Even in these incredibly challenging times, we know that businesses need to keep delivering critical processes like payroll. That’s why we have updated our standard methodology to deliver Robotic Process Automation (RPA) remotely.
Process Identification & Analysis:
Choosing the right processes to automate and agreeing how best to empower employees (rather than replace them) is a critical component of our Inteligent Automation approach.
However, in more ‘normal’ circumstances this work is usually done as an ‘over-the-shoulder’ activity working together with process Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) to gather process metrics, map the process and validate requirements.
By making the most of video conferencing and collaboration tools we are able to:
- maintain virtual face to face interactions to get to know how our clients operate in real life (which is often different to the formally documented procedure)
- virtually walk through the processes with the process SMEs by utilising screen-sharing technology – replicating what we would do during an ‘over-the-shoulder’ session,
- run regular video conferencing Q&A sessions to gain constant feedback on progress.
- record process automations in detail so that each step taken can be paused and replayed within our own time, leading to a very accurate build.
- run continuous process walk-throughs using screen sharing technology to obtain all the required insights needed to perform the analysis of processes. This allows us to produce the business case, process maps and solution design document.
- deliver our weekly Automation Centre of Excellence sessions remotely to gain stakeholder approval to proceed with our use cases and provide key updates on development progress.
We therefore concluded that the identification of viable processes, creation of business cases, prioritisation of use cases, gathering process requirements and creation of solution design documents for development builds can all be achieved remotely.
Development & Unit Testing:
Rigorous development and thorough testing are critical to ensure that the automated processes are robust, reliable and effective. When operating ‘live’ in a client environment, the automations may be performing critical processes and therefore must be delivered with care and precision.
As consultants, we are always on the move and working remotely. Therefore, we typically ensure that we have sufficient remote access to the client’s environments – where required, and as approved by the client.
The use of technologies such as VPNs and Citrix gateways allow us to develop right on the client RPA development servers, within the standards and security controls agreed with the client ahead of time. If further additional security concerns are present, we work proactively with clients to solve them so that we can all keep working.
Regression testing is important to ensure that the solutions are fit for purpose, and that all previous changes and enhancements have been fully incorporated. We want to make sure that our solutions are robust and effective before they are sent for final user testing.
We would typically work hands-on with the client’s IT systems team to perform regression testing on the system. Usually, we would assist them in writing regression scripts, which they would then deliver whilst sat next to them running the bot.
Using a combination of screen sharing sessions we have been able to easily proceed with regression testing. More importantly, we have been able to ensure that no system is under additional stress due to our automation projects.
User Acceptance Testing:
This stage of the RPA project lifecycle gives business stakeholders the opportunity to ensure all process requirements are being met and the automation functions as required.
However, this session is usually run as a face to face exercise with SME’s and managers in a workshop environment. It is used to examine the automated process in detail, testing with multiple data inputs and ensuring outputs meet all business process requirements and cover all known exceptions.
Using a number of video calls we could gather reactions from facial expressions alongside feedback to gauge the success of the product. This gave us great insight into the overall user engagement with the final solutions.
At one client we started by carrying these out as live testing sessions. However, after VPN issues affected access to our remote servers and cut some sessions short, we decided to obtain data inputs prior to testing and record a video of the bot running so we can play back to SME’s. This significantly improved the process as the client was having other network and bandwidth challenges due to all staff working remotely.
By clearly communicating the data inputs required before the testing with SME’s and having those sent across beforehand, screen sharing and running the process via video was very successful. Combined with the ability to slow down and pause bots we developed an invaluable way of examining critical points of the process interaction with systems.
Deployment – Attended & Unattended:
Deployment of an attended robot would usually be the most hands-on activity in the entire project lifecycle. Whether we are deploying to a physical desktop or a virtual machine, we like to do all the setup in front of the user and make sure they are fully trained on how to access and run the robot on their desktop.
Utilising Microsoft Teams, we were able to:
- give control to other team members while someone was sharing their screen to help walk through deployment steps.
- ask the users of the attended robot to allow us control over their screen for half an hour – so that we can set things up whilst they watch (or go for a coffee).
- install UiPath and create a remote desktop login
- install a robot package and map the Config file so that everything is set up and ready to go
- take the user through a short training session to execute, stop and analyse the robot.
For an unattended robot, this is even simpler, as we can do the entire deployment and setup by logging into the unattended robot account ourselves and configuring the package on the virtual machine.
RPA Support & Governance:
Ongoing support and governance are critical to ensure that the solutions continue to work well and deliver the full expectations of the client.
Whilst this would often be done more remotely already, we made several changes to our standard approach to better fit the current working arrangements:
- For users – user forums implemented weekly rather than monthly to track challenges with running attended bots remotely. This gave users the opportunity to overcome challenges and share best practice running bots remotely. We created a direct email address and group for RPA users to side-track the usual IT ticketing process due to high demand of people working remotely.
- For RPA team – daily scrums turned into dial ins and Jira board used to track progress rather than physical scrum board.
- For business stakeholders – weekly Automation Centre of Excellence sessions run via video call and weekly updates of robot production stats sent out via email to all key stakeholders.
RPA is one great example of how we can embrace new technology to be more efficient, more resilient, and more agile.
As we encourage our clients to embrace new ways of working, like RPA, we also constantly challenge ourselves to do this in our own business. That’s why we have now enhanced our ways of operating to deliver solutions more remotely – to react to the disruptive times and embrace the opportunities for continuous improvement.
Sometimes it’s good to be pushed out of our comfort zones and try things a little differently. It’s so easy to do things the way it has ‘always been done’ – either because we are busy, or because we have other areas of focus. However, these times of challenge are forcing us to adapt and find new ways of operating – which we are sure will have lasting benefits.
Has anyone else been forced to shake things up a bit this week and try something new?
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