Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Alteryx’s Analytic Process Automation (APA) are amazing platforms for companies looking to automate manual, risky, and time-consuming processes. Our clients have begun to ask, “Which of these platforms should we invest in?” While RPA and APA (Alteryx) have some similarities, they solve different automation challenges.
RPA does a fantastic job of automating, scheduling, and orchestrating manual keyboard and mouse processes. RPA can do things like:
- Navigate to websites
- Run reports (many times to Excel)
- Save, move, and copy files
- Run scripts, programs, stored procedures
- Fill out online forms
- Check for events and notify users via email
Alteryx/APA focuses more on automating data-oriented tasks. APA will:
- Pull data from databases, files, and APIs
- Prepare, cleanse, and combine data sets
- Perform complex forecasting, geospatial, and predictive analytics
- Send data to files, databases, APIs, BI/reporting/dashboard tools, and/or to people via email
When you evaluate your business processes, you are bound to find instances when your teams are doing all of the above. You may have data processes that take many hours to analyze and reconcile, but that data may come from an online portal where your team downloads a dozen files every day to compare them to your inventory system. You could use RPA to collect the files, but your team will still spend hours analyzing and reconciling them through their manual processes. You could use Alteryx/APA to automate the analysis and reconciliation, but your team will still be stuck downloading the files and manually putting them in the correct location. To fully automate your process, you may need RPA and Altyerx/APA to work together!
Deconstructing Your Process
When clients bring Capitalize in, we start by detailing the process in question from end-to-end. We talk to the process owners and key stakeholders to understand the goals and reasons for the process. Then we search to find the true starting point of the procedure, document all steps involved during the process, and ensure we understand exactly what the outputs and downstream actions are for that process.
It is important that we challenge the current process. We need to question the source, the process, and the downstream requirements, since many manual processes are fed by other manual processes. During our investigations it is common to find inefficient and/or redundant processes within and across departments. We want to ensure that we automate sound processes. We see a lot of companies automating flawed, inefficient, redundant, and error-prone processes just for automation sake!
A Simple Example
If we were working on a tax automation, we would begin by asking the stakeholders about their process. If the tax department says they get the data “from accounting,” we find out where accounting gets the data. If accounting is performing a manual process, and gets their data “from sales,” we find out where sales is getting the data. If sales received the data from a supplier portal as spreadsheets, we may be stuck with that part of the process because we don’t control the supplier. (We would ask the supplier for an API or direct access if warranted.)
We would then dissect the procedure that the tax group performs within their department, looking for ways to streamline, document, and fool-proof the process. If the solution requires getting the supplier data from a portal, we may suggest that RPA automates that process. If they then take steps like filtering, sorting, pivoting, VLOOKUPs, and other measures to cleanse, analyze, and reconcile the data, followed by report building, we would utilize Alteryx to streamline that portion of the development.
Depending on goal of the process, we may dig into ways to improve the downstream processes. If the end result is a file that the tax department creates and uploads to the state sales tax website, and there’s no API, we would use RPA to upload the Alteryx output to the state website. If there were more complex processes for reporting or if other groups used the tax file for further processing, we would look for ways to improve those downstream processes.
Every process is unique, and most are more involved than the actions of a single person. Before we select tools and begin automating processes, it is important to study the entire process holistically. When we fully understand the process from beginning to end, we can look for ways to automate. There will be instances when RPA is the solution, situations when Alteryx/APA is the solution, and times when we need RPA and Alteryx/APA to work together.
When all you have are hammers, everything looks like a nail. Make sure you’re not hung up on the tool you are using, but instead consider the project and select the right tools for the job.