With automation, processes can perform in ways that optimize the amount of human support needed. This shift—moving the burden of processes from humans to technology—has the potential to redesign the way work gets done within an enterprise. Simple automation of processes can eliminate errors, reduce biases and perform transactional work in a fraction of the time it takes humans. And with the application of artificial intelligence, these point robotic process fixes have now evolved into intelligent interactions and processes.
Robotic process automation (RPA) is an emerging field that specifically automates artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics. Although the technology is getting savvier, RPA mimics high-volume, repeatable human tasks, leaving more abstract duties such as relationship building to the humans. RPA complements BPA, after it streamlines your processes.
Jones defines BDD as the process where teams use domain-specific language to express the expected behavior of an application through scenarios. She points out that this is not magic - there is automation code involved in the process - but that BDD is ideal for developers and testers sharing automation work. Specialized tools like Cucumber, the most popular open source tool for automation code integration, executes this work and is the tool of choice for Jones.
BPA is often confused with other terms such as industrial automation, robotic process automation, smart factories, infrastructure management, and enterprise risk management. Industrial automation (IA) uses control systems such as computers to automatically run industrial processes. Primarily found in manufacturing, it replaces the human element and improves the production rate through consistently managed processes. Whereas BPA automates processes and workflows, IA strictly automates the physical human labor in processes and workflows.
An example of a good use of BPA is in customer success activities. Automation ensures that your team members can spend their time on the high-touch work needed to retain your customers (such as onboarding) instead of data entry. Data entry is rife for errors and mishaps, and it relies on the team to communicate the customer information to each other.
This approach involves finding a specialty within your profession that wouldn’t be economical to automate. In Boston, near the headquarters of Dunkin’ Donuts, a reporter recently peered into “the secret world of the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise kings.” One of them, Gary Joyal, makes a good living (if his Rolls-Royce is any indication) by connecting buyers and sellers of Dunkin’ Donuts franchises. As the Boston Globe put it, Joyal “uses his encyclopedic knowledge of franchisees—and often their family situations, income portfolios, and estate plans—to make himself an indispensable player for buyers and sellers alike.” So far he has helped to broker half a billion dollars’ worth of deals.
Chandra Kandukuri is a Technical Test Lead at Microsoft with more than 16 years of software development experience in multiple environments, developing automation frameworks and tools. He advocates the use of TDD and dedicating the time and resources to do it well. Although it is relatively uncommon to see teams utilize TDD in his experience, Kandukuri recommends the method with automated software testing because of the positive teamwork habits it can promote.
Automated software testing can increase the depth and scope of tests to help improve software quality. Lengthy tests that are often avoided during manual testing can be run unattended. They can even be run on multiple computers with different configurations. Automated software testing can look inside an application and see memory contents, data tables, file contents, and internal program states to determine if the product is behaving as expected. Test automation can easily execute thousands of different complex test cases during every test run providing coverage that is impossible with manual tests.
Those capable of stepping in know how to monitor and modify the work of computers. Taxes may increasingly be done by computer, but smart accountants look out for the mistakes that automated programs—and the programs’ human users—often make. Ad buying in digital marketing is almost exclusively automated these days, but only people can say when some “programmatic” buy would actually hurt the brand and how the logic behind it might be tuned.
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About a year later, someone calling himself or herself Etherable posted a query to Workplace on Stack Exchange, one of the web’s most important forums for programmers: “Is it unethical for me to not tell my employer I’ve automated my job?” The conflicted coder described accepting a programming gig that had turned out to be “glorified data entry”—and, six months ago, writing scripts that put the entire job on autopilot. After that, “what used to take the last guy like a month, now takes maybe 10 minutes.” The job was full-time, with benefits, and allowed Etherable to work from home. The program produced near-perfect results; for all management knew, its employee simply did flawless work.
This helps to make output more predictable, reduce mistakes, and make your team happier (whoever used to have to trawl through the most spreadsheets will suddenly feel a lot better about their job!). Since a machine can run constantly without rest, you could have it process large sets of data on autopilot, 24/7. That’s something you’re not going to get out of even the most dedicated employee.