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There Are So Many RPA Vendors Around; Who Do We Choose?

The robotic process automation (RPA) market is in its early phases. It’s continuously evolving and every now and then, a new vendor pops on the scene with a product that might expand the definition of RPA to include a new concept. For buyers of RPA, the conundrum can be boiled down to two basic questions: is the RPA product of my choice going to cover the features I need and is it going to be worth the money? These are not easy questions to answer, especially for teams that have just ventured into automation as a way of doing work. Since we can be sure, there is no “perfect” answer to these questions, we should consider the following factors as being key in making the right selection:

*Listed in order of importance.

1. Who is the user (or “the customer is always right”)?

Believe it or not, this is perhaps the single most important question one could answer to align themselves correctly. Users of RPA tools are not your paying customers. They are front-office resources, back-end technologists, and even non-technical business/administrative people.

The front-end resources and business/administrative staff might require RPA tools that make bots or automate manual administrative tasks (like printing invoices or opening accounts). It is therefore incumbent on the buyer to include these users in the decision-making process.

The output from front-end RPA tools will be tested by the front-end staff and proceeding to buy an RPA tool without their voices being heard can lead to lack of engagement when the tool must be used.

Likewise, for RPA-driven technical processes, it makes all the sense in the world to make the technologist be a part of discussions at the earliest opportunity.

2. What are the tool’s minimum capabilities (or “put their money where their mouth is”)?

All RPA tools are not a “right-hand in right-glove fit.” They could have differences that make them good for doing one kind of thing better than others. In fact, one should not be surprised if a non-RPA tool starts getting advertised as one because of the rampant interest in the technology.

Ask a vendor if:

  • Their tool creates and deploys automation bots.
  • Their tool can integrate with other common enterprise applications (like the MS Productivity Suite).
  • Their tool has a management console to track, analyze, and orchestrate bots.
  • Their tool has an override mechanism that allows human operators to step in when bots are not working.
  • They can support a low-cost/no-cost proof-of-concept project.
  • Their tool has a strong and expanding ecosystem of integrations and add-ons that can help users realize a robust end-to-end solution. Remember, RPA tools cannot, at least right now, be used to develop cradle-to-grave systems.

3. Does the vendor have good training resources? Is the tool well designed (or “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder”)?

Most RPA vendors have free training courses on their websites. Along with the courses, they also allow free downloads of the tool’s basic version. Prior to deciding, test the tool through the free download and online tutorials. Does the tutorial explain the tool’s functionality effectively? Is the tool designed to support a good user experience? Are the menus and different options laid out clearly? Are the error messages simple enough to help with debugging? Are there exception logs available for analysis?

Going through a trial run of the tool will make it easier for you to judge the vendor’s claims about their tool’s intuitiveness. Remember that, more than likely, the heaviest users of RPA inside any organization will be non-technical business and administrative teams. A good user experience (such as ability to make workflows, build bots, and deploy bots) will lead to less time figuring out the nuances of the tools and more time generating value from it.

4. How does the tool handle security concerns (or “companies that think they haven’t been attacked are not looking hard enough”)?

Bots are vulnerable to hacking. They are digital natives and live in a virtual ether and if it’s online, it’s open to attack. Some bots may have higher privilege access than their human counterparts, which gives them access to sensitive files and data. Always check if the tool has built-in access control mechanisms or if it is able to integrate with third-party vendors (CyberArk and Beyond Trust) that provide such services.

Automation Anywhere claims to have “bank grade security and governance” and Blue Prism highlights and implements four critical security elements in its architecture. What does the RPA vendor publicly declare its security policy to be? It’s important to understand this and question the vendor extensively about avoidance and remediation tactics in case of a mishap.

5. How does vendor support the tool after sales?

Service level agreements are an important part of the vendor relationship with their buyers. You should look for a vendor that has robust support across multiple channels (videos, forums, blogs, documentation), lists defects and their resolutions, provides hot fixes quickly, and has accessible hours (24/6 or 40/7).

6. What is the true cost of the tool (or “penny wise, pound foolish”)?

Info-Tech Research suggests that, unless it’s a real concern, cost should not be an important deciding factor. The initial investment in a tool that satisfies the business needs and lives up to its claims is worth it. Currently, with the number of RPA vendors ready for business, the prices can be competitive.

Some things to consider:

  • Does the tool setup require an upfront consulting fee?
  • Is the tool scalable across organization, and what will it cost to do this?
  • What is the hardware cost for servers? This cost can increase as you scale the tool.
  • Does the vendor charge separate license fees for different parts of the RPA tool? Some tools have a designer and an orchestrator, and both are charged for separately.
  • Does the vendor charge differently for attended vs. unattended bots?
  • Are all these payments yearly or are they one time?
  • Are charges incurred on a “pay-as-you-use” model?

7. Is the vendor innovative (or “to infinity and beyond”)?

All technology companies consider themselves innovators and some of them truly are. RPA is part of what some have called the fourth industrial revolution, and as a result, it is important for a tool that intends to become the standard in this industry to keep pushing its boundaries. Does the tool plan to support AI, or cleaning of unstructured data sources, or follow evolving business rules to make decisions?

Our Take

The only thing that an RPA buyer can do is have a long-term vision for the tool and the impact it will have on organization’s value proposition.

Apart from that, there is no perfect answer to this question. RPA came along and revolutionized human productivity by removing the human from it, but like all things unique, it has quickly become commoditized. With so many options to choose from, and similar features in all tools, making a strong argument for X over Y comes down to personal preference.

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