Pega Robotics: Driving a wider automation agenda

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The Pega Robotics (RPA) technology was originally developed by OpenSpan, an automation specialist founded in 2005. Pega Robotics takes a differentiated approach to application automation that makes it particularly suitable for attended-mode use, and also gives it efficiency advantages for unattended use.

Top takeaways

Deep hooks drive comprehensive, efficient integration

The Pega Robotics platform, like other RPA platforms, is designed to automate data entry, data gathering and other repetitive, routine tasks usually carried out as part of high-volume, repetitive work – for example, service fulfilment work in call centres, shared-service centres, and back-office processing environments.

Pega Robotics has an approach to accessing target applications that makes the resulting automations particularly powerful in use alongside human workers. Rather than ‘hooking into’ a high-level Windows UI API to discover UI elements, automate use of the keyboard and mouse and listen for UI events, Pega Robotics injects code into target applications that allows it to interact with them programmatically, at a much deeper level. The practical result is that automations can interact with target applications completely independently of human users – so human users can work at the same time as automations are executing; and also, automations can interact with target applications even if their windows are hidden or minimised.

Part of a wider automation story

Pega Robotics comes from Pegasystems’ acquisition of RPA software specialist OpenSpan in 2016. The core of the technology remains the same, but now Pega Robotics – with both attended and unattended automation capabilities – is positioned as being an integral capability within the larger Pega Platform.

The broader Pega Platform is positioned as a platform for Digital Process Automation (DPA) – combining not only robotic automation tools, but also workflow and case management, decision management, web and mobile front-end application development and predictive analytics.

Pega Robotics isn’t perfect: for example, it currently lacks team development features. Nevertheless, if you’re considering a wider investment in automation technology or if you’re already a Pegasystems customer then Pega Robotics is a natural choice. If you’re focused primarily on investing in RPA at this time, then Pega Robotics is still very worthy of consideration.

Targeted robotic automation, now part of a larger platform

OpenSpan: a desktop automation pioneer

The Pega Robotics (RPA) technology was originally developed by OpenSpan, founded in the US in 2005. Prior to its acquisition by Pegasystems for $52m in 2016, the company had deployed its technology to over 200,000 desktops for around 140 customers across 21 countries – with a business employing around 150 people and annual revenues in the region of $25m.

From the start, OpenSpan’s technology was optimised for attended use (where bots work side-by-side with people, helping to automate repetitive tasks).  With its focus on attended desktop application automation (now known as attended RPA or Robotic Desktop Automation), OpenSpan had naturally become particularly successful in call centres, augmenting and streamlining the work of customer service agents – with large banks and telecoms providers implementing OpenSpan at significant scale (with several operational deployments of between 10,000 – 30,000 bots). In 2007, OpenSpan released Automation Broker – the first iteration of its Robot Manager (see below).

In addition to its desktop automation product, OpenSpan developed a complementary product: Workforce Intelligence. Working off the same core technology, rather than driving automated actions against desktop applications, Workforce Intelligence merely ‘listened’ to the actions of human users – building up detailed pictures of how people used the applications on their desktops and using this data as a foundation for analytics that customers used to drive any type of automation and work optimisation.

Pegasystems and Pega Robotics

Following its acquisition by Pegasystems, the OpenSpan products were renamed as Pega Robotics and Pega Workforce Intelligence, but the core of the technology remains the same. Now, however, Pega Robotics – with both attended and unattended automation capabilities (including Robot Manager) – is positioned as being an integral capability within the larger Pega Platform, alongside Pega Workforce Intelligence.

The broader Pega Platform is positioned as a platform for Digital Process Automation (DPA) – combining not only robotic automation tools, but also workflow and case management, decision management, web and mobile front-end application development and predictive analytics. With its existing presence within contact and call centres established following its 2010 acquisition of Chordiant, Pega Robotics’ natural bias towards attended automations – where ‘assistive’ automations can improve the work productivity, quality and auditability of contact and call centre workers – is an ideal fit.

Inside the Pega Robotics platform

The Pega Robotics platform, like other RPA platforms, is designed to automate data entry, data gathering and other repetitive, routine tasks usually carried out as part of high-volume, repetitive work – for example, service fulfilment work in call centres, shared-service centres, and back-office processing environments.

As is common in RPA, the core technology at the heart of the Pega Robotics platform is an automated software client that can be configured to drive applications and retrieve and update application data by mimicking a human user interacting through existing application user interfaces. Unlike many other RPA technologies, Pega Robotics is primarily positioned to be used in ‘attended RPA’ scenarios – where automations are triggered by human users or UI events to help them carry out certain tasks significantly faster and more accurately – although it does also support unattended operation.

Pega Robotics has an approach to accessing target applications that makes the resulting automations particularly powerful in use alongside human workers. Rather than ‘hooking into’ a high-level Windows UI API to discover UI elements, automate use of the keyboard and mouse and listen for UI events, Pega Robotics injects code into target applications that allows it to interact with them programmatically, at a much deeper level. The practical result is that automations can interact with target applications completely independently of human users – so human users can work at the same time as automations are executing; and also, automations can interact with target applications even if their windows are hidden or minimised.

To do this, Pega Robotics ships with a set of adapters that are designed to ‘hook into’ applications built with specific Windows technologies. Pega Robotics includes adapters for standard Windows applications, web applications (using Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox), and text streams (created through the use of supported HLLAPI-compliant terminal emulators like those from Attachmate, Hummingbird, Micro Focus and OpenConnect). Pegasystems also offers adapters for Siebel, Remedy, and SAP application clients that use proprietary custom Windows controls, as well as Java applications and applets. Support for Flash and Flex is currently in development. Lastly, Pegasystems now also offers OCR-based screen recognition (via embedded technology from specialist ABBYY, that’s also used for document-based OCR where required) as a ‘backstop’ integration option.

The Pega Robotics platform has four main elements:

  • Automation Studio. A graphical design and development toolset, based on Microsoft Visual Studio, that you use to define automations that Pega Robotics will execute against applications you’ve integrated. You can choose to either create automations ‘by hand’, dragging and dropping UI objects onto the design canvas to create ‘design blocks’ (figure 1), and link them to create data associations and control flow; or you can capture user actions using a real-time recording mode, and then elaborate the captured automation flow on the automation canvas.
  • Deployment Portal. An optional (but recommended) server that manages deployment of your automations to all configured desktops, where you’re deploying automations to be used in attended mode.
  • Agile Desktop. This is a set of desktop components that can be deployed, along with attended-mode automations, to provide users with additional productivity tools and provide a platform for multiple automation projects to share data with each other in the desktop environment. There’s an Assisted Sign-on component that simplifies sign-on across applications; an Automated Notes component that displays generated notes prompting users to carry out particular activities and allows users to add comments; and more.
  • Robot Manager. Robot Manager is a component that enables Pega Robotics automations to be operated unattended. Robot Manager creates and manages work queues for automations running in desktop virtual machines (VMs) on servers; in operation, work queues pull work assignments from the Pega Platform (where workflow and case management applications are hosted) and invoke automations to process them, notifying the Pega Platform when the automations complete. You can create multiple instances of VMs and their associated automations and group them together, assigning work groups to individual queues; in this way, you create ‘teams’ of automations. Robot Manager also provides performance and health reporting, allowing you to set and monitor against performance SLAs.

Figure 1: The design canvas in the Pega Robotics Automation Studio

Source: Pegasystems

In addition, as introduced, Pegasystems offers Workforce Intelligence– a separate product and not mandatory for robotic automation projects, but a product that leverages the same underlying technology as Pega Robotics. With Workforce Intelligence, you install bots on users’ desktops that monitor patterns of application usage over time. After collecting data for a suitable period, you use the built-in reporting and analytics functionality to determine opportunities for automation (by understanding wait times, patterns of application use that are overcomplicated or imply rework, and so on). By specifying the cost of employees’ time, you can identify potential cost savings associated with making specific improvements and start to make the case for automation investments.

Pricing and licensing

If you want to purchase the Pega Robotics platform, Pegasystems list pricing means you’ll pay $600 per user per year for desktop-based, attended automations; and $350 per user per month (so that’s $4,200 per user per year) for server-based, unattended automations. With both of these licenses, you’ll also be able to use the core parts of the Pega Platform way to manage and orchestrate work for Pega Robotics automations.

If you’re interested in using Pega Robotics as part of a larger Pega Platform or Application acquisition, Pegasystems will now include Pega Robotics licenses for free (though conditions apply).

Pega Workforce Intelligence is licensed on a per-user basis, and currently costs $35 per user per month.

Recommendation

Pega Robotics’ approach to application introspection and automation yields integrations that can be significantly faster than those built with technologies that integrate using higher-level UI accessibility or OCR libraries. In addition, by working at a lower level to hook into target applications, Pega Robotics automations can also run even when the applications’ windows are hidden or minimised, and don’t require automations to take control of the mouse and keyboard. The result of all this is that Pega Robotics is very well-suited to situations where automations genuinely need to work alongside human users. This speed differential can also, when deployed in an unattended configuration, drive further efficiency savings. In addition, although it’s an optional extra with a Pega Robotics implementation, Pega Workforce Intelligence also has significant value.

There are of course some things that could be improved. For example, Pega Robotics doesn’t currently offer much in the way of functionality to promote team development at scale (for example, driving component reuse across projects, component versioning).

Nevertheless, if you’re considering a wider investment in automation technology or if you’re already a Pegasystems customer then Pega Robotics is a natural choice – particularly given the recent licensing changes. If you’re focused primarily on investing in RPA at this time, then Pega Robotics is still very worthy of consideration.

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