Why RPA is Useless?

There are too many clicks for this software feature. You could use RPA.

A business user

RPA (Robotics Process Automation) have been steadily gaining popularity recently. Supposedly, it become a quick fix for underlying issues like too many clicks. In contrast, I find that this is a big step back from many improvements such as BPR (Business Process Re-engineering), UI/UX and Rules Automation.

RPA for the Wrong Reason
  • Too many clicks spoil the system feature.
  • Developers creates many linking UI for relational data.
  • The product feature cannot be changed.
  • The user wants to use Excel for their data inputs.
What should have been Done
  • Change of business process to streamline data updates.
  • Redesign of UI/UX or usage of Chatbots
  • Consider usage of NoSQL database for complex business scenarios.
  • Evaluate products with support of API and customised plugins
  • If users insist comparing data inputs with Excel as data inputs, it is time for some serious change management!

The repackage of scripting and automated testing in the guise of RPA is truly a marketing genius! It is no wonder that many have fallen to the this gimmick. It is worth to considering fundamental concepts to solve root cause instead of using RPA to automate the issue.

Sustainability Design Idea

Sustainability is a fairly new trend for many organisations. For many applications, this is still underway to include sustainability in the solution design. Although there is a lot of room to incorporate sustainability, these steps can be simplify into a few basic ideas.

Basic Sustainability Cheatsheet
  • Create CO2 modules or features set.
  • Quantify CO2 consumption in application.
  • Allow users to select choices for CO2 spending.
  • Tabulate and report CO2 spendings or savings.

The road to incorporate sustainability in applications is still a far way. It is good to let consumers have the choice to play a part for sustainability. As application owner, we will need to play a part to provide sustainability design for consumers.

Why should you use Backlog?

Do you have a list of backlogs or a product backlog for your Agile project? In traditional waterfall project, you will find many many lists like issue logs, parking lots, features list or even wishlist. A project manager is literally a full time administrator for maintaining these lists. Oh yes, an Agile project do not have a project manager!

The Pros of a Product Backlog

A product backlog is a single source which all members refer to. It can hold your features, issues, wishlist or any tasks that is required to achieve your agile outcome. You can also breakdown any items from product backlog. It is usually arranged such that higher priority items are on the top of the list. You do not need to keep multiple types of lists and thus reduce a lot of “admin” task.

Improvised your Product Backlog for Waterfall

A true Agile project seldom exists in many large organisations. Thus, we often run a waterfall agile type of project. You can still streamline all your listings into a single product backlog. All you need to do is tweak a column for different point of view. Of course, the first step is to merge all the various lists into a single one. Do manage your stakeholders views carefully for this “simple” change.

Agile have many good artifacts that aim for speed and low maintenance with maximum outcome. Product backlog is one that you can consider to implement in your existing waterfall or hybrid project. We should acknowledge that the results outweigh the “efforts” put in creating nice lists.

How to Manage your Exceptions in TMS

In TMS (Transportation Management System), the fun part is actually exception handling. Logistics is an ancient process that is designed to be simple and straightforward. The key model is the movement of goods from point A to point B. Complexity comes with the introduction of trade, data and system.

The Complex Exception in System

Update Failed! The record is locked. You are updating on data with a past date.

System Log

In the past, users can amend any paper records easily even though it have been submitted. Coming to the system world, data can be locked once it is in its past date. Although this provides data integrity and capture the love of your auditor, the real operational world hates it.

Building your Ideal Exception Model
  • Exception handling needs an exceptionally good team of SME (Subject Matter Expert).
  • Your solution must scale for exception with ease.
  • Exception requirements are not fixed and often are unarticulated.
  • A good exception model evolves from many iterations of design.
  • Use Agile to learn and manage your exception model.

Exception handling is the most complex for most products and applications. This is due to the management of the unknowns and the gaps of handling exceptions in the real world. Although new technologies like ML (Machine Learning) aim to improve exception model, we are still light years from the science fiction we watch in drama. In the meantime, the best way is to invest in your resources by increasing their domain knowledge.

Lesson from OTM LTL Error

Last week, we hit a weird default OTM (Oracle Transportation Management) error whereby LTL (Less Than Truckload) transport mode shipment does not tender out with the standard secure resources status. Instead, secure resources status was changed to SECURE RESOURCE_PICKUP NOTIFICATION. As a result, the service provider cannot accept the tender for this status. Thankfully, OTMFAQ forum give us the clue to resolve this. I will explain the rationale here instead.

OTM Default Workflow

The “issue” is actually due to a default business scenario in United States (US). In layman terms, LTL means loose cargo. Thus, service provider is expected to pickup the loose cargo rather than the need to accept the tender request. This is why the status is called SECURE RESOURCE_PICKUP NOTIFICATION. In a way, the request is auto accepted. The way to fix it is to amend the workflow configuration by adding LTL into the TENDER%MODES values.

OTM and its Culture

Debugging in OTM is a challenging task and can consume lots of unproductive hours. Historically, this product was tested widely in US and Europe and very less for Asia. There are many default values that are catered to the American and European audiences. The key tip is to understand and know which are defaulted. If you manage to find this configuration, we usually cross our fingers and hope that the default values can be amended.

All product are designed by humans. Unknowingly, cultures are factored into its design. A good product should always configuration of these default cultural values. One way to do so is to test its localisation features.

Why Remote Working is the New Norm

Looking back to year of COVID-19, there comes a few plus point that have happen to the dynamics of working. The one good thing I can think of on top of my mind is the chance of working remotely. This method of working will have never be realised in many Asian countries if not for the pandemic.

FaceTime is a Thing of the Past

In Asia, cultures plays a an important part of everyday working life. FaceTime and long working hours is an indicator of “hardworking”. We are often told to be on time at work. Knocking off on time is frown upon and you are encouraged to clock overtime. There was even one instance where I was assigned more tasks because I was seen leaving work on time constantly (to fetch my kid).

Remote Working Gives Work Life Balance

As many found out, remote working allows each individual to gain around 3 hours of personal time. These time would have been used to spend on getting ready for work or traveling to work. We can now achieve better work life balance by investing these extra time in personal well being like going to the gym.

Working Remote can Maintain Productivity

The pandemic have shown that working remotely does not give rise to a reduction of productivity. In some cases, the productivity increases as workers are much happier with the increased flexibility and work life balance. There are also times where schedule can be easily planned with adequate rest to connect with colleagues across different time zone.

Working remotely is the new norm. Traditional organisation and management will need to acknowledge and adapt to new way of working. If not, good resources will be lost to the new norms.

What IT Career do you want?

It is surprising to see that many do not know what is the IT role they are applying during a job interview. In a way, we should reflect and see how society have confused these younglings about IT careers in our education system.

Understand IT Career

Like all industry, IT are diverse and span many verticals and specialisations. Unfortunately, many have the misconception of labelling IT as a coder role or someone who works with computer. However, IT career is much more than that. It is common to see that most of us started off as either a technical role or functional one. Around 20% may cross both roles and become techno-functional . Some will specialise in a particular business domain while others focus in the IT aspects across different verticals. Although diversity is good in your early career, you should reach a steady state by your midlife.

Your Personality

A common question by freshie is how should you start IT career. Usually, I like to view the personality of the person to match the starting point. As an analogy, a good swimmer can never excel by starting on a running track. A technical role is often logical and suits more towards introverted personality. On the other hand, functional role rely more on the understanding of user behaviour and business processes. There is an emerging demand for techno-functional role. This role is the most challenging because you will need to leverage on your “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” personality.

What I mention is a simple quick way to evaluate and start your career. The better you understand your personality, the faster you have advantage on the starting point.

Earth Day 2021

22 April is Earth Day 2021. We are doing a good job towards sustaining Earth for longevity. However, as technologist, there are much more that we can help to advocate.

Here are some of my personal takes for Earth Day 2021.

  • Waste less, waste not.
  • Bitcoin is a waste of energy.
  • Design for sustainability.
  • If you cannot find it, it is likely you do not use it.
  • Complex solutions are not efficient.
  • Every simple actions helps in sustainability.

What are your steps for sustainability on Earth Day?

Handling Dead Codes and Processes

Ever encountered dead codes and processes? I have been cleaning many of such dead codes and processes. Usually, these happens to system that have been around for more than 5 years. Dead codes and process are usually system features that users no longer required or understand. These are some quick approach to handle them for removal.

Happy Path Approach

When you upgrade an old system to a new one, you should first plot the happy path. In daily operations, 80% of the system usage are on happy path, 10% on exceptions and the rest are manual handling. Using happy path approach, your system migrates all the key essential functionalities. This way, you can also clean up the dead processes and its corresponding codes.

I Don’t Know

Users compartmentalise system usage in their thought processes. As times goes by, fanciful nice to have features are forgotten and languish in neglect. Querying uses on these features will get a response of “I don’t know”. As a rule of thumb, these features are considered “dead” and can be removed with no impact to existing system.

These dead codes and processes often results in degrades of system performance and unnecessary costs in support tickets. Thus, it is a good exercise to clean up dead codes and processes when you are upgrading your legacy system.

Job Remodel

I had a meal at MacDonald today and observe that the role of cashier have been eliminated in this MacDonald branch. In place of it, self service kiosk are present. You can now even get your meal serve to you via table service. This gives a pleasant customer experience beside the quick and fast food meal we know in MacDonald.

Self Service

Self service gives customer control of their experience in the purchase of services and goods. This reminds me of scenarios where users claim that these tasks are too technical and refuse to self service. The model is nothing new and exist in early days like ATM and kiosks. Jobs will be remodel and those who refuse to change will be obsolete like the cashier role in MacDonald.

Experiential Investment

By participating in self service, consumers are invested in their own experience. This also creates loyalty and trust with the products. All these factors give rise to higher consumer satisfaction. This model can be applied for all systems. Digital transformation is the trigger to change and enhance customer experience instead of requirements fulfilment. Products and services are reaching a saturation point that customer experience is the differential factor.

Job remodelling will continue for next 5 years in tandem with digital transformation. It is either to embrace or be eliminated. There is nothing 麻烦 “troublesome” as these are the facts to be.