Organizations are looking to not only streamline tedious tasks, but also to find ways to do better, offer more, and find advantages that will help them compete in the digital economy. But with so many innovations fighting for your attention, it can seem impossible to know where to start and how to use them to achieve your desired business outcomes. One technology that’s helping to make these improvements possible is robotic process automation (RPA). To take this capability a step further, SAP has put its own stamp on it by introducing SAP Intelligent RPA.
What Exactly Is Intelligent Robotic Process Automation (IRPA)?
ASUG sat down with the authors of “Introducing SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation” from SAP Press to hear how this technology can help organizations improve their existing business processes. Whether you’re completely unfamiliar with RPA or just need to better understand how to adopt it within your own organization, Dwayne DeSylvia, principal solution engineer at SAP, and Jon Yagos, senior solution engineer at SAP, help us better understand what it’s all about.
Sharon: What is SAP Intelligent RPA, and what are the benefits of implementing it as a solution?
Jon: SAP Intelligent RPA is a platform that enables customers to build and orchestrate intelligent automation bots to help achieve business outcomes by replacing human tasks that are typically mundane or of low value. The automation, in turn, allows people to focus on more high-value, innovating tasks.
There are benefits to both Lines of Business (LoBs) as well as IT, the main of which is improving operational efficiencies such as process throughput, financials, and production to name a few. Automation not only helps refocus tasks, but it also decreases the risks of mistakes that can be very costly. Because a robot always does what you tell it to do, the risk of mistakes is lessened quite a bit. It can improve employee experience by offloading tedious manual processes, which helps teams focus on how to use automation to continually improve their processes and customer experiences. Finally, it’s also a benefit to customers who are looking for a more streamlined experience when engaging with an organization.
Sharon: How is it different than traditional RPA?
Jon: Traditional RPA products have struggled, mostly because they are code-heavy. As a result, they are very easy to break. For example, typical legacy systems rely on the user interface (UI) to create an automation, and once that UI changes due to an application upgrade or a system change, the bot that relied on that UI will break. The SAP Intelligent RPA solution, in contrast, can integrate at the API level, which is a level below the UI, taking some of that risk out. So, as the UI changes, that API doesn’t change, and that bot continues to work. One of the other differentiators is that SAP has built-in machine learning. SAP also connects to both on-premise and cloud environments.
Sharon: What are the key elements of SAP Intelligent RPA, and which intelligent technologies are integrated within the solution?
Jon: There are multiple intelligent technologies that are integrated within SAP Intelligent RPA. SAP Conversational AI, which is essentially a chatbot, enables human-to-nonhuman interaction, providing a consistent experience across applications, natural conversations, intent analysis, and native support of multiple languages.
Another technology is machine learning, which provides reduced UI brittleness, dynamic process adaptability, intelligent exception handling, unstructured content analysis, and self-learning.
Additionally, API integration provides the ability to connect to the application at a deeper level, limiting some of the risk. And it also provides improved resiliency and performance, reduced bot maintenance, and future-proof automation.
Sharon: How can an organization use SAP Intelligent RPA to improve business processes?
Dwayne: A lot of the focus today for enterprises is around outcomes. And to achieve those outcomes, companies are doing everything from full-blown digital transformations to more focused approaches such as evaluating specific business processes.
SAP Intelligent RPA can provide tactical value to improve real-world operational efficiency, even of existing processes. The goal should be to not only become more efficient, but to also mitigate any risk within existing processes. SAP Intelligent RPA has a direct impact on both.
Sharon: Can you provide specific use cases and discuss how SAP Intelligent RPA works?
Dwayne: There are both horizontal and vertical types of use cases. A horizontal use case would be the IT department creating a bot that could scan an attachment, which could be entered into a system. Then an LoB would be able to replicate that process and configure it to their own specific scenarios.
A vertical use case, on the other hand, would be if a specific LoB such as finance, used SAP Intelligent RPA to process its hundreds of transactions and documents. This often involves things like manual retrieval of data from multiple back-end systems or manual reconciliation of information through manual input into a spreadsheet and tasks of that nature. SAP Intelligent RPA can assist finance professionals by taking that kind of brute-force effort off their plate and allowing them to focus on the task at hand, whether it’s financial closing or providing a better loan offering to a customer.
Sharon: What are the solution tools available within SAP Intelligent RPA, and how does each one work?
Jon: The SAP Intelligent RPA solution consists of three components, which are designed to work in both on-premise and cloud environments.
The first component—Desktop Studio—is where you’ll design your bots. It’s where your technical person will work to connect to the different applications and create the logic of what needs to happen between those applications.
The second component is the Desktop Agent, which is used to execute automation. It lives locally within a workstation or server and allows an end user to interact directly with the bot.
The third and final component is the Cloud Factory. It’s a hosted component where you can orchestrate and monitor bots across your landscape. You can see which executions were successful or what failed, as well as who’s using the tool. It is designed to be a single, central location for bot management across a landscape.
Sharon: What is the SAP Intelligent RPA Store, and how can customers use it to bring value to their organizations?
Dwayne: The SAP Intelligent RPA Store is a cloud-based solution that provides two main functions for organizations. First, they have access to an internal shared asset repository of automation bots that they can quickly discover and incorporated into workflows.
Second, it provides access to an emerging public repository of automation assets that will be shared across the SAP network. They can search by category, LoB, and more, and content can be used as is or modified as required for each specific scenario.
That's where we begin to incorporate partner assets—and even customer assets. If they provide and build automation bots, they could potentially put them in the store.
As a lot of the initial prebuilt content for SAP Intelligent RPA is focused around SAP S/4HANA. I expect that content like ECC automation bots will become prevalent on the public store just because of the need. Going forward, there's also going to be an ability for organizations that contribute high-value bots to monetize them.
Sharon: How much time and effort are required for training and testing when going through the implementation process? What tips do you have for training teams on the new solution?
Jon: To start, it’s important to know that implementation time is going to vary depending on what you're trying to automate. From a training perspective, SAP offers some great courses on openSAP.com. There is help documentation available, including a full learning journey on the SAP Learning Hub.
Sharon: What is the most important thing to know about SAP Intelligent RPA?
Dwayne: SAP Intelligent RPA is a very strategic capability to deliver what SAP describes as the intelligent enterprise. SAP has committed to making Intelligent RPA the best RPA solution platform for SAP. That means that not only will the tooling be the best in the industry with the development and management and orchestration of bots, but that SAP will also deliver a wealth of prebuilt content on top of that platform, so customers can harness and use this functionality out of the box.
The other aspect that makes it very powerful is the incorporation of what SAP calls accelerators at the tool level. A good example of that is SAP Conversational AI. SAP has hooks directly within the Intelligent RPA and Conversational AI tool sets that let them directly link to each other seamlessly to facilitate these intelligent technologies working together. And another example would be the ability to browse the API Business Hub, which is the SAP public repository of APIs, from directly within the SAP Intelligent RPA tool.
The most important thing about Intelligent RPA is to go beyond just the tooling and make sure that customers consider the prebuilt content and the development accelerators as a holistic package.
Sharon: Can customers test the waters with a trial period?
Jon: There is a full trial option available. Customers can go to help.sap.com and get started with a trial version of SAP Intelligent RPA. They'll find the instructions there in order to set up a complimentary trial.
Sharon: Can you summarize the book in a few sentences?
Jon: In the book, we briefly walk through the bot creation process all the way through bot execution, as well as explore how machine learning, conversational AI, as well as the Intelligent RPA Store can aid in the automation bot process. The book provides the best general overview of SAP Intelligent RPA and how it can help your organization improve your business processes.
You can read the full details in the “Introducing SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation” book from SAP Press. If you’re planning to attend SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference, don’t miss the day of learning about how to “Thrive in the Experience Economy with the Intelligent Suite,” an ASUG Pre-Conference Seminar. Register today to save your spot.