“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” – Abraham Maslow - 1966 The Psychology of Science
We’ve all heard this said in one form or another and we likely agree with the problem it identifies. And yet I would guess that we all see the mistake almost every day.
The latest example in my experience is in the adoption of robotic process automation technologies. A week does not go by for me without a company telling me confidently that they have selected the one and only automation technology that they will ever need (typically Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, or UIPath).
Cathy Tornbohm, Gartner’s lead analyst for RPA and I spoke recently and I asked her what kind of questions Gartner clients ask her about RPA. She said - well first you have to let me categorize the three types of clients who call. She said:
First there are the “clueless” – companies that have heard about RPA and how much potential benefit there would be for their companies… but they really don’t know anything about the technology or how to get started
Second there are the “Harry Potters” (yes that was her label) – companies that have decided that RPA is a “magic wand” (hammer?) that will solve every problem that their companies face (all those nails…). Typically these companies have done one or two proof of concept projects but have not yet embarked on real scaling of automation.
Lastly there are the “disillusioned” – companies that have tried and failed to apply traditional RPA in a scalable way across the enterprise and now are either burned out and ready to discard this approach altogether or in some cases are seeing that they need more than just RPA to succeed.
At a recent Intelligent Automation Week conference in Chicago (July 31-Aug 2) this last category of customer was present in large numbers – companies that have been trying to scale automation and are now realizing that they need to do much more and have a broader palette of tools available. One senior automation expert from a global insurance company said, “… for 95% of what we want to automate we cannot use pure RPA - we also need OCR, machine learning, and integrated processes that hand off work to people smoothly…”
I had the opportunity to present a case study with Catalytic customer Dentsu Aegis Network on the main stage of the conference where they talked about their own journey from business process optimization, to robotic process automation, and then on to a broad Center of Excellence (COE) for Automation and AI.
The graphic at the top of this article was the top slide for the audience (based on the number of photos and requests afterwards for a copy). It illustrates the thinking that Dentsu’s COE team follow when looking at a particular candidate for automation.
First - there are some cases where the right answer really is a custom IT project – perhaps the nature of the problem is so core to the business or creates such a competitive advantage that the time and cost investment makes it worthwhile to build and maintain software of your own.
Geoffrey Moore in his book Dealing with Darwin talks about these cases and in this Inc interview summarizes nicely:
“Core is what companies invest their time and resources in that their competitors do not. Core is what allows a business to make more money and/or more margin, and make people more attracted to a business than to it’s competitors. Core gives a business bargaining power: it is what customers want and cannot get from anyone else.”
But there are going to be many cases where the time and/or cost of a custom IT solution is really not appropriate and some off-the-shelf solutions (likely legacy ones) will be used to continue to solve the problem. This is where automation software can help by eliminating the process gaps that inevitably exist with commercial products that need to be applied in a specific way or integrated with a set of other software and processes in any company.
This is when a palette of automation technologies should be used - NOT just the hammer of RPA. At Catalytic we believe that the future of automation is an integrated platform of technologies that cover a continuum including RPA, BPM, EAI, ETL, OCR, (add to the alphabet soup as desired) and machine learning.
Take for example one customer of ours that wanted to do some substantial data manipulation and analysis as part of a process automation – they tried to integrate an RPA product with a leading analytics package to solve their problem. Catalytic was able to solve this use case for them in a fraction of the time and cost because all of these capabilities are already integrated in Catalytic’s Intelligent Process Automation platform.
In our view RPA is a critical tool for the enterprise - you do still have some nails which could use a hammer. But you will be more successful in scaling the benefits of automation across your business by building out a broad palette of automation tools and a Center of Excellence for Automation and AI – not just for RPA.