A Review of RPA in 2021

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With the year almost over, now is a good time to reflect on the previous 12 months and examine the key highlights in order to help plan for 2022. In this blog post, we will be examining RPA in 2021, specifically by looking at the changes we saw in the market and RPA technology, as well as giving some predictions for where we see RPA in 2022.

 

Growing Interest

First and foremost, Talos saw a huge spike in interest in RPA in 2021. This was evidenced by the increased number of attendees at our UiPath Academy Live events throughout the year. The increase in interest meant that we were offering these events monthly to a new audience. What was most exciting was that the audience was typically made up of organisations with little-to-no experience with RPA. This gave us good ground for introducing RPA concepts and technology to a brand new audience, many of which were completely unaware of RPA. These events were particularly successful in helping organisations understand their own RPA opportunities, how they could be easily achieved and helping initiate their automation journey.

We also saw more traffic in terms of enquiries about RPA showcases and demo’s. More organisations were interested in seeing what RPA looks like, and we were more than happy to demonstrate our capabilities. These showcases were very good at providing an entry point for conversations around RPA, as well as giving some great real-world examples of automation that apply to most businesses.

 

New Opportunities

Talos saw a significant increase in RPA project delivery in 2021. We had more projects this year, spread over a variety of different businesses and processes. Key projects this year included:

These projects were all delivered in 2021, and have been instrumental in changing the ways these businesses work. We had a good mix of new and returning customers this year – a good sign that automation produces long-term benefits for businesses, and is not a ‘one-time’ only tool.

We also had quite a few requests for proof-of-concepts (POC) in 2021. Larger businesses typically requested these, along with a process design document, in order to understand the feasibility of implementing RPA in 2021. These POC’s were very helpful to the business, but also to us at Talos, as it broadened our experience with different industries and processes. We now have great experience in automating the ‘Big 3’ business processes:

  1. Invoice processing
  2. Customer on-boarding
  3. Email triage

 

Expanding Technologies

UiPath underwent some massive upgrades in 2021. Notable improvements were evident in features such as:

These were our favourite features in 2021, and were pivotal in some of our larger project deliveries. Businesses who leveraged these technologies were reaping immediate rewards through increased processing speed, volume and efficiency.

We also got to work on more projects, which gave us some more experience in automating technologies such as:

  • Dynamics CRM
  • TechnologyOne
  • HAMBS
  • Carelink
  • Pronto

This is just a brief list of the more significant systems we saw in 2021. We got to experience developing RPA on a variety of different applications and environments – nearly all of it delivered remotely throughout the year. This gave us great experience in knowing how to deliver projects remotely with minimal tech headaches.

 

On The Horizon

If 2021 is anything to go by, we expect 2022 to be another huge year. In terms of interest, we are already seeing more new customers making enquiries about RPA. It’s very likely we will continue our UiPath Academy Live events each month starting in the new year. Opportunities-wise, our pipeline of work is looking big in 2022 – returning customers making up a large part of that. That trend is likely to continue, as we see organisations continue their automation journey. As for technology, we expect more improvements to the UiPath platform, particularly in the task mining space and process discovery suite. Machine learning and document understanding are the other areas we predict will undergo further improvement and sophistication.

All in all, 2021 was a tremendous year for RPA – lots of interest, plenty of opportunities and massive technological improvements. We here at Talos are looking forward to 2022 and seeing where the road takes us!

3 faces of Enterprise PowerBI Training

The 3 faces of Enterprise PowerBI Training

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Since Self Service BI became an actual thing we have advised many organisations on how to roll it out successfully and give the best ROI as part of our Enterprise PowerBI Training solutions. A key mantra for me has always been to tune the content to the audience. After all, you book The Wiggles for your children’s party, not a heavy metal band (well, unless they are into Hevisaurus).

Over the course of working with organisations to define these audiences, consistently there are 3 personas that come up, each with their own needs with regards to enablement in terms of data and training. These 3 personas are:

  • The Actor
  • The Creator
  • The Author

Lets have a quick walk through these roles!

The Actor

An Actor is reading from the script, interpreting what is in front of them but not changing it.

This user makes up the bulk of users in most organisations. Their use of data and reporting is as an input to drive or inform decision making. The individuals in these roles can range from the CEO who needs to have an at-a-glance dashboard of their organisations performance, to a field sales worker who needs to know the buying profile of their next client.

The level of interactivity with any reporting will be basic – maybe selecting a few options or filters, perhaps drilling down a pre-set path to get some finer detail. Consequently the degree of training and enablement they need is fairly light. Key information for them is where to find the report, what the data on the report actually means and what buttons to press.

The Creator

A Creator builds an vision from the script, taking it to design their performance.

This type of user is actually one of the most important in terms of organisational impact. These are the people that are tasked with generating content for the Actors, and as such have a deep understanding of the data in their domain. These are the people tasked to work with the technology experts to build out the data models that drive much of the self service capability.

These users really get into the guts of the data and understand it in depth. When an Actor asks for explanation on a particular data point they are the ones that have to investigate. The technical training they need focuses on content creation and publishing. The enablement needs to cover things like business analysis skills, Master Data Management and Data Cataloguing.

The Author

The Author of course writes the script, starting from very raw materials to build a story.

Most people calling themselves PowerBI experts sit here, and most organisations have a handful of them – they are not a big population (though in my world are a vocal one!). They sometimes fill the role of creator but more often than not are trying to make sense of the organisations data, how it interlinks and where the hidden treasure lies. They “self-serve” from the raw data, constructing new ways to get insight into the organisations performance.

Here enablement focuses on technical capability as they need to understand how to manipulate and interrelate data that may be in less than ideal forms and certainly hasn’t been through an enterprise cleaning process. Data Catalogues support them in the discovery process.

To wrap

The key message to take from this post is that when rolling out Enterprise PowerBI Training at scale these different communities and capabilities need to be addressed – and in different ways. There is no value in sending all of your team on advanced PowerBI training if the skills learned will never find a practical application. Similarly if you build it, they won’t come – you need to guide them there.

Good luck, and if you need some help or advice, please get in touch.

PowerBI Desktop Security Risk!

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Who doesn’t love PowerBI Desktop? Enterprise BI capability on your desktop for free! You can connect to virtually any source, pull all the data from it and start creating powerful analytics in a matter of minutes. Brilliant! But PowerBI Desktop Security Risk is rarely considered….

PowerBI Desktop Security Risk

PowerBI Desktop Security Risk

Sorry, did you just say “Pull all the data”?

Oh yes. All of it. Everything the developer has access to. You know how business owners used to stress about sales people having their own black books or stealing the customer data? This is so much worse.

If someone (not even a PowerBI developer) has enough access to one of your systems they can pull everything they want from it into PowerBI. There may be some restrictions put in place at the application level which restrict what can be pulled, but users find them annoying and so often access to the data is often very generously granted. The risk then lies in these two factors:

  • Any application security is removed by pulling the data into PowerBI. All those logins that prevented application access now have no effect.
  • A PowerBI file is an unencrypted store of all that data and is easily shared. It can’t even be password protected.

Most of the time this is not really a big concern – people are trying to do the right thing and just want the data to do their jobs. But there are two key scenarios where this risk becomes problematic.

Scenario 1: Malicious actor

Someone within the business wants your data for their own purposes and needs a simple, portable store to take it off your systems. PowerBI is a great tool for pulling large quantities of data and making it highly portable. As PowerBI Desktop is free, once someone has a PowerBI file, they have a means of reading all that data at their convenience.

Scenario 2: Naïve actor

A user builds a piece of valuable reporting that helps someone external to the organisation. They email it to that 3rd party, forgetting that some of the working data has client personal information in it. There has now been an inadvertent data breach for your business to control.

How do you limit the PowerBI Desktop Security Risk?

As with all issues to do with governing risk, there are a mix of hard (technical) and soft (policy) tools you can bring to bear to the problem.

On the “hard” front, first is your Data Loss Prevention software which actively stops PowerBI files being distributed outside of your organisation by email, upload or whatever methods of egress you want to control. Second is controlling the spread of the software by limiting who can actually install it on their desktops. Finally, keep a better grip on your data through rigorous access control, and deploying tools such as Azure information protection to keep an eye or lock on sensitive data.

On the “soft” front, your teams need to be educated on the risks of data loss, costs of data leakage and how it can happen. It won’t deter malicious users much – but it will at least give the naïve actor pause for thought.

How does my organisation protect itself?

PowerBI presents risks but it also offers the ability to really drive data driven decision making in your organisation. It just needs to be governed and directed properly to make sure you maximise the benefits while minimising risks. We have advised many organisations on just this – please reach out to us if PowerBI is in growing your organisation and needs to be properly managed as part of an Enterprise PowerBI implementation.

 

Identifying RPA Use Cases

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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

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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.