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UiPath Forward: Industry execs talk enhanced services

IT services companies suggest the industry will have to step up its service offerings as enterprises take robotic process automation past the proof-of-concept phase.

MIAMI -- As robotic process automation begins to mature, IT service providers specializing in this field are looking to take their offerings to the next level.

Some companies are rethinking which opportunities actually yield the greatest benefit of RPA technology deployment, while others are looking to plug gaps in RPA support or help customers scale beyond their initial process automation rollouts. Industry executives attending the recent UiPath Forward event, a conference for the RPA software vendor's customers and partners, shed light on emerging services that aim to help customers go beyond the basics of RPA.

Finding the best value

Bill Hale, digital automation leader at consultancy EY, discussed how his firm changed its thinking on process automation. He pointed to an example of an off-shore drilling company. He said the customer traditionally spent six to eight months planning how it would drill in a new location, pulling together geological and geophysical data along with information on hydrostatic pressure and anticipated rock layers. EY found automation could shrink eight months to two months, yet the greater payoff existed elsewhere.

Hale said the "real expense" surfaces when the exploration company begins drilling but is compelled to stop when the pressure or makeup of the rock layer differs from what was expected. When drilling ceases, tens of millions of dollars are at stake. Companies have been hindered by the time it takes to consider alternative drilling scenarios, based on the newly discovered parameters of the undersea environment. But here, RPA software can speed up the process and limit downtime.

"There is no limit to the number of scenarios robots can run," Hale said.

EY is also homing in on SAP S/4HANA migration as a key opportunity to save time and cost through process automation.

"For most companies running SAP, it is their single most expensive IT asset," Hale said.

Enterprises switching from SAP R/3 to S/4HANA over the next few years will spend painful amounts of money to do so if they upgrade along conventional lines, Hale suggested. In response, EY, he said, is working with UiPath and Microsoft to infuse the upgrade process with automation. Automated data conversion, testing and custom code remediation are examples of where RPA, and allied technologies such as machine learning, will play in the companies' S/4HANA upgrade approach. Hale projects this method will cut upgrade cost and time in half.

There is no limit to the number of scenarios robots can run.
Bill Haledigital automation leader, EY

Brijesh Singh, robotics and cognitive automation leader at Deloitte, also emphasized the need to pick the best places for RPA, an approach he said is important for organizations intending to scale up their use of the technology. Speaking at UiPath Forward, he said organizations should avoid looking at individual, siloed areas of the business: IT, human resources and supply chain, for example. Instead, organizations should "start from the top" with an enterprise opportunity assessment program. In addition, the organization hoping to scale with RPA should quantify the value against the various identified opportunities.

This assessment method also identifies commonalities across the business processes. This lets enterprises eliminate redundant processes and find opportunities for simplification and standardization, Singh said.

Don't overlook support

Clinton Coker, principal at Machina Automation, a process automation advisory and implementation specialist based in Houston, emphasized the importance of ongoing support for RPA customers, which he said can wind up going unaddressed.

Monitoring is one element of a support program. Once software robots are deployed, changes in business processes, business rules and the version of the RPA software in use can all affect a deployment, Coker explained. Someone has to be watching to make sure robots can function in the changing environment.

Machina offers monitoring and 2nd tier support. Coker said organization should also be concerned about business continuity as they rely more and more on robots. Those enterprises should have a plan for bringing the robots back up in the event of an outage or transferring the work to humans.

More than 1,500 customers and partners attended UiPath Forward, which ran Oct. 4.

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