RPA – The golden duct tape

At my last company, while optimizing the business processes, I had a ringside view of robotic process automation (RPA) in action. We used to work closely with the RPA team and identify process steps that are good RPA candidates and help build a business case for the automation.

In my current role, I’ve jumped into the ring and now delivering RPA solutions to our customers. I’ve started this blog to document and share my experiences around robotic process automation.

I’m both excited by the promise of what RPA can do, as well as feel let down by the infancy and immaturity of both the vendors and the practitioners. In the upcoming posts, I’ll highlight the key issues and suggest possible solutions to derive the benefits RPA has to offer.

Before I get to the dark underbelly of RPA, let me first present the rosy front.

Robotic Process Automation – The IT duct tape

RPA is like a versatile duct tape that can stick together applications that need to exchange data, but needed a human to do it. Just like a duct tape is a temporary fix that can last a long time with proper maintenance, similarly RPA solutions can be tactical solutions that are quick and cheap to implement, while the strategic IT initiative might take time or might never get prioritized.

RPA tools aid in extraction, manipulation, validation and exchange of data. They work with the current IT landscape without needing to change the underlying systems. At the simplest, they can mimic a user by controlling the keyboard and mouse. However most RPA vendors come with a lot of advanced ways for automating application interaction.

The promise of Robotic Process Automation

RPA tools can deliver great value by automating the long tail of automation needs. This results in the following benefits.


Modi’s strategy for India

Narendra Damodardas Modi, an outsider to national politics, inspired a massive fan following to give BJP an absolute majority. The road to victory was paved with well-meaning promises to out-right hyperbole. What is undeniable is his single-minded pursuit to victory.

So, is Prime Ministership too big for Modi to handle? Does he have a plan to deliver on his promises? Is there a strategy in place? I think, as always, Modi has a single-minded strategy and it’s “Make in India“.

Make in India is a central piece of Modi’s strategy. Everything else either supports this or is mere lip service. Make in India is the meant to restart the economy, generate employment, reduce dependency on imports and bring “Achhe Din“. So Make in India is Modi’s single-minded pursuit. His actions make it crystal clear that it is all he cares about and has thought it through.

What does Make in India need? What does manufacturing need? Money, skilled people, land, energy, infrastructure, conducive environment, and a large market.

Therefore we see Modi waltzing the country and the world inviting capital, highlighting “Demography, Democracy and Demand”. Read that again, he’s highlighting skilled people, conducive environment and large market. In addition he’s working on the National Skill Development, reforming land and labour laws, building roads and ports and aiming at power surplus. He’s gone as far as avoiding signing a strict climate change policy commitment. He’s adopted the international scale of “Ease of doing business” to measure the improvements, and is making the states compete with each other. He’s literally dragging the states into falling into line or falling behind. He’s shuffling the babus until he’s happy.

The foreign policy, the environment policy, the fiscal policy, the energy policy everything is to support manufacturing. So, is it working? I think there are some green shoots. FDI has risen 100%. Electricity production is at growing at an all time high of 10%, and even surplus. But Land and Tax reform are stuck in Rajya Sabha.

Apart from Make In India, he’s done some work for the betterment of the lowest rung of society. The drive against open defecation, health and life insurance made accessible, direct debit of subsidy along with the massive drive to open bank accounts. I’m not sure if they are part of a strategy or not, but could be. Especially how Jan Dhan Yojana is linked to insurance and direct debit and all linked to Aadhar. So the strategy might unravel in days to come.

Everything else that in not supporting the goal is not getting any attention. So whether it is his pet schemes of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Namami Gange, or the black money bill – not much except lip service. Health, education (except to support manufacturing), safety and freedom/rights of citizens are overlooked subjects. By overlooked, I mean there is no change is status quo and the Modi government is happy to blame the previous one for all short comings in these areas. I hope not that issues like the women safety will gain attention only if it prevents Make in India.

The strategy Modi has embarked upon takes time. Building infrastructure and manufacturing capacity takes time and for their positive effects to reach the citizens takes even longer. Modi is playing to a two term game plan. However the average middle class Indian, the biggest Modi supporter is feeling left out. Nothing has been done for them. These people have now become vocal, thanks to social media. So the social media that elevated Modi to the top post, might result in his down fall too. There might not me a second term, because no one has the patience to wait for 7-8 years for achhe din to arrive, even if that’s the only realistic time frame.

Let’s see if Modi has a plan for this too.

Education Entrepreneurship

Are employment bonds really needed?

Does a company, be it a start-up or not, need to make their employee sign bonds that state that the employee has to serve the company for at least for a period of X years or will be penalized $Y?

I find them to be neither ethical nor legal or even enforceable in a country like India.

At INSORCE we have replaced the stick with a carrot and it is working great for us. So instead of saying you pay us $Y, we say, we pay you $Y as retention bonus. That, in my opinion, is a more positive way to start a relationship. This makes the person feel that the relationship is a business relationship among equals, and not a mai-baap relationship.

What’s your opinion on the same? Whether as a employer or an employee.

Entrepreneurship Technology

INSORCE Development Platform

INSORCE is built on a combination of technologies that are considered safe by bank’s for their data center, yet cutting edge to deliver performance that is superior to a desktop application.

We are building on Microsoft stack for 2 reasons

  1. Banks find it easy to deploy and manage
  2. Availability of competent professionals

The key parts of INSORCE are:

  • ASP.Net MVC, where the views are mostly returning JSON results.
  • SQL Server, old war horse, banks can easily manage.
  • Knockout, the browser side MVVM framework. This is what makes the app’s performance stand out.
  • Lucene.Net for search
  • SignalR for push notifications

Apart from this, it is a mix of:

Entrepreneurship Technology

Full Stack CTO Equation

Admin + Vendor Management + Accounts + Sys Admin + Customer Support + HR + Trainer + Product Manager + Project Manager + Architect + Full Stack Developer

= Full Stack CTO

Entrepreneurship Technology

What is Full Stack CTO?

It’s a log of my experiences being a technical co-founder at INSORCE. Its here that I realized that being a CTO at a start-up is much more than either the traditional role of a CTO or that of a full stack developer or lead programmer.

Therefore I coined the term Full Stack CTO to describe what the role entails.

A traditional CTO will focus on the defining, communicating and managing the execution of the technical strategy of the organisation. Whereas a start-up CTO has to deal with a lot more.

A sample of things I have done being a CTO.

  • Budgeting, building the team, setting up the office, vendor management
  • HR – Evangelizing, hiring, pay negotiations, appraisals, training, motivating the team, providing career growth and firing.
  • Laying out the company’s policies and processes.
  • Technology selection for the office – email, calendar, collaboration and other tools like source control, CI env., bug tracker, expense tracker and procurement
  • Defining the product architecture, selection of technology and coding
  • Working as a product manager
  • Product release and deployment strategy, customer contracts, service level agreements
  • Customer support – external and internal.

So in a start-up the role starts lot before the tech strategy is defined and is not limited to managing the execution, but taking a very hands on role in everything, from resourcing to customer support. Thus a start-up needs a full stack CTO.

The experiences I log here and the discussion made were in the context of my knowledge and INSORCE’s needs*. They may or may not have wide applicability. However I have tried to keep them as generic as possible to help fellow tech founders.

* INSORCE is into selling technology solution to the global financial institutions, whose needs are vastly different from startups in B2C or even a B2B for some other enterprises. The technology and processes selection at INSORCE reflect that.