The impact of RPA and automation on technical debt

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Through lack of a proper testing suite, poor documentation, and improper version management, an increase in technical debt can quickly become a burden to the enterprise that spews out bots rapidly.

One of the main concerns harbored by CIOs and technology leaders is how to keep “technical debt” to the minimum.

But what – you might ask ­– is “technical debt”?

The Wikipedia definition is: “Technical debt (also known as design debt or code debt) is a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.” In layman’s terms, “technical debt” is like borrowing money for immediate needs that becomes a burden over time through having to repay the loan with interest.

Even prior to the rise of robots, enterprise architects and the technical community have been concerned about technical debt. Now, with wider and faster adoption of robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent automation, the concern is both extremely acute and valid.

More often than not, technical debt is caused by the business driving faster adoption of more and more bots without considering the possibility of redundant, unused, unaccounted, or improper code (in the form of bot artifacts) clogging up the enterprise.

Capgemini’s ESOAR (Eliminate, Standardize, Optimize, Automate, Robotize)  methodology can help you mitigate this technical debt on three levels:

  • At the design level – I have personally witnessed my clients experience a Eureka moment when presenting our ESOAR methodology to IT and the business simultaneously. ESOAR puts design at the center of bot execution, leading to immediate recognition on how to solve the underlying problem – and technical debt as a consequence.
    • Eliminate and Standardize – these steps address the process side of the equation to ensure all of your processes are required and streamlined.
    • Optimize – this step “tunes” your ERP and underlying execution system to make optimal use of the systems you’ve invested in.
    • Automate – this step leverages APIs and web services where applicable. With advancements in micro services’ architecture and ease of data interfaces, emphasis  is put on automation prior to considering task-level automation that needs to be robotized.
    • Robotize – this step helps you to achieve a quick return on your investment and long-term business benefits by implementing enduring robots.
  • At the software level – RPA development requires an organization to follow a structured and clear software development lifecycle, not unlike what’s required for other application development.
  • At the code level – coding requires RPA programmers to follow a consistent set of standards to ensure the program flow is structured, modularized, elegant, and features outstanding exception handling. This is somewhat similar to basic coding hygiene.

Similar to application lifecycle, bot lifecycle – and the processes required to manage the bot from onboarding, through operations, to decommissioning – is critical for the business, IT, and the entire enterprise. The challenge of overseeing bots can be compared to managing small drones, albeit with increased complexity. Although organizations should take part ownership of their “digital workforce,” managing the lifecycle of process bots from inception to completion is best suited to IT teams working in an RPA center of excellence.

A lack of a proper RPA testing suite, poor documentation, and improper version management are just some of the other challenges that lead to an increase in technical debt, which can quickly become a burden to the enterprise that spews bots rapidly.

Acting in an agile way, ESOAR helps to understand and carefully plan the need for urgency in managing the downstream challenges to balance the immediate benefits and long-term impact – in other words, a business case.

To learn how Capgemini has helped enterprises adopt foundational and critical tools, methodologies, and practices to set up automation programs that manage technical debt and accelerate business benefits, contact: prasanna.velayudham@capgemini.com

Learn more about how Capgemini’s Automation Drive brings a unified, open and dynamic suite of intelligent automation tools, services, and expertise that serve your business as a continuously evolving source of innovation and value.

Prasanna Velayudham is responsible for advising clients on RPA and business process automation, as well as bringing accelerated and sustainable benefits to enterprises.

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