Latest News: Robots Still Rising! Robotic Process Automation Rules OK

DigitalWhen I think of how a Mutable Business (a business in a constant state of evolution and change) can be made to work, I think of the maximum possible automation. Not just automation of the business process but the automation of the necessary governance too. And this needs to be “clever” automation (exploiting machine learning and AI), automating every routine so that people can deal with the hard stuff, as otherwise the complexity of the changing systems will get out of control.

I prefer to define AI as Augmented Intelligence (rather than Artificial Intelligence). But it rather depends on how one defines “intelligence”, I guess. I think we are approaching – or at – an inflection point for the acceptance of machine intelligence, which means that it could move from hype to disruptive actuality quite fast. Of course, this also implies that predicting just “when” it will take off is risky – one can’t predict past inflection points…

I have been following workflow automation – IT’s hidden little secret for years. The question I have is, how does the new AI based automation – often known as Robotic Process Automation or RPA – relate to the workflow automation I know and love? Has workflow automation evolved into RPA or is RPA a fresh start?

So I asked Andrew Burgess, a Strategic adviser on AI and RPA:

From what I understand,” he says, “the concepts are very similar (managing processes across multiple applications) but I think the IT and Business Process worlds have evolved along different branches. RPA was born out of business process analysis (from a team at Barclays, actually) and the majority of RPA effort is focused on that rather than IT processes. I think the difference is due to the users – RPA is designed to be used by tech-savvy business analysts rather than process-savvy developers.

“Also,” he continues, “I wouldn’t really describe RPA as a ‘fresh start’ as it brings together lots of different ideas (macros, scripting, process visualisation, screen scraping, etc.) into a single, (hopefully) easy-to-use software solution”.

And that fits well with the ideas I’m forming around RPA, remembering that many “fresh starts” can be firmly based on existing, but under-utilised, technology – in fact, most are.

Note: “RPA is designed to be used by tech-savvy business analysts rather than process-savvy developers” – this is the major issue facing development and automation today, in my view. The business-developer silos MUST break down, partly because the business increasingly owns automation – i.e., the automation budget – which is why I like “citizen developer” approaches to systems development such as Mendix and Bizagi.

Siloisation is the killer stalking Mutable business automation – and attempts to make the Developer silo more business-friendly, such as DevOps used (in my opinion) inappropriately, might actually be part of the problem, rather than the solution.

David Norfolk

My current main client is Bloor Research International, where I am Practice Leader with responsibility for Development and Governance. I am also Executive Editor (on a freelance basis) for Croner's IT Policy and Procedures (a part-work on IT policies). I am also on the committee of the BCS Configuration Management Specialist Group (BCS-CMSG). I became Associate Editor with The Register online magazine – a courtesy title as I write on a freelance basis – in 2005. Register Developer, a spin-off title, started at the end of 2005, and I was launch editor for this (with Martin Banks). I helped plan, document and photograph the CMMI Made Practical conference at the IoD, London in 2005 ( I have also written many research reports including one on IT Governance for Thorogood. I was freelance Co-Editor (and part owner) of Application Development Advisor (a magazine,, now defunct) for several years. Before I became a journalist in 1992, I worked for Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC). At various times I was responsible for Systems Development Method for the London operation, the Technical Risk Management framework in Internal Control, and was Network Manager for Corporate group. I carried out a major risk evaluation for PC systems connecting across the Bank’s perimeter to external systems and prioritised major security issues for resolution by the Bank’s top management in London. I also formulated a Security Policy for London Branch and designed a secure NetWare network for the Personnel Dept. Before 1988 I was an Advisory Systems Engineer in Bank of America, Croydon in database administration (DBA). on COBOL-based IMS business systems. Before 1982, I worked in the Australian Public Service, first as a DBA in the Dept of Health (responsible for IMS mainframe systems) and latterly as a Senior Rserach Officer 2 in the Bureau of Transport Economics. Specialties: I have the ability to extract the essence of significant technical developments and present it for general consumption, at various levels, without compromising the underlying technical truth.

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