The government has a responsibility to be cost conscious. Vigilance about expenditures not only helps keep the nation’s accumulated debt in check, but also allows the government to be an effective steward of citizens’ tax dollars.
Process automation is clearly an ideal way for the government to address the cost-consciousness mandate, as it streamlines processes, removes redundancies, eliminates human error, etc.
But understanding the TCO of process automation software – and how it differs between RDA and RPA – is far less clear.
The following visual breaks process automation TCO into six distinct components. Note that because there’s a lot of variance among RPA companies’ approaches, the following sections primarily discuss RDA as compared to Blue Prism intelligent digital workers.
It’s a bit tricky to compare different companies’ software prices, as some use per-server licensing, others use per-transaction pricing, and Blue Prism charges per digital worker. So, there are two important points to keep in mind here. First, as you automate more processes, the money you spend on the software itself will shrink as a percentage of TCO. Second, the cost of the software is important, but it’s almost certainly not the main factor in your TCO.
Creating initial processes
With both RDA and RPA, humans need to create the processes before the tool can do its job. The typical approach with RDA is for the actual user to perform the process manually for the product’s recorder software, which in turn creates a script listing each of the steps in the process.
With Blue Prism, instead of desktop-based employees using recorders and scripts, IT and/or business people use graphical tools to create “visual business objects” or (VBOs) and define the steps in the process.
As using a recorder is generally a faster approach, the cost associated with initial process creation is typically lower with RDA than with RPA.
Creating later processes
The process creation cost equation flips when modifying existing processes or creating additional new ones. Every time an employee uses RDA to automate a process, he or she needs to manually run each step of the process so the software recorder can create a script to follow. On the other hand, Blue Prism’s business objects are reusable, meaning that increasingly less time and work is required each time a process is modified or created. Blue Prism also provides a standard library containing a number of pre-built business objects, including objects to access other applications and cloud services.
When it comes to the performance of automated processes, just a few seconds can add up to large time gains or losses.
Because RDA-driven processes are script-based, pauses must be inserted between each of the different steps during the recording to ensure enough time has passed for the following screen to load. Most RDA tools insert a fixed wait time, ranging from one to five seconds. Blue Prism automatically detects when a new screen is loaded, which can significantly increase performance time. To put this into perspective…if, for example, one of your automated processes handles 100,000 transactions a month, and one automation tool executes the process two seconds faster than another, you’ll end up saving more than 55 hours per month.
Managing and scaling processes
With RDA products, scripts are often started and stopped by the employee sitting at the machine on which they’re executing. If the goal is automating a process run by that particular employee, this can work well. But when the process is supposed to automate the process for multiple users or large groups – including across different agencies – this locally-managed starting and stopping can significantly impact the work of many employees. Because Blue Prism digital workers run on servers in data centers, they are centrally managed by – typically – just one or two people, who are responsible for making sure they’re always operating as required, and scaling up or down as needed.
Securing and auditing processes
Most organizations have procedures in place to ensure security and provide an audit trail of what people do when they execute business processes, especially those that are mission-critical.
As we noted before, human employees and software bots in an RDA environment typically share the same access credentials because they share the same workstation. Lack of insight into whether a particular action was taken by a human employee or a software bot may not matter in some circumstances, but can have severe consequences in others. On the other hand, all Blue Prism digital workers are given non-person entity (NPE) credentials. The Veteran’s Administration defines NPE as “a non-human entity with a digital identity that acts in cyberspace.” This credentialing allows a full audit trail of their actions, whether it’s needed when a national or cyber security issue arises, when HIPAA regulations need to be checked for compliance, etc.