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What’s the trick with RPA maintenance?

Developing and launching automated processes is one thing, but maintaining them is quite another. For many companies, it’s the biggest barrier to scaling successfully — tracking and improving the automations you’ve managed to implement while saving time and talent for new projects as well. They leave the legacy system behind but can’t quite bring their modernized workflow out of kindergarten.

Bots are fickle, after all. They can suffer from bugs and misconfigurations, or prove themselves to be less useful as your business requirements change. There’s also the issue of managing robotic process automation (RPA) maintenance correctly from the beginning. Knowing what to automate — in addition to why it matters — ensures your development is worth the investment.

While every RPA project is unique, there’s a standard set of tasks to mark off for an optimized transformation. Let’s consider each of them.

1. Develop a governance structure

A clear governance structure can help ensure that your RPA implementation is well-managed and any issues or concerns are swiftly addressed.

The governance structure should include:

Policies and procedures

Outline the rules and guidelines for how robotic process automation should be managed within the organization. This is critical, since many companies fail due to cross utilization of resources from build to run when there are failures in the existing processes. You must be able to monitor your entire RPA technology structure.

Roles and responsibilities

Define the different roles and responsibilities for individuals or teams within the RPA ecosystem, including project managers, sponsors and stakeholders.

Decision-making authority

Specify who has the authority to make decisions about intelligent automation projects, including which projects should be pursued, how resources should be allocated and how risks should be mitigated. This becomes very important, specifically when resources are cross leveraged. Someone needs to have the final say on where these resources are allocated.

Communication channels

Specify how project information will be shared and communicated, including how to report on progress and address automation issues. On RPA platforms, this typically sits in both the IT organization and the affected parts of the business that are relying on robots to process work. Ideally, a workflow or single monitoring location should direct communications.

Performance metrics

Define the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used to measure the success of projects and RPA ROI as a whole.

2. Monitor bot performance

Regularly monitoring the performance of your bots can help you identify any issues or inefficiencies and take the right corrective action. It supports a better experience with your system and workflows.

To monitor bots, you want to provide a keen eye on uptime as well as how often changes are occurring in the bot application. This may mean that applications or robots are no longer fit for purpose or were never a good candidate for automation.

Secondly, close process automation monitoring allows for continuous improvement. By reviewing every automated process and benchmarking efficiency, you can make tweaks or overhauls and assess the impact.  It also encourages stakeholders to engage with each other, from leaders and managers to your RPA solution provider (whether that be internal IT, third-party, or vendor). Communication is key to ensure that uptime and performance line up with business and stakeholder expectations.

3. Perform regular updates and maintenance

Keeping your RPA software and systems up-to-date paves the way for smooth, efficient operation and maintenance. If you’re receiving robotic process automation support from an SaaS organization, this is done for you. But, generally, you still need to be aware of new features and functions within your RPA suites, because they can close security gaps, change workflows, affect the user experience and provide fresh opportunities in your market.

An AI-assisted OCR, for instance, changes daily, and may have to go from 100 iterations to thousands depending on the RPA tool (although less doesn’t always mean better). If you’re on premise, however, it’s critical for organizations to stay in the loop for updated licensing compliance. Lanshore has helped countless clients tackle this problem for RPA as it scales in use and complexity. Without consistent reviews and monitoring, there might be significant impacts on the code you’re utilizing, especially if the update has been due for several years. Maintenance suffers because these issues might be inherent to outdated software architecture.

Another vital update concerns key applications in bot processing. Some of the RPA vendors we’ve worked with consistently perform updates on their software without any communication. These minor changes, in their mind, can cause programs to stop running. Therefore, we suggest discovering when your vendors are planning to release updates through the year — otherwise, headaches will follow.

4. Use error-handling and recovery mechanisms

If mechanisms aren’t in place to handle errors and recover from them, your business processes may be disrupted. And, when SaaS vendors make changes, error handling is crucial for organizations to avoid catastrophe.

First and foremost, you should schedule tests on upcoming bot updates in a “pre-prod environment”. What’s pre-prod? Essentially, it’s a virtual space for a developer to experiment with bot software. It can determine how well process automation will perform and whether integration remains achievable.

From there, error handling needs to be instituted in your code. Common types include:

  • Terminate workflow: Stopping the workflow the moment a task encounters an error.
  • Throw activity: Handing a fault to an error-resolution control before executing the step.
  • Rethrow: Launching activities before the exception is thrown.
  • Try catch:Useful if you’re testing something and handle the exception accordingly. So, put anything you want to test under the try section. Then, if any error occurs, it can be dealt with using the catch section, based on your input.

These are just a few suggestions; many other coding techniques can guide your maintenance work. Depending on how critical the robot is, you may also institute workflow alerts to key personnel in the company in which to handle the error (the human touch on your robotic process automation).

5. Have a rollback plan

Having a rollback plan in place can help you quickly revert to a previous version of your RPA implementation if issues arise. You’ll function once more on your original code, which is incredibly handy when you’re trying to optimize code that’s already working.

Often, we hear that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. These words of wisdom, however, aren’t heeded as much as they should be for robotic process automation. A rollback plan helps you make improvements safely without undoing solid, proven process improvements. It makes maintenance easier to implement because mistakes don’t cut you off at the knees and force downtime.

When strategizing your rollback plan, consider the following measures:

Determine backup frequency

Decide how often you need to create backups of the critical components of the system. This will depend on how important and complex the processes are, as well as the amount of data they generate.

Choose a backup method

There are several options for creating RPA system backups, such as manual, automated or cloud-based. Choose the method that best meets your organization’s requirements.

Create a backup and disaster recovery plan

This will help ensure that you can recover from any unexpected issues or system failures. Maintenance can then return on schedule, using knowledge of the problem to refine more tests and performance insights.

No matter how adventurous your developers are, our five-step RPA strategy keeps a system in good running order by design and allows you to maintain it well. Just remember to ensure that key stakeholders know what’s changing and the work that the program demands. At Lanshore, we can support any major shift to automation in your workflows. Our analysis and expertise is the winning formula for any launch or maintenance challenges, preventing failures at every turn. Reach out to our senior vice president of sales and marketing, Steve Hensel, at stevehensel@lanshore.flywheelsites.com for more details.