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Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Vendor Selection Demystified

The robotic process automation (RPA) market is continuously evolving. Every so often, a new vendor enters the scene with a product that could expand on the definition of RPA by adding new concepts.

Those in the market for RPA tools should simplify their evaluation down to two basic questions:

  • Will the RPA product I choose support our business strategy?
  • Is it worth the cost?

These aren’t easy questions to answer, especially for teams that have just ventured into automation as a way of doing their work.

Different Folks, Different Strokes

Since no single answer solves these questions, we should consider the following factors before choosing—in order of importance:

1. Who will use the tool?

RPA tools are not for end-customer use. Rather, the primary users are front-office resources, back-end technologists, and even non-technical business/administrative workers. For example, employees who print invoices or open bank accounts might require RPA tools for completing their assigned tasks. Therefore, it makes sense to include these users in deciding whether to adopt the RPA tools.

2. What are the tool’s minimum capabilities?

Not all RPA tools are the right fit. They have different capabilities for doing one kind of thing better than others. Before leadership comes to a final decision, ask vendors the following questions. Does your tool:

  • Create and deploy automation bots?
  • integrate with other common enterprise applications (like the MS Productivity Suite)?
  • Include a management console to track, analyze, and orchestrate bots?
  • Contain overriding mechanisms that allow human operators to step in when bots are not working?
  • Allow you (the vendor) to support a low-cost/no-cost proof-of-concept project?
  • Exist within a strong and expanding ecosystem of integrations and add-ons that can help users realize a robust end-to-end solution (or will it in the future)?

3. Does the vendor have clear and well-developed training support and free testable versions?

Giving the tool a trial run will make it easier for you to judge the vendor’s claims about their tool’s intuitiveness. More than likely, most 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.

Ask the vendor—and confirm for yourself—the following:

  • Does the tutorial explain the tool’s functionality effectively?
  • Is the tool designed to support a good user experience?
  • Are menus and different options laid out clearly?
  • Are error messages simple enough to help with debugging?
  • Are there exception logs available for analysis?

4. What are the tool’s security capabilities?

Because bots are digital natives, they can be targets of malicious actors such as hackers. Some bots may have even more privileged access to sensitive files and data than their human counterparts, which hackers may try to exploit. Always check if the tool has built-in access control mechanisms or if it can integrate with third-party vendors (like 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. Does the RPA vendor you’re considering claim to have a security policy? It’s important to understand your RPA vendor’s security policy. Question the vendor extensively about their avoidance and remediation tactics and protocols.

5. What are the vendor’s after-sales support services?

Service-level agreements are an important part of the vendor-buyer relationship. You should look for a vendor that:

  • Offers robust support across multiple channels (videos, forums, blogs, documentation).
  • Lists defects and their resolutions.
  • Provides hot fixes quickly.
  • Has accessible hours (24/6 or 40/7).

6. What is the true cost of the tool?

In addition to the sticker price, a tool may have additional costs, some even hidden. The latter may be great enough that the tool is entirely cost-prohibitive.

To gauge these hidden costs, ask:

  • 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?

Stratascale’s Take

There is no perfect answer to these questions. Tools will continue to improve and revolutionize our productivity. Although these tools’ expected ROI may seem great, you should always execute due diligence to ensure that the tools align with your organization’s long-term vision and value proposition.

Technical Advisor – Automation DevOps

Usman Lakhani is a Technical Advisor on Stratascale’s Innovation Advisory team. Usman has a background in Software Delivery Automation and is an ardent supporter of merging RPA tools with other automation technologies.

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