Bots, Business Process, and Enterprise Automation


Over the past several years, Velocity Growth has been asked to help develop a variety of standalone bots.  Some that would be considered “chat bots” that allowed users to order pizza or flowers, while others were aimed at improving customer service and still others that simply pass data from one system to another.

At their core, bots should simplify a process.

A prime example is Amazon’s “1-Click Ordering” where Amazon simply asked…

"How can we make ordering a product super simple?"

Amazon engineer: “How about 1-Click?”

And 1-Click ordering (sic: the 1-Click bot) was born.

If a bot’s execution is more complex than the current way of solving the problem, it’s not worth it.  We experienced this first hand with our first generation pizza bot and wrote about several of the problems back in in 2016.

In the last few years, there is a new type of bot that we’ve been building for customers.  These bots are somewhat more complex in that they attempt to replicate the functionality of a human using a computer.  Think of them like an Excel macro on steroids.  These bots can:

  1. Login to a website
  2. Download some data
  3. Load that data into Excel
  4. Format the data into a chart
  5. Copy the chart into a Powerpoint presentation
  6. Send the Powerpoint out to a manager with a customized note

These bots would be like those defined in McKinsey’s Alex Edlich and Vik Sohoni in their article Burned by the bots: Why robotic automation is stumbling.  These bots are facilitated mainly by robotic process automation (RPA) software like Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism and UI Path.

So what does this have to do with business process? 

First, let’s define just exactly what a business process is.  A business process is any combination of steps to perform a particular work deliverable.

The can be simple, “send patient appointment email reminder” to horrifyingly complex “compile monthly inventory numbers across 16 warehouses and production facilities.”

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, businesses have strived to improve productivity through the addition of new tools, methods or all out paradigm shifts.  Just introducing more people to the problem is rarely a scalable solution to inefficient process.

The most advanced companies in the world struggle with business process and generally bring in management consultants to go through 3-6 month periods of discovery, followed up with a set of recommendations the business may/may not have the ability to implement.

They wrestle with spreadsheets, databases, and a limited number of people that understand the beautiful intricacies that allow people to do their jobs on a day to day basis.  These are systems, and the deliverables associated with people doing work like:  managing inventory, checking on employee/contractor availability, hiring, oh, and innovation.

Isn’t this an IT or BPMS problem?

On some level, this is the very job of the tools deployed to organize these problems -- ERPs, CRMs and reporting tools.  But as businesses grow, the number of systems expands and the problems mount.  Duplicative data entry, validation, data availability, repetitive activities et al.

Those tools have been vetted and are maintained by IT.  Except the realities of how they work is ultimately up to your “Salesforce Admin” or worse, the software companies themselves as so painstakingly outlined in George Earle’s piece “The tyranny of big suite enterprise software best practices.”

Enter Business Process Management Software (BPMS).  These systems, like those of Oracle, IBM and others have been developed specifically to help business understand, document and manage these workflows.  The problem with many of these is that they can be complex in their own right, creating yet another tool to maintain.

How does enterprise automation play into this?

As we described above, enterprises are recognizing that repetitive, rules-based processes can be completed by bots, and as such, their people can be re-purposed to higher value functions.  Businesses don’t want high-value (and highly compensated employees) relegated to low-level work that computers can do.

And so, enterprise automation is beginning to take off.  With it however, an important set of questions are beginning to circulate amongst key decision makers.  To be clear, every institution is a little different and views automation either as an FTE replacement strategy (big banks) or workforce augmentation tool.  For starters, enterprises are grappling with…

  • Which processes are prime candidates for automation?
  • How do we evaluate the cost/benefits of automation?
  • How does it compare to hiring FTEs
  • Who inside the existing IT and business units will monitor this hybrid workforce?
  • How does automation change how we look at specific business processes?
  • Will automation increase the frequency with which a particular process is run and/or the value it can create for my business?

Velocity Growth has helped some of the largest companies in the world deal with these issues and can help your business.

Over the next three months, we’ll be publishing a series of posts about specific automation issues that we’re getting from various customers.