Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can be used to automate tasks by mimicking human interactions over several Host systems like web, desktop applications and thin clients; ERP in particular and Citrix-like remote environments. ERP is an area where RPA can be applied at scale and the benefits of the technology can be realized quickly. Some of the use cases involving RPA in SAP can be seen here and here. SAP is the world’s most deployed ERP application. ERP systems like SAP are ideal systems for RPA primarily because processes have already been engineered, digitized and most of what is left to do is to feed data to the system. This data feed normally takes place by way of manually entering data, copying and pasting data or uploading data from input files. With RPA several such processes of the ERP system can be automated. The question now has come down to this: Is this activity the same whether done by Humans or by Bots? Let us try and make sense of this by analyzing recent events, specifically in the context of SAP.
SAP has introduced new licensing norms also generically called as SAP ‘Indirect Access’. In a whitepaper it released in 2017, SAP describes “Indirect Access” as use which occurs by way of a non-SAP front-end or non-SAP intermediary software. The new digital landscape of bots, machine learning, and AI has possibly prompted SAP to move away from user-based licensing to an outcomes-based model related to customer’s use of the SAP system. According to the new licensing, charges will be levied according to the number of documents created in the SAP system and the categories these document types fall into; the 9 categories being Sales, Invoice, Purchase, Service & Maintenance, Manufacturing, Quality, Time, Financial and Material. Only documents created will be charged. Documents updated and accessed won’t be charged. Customers can purchase a bundle depending on the quantity of documents they are expected to create. This introduces transparency in its pricing. More importantly, SAP’s new announcement will reduce ambiguity around Indirect Access Usage. One of SAP’s customer, Diageo got entangled in a legal lawsuit with SAP as it had made use of custom integrations to provide access to the SAP system through the Salesforce application to its staff and customers. Diageo maintained that this was well within what was covered in the SAP licenses. However, SAP argued such indirect access required a fee to be paid for named users and SAP won. SAP was quick to understand that not just Diageo but many of its other customer’s would be faced with ambiguity over ‘Digital Access’. Many had already started to test bots and other software that reduce functionality gaps and ease the demand of complex UI interactions. The nuanced legalities would force customers to review their interface environments and understandably cause lividness.
For Bots, it not just SAP that has licensing compulsions; a host of interacting applications also require licensing. RPA service providers will welcome the new licensing model which aims to remove any uncertainty around SAP digital access. It however doesn’t do away with the need to review the interface environment and have all things in place to face a licensing audit. All aspects of compliance will have to be considered before delivering an RPA Solution. From a performance monitoring perspective, it is interesting. With the SAP documents-based outcome model, it will be easier to measure the business impacts bots can have in achieving goals of reducing effort and error rate as the numbers are directly related to costs. Its will be easier to create metrics that assess the value the RPA solution provides. But then there are risks too. The new licensing model encourages firms to innovate in creating new ways to pipe their data from host applications to the SAP system. That developing such integrations is time-consuming, costly, demand more resources and difficult to maintain when compared to an RPA solution is another thing.
The new licensing model is not being thrust upon customers. SAP is looking for opt-ins. Those who don’t shall follow the regular user-based licensing with restrictions on digital access. RPA service providers will have to up the ante on their consultative engagements as there are many other pain points to consider rather than just be focused on creating bots that solve the immediate business problem. Many of SAP Processes come under the direct purview of regulatory assessment and compliance. The last thing any RPA service provider would need is a rejection of its solution for failing to be constrained by the boundaries defined by the licensing criteria.
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