Why Robot? – Why Robotics and AI are Disrupting Business Process Management

2016 was the year AI and robotics went mainstream. We saw the emergence of chatbots and bot lawyers. Voice recognition went from something fun and frivolous on our mobile devices to delivering useful services via devices such as Amazon Echo and Google home. AI and robotics are now set to disrupt multiple industries and to change the very way we interact with the internet.

robot-santa-dreamstime

Why Robot? AI, Bots & BPM

When they first emerged Business Process Management Suites (BPMs) and workflow technologies were disruptive technologies, transforming the delivery and efficiency of business processes. As we come to the end of 2016 the BPM industry itself is becoming disrupted through the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics technologies. This year for example mainstream BPM vendors began to acquire smaller Robotic Process Automation (RPA) organizations highlighting a growing awareness or maybe panic within the BPM industry that robotics and AI is set to fundamentally transform how we design, execute and interact with business processes.

At the moment RPA and BPM applications are complementary technologies. RPA is used to deliver the rapid automation of simple, repetitive desktop based business process activities and address legacy application integration issues while BPM and Case Management are used to deliver the end to end optimization of key business processes.

Today RPA deployment is often a tactical decision while BPM and Case Management projects are more strategic decisions. Yet this won’t always be the case. RPA and Artificial Intelligence technology has exposed the flaws with today’s BPM technologies and rather than nibble at the edges or the carcass of the process automation market RPA is set to consume a bigger portion. RPA technologies are successful and are disrupting the BPM market because they address three key issues with today’s BPM suites:

Process Modelling

The stated benefits of process modelling and process standards are dubious. Process modelling standards such as BPMN(2) and CMMN often appear to deliver benefits for the BPM business analyst rather than for the actual BPM customer. Process standards frequently act as a barrier to BPM adoption adding increased training costs and complexity for prospective customers. The costs associated with BPMN and CMMN outweigh the benefits.

RPAs eliminate process modelling and offer an alternative way of designing processes using a watch, learn, do approach that is more intuitive and can be quickly adopted and understood by RPA users. In the near future processes could be optimized by linking together multiple RPA bots with the process participant or employee deciding which bot to invoke at a particular stage in the process.

Integration

The professional services costs associated with integrating the BPMs to third party applications often consumes a huge part of the budget of a BPM or process optimization project. Robotic solutions however can be implemented with limited assistance from IT. Robotic software can work with most underlying applications with the interaction occurring through the user interface. While maybe not as graceful as an API based integration the benefits in terms of cost and speed of the watch, learn, do approach in many cases outweigh the negatives.

Speed of Deployment and ROI

Many BPM and process optimization projects can take several months or even years to complete with tangible ROI delivered much later. Lower training and adoption costs as well as simpler third party integration mean that even significant 100 step RPA processes can be analyzed and automated within two weeks, delivering rapid ROI. Businesses using RPA approaches to process automation can fail fast, learn fast and innovate fast.

Robots are addressing the weaknesses of today’s BPM solutions. AI and robotics will have an impact across industry. 2016 was the year the BPM market got disrupted.

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The Chatbot Lawyer: Is this the Future of BPM?

The business process management suite (BPMs) has always had a difficult relationship with the user interface (UI). The broad spectrum of capabilities within the BPMs (business rules, business activity monitoring, process design and orchestration, data integration and content management) meant that when it came to UI design (mobile and desktop) the BPMs vendors were always playing catch-up with best practice web forms and business intelligence applications.

The emergence of chatbots and some compelling use cases such as DoNotPay, the world’s first robot lawyer, point towards a different future for the BPMs UI. DoNotPay is a chatbot lawyer that can provide legal assistance and dispute claims with parking tickets in New York and the UK, delayed flights or trains in the EU and claiming payment protection in insurance (PPI) in the UK. More recently the robot lawyer was updated with the ability to draft legal letters to local councils for urgent housing assistance.

A chatbot is a type of conversational agent or virtual assistant. A computer program designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with one or more human users via auditory or textual methods. Chatbots are integrated within the apps that customers actually want to use, within messaging apps such as WeChat and Messenger which act as the operating systems for the chatbots.

DoNotPay and other chatbots are underpinned by a procesdonotpays automation engine designed to execute tasks based on information provided by users textually or increasingly verbally using voice recognition. While today the DoNotPay services may be relatively simple workflow type processes it is not difficult to imagine that a chatbot in the near future will have the ability to handle more complex or nuanced legal or customer service issues that are managed using a BPMs or similar application.

The emergence of chatbots means we need to reconsider what we think of as the BPMs UI, especially for customer centric processes. Increasingly messaging services and eventually the internet of Things (IoT) will be the UI for process participation. Mobile BPM now means integration of process within apps that customers actually want to use (e.g. messaging services) rather than forcing users to download a business app.

The UI for process participation is changing with messaging applications and in the long term voice recognition emerging as the dominant process interaction methods.

BPM Everywhere

If you’ve been reading this blog you’ll be aware that I believe that Business Process Management (BPM) technologies will have a crucial role to play in the emerging Internet of Things market. Future BPME-frontcoverStrategies have now published a book on this subject entitled BPM Everywhere and it includes a chapter by myself “The Internet of Things Will Be Invisible”.

This chapter builds on some of my recent blog articles that propose that the IoT will be for the most part an invisible part of or daily lives and that two technologies BPM and Voice recognition will be key to make this happen.

Amazon Dash – A Gimmick but an Important Step in the Evolution of the Internet of Things

To be perfectly honest when I saw the announcement I, like many others, thought it was an April fool. No one shops for groceries on an individual basis. The implications for the environment would be horrendous if we did. Most of us on a budget also like to know the price of things before we decide to buy. Then there’s the issue of Wi-Fi reliability and battery life.

Despite these drawbacks Amazon Dash however represents an important step in the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT). Here we have a smart device linked to business processes. A push of a button triggers automatic payment and logistics processes that ultimately lead to the delivery of an item to your door.

At the moment, discussion of the commercial IoT has focused on the devices or things themselves rather than the services that can be triggered by connecting sensors and devices to the Internet. Many of the commercial and smart home technologies we see today are really just gimmicks as already available sensor and Wi-Fi technology wait on other essential components of the IoT ecosystem to catch up. When we start thinking of the commercial IoT not in terms of devices, but instead in terms of services that could be triggered through connection to the Internet, more compelling use cases start to emerge.
Amazon dash is different. It is focused on delivering an IoT service not an IoT device.

Press for Service

Press for Service

The Purpose of the Internet of Things is to free us from the Internet

I already spend too much time on the web so what’s it going to be like in 2025 when another 26Bn smart devices are connected to the web?

 
The recent, excellent, research by Pew looking like at digital life in 2025 gives some pointers to what life might be like once all these smart devices come on-stream. The Pew report reflects that this is a market in the very earliest stages of its evolution with little overall consensus and concerns being expressed around the social (privacy, exclusion) as well as technical implications of Internet of Things (integration). One word however that pops up frequently in the Pew report is “invisible”. The Internet of Things (IoT) will be notable for being invisible.

 
As humans we pretty much mastered our ability to generate data and the emergence of the IoT will take our ability to create data to another dimension. What we haven’t mastered however is our ability to increase time. Human attention is a scarce resource. As a result most of us will be happy to outsource our attention for important yet mundane processes that enable us to focus on more important or enjoyable activities. Health monitoring, driving, service scheduling, insurance renewals, ensuring your finance products are on the best rate of interest, product research and price comparisons, all of these are important yet mundane processes we perform on a daily basis that most for us would be happy to outsource.

 
Wearables like Google glass and smart watches fail the invisibility test that will be one of the key attributes of successful IoT solutions. Wearables draw users further into the web rather than freeing users from it. Having milk bottles, toothbrushes and trainers sending you alerts and competing for your attention is just ludicrous.

 The IoT will act as an airbag for our lives, ready to step in when you need it, not constantly competing for your attention. By freeing us from the mundane activities that today we would have to do manually on the web we are being freed from the internet itself. IoT solutions will make us less dependent on our current web interfaces. We will use the screen and keyboard interface to the web less and less as voice and gesture become more a more appropriate method of interacting with IoT devices. BPM and workflow technologies will orchestrate automatic processes triggered by smart devices, freeing users from mundane processes, interrupting our daily lives only when a decision is required.

 
Initial successful IoT solutions for example smart meters, inventory management, insurance telematics are for the most part invisible to users and eliminate mundane yet important processes. With IoT the internet will become more and more a part of our daily lives but less and less obtrusive, wrapped around us ready to assist rather than competing for our attention.

Forget B2B and B2C. What about B2D?

For a while we’ve gotten used to the B2B and B2C acronyms so today I’m going to suggest a new one, B2D or Business to Device.

It has been said elsewhere that the best customer service is one that doesn’t need to happen. As the Internet of Things (IoT) market begins to really heat up increasingly organizations will provide ambient customer service, directly to devices themselves without any human involvement. Over the past few years we have gotten used to this with new software releases and patches being delivered directly to our laptops, pcs, mobile devices and applications. Business relationships will increasingly be B2D or directly with their own products rather than with customers and other businesses.

Business to device is however subtlety different to IoT. IoT refers to ability of everyday objects to connect to the internet and their ability to store and process information. B2D takes IoT a step forward connecting the smart devices to business processes for example triggering a support case when a product fault is detected.

In a previous post I stated that all of the data generated by OT devices is only of use if it is connected to business processes. There’s no point analyzing the data to predict a future product performance issue if a support process isn’t triggered or collecting customer usage data if the data doesn’t find its way into the hands of a sales person or the product development team.

IOT really has the potential to disrupt the supply chain, marketing and customer service processes of almost all industries. The potential efficiencies however will only be fully achieved when the smart devices are integrated with smart processes (or smart process applications). That’s what I’m calling B2D.

IoT + Process = B2D

IoT + Process = B2D

If This Then What is the Future of Workflow and BPM?

IFTTT (If This Then That) is a service that lets users connect multiple different mobile apps based on a simple rule. “This” is the process trigger, “That” is the process action. Today the tool lets users rapidly create connections between 71 applications or what IFTTT calls “channels”. The simple workflows created between channels using the IFTTT rule are called recipes and can be shared within an IFTTT community.

If This Then That

If This Then That

So what’s the big deal?

In the BPMS suite we’ve been executing simple and complex business rules like If This Then That for years. The emergence of IFTTT is important because it does two things that BPMS does not do well; integration and simplicity.

Many business processes cut horizontally across organizations and as a result touch multiple business applications. There is thus an ongoing drive among BPM and Case Management vendors to continuously enhance their integration capabilities. This is however a continuously moving target and integration remains one of the greatest obstacles for the successful deployment of both cloud and on premise BPM solutions, often adding considerable cost and time to projects.

When it comes to the integration of cloud and mobile applications into business processes the difficulty multiplies. We are only just seeing the emergence of smart process applications and on demand business processes. Mobile BPM applications have emerged with integration to back end systems but is any BPM vendor doing mobile app to mobile app integration?

Mobile and cloud app integration is a key IT battleground. As business software users we regularly use mobile apps and on demand software to address business problems. This consumerization of the business IT landscape however sits uncomfortably with IT heavy BPM projects.

IFTTT radically simplifies the process of stitching together and automating web services and as such throws down the gauntlet to other business applications that are heavily reliant on application integration.

Consistent with consumerization IFTTT empowers users to integrate and develop their own workflows. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to expect this simple IFTTT rule to be extended to support more complex rules and events and ultimately encroach into the market for workflow and BPM applications.

IFTTT Channels

IFTTT Channels