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GCN : January and February 2017
INNOVATION them over,” said Abhijit Kakhandiki, vice president of products at RPA plat- form provider Automation Anywhere. “Humans can act more as supervisors to those bots and do higher-value things.” Those higher-value services might in- clude deciding which processes should be streamlined, working with cross- functional stakeholders and making sure “the process is providing the ser- vice your customer needs,” Kakhandiki said. “Those are difficult things that we need humans to do.” Bots are taking on increasingly com- plex tasks. Automation Anywhere, for instance, offers an IQ bot with “vision skills” that allow it to “look at” any kind of structured data and make sense of it. “We call these vision skills because they are better than the human eye,” Kakhandiki said. “Currently, if you look at invoice processing at all, it’s really humans who look at an invoice and try to make sense of it. And that’s what these bots do all by themselves.” The firm’s bots are also equipped with language skills so that users can perform sentiment analysis on a piece of text, including finding pointers “that might help customer service reps fig- ure out if a customer is angry at us,” he said. Furthermore, bot production can be ramped up as needed to handle increas- es in the demand for services at certain times of the year. During tax season, for example, waves of digital workers can be generated to help agencies meet more challenging service-level agree- ments for that period. Bot farms, which offer RPA tools as a service, can also be deployed to re- spond to sudden spikes in demand for back-office processing and other opera- tions necessary for responding to public safety events, such as a flood, hurricane or terrorist attack. IMPACT OF BOTS ON JOBS The decision to adopt process automa- tion technology often raises concerns about whether software bots are tak- ing jobs from IT workers traditionally focused on more routine business tasks. However, experts say the new approach allows those employees to turn their energies to more important work. The technology operates at the user interface, where it “frees up a lot of la- bor from the transactional end of the spectrum,” said Marc Mancher, a prin- cipal in Deloitte’s Federal Strategy and Operations unit. Deloitte has tested process robotics initiatives with several federal agencies. The tools are especially promising for government agencies because they are often “constrained by a lack of ability to perform application integrations across the enterprise,” he added. “Think about an organization that has people open- ing a spreadsheet, extracting data from a spreadsheet, then moving that data onto an SAP or Oracle [enterprise re- source planning application] because IT has not yet had the time or the mon- ey to connect those systems together.” A software robotics approach pro- vides a more manageable way to speed and simplify those kinds of workforce activities by “helping train bots that au- tomate repetitive tasks of medium com- plexity without changes to the existing process infrastructure,” Mancher said. “Instead, we could have people do- ing financial analysis...looking at judgment-based problems at a place that collects revenue, like the IRS or if you’re in administration, somewhere like the [Department of Veterans Af- fairs], where you are managing ben- efits,” he said. He added that the bots can improve service, including “the ability of the federal government to increase service levels and to do work that they weren’t able to do before.” Bots can also address financial chal- lenges that limit the government’s op- tions for tackling large, cross-agency measures. “In the federal government, we have unfunded mandates out there that we have to meet, and we don’t get more in the budget,” Mancher said. “So we have to reallocate our funding to meet those needs. What this technology allows us to do in matter of weeks and months, versus years, is feather those systems together.” Furthermore, “people who before were moving data back and forth” are now working on solving strategic busi- ness problems, he added. DIY PROGRAMMING During efforts to make application de- velopment faster and easier, end users are often left on the sidelines. Although network managers might have a chance to communicate their preferences for new apps and platform features, for example, they seldom have access to the programming tools themselves. But that is starting to change. “Computers have revolutionized our daily lives, yet the way we pro- gram computers has changed little in the last several decades,” said Rajeev Alur, a professor of computer and in- formation science at the University of Pennsylvania. He leads a project called Expeditions in Computer Augmented Program Engineering (ExCAPE), which seeks to help end users perform simple programming tasks without having to write code. With support from the National Sci- ence Foundation, university research- ers from nine leading computer science programs in the U.S. are working on ways to give users more direct influ- ence over choosing apps and develop- ing the programing enhancements they might want in their tools, such as add- ing security features or policies. “More and more people want to cus- tomize their devices in areas where traditionally people haven’t used pro- gramming,” Alur said. “They may want just a little bit of programming.” Therefore, ExCAPE researchers have been exploring the idea of automated program synthesis, whereby computers 16 GCN JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017 • GCN.COM DAY-IN, DAY-OUT SECURITY 0217gcn_014-017.indd 16 2/1/17 3:45 PM
October and November 2016