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.

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

Intelligent Process Applications

Peter Whibley
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Intelligent Process Applications

Intelligent Process Applications

This blog will be about the future of business process, what I refer to as Intelligent Process Applications.

Both Gartner and Forrester have different opinions about the future of BPM and Case Management. Gartner have proposed iBPMS (intelligent Business Process Management Suites) while Forrester have proposed Smart Process Applications. So who’s right? Well in my opinion both are half right. It’s obviously true, as Gartner propose that future business processes will be deployed with more intelligence built-in. It’s also true however that as a consequence of mobility and the consumerization of IT we are moving businesses to an era of on demand business process applications as envisaged by Forrester.

However, as you would expect, both Gartner and Forrester have played a bit to their customer base and in my opinion have given emphasis to features and functionality that while important are really only a subset of greater industry themes. Rather than iBPMS or Smart Process Applications I think the term Intelligent Process Applications is a better description of where the business process management and case management market is headed.

Future Intelligent Process Applications will have four key components (I’ll discuss these in more detail in future posts):

1.    BPM and Case Management

They’ll be underpinned by a BPM and Case Management applications that act as the engine for process automation and employee empowerment. While some business process apps will be rigid and inflexible others will exhibit flexibility with more case management like characteristics and empower participants to adjust processes rapidly in response to changing business and market demands.

2.    Intelligence and Awareness

They’ll possess intelligence. By intelligence however we are really talking about awareness.  Using business intelligence, data, content, social and predictive analytics as well as integration with smart devices intelligence and awareness functionality will be used to alert businesses and employees to key changes in their environment.

3.     Customer Experience

Yes mobility is a crucial capability but it is only a subset of a more important theme, customer experience.  Our personal technology experience has changed our business IT expectations. The app. internet model we have become familiar with in our personal lives is starting to take hold in business, changing not only how enterprises acquire business applications but also how they design and execute their business processes. Mobile capabilities will be crucial to the success of future process apps but only if they are designed with customer experience in mind.

4.    Cloud

The delivery vehicle for intelligent process applications will be via a multi-tenant cloud architecture. The greatest challenge for process app vendors will be to bring the speed and simplicity of the app experience to multi-application process solutions. 

Is this too simplistic? Have I missed something? Will social play a bigger role? I’d love to get your opinion.