USU Software: Multi-step digitalization with Robotic Process Automation

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Digitization is currently one of the most important topics in any organization. How can RPA support and accelerate this process?

We know from our own experience as an IT consulting service provider: The public sector – as well as the financial sector – has the problem that systems are often outdated or cannot be easily replaced with new ones. If, for example, technical interfaces do not exist or individual applications cannot be exchanged, efficiency and data quality could suffer.
Here is an example:
Suppose there is a government agency that manages the data of its supported users in multiple systems. This can be a web application in the form of an intranet/extranet for mailing lists, a business system on a mainframe with MVS, data in a CRM system and users in software IT’S M. If a user calls the user help desk of this authority and wishes to have his personal data changed (name, address, telephone number, bank details), the employee of the authority must store this data redundantly in the systems mentioned above by way of example. . This is not only time-consuming for the employee and expensive, but also error-prone due to the higher probability of a typing error, for example.
Since no technical interface exists or the implementation would be too expensive or time-consuming, it is not possible to implement an application in which this data is changed centrally and all other systems are updated automatically.

However, how can RPA solve this digitalization problem?

RPA – Robotic Process Automation – is currently in high demand. There are various vendors in this area, including UIPath, Automation Anywhere, and Pegasystems.
Think of RPA as small bots that sit in the workstation computer or on a server and take over simple, repetitive steps that were previously performed by an employee.

Automation with or without monitoring

By supporting these simple repetitive tasks, a robot in the form of Robotic Desktop Automation (also known as Attended Automation) can assist an employee and perform tasks such as copying data from an Excel sheet into an application. If we return to the example above, an RDA offers, for example, a form through which the employee of an authority adjusts the user’s personal data, and the robot (after confirmation) calls all sub -systems and between values ​​- as the employee would – individually. Here, the employee “supervises” the robot, therefore “assisted”.

On the other hand, there is also unattended automation, which runs in the background, for example on a virtual machine or on a physical server. Here, the important difference is that the robot can function without the human. Let’s refer to the previous use case of a citizen wishing to modify his data. In this implementation, imagine a government agency that is more digitally advanced and has mapped and automated its processes using a platform solution from pegasystems, but also uses older systems without technical interfaces.

Now the user logs in to the pega platform of this authority, starts a process (case) “change personal data” and enters the new data. After the user or an authorized person verifies and confirms the data, the process continues to run and perform various tasks until it reaches the stage where the subsystems or systems no longer old ones need to be updated. Now the unattended robot picks up the task from the queue and updates the person’s data in the old systems, just like an employee would. Of course, in this process (called case), a confirmation can also be sent to the user telling him that his data has been successfully updated.

Added value by robotic process automation

Naturally, you might now be wondering what the added value of RPA is. However, this question is not easy to answer because the answer depends on several factors. Here, for example, it is important to know which application landscape and which cases already exist, and which costs arise during a modernization or an implementation based on a technical interface. In addition, it must be determined to what extent RPA can be considered as a solution. After all, in the case of very dynamic user interfaces that change daily/weekly and contain elements that cannot be firmly assigned by an identifier or certain properties, RPA may not be the ideal solution.

RPA offers a first level of digitalization, although it should not be considered a “superficial solution”. As a computer scientist or developer, we are clearly aiming for a solution where applications communicate with each other via technical interfaces (API), secure, encrypted, etc., without simulating user interfaces. Nevertheless, RPA is an important step in the right direction and brings many benefits such as time and cost savings and better data quality.

Development in the world of Pega RPA

In the current version 19.1 (as of November 2021), pega RPA is developed in the MS Visual Studio environment. Pega provides either a plug-in for Visual Studio or a complete package for this purpose. As far as the IDE is concerned, pega is on the same path as the UIPath solution, which is also developing with an MS Visual Studio plugin.

So what is the best practice or standard way of development?
After a thorough analysis, it should be known which technologies an application uses and how exactly it fits into the business process.

According to this information, adapters must be connected first, such as the WebAdapter for apps that run through Internet Explorer, the UniversalWebAdapter for apps accessed through Chrome or Firefox, or the WindowsAdapter for local Windows apps. In these adapters, one configures exactly how to access the respective (web) application, what are its properties, etc. Like a phone charger adapter that adjusts the voltage and electric current values, in this case it adapts the access to the application, therefore forms an interface with the application.
Depending on the adapter, polling (the process of inspecting and recognizing user interface elements in pega robotics studio) also differs, as these are different in each application. From a technical perspective, a button in a windows application is not the same as a richfaces button in a web application, so an appropriate adapter must be used to ensure elements are recognized accurately.

Figure 1: Object Explorer. Source: PEGA Academy

The next step is to query the user interface controls (buttons, text fields, drop-down menus, etc.) and create the corresponding tree structure in the Object Explorer (Fig. 1). For these elements, or their properties/methods/events from the Object Inspector (Fig.1), we drag the corresponding tiles into an empty field of the Designer, we connect them and we thus create a flow and a process ( Fig.2). The whole process looks like a BPMN.

Figure 2: Illustration of the process. Source: PEGA

As an observation: anything to do with Windows, .NET and related apps/forms works fine, while development for web browsers like Firefox and Chrome is a bit more cumbersome as you need plugins /add-ons for browsers and access. differently (different adapter) than Internet Explorer.

However, Pega has already introduced and released a v21 proprietary development of its IDE. A preview version is available. With the new version, it is clear that they have moved away from MS Visual Studio and thus simplified many things that had to be considered with MS. Additionally, querying of UI elements as well as topic of adapters have been improved. It’s still exciting, and that’s for sure: there’s still a lot to discover in this world!

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