Software robots: takeaways from the X-change of 31 January 2018


This X-change drew participants from many different sectors, all of whom indicated “We are looking into the possibilities of software robots, but it is a very new domain and we have a lot of questions!” In this brave new world, nobody has much experience. And in the face of this new technology and its opportunities, companies need to know how to get started, while IT managers need a clear vision of their role in this revolution.


So at this event, we aimed to raise the questions surrounding getting started with software robots: what do you need to consider and what should be your first steps? We began with real applications and experiences, and then opened up the roundtable to discussion.


The presentation for Belfius and Accenture is available, exclusively for Beltug members (after login):


Robots for monitoring your business


First up, Ulrik Van Schepdael from mobco showed us that even a small company can benefit from software robots. He showed us a real application: how software robots enable enterprise mobility management. Traditional monitoring systems are good for identifying incoming alerts and provide a clear insight into the health status of the individual IT systems. But an IT infrastructure contains many different components, and we need to know if the business is running correctly and all processes work. Software robots can enable such ‘business monitoring’ and enterprise mobility management.


Why is mobco using robots? Many tasks are repeated over and over, and close attention needs to be paid to scripts, the iterative process and testing. It is impossible to foresee all scenarios from the beginning.


Companies need to understand their software robot project will take longer than expected. But once it is up and running, there are many advantages: you can choose/prioritise actions based on the criticality of errors, you rank users to help your helpdesk improve customer services, the service monitoring gives the company much better insight into processes, etc.


How to get started, and what to consider


Then Edle Everaert of Accenture and Emmanuel Smoos of Belfius teamed up to discuss what you need to consider when starting a software robot project, illustrated by the real-life case of Belfius. Who should be involved? What are the ethical questions to take into account? How can you ensure compliance? And more.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a driver of enterprise value, Edle explained. There is a lot available today, but you need to pay attention to the ethical aspects, and to protect your brand. AI is a tool, so it isn’t ‘accountable’: your company is always liable for ethical and compliance issues.


The domain of software robots is evolving fast. Two years ago, it was all about voice bots. Now, it’s about reading and analysing emails, understanding written texts, preparing meeting reports, etc.  The speech-to-text and text-to-speech aspects create additional challenges for non-English language applications, but that will certainly be resolved: it’s a matter of time and effort. So start experimenting, Edle says.


Emmanuel presented the case and perspective of Belfius with its project. Robotics, natural language processing, speech analysis, machine learning, machine vision & sentiment analysis (tone mails e.g.) all part of the AI tools for Belfius.


Challenges include how to combine AI with other technology such as natural language processing, ensuring agile development -- 6-8 weeks! – and ensuring you have people with the right skills: both process-oriented and with language skills. The link to legacy systems remains important: for example, if you want to integrate with SAP, the architecture become complex.


Interactive discussion


After the presentation, a lively discussion followed. Participants brought their own questions to the table, including:

  • How to start a pilot
  • Which questions to ask your IT provider
  • How to find a provider with experience
  • Customisation
  • How to consider the ethical elements from machine learning
  • etc.


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