The Case for End-to-end Process Automation

Processes are the algorithms that determine how an organization runs. Successful businesses grow from proven, effective processes.

At Camunda, we have made it our mission to enable organizations to design, automate and improve these processes — no matter where they are and what they entail. Our ambition is to “automate any process, anywhere”. 

Automation is not new, it is basically the core value of any software product. And if there was one single software product that could successfully run the entire operations of a company, there might not even be a need for Camunda. In fact, SAP tried to become that product in the 1990s. But although there are thousands of companies running SAP, there are none that run SAP alone, with no other piece of software. 

In reality most organizations run hundreds or even thousands of different applications, either bought off the shelf or built themselves, that are involved in executing their business processes. 

Because of that, most business processes span different systems or services, they are not executed in just one system from start to finish (“end-to-end”). This is often inevitable and sometimes even desired, for example in microservices architectures. 

As a consequence, a core business process is typically chopped up in parts that are executed in isolation. This leads to a lack of visibility, integration and control of the complete (=> end-to-end) process, eventually impairing the digital operational excellence of an organization.

Camunda solves this problem because it is a universal automation layer that can orchestrate the work of any human or system participant of a business process. 

They key to automating a process end-to-end, across all people or systems, is orchestration. Camunda is able to orchestrate anything, let it be humans, (micro-)services, IoT devices, AI/ML components, or  RPA bots.

RPA and the Automation Toolbox

If automating granular manual tasks conducted with a legacy application’s user interface is a nail, then RPA is your hammer. This is what RPA was invented for and there is no better way to solve this problem. 

When it comes to end-to-end process automation though, you are looking at a set of different problems, which require a diverse set of tools to be applied. This is what Gartner tries to explain with the concept of “Hyperautomation”, their #1 IT Trend for 2020: 

As no single tool can replace humans, hyperautomation today involves a combination of tools, including robotic process automation (RPA), intelligent business management software (iBPMS) and AI, with a goal of increasingly AI-driven decision making. (Publicly available Source)

In the big automation picture, RPA plays an important role to complete parts of a business process. Other parts may still be completed by humans, or (micro-)services, or IoT devices, or AI/ML components, or… you get the idea. 

So in that sense, RPA products and end-to-end process automation products like Camunda are complimentary. You can combine them by letting Camunda orchestrate RPA bots together with other parts of a business process. And a lot of our customers and community users are already doing that, among them Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Telekom and NatWest. 

Driven by our customers’ real-life needs, we have thought about how to support this combination with out-of-the-box capabilities. During the past few years, we have found new and much better ways for orchestrating process endpoints (for example with the external task client pattern), to an extent that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. We have also created tools for designing (Cawemo) and implementing (Modeler) business processes that are very easy to use and also well extendable thanks to clear APIs and plugin points. 

We can now build on this strong foundation, and with Camunda BPM 7.14, we are going to provide our very first out-of-the-box solution for RPA bot orchestration. 

Camunda BPM 7.14 for RPA

With Camunda BPM 7.14, released on October 13th, you will get

  • A pre-built integration with the most relevant RPA products out-of-the-box. We are starting with UiPath, who we have entered a technology partnership with. 
  • Clarity on the RPA bots (and other endpoints) that are available for orchestration.
  • Ease of use for putting together RPA bot orchestration flows,  providing RPA engineers with  what we have coined “smart low-code” capabilities. These features allow them to orchestrate their RPA bots quickly and easily themselves, without the need for additional software developers.
  • Additional guidance to make sure the orchestration flows work as intended, for example with regards to variables that are defined and consumed. 

For our customers, this means 

  • A much faster time to value thanks to reduced cycle time for automating a business process. 
  • More flexibility to change and adapt an RPA based end-to-end-process.
  • Clear visibility and reliability on their end-end-processes thanks to real-time monitoring, error handling and continuous improvement

A gradual modernization of your automation infrastructure

These new capabilities also help our customers to undertake the necessary gradual modernization of their automation infrastructure. Here are a few statements, made during a panel discussion at CamundaCon LIVE in April, to explain the need: 

“RPA is just incredibly brittle. […] When RPA fails in the middle of some complicated task, it leaves things in a half done state and you’re left with a bit of a mess. And that’s why we’re pretty paranoid about how we approach RPA ” (Global Head of Workflow, Goldman Sachs)

“RPA is a short-term solution. We classify RPA as technical debt.” (CoE Lead for Automation, National Westminster Bank)

“In one way, RPA was a tool for us to overcome technical debt, but it’s also a technical debt because it’s not our future-proof solution.” (VP Service IT, Deutsche Telekom)

The common pattern is that RPA is a great short-term solution, but for the longer term you need to overcome UI-based automation entirely, in parts because it is too brittle and therefore a risk for the organization. The strategy for this is to gradually retire selected RPA bots and replace them with (micro-)services that are accessible via API and/or event bus systems. Those would be orchestrated as part of the end-to-end-process just like their predecessors, the RPA bots. 

Such a modernization arguably takes a certain investment, but it pays off tremendously. And thanks to Camunda as the universal orchestration layer for both RPA and microservices, it does not need to happen in a big bang, but can be done step by step, or bot by bot. Deutsche Telekom, running a huge RPA deployment with more than 2,500 RPA bots in production, has embarked on this journey already: 

‘We are proud to have made the move towards digital transformation very early on and built one of the largest RPA platforms in Europe. Building on our RPA experience, we are now entering the next phase, automating processes from start to finish with the help of Camunda to accelerate digital transformation quickly and sustainably.’Marco Einacker, Vice President Service IT at Deutsche Telekom.

If you wish to learn more about their journey, you should not miss their keynote at CamundaCon LIVE 2020.2

Thank you

This release will mark a big milestone for Camunda. 

My thanks go out to our community including our customers and partners, who have provided tremendously helpful insight and feedback to drive this innovation, and to our entire team that continues to amaze me with their creativity, proficiency and dedication. 

Together we are going to automate any process, anywhere. 

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