SAP rolls out RPA, low-code tools to help cut dev debt

There aren’t enough programmers in the world to meet the demand for new business applications.

Organizations need to add other resources to their core application development groups and provide corporate employees with low-code and no-code development platforms and robot process automation (RPA) tools to do some of the programming work.

The situation is particularly difficult for companies that rely on SAP, as the re-implementation of older R / 3 applications in the cloud on SAP S / 4HANA employs developers who may have developed new functions instead.

Now SAP has an answer – or rather three answers – in the form of the SAP Cloud Platform Extensions, which it presented at its online TechEd developer event in December 2020. The three process automation tools are SAP Cloud Platform Workflow Management for low-code automation of enterprise workflows, including between the ERP and Qualtrics customer experience platforms; SAP Ruum for business users without programming knowledge to automate department processes; and SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation 2.0, a limited edition of which will be included in every S / 4HANA Cloud subscription from January 2021.

SAP launched version 1.0 of its intelligent RPA tool in mid-2018 and acquired a small French RPA software provider, Contextor, in November of this year. In the RPA space, however, it wasn’t as present as Microsoft, for example, who launched Power Automate (then known as Flow in 2016), including some of its free features with Office 365 licenses.

“Microsoft’s Power Platform has been a catalyst for the growth of low-code,” said Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research. “It is encouraging to see that SAP is investing more effort in its RPA and low-code offerings.”

However, SAP is struggling for its place at the RPA table: “We’re seeing other leading enterprise software companies, including Salesforce, Oracle, ServiceNow, Amazon Web Services, and Google, are making significant investments in low-code to drive the growth of citizen development -Apps, “said Newman.

A brake on innovation

One challenge for SAP is that RPA pure play systems like UiPath, Blue Prism, and Automation Anywhere have created enormous revenue streams due to the integration with the software and the bots created using their tools, while also solving the immediate business problems of a piece of legacy Code that stands in the way of innovation.

This can be bad for companies and prevent them from transforming processes – and SAP, too, as much of its revenue depends on companies migrating and upgrading to S / 4HANA, according to Forrester vice president and lead analyst Craig Le Clair.

While RPA began to eliminate repetitive human activity and automate certain short-lived tasks, Le Clair says it is more powerful when combined with orchestration capabilities that can reform and transform a process from end to end.

According to Le Clair, SAP’s first foray into RPA was in the wrong direction. “They tried to develop their own RPA solution in-house that only deals with APIs,” he said. “The whole point of RPA is that it integrates directly with the existing interface, existing applications, just like a human would. The advantage of this is that you don’t have to create APIs.”

The company’s new offering brings it back on track. “The simplification of processes within SAP has been well received by both customers and corporate users,” said Newman.

The ability of enterprise end users to “own” their automation destiny is important, according to Holger Mueller, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“There aren’t enough developers, so companies are looking for ways to customize their enterprise applications and general automation needs – and this includes business users with ‘light’ technical awareness – to create the automation they need,” said Müller.

Forrester’s Le Clair warned of the general tension of making business users more accountable for design, development, and automation. On the one hand, he said, CIOs run the risk of enabling development without proper operating models and governance; on the other, business units are better at driving development because they understand the business. “Your data scientists should be in business because they understand the model that mimics the company’s activities, that’s the theory,” he said.

Security issues

There’s a lot of work for IT departments to do in RPA, said Constellation’s Mueller: “CIOs need to make sure that these applications don’t cause a security problem or data residency problem.”

For Le Clair, there are other aspects of automation and low-code development that CIOs need guidance on, including security, coding standards, and design.

Password management alone is a huge problem when RPA bots are at large. “These bots use the same credentials as a human to get into a company’s most trusted applications,” Le Clair said, warning that an effective policy to ensure that credentials don’t get into the wrong hands can be 25 pages: “Secure, encrypted vaults for credentials, that’s just one aspect.”

And then the question arises, how many RPA platforms should a company allow?

“One of the problems SAP will have is that organizations likely already have two or three RPA solutions,” said Le Clair. “Will they use what they have already bought and have in four different departments that have nothing to do with SAP, or will they introduce a new one and allow this automation capability to spread across the company? That will be a problem. “

Rationalization is part of a good operating model and governance strategy, but in most organizations there is still room for at least two automation platforms, partly because the products on the market specialize in either back office functions or front office functions such as customer service or contact center automation.

“You could see that a company has one of the back office oriented RPA solutions and you could see that they have another one for the front office.”

According to Le Clair, SAP’s RPA platform may have an advantage in companies that are heavily reliant on their ERP platform. “You avoid part of the license costs, because if it is a SAP RPA function that is integrated into a SAP core system, this is considered internal to SAP and therefore there is no license fee.”

While RPA was created to make up for a lack of programmers, there is a chance more of them will be created, according to Müller.

“I’ve been told by many business users that their experience with low-code / no-code has improved them on full-code projects,” he said.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

April 4, 2021