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Understanding the process automation landscape

In 2015, Deutsche Telekom began to use robotic course of automation (RPA), considered one of many instruments in the entire course of automation area. Over time the corporate developed an army of more than 2,500 RPA “bots” in an enormous success story. However additionally they needed to be taught that even when RPA has “course of automation” in its title, it does probably not automate processes, however duties.

This can be a widespread misunderstanding that’s rooted within the complexity of the method automation panorama, the place device classes are multidimensional and tough to seize. On this article I’ll reply the query I get requested nearly day by day (what’s course of automation?) and supply an summary of the method automation area.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll slender the scope of course of automation to the next:

  • Enterprise processes and digital processes: These are the standard enterprise processes you understand from most firms (like buyer onboarding, declare settlement, mortgage origination, order achievement), typically spanning a few completely different methods finish to finish. The time period “digital course of” appears favorable these days, as a result of the time period “enterprise course of” is usually thought-about old-fashioned.
  • Integration processes: Processes that concentrate on the mixing of methods or providers, for instance to orchestrate microservices or assure consistency when doing distant communication.

Different course of automation use instances are explicitly out of scope:

  • Processes between untrusted individuals (corresponding to separate firms): This can be a potential setting for blockchain.
  • Infrastructure provisioning or IT automation (e.g. Ansible, Terraform): This can be a area by itself with specialised instruments.
  • Steady integration/steady supply (e.g. Jenkins, GitHub Workflows): CI/CD construct pipelines are commonplace processes in software program engineering which might be automated by commonplace software program.
  • Web of issues (e.g. Node Crimson): IoT use instances are sometimes tackled with devoted tooling that I’d categorize as process automation. For simplicity, I’ll go away this dialogue out of scope for this text.
process automation 01 Camunda

Now, there are two very several types of digital or integration processes:

  • Customary processes: At any time when your organization doesn’t wish to differentiate through the method you should buy industrial off-the-shelf software program (COTS) like ERP, CRM, or HR methods. On this case, you sometimes adapt your working procedures to the software program.
  • Tailored processes: Some processes are distinctive to a company and due to that have to be tailored to the group’s wants. Whereas these processes could be the identical throughout completely different organizations (e.g. buyer on-boarding, order administration, declare settlement), the best way the group designs and implements them is exclusive and that may assist differentiate them of their market. This permits organizations to be extra aggressive, conduct their enterprise extra effectively, cut back prices, enhance income, and rework right into a extra digital enterprise.

There’s some grey space in between these two classes once you customise your commonplace software program. However firms have turn into increasingly cautious about doing this due to unhealthy experiences prior to now.

The choice must be made individually for each course of you’ve within the firm. And please word: There is no such thing as a proper or improper choice, besides that your alternative ought to replicate your small business technique. This text will deal with tailored processes.

Software program to automate tailored processes

Tailored processes contain constructing software program for course of automation. That is “software program to construct software program” and could be roughly categorized by way of two dimensions (the character of the instruments, and the character of the automation), as illustrated within the determine beneath:

  • Course of automation cares about automating the management circulate of the method. It focuses on the sequence of duties, not a single process as such. Job automation automates single duties in a course of, e.g. by integrating with some system.
  • Developer-friendly instruments combine frictionlessly in typical developer device stacks and journeys, however resolve sure issues for the developer which might be particular for course of automation (e.g. offering persistence of the method state, graphical course of fashions, versioning of course of fashions). Developer-friendly instruments require software program growth to construct an answer. Low-code instruments enable non-developers to implement automation logic by offering refined graphical person interfaces and wizards, hiding technical particulars. This permits completely different roles to construct options, but additionally limits prospects and requires proprietary know-how.
process automation 02 Camunda

With these two dimensions, you possibly can type instruments into the 4 main buckets described within the subsequent sections.

Low-code process automation

Typical examples of low-code process automation embrace utility integration instruments and RPA:

  • Utility integration instruments (e.g. Zapier, IFTTT, Tray.io, Integromat): Utility integration instruments can execute actions when some occasion occurs, for instance inserting new knowledge into Airtable when a Trello card is accomplished. A few of these instruments prolong past the boundary of process automation, additionally offering primary course of automation capabilities (e.g. tray.io.
  • Robotic course of automation (RPA) instruments (e.g. UiPath): RPA tools can automate duties inside legacy methods that don’t present any API. That is about display scraping and simulating mouse or keyboard actions — form of just like the Microsoft Workplace macro recorder on steroids.

Low-code process automation instruments are nice for fixing easy integration issues in isolation and assist to take away handbook integration work, corresponding to copying knowledge over from system A to system B. The fast enterprise worth is the rationale that RPA is such an enormous success.

Nevertheless, the automation scope have to be easy sufficient. And word that ensuing options are sometimes untested, naive, and arduous to keep up. Many options deal with the glad case and overlook distinctive conditions, which then hit unexpectedly in manufacturing, typically going unnoticed. This could make the options brittle.

Developer-friendly process automation

Automating single duties in a developer-friendly means sometimes means leveraging not solely software program growth but additionally the next:

  • Integration frameworks (e.g. Apache Camel): Integration frameworks ease the job of a developer for sure duties like communication with the file system, messaging middleware, and different interface applied sciences.
  • Batch processing: The classical technique to automate single duties is with batch jobs that apply this process to each row in a sure dataset.
  • Occasion-driven structure (EDA): A part can react to knowledge in a stream, with out understanding the place this knowledge is coming from. Widespread tooling contains occasion brokers like Apache Kafka.

In distinction to low-code options, developer-friendly options require software program builders to be concerned. Then again, these builders are usually very productive, as they’ll work within the stack identified to them. Additionally, the ensuing resolution is sometimes extra secure and can resolve extra complicated issues.

Chaining process automations

Job automation instruments don’t implement enterprise course of flows. Nevertheless, a sequence of RPA bots, integration duties, or occasion subscriptions would possibly kind a logical chain that implements a enterprise course of. This comes with two challenges. First, the method circulate doesn’t have its personal persistence, making it arduous to find out the present state of any occasion. Second, the control flow logic is nowhere visible, making these architectures arduous to know and keep. (That is additional described in my discuss, “Complex event flows in distributed systems.”)

There are two classes of instruments that concentrate on offering visibility into these chains of duties:

  • Course of mining instruments: These merchandise may help you perceive how processes are literally automated utilizing a bunch of legacy instruments. Usually, this entails loading and analyzing a bunch of log information from these methods, discovering correlations, and mapping the method flows.
  • Course of occasions monitoring instruments: These instruments enable customers to map occasions to a course of mannequin that’s both offered or found on the fly. In distinction to course of mining, which is usually primarily based on log file evaluation, course of occasions monitoring focuses on ingesting reside occasion streams, most likely produced by your event-driven structure.

Low-code course of automation

Course of automation instruments automate the management circulate of multi-step processes. Their focus is much less on the one process and extra on the interaction between duties. Processes are sometimes long-running in nature, which results in their very own necessities for the device (persistence, operations tooling, and many others).

Low-code instruments intention to permit non-developers to implement these processes. Typical device classes embrace the next:

  • Conventional enterprise course of administration suites (BPMS): Now referred to as “clever” BPMS (iBPMS) by Gartner, instruments on this area embrace Pega and Appian.
  • Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) instruments: iPaaS offerings present primary prospects to implement course of circulate logic. Examples embrace Tray.io and Process Street.
  • Robotic course of automation (RPA) instruments: RPA instruments are generally abused to automate processes. I strongly advise against doing this, however I needed to incorporate this feature right here for completeness.

A few of these instruments can actually assist to automate easy processes. If you’re a startup, you would possibly get together with a typical set of SaaS purposes after which join them utilizing iPaaS options sufficiently. However these approaches fall quick on complicated enterprise processes or integration eventualities.

What I’ve frequently discovered is that low-code merchandise don’t ship on their promise and fewer tech-savvy citizen developers can not implement core processes themselves. In consequence, firms must revert again to their IT departments and ask them to assign skilled software program builders to complete the job, which in flip aren’t productive with proprietary low-code stacks.

Developer-friendly course of automation

There are instruments that enable software program builders to productively work on course of automation tasks:

  • Developer-friendly workflow engines, course of orchestrators, or microservice orchestrators, which are available three kinds:
    • Open supply product: Light-weight instruments with enterprise editions being out there from a vendor, corresponding to Camunda, JBoss jBPM, or Flowable. Having a vigorous open supply venture and group plus the ensures from a vendor that is dependent upon the income stream are an important mixture.
    • SaaS: Many instruments are offered as a managed service, both SaaS-only, corresponding to AWS Step Functions or Google Workflow, or as a managed model of an current open supply product, like Camunda Cloud. Word that many of the cloud suppliers at the moment focus extra on integration and fewer on enterprise processes.
    • Open supply venture: Greater organizations typically develop their very own homegrown stack of instruments, together with a workflow engine. A few of these instruments are made out there below an open supply license, however with none prospects for help, ensures, or prospects to affect the roadmap. These instruments are opinionated concerning the surroundings, as they’re constructed for one particular group quite than the general market. Nicely-known examples are Netflix Conductor and Uber Cadence, the latter being the inspiration of the comparatively new startup Temporal.
  • Digital course of automation (DPA): A class that principally extends the BPMS class to focus on digital end-to-end processes within the context of digital transformation. The boundaries of this broad class aren’t sharp in any respect. Many distributors from all classes sketched right here declare DPA for advertising causes. Provided that digitalization and end-to-end course of automation are complicated in nature, I place this class into developer-friendly course of automation.