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Bringing SAP Intelligent RPA to the Next Level

My name is Dr. Andreas Gerber, I am the Chief Product Owner of SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation. In Sebastian Schrötel’s previous blog post (read here) we have seen that RPA is just at the beginning of a broader evolution. In this blog post, I will give you some first insights about the Next Level of innovations for SAP Intelligent RPA. This will lift our product to a totally new experience of a bot design including exciting new product features and capabilities. For more details on how our Next Level looks like, you can read also my second Blog Post SAP Intelligent RPA Next Level Sneak Peek – Creating Automation with the new Cloud Studio.

In addition Harsha Bhat gave us some very interesting insights on how customers can adopt these innovations and find a gliding path to success by automating and optimizing business processes using SAP Intelligent RPA. Also as we are constantly adding more and more content on our bot store for SAP S/4 HANA, ECC, etc.. in this blog post SAP ECC Bot Store Content for Intelligent RPA Praveen gives you an overview of our latest development there.

In the last month, all our development teams and design experts have worked very intensively with our customers and partners to validate groundbreaking new UX concepts with a Low Code / No Code approach for building bots. This was an iterative process moving back and forth in discovery, design, development, constantly including the feedback of our users.

Fig.1 User-centric product development

 

Automating any component in the IT landscape

Our RPA journey already started 15 years back with a more technical approach. In this area, software tools in general were designed for power users. There were valid reasons to do so, especially as our core execution engine is based on JavaScript, giving the user the full freedom and flexibility of a programming language and having an execution engine running natively on the OS to guarantee the maximum of performance and robustness. As in various simulation engines out in the market, workflows are built on proprietary script languages and then being interpreted during runtime, the vendors have to build their own execution platform and tools. In contrast, JavaScript is a standard with millions of people using it daily, having a large community to find help and inspirations. This impressed us while SAP was seeking for a future proven technology, which we finally found with Contextor acquired end of 2018.

And this is what our customers still love and confirm to be an important differentiator: being able to do all the magic you can do with a programming language. The flip side of the coin: you have to be a developer-minded person to get the maximum out of the system.

With the revolutionary start of Apple’s iPhone 2007, the software industry begun to rethink the user experience. This was the starting point for new UI concepts putting the business user more and more in the middle of the product strategies.

 

Giving automation power to the business user

RPA is by nature a technical topic, as the tools need to be able to steer software build on various technology stacks. Now focusing on a business user, the challenge while building a tool is to hide the complexity of the technology and offer the user an easy to consume interface still allowing from time to time to go deep into technology and write their own code.

This also resonates with the feedback we get from our customers, as finally they want to allow all employees in their company to use our tool to build and run bots. This is an important fact, as there is not only one type of person – as so-called persona – using our tools to automate processes as it was in the past.

In many fruitful discussions with our customers, we have identified a couple of personas we will serve in our next RPA revolution coming out this year, starting with a Beta phase end of May 2020. As in the past, we still have a focus on traditional bot developer/designers having a deep understanding of technology and allowing them to do JavaScripting to have the full power of a programming language. In contrast to our current offering we also address two more personas ranging from a medium-skilled coder to a pure business user with no coding background but having deep understanding of the business processes. Finally, not to forget the bot operator keeping the system alive.


Fig.2 Different developers have different skills & needs

 

End of May we will proudly present our first Beta of the SAP Intelligent RPA – code name Next Level. In the Beta you can get first impressions on our new bot building and execution experience. With that we conclude our long journey to have a pure cloud product for building bots, scheduling and orchestrating processes centrally from the cloud over various systems and operating the bot runs. The desktop agent – our execution platform to steer native applications having no internet accessibilities and also web applications – got also a new heart, which is based on NodeJS.

The new architecture of our Desktop Agent still allows to run current bots without any modifications but also leveraging the latest technology stack, to later release also a cloud agent to execute web-applications out of the cloud without any local installation needed anymore. Our SDK will also be democratized and shipped in modules via our SAP Intelligent RPA internal store. This will in the future allow also customers, partners and 3rd party vendors to develop and distribute their own components to connect a bot to an application or system.

Fig.3 Our Vision: Starting with a hybrid approach reaching to a pure cloud only RPA offering

 

Towards a pure cloud offering

In the Next Level of SAP Intelligent RPA, there is no need any more to install software on your local machine in case only web-applications need to be automated, but having the freedom to still use the desktop agent in combination with the cloud agent for heterogeneous setting consisting of native applications and web-applications.

Now, let’s take a closer look on our Next Level Cloud Studio: the main focus is on simplification and intuitiveness for the design time of bots, efficient automation building combined with a great user experience. The mantra behind our attempts is ‘a middle school student can build automations of common business workflows’.

The Cloud Studio is characterized by:

  • Easy provisioning and setup for the cloud studio
  • Easily capture applications, pages, controls and assemble them to build automations with Cloud Studio
  • Ability to create reusable automations and efficiently assembly them to end-to-end automations and processes via the Cloud Studio
  • Visual programming capabilities to parameterize and control complex steps in business workflows within the Cloud Studio
  • Low-code extensions with features like cloud tester & debugger, building UIs and human-in-loop workflows for power users with the Cloud Studio
  • Large number of pre-built activities and skills that can be consumed within the Cloud Studio. This allows native access to MS-Office suite, browser-based applications, page level activities, scenario activities (like start/stop etc.), scenario waits, event activities, application connectors including desktop and remote apps (via HLLAPI, Citrix driver etc.).
  • Availability of tutorials, ‘getting-started’ and expert content for the Cloud Studio based automations and processes.

Fig.4 Labs Preview of the new Cloud Studio design time

 

As SAP is THE process company, it is natural that an RPA solution from SAP has to be the best integrated product to SAP UI-Tech and SAP products. The Next Level of SAP Intelligent RPA will have the availability of connectors and recorders for SAP UI Tech that supports easy update and upgrade. Our aim is to be the best RPA solution for all SAP products and be the customer #1 choice for automating with SAP applications. Therefore, we build on close collaboration with all our UI Tech teams at SAP deeply integrated connectors to SAP systems, starting with:

  • Connectors for common SAP UI technology including SAPGUI and UI5 allowing Smart Capture with auto-identification of connector technology and stable identification for elements and controls within the Cloud Studio. Connectors for common SAP UI technology including FIORIx, Angular, React, type-script and Custom (AWB, SF) will follow.
  • The Cloud Studio will also come with a Process Recorder for SAP UI tech that automatically create the automation for WEBGUI on a quality never seen before.

 

Easily handling unstructured documents

Document Processing and Case Management is crucial for RPA. Most of the processes to be automated are based on unstructured data that needs to be analyzed in order to trigger a respective process automation. The Cloud Studio will support built-in OCR capabilities for text processing from image (pdfs) and the ability to integrate with 3rd party document processing frameworks and information extraction services to work with document-heavy workflows. Our aim is to have it seamlessly working for document-heavy automation flows like BFSI case management scenarios. Therefore, we will include:

  • In-built PDF reader for system generated PDF handling. The set of activities should enable key words-based information extraction from PDF files
  • Technical integration with 3rd-party document processing frameworks (ABBYY) to support case management and such document-heavy workflows and other vendors to be announce soon
  • In-built OCR and text detector for information extraction

 

Optimizing the digital workforce

The core of our product, the Cloud Factory, giving you the ability to setup schedules for bot executions, controlling the execution and also alerting in case of defined events are triggered. The cloud factory and run-time have received enhancements to improve stability and scalability. We combine Enterprise Grade stability and Security with an easy to use control tower.

  • Configurable alerts for agent connectivity failure
  • Named Queues for certain topics. Currently all job schedules go to a single queue. In the future we will offer named queues that can be separately monitored (e.g. Purchase Order Queue)
  • Dependency management, prioritization and sequencing within queue strategy (FIFO, LIFO, EOIO) for jobs
  • Simplified Agent Registration both for single cases and mass environment creation
  • Simplifiied and standardized UI for publishing packages

 

Conclusion

In the releases of the last months, we showed little less features, as all our development teams, architects, designers and quality experts were focused on the Next Level of SAP Intelligent RPA. End of May, we will start our Beta phase with a basic setup of the above described features and will add each week more till we have built the described scope and will release our Next Level later this year.

We want to use the Beta phase for intensive interactions with you, our customers and partners, to validate our latest developments and further improve them till they got released. So, please, be part of our Beta program and have an impact on our Next Level and let it become your Next Level. You can also pre-register for the Beta program sending us an email with your contact information and your willingness to take part in our Beta program: rpa@sap.com

Please stay tuned for the next blog post of this series by Harsha Bhat and more exciting news around Robotic Process Automation and future updates of SAP Intelligent RPA here on SAP Community in the following weeks.

 

Learn More

For more information on SAP Intelligent RPA,

6 Comments
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  • Hi Andreas,

    Thanks for providing the input and we are waiting for beta release, I have some queries and hope you can give me your view.

    1. Would it be possible for you to please elaborate more about “In the Next Level of SAP Intelligent RPA, there is no need any more to install software on your local machine in case only web-applications need to be automated” ? Does this mean that Cloud agent will not be able to integrate with native desktop app, like excel, mail etc ? and we should use desktop agent if it needs native desktop integration?
    2. Can one BOT executed using cloud agent and desktop agent?
    3. Is there any guideline for when to use desktop agent or cloud agent?

    Thanks & Regards,

    Kunaal Masih

  • Hi Andreas,

    Thanks for the insights on SAP RPA roadmap. Process Recorder looks the key highlight to take this to the next level in the direction of No-Code development.

    Just curious to know if recorder is planned to be extended for other desktop apps as well specially MS-Office suite and Adobe PDF Reader.

    Regards,

    Sunil Chandra