AUTOMATION DELIVERS BENEFITS for nearly every type of business. Yet, in the quest for performance gains and lower costs, many businesses find themselves struggling with the concept and skills required.
Robot process automation (RPA) takes direct aim at the problem with bots that automate a process and enable shortcuts that reduce or eliminate low-value, repetitive tasks. The technology can support something as simple as automated calendaring or invoicing or as complex as service ticket processing or employee onboarding and offboarding. While overall automation has advanced enormously within tools, applications, and systems, software robots attempt to bridge gaps, squeeze out inefficiencies, and connect disparate functions more seamlessly.
“RPA has really taken off over the last few years,” says Matt Rose, chief experience officer and director of technology services at Tech Rage IT, a Winter Springs, Fla., MSP. “It can save enormous amounts of time and generate efficiencies and cost savings for a managed service provider as well as its clients.”
Today’s low-code and no-code RPA tools are often easy to use, and many deliver powerful capabilities. Most RPA platforms use application program interfaces (APIs) to connect tasks and processes. This reduces or replaces the need to write code, and it typically results in less IT complexity, faster performance, more uniform workflows and processes, and better security.
For MSPs, the key to unlocking the full value of these tools is understanding how, when, and where they make a difference. “You can raise the bar on many processes if you understand the RPA space,” observes Will Young, CTO for Bering McKinley, a Lisle, Ill., business and ConnectWise automation consultancy for IT solution providers.
Invasion of the Bots
Major vendors like SAP, Appian, Salesforce, and IBM have dominated the RPA enterprise space, but newer players are emerging with offerings targeted at smaller businesses like Zapier, Rewst, Pia, and MSPbots; the latter three are specifically designed for MSP task automation.
For example, Rewst provides a wide array of integrations that connect to cloud providers like Microsoft Azure, communications services like Slack, content engines such as OpenAI, and security services like CrowdStrike and SentinelOne. Likewise, Zappier offers connectors for apps and services such as Salesforce, Asana, Google, Dropbox, and Zoom.
Tech Rage IT uses Rewst RPA for its employee and customer onboarding processes, and it will soon use the technology for offboarding as well. The automation switches on and off network access for a new hire or ex-employee. “We can set the parameters and the specific time the desired action will take place,” Rose says.
Meanwhile, Bering McKinley relies on RPA for calendaring, data management, and security tasks.
RPA Best Practices
Channel pros can benefit by putting RPA to work internally—and also offering these services to clients. However, Rose cautions, it isn’t as simple as installing applets and APIs and witnessing gains. “You need to have a good idea of what you want to achieve and how RPA can help. There’s a need to understand workflows.”
While low-code or no-code frameworks simplify automation and democratize the technology, it’s vital to determine whether the time and expense required to set up an RPA framework is productive. “If you’re going to spend several hours automating something that only saves a few seconds here and there, it’s probably not worth it,” Rose adds. “You want to focus on high-value tasks.”
Young points out that there’s a learning curve associated with RPA and using it effectively, though it’s a capability that most MSPs should acquire. He recommends focusing on just a few platforms and tools and learning how to use them to maximum advantage. “You have to look at where you can automate with the biggest impact,” he says.
In some cases, RPA can serve as a new source of revenue for MSPs that help clients automate, but the general focus is to improve internal processes and deliver value through a better experience or improved security. Concludes Rose: “Process automation has come into its own. It’s a space that will continue to grow.”
Image: iStock / Olivier Le Moal