Automation Anywhere (AA) Review

Provides time savings, monetary savings, and risk reduction

What is our primary use case?

We use it enterprise-wide for HR, IT, and in the front-end of our transfer agency. The bot helps organizes certain HR classes, letting the organization know when classes have not been completed. We have uploaded certain fund model data to third-party portals. We can set up new accounts in less than a week, where it use to take months.

How has it helped my organization?

At a very high level, because of how we've implemented it and how we work with our business partners, they are now looking for ways to help do the automation. Additionally, we've adopted a bit of a federated model, where once we start working with business partners, we start training them on how to use the tool. Therefore, the tool has more of a widespread use around the organization, helping people rethink their jobs.

What is most valuable?

It integrates with different types of applications, so we can automate our business partners' redundant, repetitive tasks.

It is very simple to use. We have people that we trained who had absolutely no development background at all and are now using RPA. They are using it and developing their own solutions. 

We've had people who already had a development background. They self-trained and got certified in about three days, so it's pretty easy to use.

What needs improvement?

While the Automation Anywhere University is good, the estimates of the time that it takes to complete it are a little low, especially when you start watching all the videos thoroughly. One of the courses that they said would take six or eight hours was closer to 16 to 20 hours.

I noticed that from version 10.5 to 11.3 the number of clicks to start a bot through the Control Room and Schedule Manager have increased. In certain cases, I would like to see that become simpler, faster, and easier.

I would love to be able to schedule things based on business case. Right now, the Schedule Manager is either once a day or pick days of the week with times. However, in the financial industry, I sometimes need to run something on the third business day of every month. At the moment, I don't really have a way to set that up in the Schedule Manager. 

I would like to see some improvement in error handling. That would be great. Sometimes, the errors that you get back are awfully generic. It is like you have to do a lot of research to figure out what the issue is.

I would love to see a little smoother integration with some different types of platforms, technologies, and user interfaces. 

For how long have I used the solution?

One to three years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability is getting better. We had some issues, especially because when we went onto version 11.2, there were some scheduling issues. So, very recently, we upgraded to version, and it seems to be a lot better.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability is good. It is very easy to scale. It doesn't take us hardly any time at all if we need to spin up a new Control Room or Bot Runner. The slowest part is probably on our end, getting the hardware.

It took us two years to scale from pilot to the number of bots that we are currently using. I wasn't involved in the early days of the PoC. I came into the group a little later after that, but now, we use a federated model. We were sort of the center of excellence for it, working with our business partners. In a number of cases, our business partners are now developing their own bots. We have developed some, where the business partners didn't have much of an interest to doing the development. They wanted to be involved in the creation, so they understood it, but they didn't want to do any of the coding in the background, so we do it for them. We do all the production support.

I like to go by actual executions, not number of bots, because we have some bots that need to be executed multiple times during the day. Last time I looked, we were well over a 100 different executions in a week.

How are customer service and technical support?

The technical support is great. I have worked with a couple of different people who have been absolutely phenomenal, helpful, and have solved so many of our problems.

When I have a serious production support issue, if I need to escalate it, I usually receive a lot of good help from some great people to get our problem resolved. Sometimes, it takes a while, but I get it. Everyone's environment is different, and it's hard to know everything about how everyone has their architecture setup.

They've started up a user community recently. I haven't investigated that much. I really want to do that, but I always thought that a user community where the users of the product always get together, talk, sort of brainstorm, and come up with other suggestions for the tool would be great. However, I believe that has just been started. I just haven't had a chance to go look at it yet.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We weren't using a different solution before this. Automation Anywhere was our first RPA tool. 

We wanted to remove a lot of the drudgery out of people's lives. Someone copying files from one platform to another or taking data and manually entering it from one system to another was not a good value savings. A human should be doing stuff that is more creative and requires human thought process. We wanted to enable our organization to improve overall. So, we figured an RPA solution was a good way to start on that journey.

How was the initial setup?

When we went to version 11.2, which we set up brand new, if I had to do that myself, it would have been a bit complicated. I worked with an installation specialist from Automation who was awesome. He made it very simple. We had some of our own server and DBA personnel on the line, and he documented everything for us. At the end of the day, I had all of the information that I never had on our original 10.5 environment, which has made it a lot better.

What about the implementation team?

Originally, we used HCL Technologies. At a high level, the original implementation went pretty well. Our problems were other things. We started having more issues around coding and our expectations on thought leadership from the vendor, because they were the ones originally doing the coding. We were the business partners to them. As we began to get certified and do some of the coding, we started to realize that there were things that we just didn't know and had a hard time getting some answers. Then, we ended up starting to work with a different vendor. As far as the systems administration work for Automation Anywhere goes, we took that over, and that's what I do.

What was our ROI?

For time savings, we do time and motion studies with our business partners, so we truly know how long it takes them to do a process and calculate that in. 

Depending on the area and department, we use different rates of pay to calculate dollar savings. We also break that down, whether it's actual realized dollar savings or just a dollar savings that's not realized to the department. 

There's also risk reduction, which is a lot harder to quantify, so we've taken that to more of a high, medium, and low type of deal, because there's a number of cases where we're eliminating manual keystroke entry. That has created huge risk reduction from our standpoint.

If we count the integrations that we have done with Appian, which is where a lot of our savings is from, we are well over a million dollars in savings. This is from only doing development for about a year and a half.

We have seen a return on investment in a lot of ways. We seen dollar and time savings. There was a department that was going to have to hire somebody to just copy files from one platform to another every day. Because of this automation solution, they didn't have to hire anyone to do that. That was a good cost avoidance there. 

One of the biggest things for us is getting the whole enterprise to start learning about RPA and about different ways to think about how they do processes, whether you can improve a process first manually, then make it automated, or if it's even ready for an automated solution. This type of thinking and mindset throughout our business partners has started to make a lot of improvements throughout the corporation, not just in RPA, but in processes.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

We're just starting to renew our license, and we were quoted $115,000 without the IQ Bot. 

The IQ Bot is another $30,000. This is with very limited pages, as we go through our first projects. The majority of the cost was for ten days of onsite training.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

The shortlist would have probably been Automation Anywhere and Blue Prism, at the time. We went with Automation Anywhere because Blue Prism is really good on the back-end, but that's all that they specialize in. We knew that we had to do a lot of front-end type of RPA work with some third-party vendors, which we weren't going to get API calls to. We had to be able to operate with their graphical user interface. Once we made those realizations, Automation Anywhere became our choice.

What other advice do I have?

Make sure you understand what your needs are:

  • Whether it's front-end or back-end?
  • What interfaces do you want to use?
  • Do you need an IQ Bot or some type of cognitive machine learning tool?

Understand what the different tools from the different vendor do, because they are becoming more similar, but they are still designed for specific areas of a technology, whether it's the back-end, front end, or somewhere in the middle. You need to understand your own needs. Once you understand that, research the various tools thoroughly and make the best choice.

The product functions well. 

The integration with other application works really well. We have used it with Appian more than once, and that integration has been very easy to do.

The cognitive document processing is good. We have done a proof of concept. We just purchased IQ Bot, got it installed, and will be starting our first project soon. One of the things that we did learn is reading the imaging was tough because of the DPI needed for the IQ Bot. It's 300. Most imaging systems don't save them that high. They are at 200 or 250, so we ran into issues there. However, as long as we can get electronic documents, it's been awesome.

I have taken some Automation Anywhere University courses. I took the online classes and got certified in 2018, but there are some other courses that I wanted to take that I saw in there. The content is really good.

The bot creation process is easy. It does require more thought if you truly want to incorporate some good error handling in the process. With some of our bots, this is absolutely critical. We have some bots which have very strict SLAs because we are in the financial industry. It is a bit trickier and requires more thought. You can do it and do it well. It's just that it requires more forethought than a typical user would know.

We don't use Citrix.

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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