We need to further extend our perception of software lifecycle ‘biology’ if we think about the use of so-called bots i.e. the software robots that populate Robotic Process Automation (RPA) systems tasked with shouldering repetitive human tasks inside what are often monolithic IT systems.
Appian CTO Beckley reminds us of the imperfection factor here and the need for bot management. “We might see a bot deployed and work quite effectively. Equally, some bots are deployed and we find that they perform an excessive amount of human-handoffs (where a real person has to step in to direct the work action), so these ones get retired, removed or sometimes just repurposed,” he added.
Those dead bots, the handoff abusers, have still been useful because they have served to reinforce the fact that a particular part of a workflow should be left in human hands. But that’s okay, because it allows us to engineer onwards and forwards and not try and apply automation where it won’t fit.
CTO at RPA software company Automation Anywhere Prince Kohli agrees with the human lifecycle parallel that bots exhibit. He says that just like people, bots learn and are able to address more complex environments and processes over time. “The similarities don’t end there. As requirements change, bots must evolve as well, bridging the old and the new and maintaining business continuity. In bot lifecycle orchestration, bots are monitored for health, their heartbeats and output measured, given support when needed and new teachings as well,” said Kohli.
But notes Kohli, there are times when bots can not evolve and have to be retired gracefully as they hand over to new systems that can do the job more competently. The humanisation factor goes one step further – Kohli says that many Automation Anywhere customers anthropomorphise their bots, naming them and even throwing initiation and retirement parties.
Some elements of bot automation lifecycle may occasionally ‘break’ due to data source corruption, scalability issues, incomplete integration connections or other reasons – and these factors can also be thought of as potential bot killers. So just like people, bots need training, investment, skilling up, tuning, and perhaps even the occasional tummy rub.