Robots will solve everything | Don’t believe the RPA hype

RPA, if you haven’t heard about it yet, you will pretty soon. So what is it? Here is a video from IBM

Lets detour a bit into what I call the journey of automation. In the beginning, you have a problem to solve. You have two choices if the problem is really well understood you could build a software system around it. But as in life, most problems at the outset are not clearly understood. So you take the MVP approach, build a small software system and rely on a manual process to solve the problem. This problem could be as simple as storing customer records in a central database (just use excel, to begin with), to a full-fledged business (Old school bank). As you learn more about the problem domain, you change your manual processes very quickly, at some point these processes will stabilize. At that point, you re-look at the whole problem and build the right automated solution. The manual processes die and you get massive gains in efficiency and speed with a massive reduction in errors. So the process ideally looks like,automation Journey

With that background, let us explore the RPA pitch bit, which is primarily targeted at the pointy-haired boss. It goes something like this, currently, you have these manual processes and disparate systems. Let us build automated glue logic that eliminates the manual process without you investing in rebuilding your current systems. It will be massively easy, just drag and drop using this self-serve gui and at super low cost compared to if you had to redo all your systems. No engineers required, screw all those pesky engineers. This is the magic bullet that will “robotize/ai/blockchain” your business. So effectively something like this,RPA (1)

This is absolutely insane!

The key part of the automation journey is the learning bit and building the right systems solution for the entire problem domain. Think of manual process as the organizational process debt that you take on to move fast. You have to pay it down and remove it the right way.  The old manual process by definition is imperfect and by automating that you just made a shit process go faster, you didn’t actually solve the problem! But RPA encourages just that, let’s just use glue logic to automate the manual processes, rather than thinking through the business problem and building the right system to solve it.  With RPA you just added one more (shitty) system into the mix. You started with X problems and now you have X+1.

Don’t believe the hype!

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