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Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is one of the most sought after and yet misunderstood process automation tools on the market today. In a concise book titled The Practitioner’s Guide to RPA, Jonathan Sireci documents the reality of Robotics Process Automation (RPA) : what RPA is, why it is not AI, RPA’s architecture, how to identify valuable RPA use-cases, pitfalls to consider when engaging consultants, the vendor landscape, common billing models, how to select a vendor, how to build an RPA team and ethical considerations for your workforce. Interview.

Hi Jonathan, so why did you write this book… now?

Jonathan Sireci : There is a large gap in RPA literature between academic and consulting frameworks on one side and step by step “how-to” guides on the other. Scholarly works often result in overarching summaries about RPA that provide executives with the big picture but do little to help turn the concepts into reality. Consulting literature is more detailed but there is an inherent tension between a consulting firm’s desire to openly share information and their existential need to sell knowledge about how to operationalize the strategies they recommend. On the other extreme, there are hosts of “how-to” books that explain with varying levels of relevance the detailed tactics of behind RPA. The irony that plagues many of these sources is that the more detailed they are, the more brittle they are. Brittle in the sense that the detailed information does not always age well nor can it be broadly applied to the spectrum of situations represented by readers. I wrote “The Project Manager’s Guide to RPA” as an attempt to share some practical insights essential to understanding the reality about RPA, that I gleaned leading RPA proof of concepts at Walmart’s home office in 2015, that are often neglected in existing literature. For example, I attended a conference where individuals boasted about having “1,000 bots” to run a few business processes. When they shared the volume statistics it was clear that they were using the vendor’s definition of bots and in doing so, had probably spent a lot more money than they needed to on RPA infrastructure. For those who have not deployed RPA infrastructure, this may seem like an irrelevant detail but as someone who has built and delivered RPA solutions in a high volume environment, it revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of the technology that was costing the presenter’s company money.

An extract from your book that best represents yourself?

Jonathan Sireci : Continuing with the idea of what a “bot” actually is: “One of the biggest barriers to understanding RPA is the whole idea of ‘robotics’. If you are like me the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word ‘robotics’ is something metal with a bunch of wires buzzing around a car manufacturing plant welding pieces of steel together. I think of a Rumba, Battlebots or any number of machines with a remote control that you can touch, feel or crash into something. To understand ‘robotics’ in an RPA context you have to put the physical references aside and consider the more accurate term ‘software robotics’. Another name for ‘software robotics’ is simply ‘bots’. ‘Bot’ may sound more familiar to many of you and it is likely that you’ve heard it used in negative contexts. If you’ve heard of a Directed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on a website, these attacks are marshalled using ‘bots’ or machines that are being controlled centrally and running a common script telling them to access a website over and over again. This context is the genesis of ‘robotics’ in the name RPA – a central controller directing scalable software resources to perform a common process. It’s also the reason I believe there are so many RPA startups with connections back to government cyber defense organizations. I am not surprised anymore when I meet new RPA vendors that have leaders in the company with a CIA or defense industry connection.” 3. The trends that are just emerging and that you believe in the most? RaaS or “Robotics as a Service” is an emerging trend that is here to stay. There are a lot of companies beginning to move to this model but a few I would highlight are Qbotica, Rolabotic and Olive Ai. Instead of buying RPA infrastructure directly from a vendor, why not leverage the central resources of an centralized team? Qbotica and Rolabotic are smaller but quickly growing businesses who leverage this model. Olive Ai is very well backed and specifically targeting healthcare automation. Why do they exist? In short, most companies are not very good at governing the use of RPA tools once they are deployed. Showing value, prioritizing use cases and maintaining the right skill mix across multiple business units often proves to be too much of a challenge. The RAAS model side steps a lot of this pain by outsourcing the infrastructure and governance headaches to people who know how to do this well. The critical reader will note that this is nothing new. In fact, RAAS is nothing more than a new way to sell business process outsourcing. Accenture, Xerox, the big six consulting firms and others have been using RPA-like tools for decades to create value through off-shoring. The difference is the cost model and that innovation is here to stay.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a reader of this article, what would it be?

Jonathan Sireci : Talk to people who have actually implemented or onboarded an RPA product. Find people who can help you understand the value proposition from both a technical and conceptual level. The three companies I mentioned earlier are examples of what to look for if you are looking for alternatives to the big six approach to this space.

In a nutshell, what are the next topics that you will be passionate about?

Jonathan Sireci : There is a lot of work to be done to help bridge project management and functional skillsets into a single discipline. Business analysts don’t always understand how a system needs to be deployed while project managers can become too focused on checking boxes instead of achieving the value proposition. This a space I hope to explore in the future.

Thank you Jonathan Sireci

Many thanks Bertrand

The book: The Practitioner’s Guide to RPA by Jonathan Sireci