Digital transformation has become the priority for organisations of all sizes, resulting in a dramatic shift in the role of IT.
As we move into 2022, it’s rapidly becoming clear that IT no longer supports the business – today, IT is the business.
Brian Little, chief operating officer of IDI UK, points out that, in the modern organisation, IT has become an integral aspect of the business. “When everything is digitised, you are constantly assessing, implementing, reassessing and playing catch-up with technology simply to stay relevant and possibly ahead of your competitors.”
“Your IT is no longer a stable requirement within the business,” he adds. “It is rapidly becoming the business.”
As businesses change, and their relationship with IT changes, the IT reseller channel needs to change the way they address the market and the services they offer as well. This has always been the case, and the successful VARs do so as an ongoing strategy.
“The reseller channel has developed around the supply of certain products and services,” Little explains. “Until quite recently, the reseller would buy ready-made ‘packaged’ products like hardware, software and communications, which they would implement into the customer’s business to cater for a specific need. The so-called plug-and-play revolution made it both possible to do this modularly and ubiquitously.
“Periodically, they would upgrade and change the product implemented as new technologies leap-frogged the older ones.”
But now resellers face a new challenge, as the traditional channel business starts to converge with software development, which has always been a completely separate discipline and typically not the reseller’s area of expertise.
“Bespoke development has pretty much always been done by development houses rather that the channel as we know it,” Little explains. “It’s typically addressed a different set of requirements and required different skills and perspectives on creating a solution; as well as a different billing model.
“As far as the business is concerned, there have always been two parallel worlds in IT: the IT channel selling products and services; and the people developing bespoke software needed to achieve specific tailor-required outcomes in the business environment.”
Although delivered via different channels, these two areas of endeavour are complementary, with bespoke software often adding to the features or deliverables of the tools and applications delivered by the traditional channel; or connecting disparate systems to allow for the broader use of the IT infrastructure for purposes of data gathering and intelligence.
“Typically, though, the reseller would help customers with the technology, but they would be on their own in dealing with the development houses,” Little adds.
Today, however, he advises that the reseller channel has a new opportunity opening up and should get their heads around “software development”; as they are now being enabled to accompany end user customers on an expanding digital transformation journey.
“What’s brought this change about is something called low-code (or no-code) development,” he explains. “Low-code allows the channel themselves to look at getting involved in bespoke application development.
“They already understand the networking and off-the-shelf applications; they know what the customers need; and now that can make use of low-code to start filling in the gaps and providing a full IT service at a deeper strategic level of the businesses.”
Ideally, organisations could rely on a single reseller to provide all of their strategic IT requirements, says Little. This would extend from infrastructure like data, communications, hardware and software, to analysis of the data, the creation of intelligence and feeding that back into the business to add value and drive profitability.
“For many businesses, one of the current holy grails of IT value is robotic process automation (RPA), and a number of vendors have come out with toolsets that can help them achieve it,” Little explains. “Many real-world circumstances are converging with RPA touted as the glue of that convergence.”
RPA with Roboteur
IDI’s RPA toolkit Roboteur by SpacePencil is based on the low-code Z-One platform that allows the channel to offer bespoke services that would otherwise be farmed off to a development house.
“Because of it’s low-code architecture, Roboteur allows the channel to get into the bespoke development game, and start offering customers an agile end-to-end solution,” Little says.
“But the channel needs to understand that, as is the case with all technology, there is an investment required if they are going to be successful.”
Resellers need to make an investment in business and process analysis; and in a certain level of development skill, Little points out.
“Resellers have to get these skills on board: they understand the infrastructure, and have implemented it; now they need to go further and understand the business and the processes involved so they can make automation work. Many already have this skill as a result of their strategic engagement.”
On top of that, they need to acquire the development skills to be able to take an RPA toolkit and create automated bots that match the business need.
“Typically, resellers fall short on the development skills, simply because it hasn’t been needed to supply ‘plug-and-play’ building blocks,” Little points out.
Being able to develop automation bots will set resellers apart from that pack, and save their customers both time and money by getting to value quickly.
“But here’s the differentiator: while some toolkits are complex and require high-level skills; Roboteur uses a low-code, modular architecture so resellers can add value with a significantly lower level of development skills and experience and therefore cost investment to onboard.
“Because the heavy lifting has been done in the product’s modular code design, resellers can build bots if they have even basic development skills,” Little adds. “But they do need to have those development disciplines and thinking skills, alongside business analysis and process design know-how to be successful.”
Automating the business
Using Roboteur, it’s a relatively simple job to design, develop and deploy automation processes based on a business’s needs.
“If a proper analysis is done upfront, a business analyst can design a process flow,” Little explains. “The developer can then fit the Roboteur command modules into the process flow, connecting modules containing required inputs, logic flow, decision-making, data manipulation, and required outputs to the next in line command-flow module – rather like building with Lego blocks.
“Because the modules are all pre-built, there’s little coding required, but you do need some development skills to understand the required variable settings, decision tree options and requirements, and desired output variables – and where they need to progress to towards your automation end result solution.”
The Roboteur go-to-market model is through the channel. “And this means we have to assist the channel to get a foothold in the RPA market,” Little says. “We come in at a price point that allows our partners to talk to a broad range of customers, across a broad range of their RPA opportunities; and we want the reseller to take as large a portion of the services revenues possible by helping customers to develop their bots.”
The Roboteur ROI break point is far lower than other offerings, allowing RPA to be rolled out much further down the value chain, expanding the RPA opportunity reach for enterprise customers and placing the RPA wins into the hands and strategic decision-making of the SMME market for the first time.
“Roboteur and other RPA products are not a solution – they are toolkits to help you build solutions to automate processes,” Little says.
“Bear in mind that you will be developing a ‘bespoke solution’ that integrates to other systems; email, OCR, documents, databases, websites, ERP and accounting or HR systems, and moves and manipulates data through automation processes between them to achieve desired business outcomes. So you need to understand development commands, where and how they are used, the use of APIs and hooks into other applications and websites, data structures, screen grabbing, etc and the use of best development practices, methodologies and implementations.
“But if you can do that, as a channel partner you have a great opportunity to get more engaged with the customer’s full IT solution. You are no longer limited to off-the-shelf solutions and hope for the best they can deliver.”
Tips for bot development
Robotic process automation (RPA) has acquired something of an aura – a sense that it can solve just about any problem.
“But RPA isn’t a silver bullet for every application,” says Brian Little, chief operating officer of IDI, which develops the Roboteur RPA system.
“In our experience – and the reason most of the vendors in this market typically have a direct model – is, RPA is a strategic business decision, has specific needs criteria, and more often than not touches on many if not all of your business elements, both in the internal network and outside of it in the web. You cannot approach an environment using RPA as a silver bullet to solve all your problems.”
Little believes there are a number of factors that have to be present for RPA to succeed in meeting a business’s requirements.
“First off, there has to be consistency, which means standardization. You can’t bend RPA to cater for inconsistency of standards – you have to bend the inconsistent to the standards. Standardisation of documents, forms, data inputs, date formats, mail subject titles, are not a new requirement for business but are often lacking or uncontrolled, making it difficult to manage and leverage their data and systems to their advantage.
“RPA won’t give you a standard, although it can be helpful in supporting the standards a business defines, and discovering the variants as exceptions to be brought back to the business-defined standard to become part of the business or automation process.”
He cites the example of a bot that’s required to capture all sales email reports as part of the process flow. This means the mail is identified by the word “sales” in the title for example – not “verkope” or “sails”, or some other word that is not defined in the format.
“Those standards have to be pre-defined. The RPA is built to work within those definitions and exception list everything else for manual intervention to return them to standards for the system to deal with automatically once standardised. And if there’s no standard, RPA is an uncomfortable fit with a dubious success factor.
The second thing that needs to be present for RPA to succeed is repetition, Little says.
“If a process isn’t something that happens repetitiously, there’s often little point in applying RPA to it. Because if there’s not a lot of repetition, you won’t see a quick return on investment (ROI) unless other softer value factors are the goal.
“Like all technologies, RPA too has both its desired and ill-fitting applications.”
For more information on Roboteur, visit www.spacepencil.co.uk