

If you want to begin Azure DevOps Power BI reporting, please contact us for more information.

Power BI Dataflows: New and Improved

By | Data & AI | No Comments

If you attended one of our Dashboard In A Day events earlier this year, you would have seen a brief demonstration of Power BI Dataflows, and what they can mean for an organisation. With the recent Microsoft update of Dataflows, now is a good time to familiarise yourself with this feature and learn how you can leverage it to improve the data culture in your organisation.

What Are Dataflows

If you have worked with Power BI before, then you are familiar with Power Query, which is the tool used for extracting, transforming, and loading data into a data model. Power Query allows you to connect to a variety of data sources and perform detailed transformations to manipulate data into the desired format needed to perform analysis.

Dataflows is an extension of this, in that it allows you to create these Power Query transformations and make them available across your organisations for repeatable use. This is important for two reasons:

  1. It scales data preparation, and eliminates the need for users to perform transformations again and again.
  2. It introduces a layer of governance in centralising and standardising data preparation assets.

Dataflows gives users access to clean, transformed data that they can rely on and re-use. This is vital in supporting self-service analytics in an organisation, as it provides users with the platform needed to access reliable and pre-configured data assets.

New Capabilities

Power BI has now introduced Endorsement capabilities into the Dataflows feature. Dataset endorsement capabilities have already been in use for some time and have proven very useful in establishing quality data culture in an organisation. With this capability now extended into Dataflows, quality data assets can now be more easily identified and shared across an organisation. Per the Endorsement principles, Dataflows can be marked for Promotion or Certification.

Promotion – tells users that the dataflow owner believes that this dataflow is good enough to be shared and reused. Users will need to have confidence in the dataflow owner to trust the quality of the dataflow.

Certification – tells users the dataflow has passed internal tests for quality per organisational policy. Only specified users are authorised to mark Dataflows as Certified.

Certified and Promoted Dataflows are marked with badges when users attempt to connect to them in Power BI Desktop:

This identification means that users can easily see which dataflows they should use to connect to when preparing reporting or analysis.

Why It’s Important

Endorsement is an important step in making Dataflows an enterprise-ready feature. With endorsement, an organisation must adopt a policy for reviewing and certifying data preparation assets. The introduction of this policy greatly improves the quality of data in an organisation, as only certified dataflows are being used for reporting and analytics outcomes.

Organisations that wish to promote a self-service environment will also benefit greatly from endorsed dataflows, as it reduces the need for dedicated resources to create and control data access. Instead, quality data assets can be centrally managed via Power BI and made available to the organisation to connect to and use. Users can rely on the quality of data, and do not need to perform any additional tasks to cleanse the data to get it ready for their analysis.

If you want to know how Dataflows can be used in your organisation, please contact us for more information.