EMA analyst Steve Brasen joins Pat Cameron and Dallas Li of HelpSystems to discuss the new trends in enterprise process automation. Learn how to optimize your business performance with a unified approach to automation.
Pat: Thank you for joining us today for our webinar on automating the enterprise from server to desktop. My name is Pat Cameron with HelpSystems, and I will be one of your hosts today. I see we have a few people from the East coast on our webinar today. Hopefully you're working from home today. Hope everyone is safe out there after the rotten weather you had yesterday.
I'm going to be joined today by Dallas Li and Steve Brasen from Enterprise Management Associates. Steve is the Managing Research Director with Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) with a focus on evaluating systems management best practices and solutions. Steve's career at EMA includes 20 years of in-the-trenches enterprise experience in IT management, operational support and engineering for high technology, telecommunications, and financial institutions. And they include MCI, Bell Communications Research, Unix International, Salomon Smith Barney and Agilent Technologies. Welcome Steve, thanks for joining us today. We're looking forward to your presentation.
Steve: Thank you very much Pat. It's a pleasure to be here. And thank you all for joining us today for our discussion on how to efficiently manage complex IT processes. Now, no matter if your company is large or small, no matter what industry you're in, I guarantee your organization's ability to meet established goals is dependent on the successful performance of business processes. So, the purpose of our presentation today is to identify how the adoption of process automation in conjunction with effective job scheduling will ensure business processes are performed rapidly and reliably every single time.
Pat: Great. Thanks, Steve. I just want to introduce also Dallas Li. Dallas Li is has been involved with Automate, one of the products we're going to be talking about today, a division of HelpSystems. And Dallas has been working with Automate since 2006. She's involved with all the aspects of service and solutions specifications. Dallas also manages a variety of client engagements, providing guidance on strategy, evaluation, project implementation, as well as training and webinars. Hey, thanks for joining us today, Dallas.
Dallas: Thank you, Pat. And welcome everyone for joining us and we'll talk a little more later when we do our demonstrations.
Pat: Perfect. And my name is Pat Cameron and I've been with HelpSystems for about 15 years. And I work with customers on product implementation and training across a lot of our product lines. And previously, I was an operations manager at a hospital here in Minnesota where our offices are located. So, I've got years of experience in systems management and operations. Currently I work with our Skybot sales staff doing a lot of technical product demonstrations as well as product training, implementation, and webinars for Skybot Scheduler. So, that's a little bit about us.
I am going to just quickly take a look at our agenda for today. So, Steve's going to start us off, talking about automation in the enterprise and the value the automation can bring. And then Dallas and I will introduce a suite of products that we have, our Enterprise Process Automation Suite and talk a little bit about Skybot Scheduler, one of the products, and Automate, one of the other ones. We've got a couple of use cases for you and then we're going to go online and show you some solutions so that you can automate your business processes. All right, Steve, I am passing the ball to you.
Enabling Business Agility in Today's Marketplace
Steve: Well, fantastic. Thank you very much. And so, just to drill down on the agenda for my portion of the presentation, I just want to give you a little bit of an overview about what I'll be talking about. We'll start by discussing the importance of enabling business agility in today's more dynamic marketplaces, as well as the many challenges that need to be overcome to enable business agility. The most substantial of these being in increasing complexity inherent in business processes, as well as the underlying infrastructure supporting them. That will set the stage for us to talk about the value of automation. How to optimally implement business processes by automating a series of tasks with process automation. We'll also look at how job scheduling ensures reliability in the execution of automated tasks and how a unified business process approach that integrates process automation with job scheduling delivers the optimal performance in the ability of business processes to meet enterprise requirements. And finally, we'll sum it all up with some conclusions on enabling efficient business-focused IT management.
So, in case you haven't noticed. . . I expect you probably have. Business expectations are much higher today than they ever have been in the past. Customers expect immediate responses for a wide variety of requests, including service requests, support requests, sales requests, scheduling requests, as well as responses to general inquiries and a wide variety of other interactions. Now, any delay in responding to these customer requests could very well result in decreased customer satisfaction and inability to meet contracted service responsibilities and lost revenue opportunities. Competitors will very quickly take advantage of these deficiencies to grab disgruntled customers and increase their own market share. Additionally, competitors are not standing still when it comes to introducing new products and capabilities. Market conditions are always changing as users demand new features and services to meet evolving requirements and technologies.
Now, businesses that respond to these needs first have a significant market advantage over their competitors. So, the early bird really does most often get the worm. Enabling customer- and market-focused business agility requires the ability to rapidly empower employees with the tools they need to effectively perform their job functions. While the introduction of workforce mobility has greatly increased the productivity of business professionals, it has also resulted in a workforce more demanding of IT services. Now, they expect an IT resource they require to be immediately and consistently available, and they prefer to perform tasks themselves with minimal interaction with IT administrators. Additionally, there is a low tolerance for IT failures, inaccuracies, and performance degradation. So, we're not really just talking about agility. We're talking about reliable agility. Enabling this reliable agility is entirely dependent on how well an organization is able to perform business-focused IT processes. A business process is simply any series of tasks that need to be performed to meet a business requirement.
In today's technology-centric world, the bulk of business processes involve in part or in whole the employment of some type of computing device. It's important to understand that the performance of business IT processes is not the sole responsibility of IT administrators. While these processes are critical to their role in monitoring, provisioning, patching, repairing, and performing a variety of other IT management tasks on IT systems. Business processes are used most effectively when they are employed directly by the user that requires those services. For instance, when non-IT business professionals need access to an application, or to initiate a sales contract, or to develop new marketing campaigns, or to complete a service request, they'll follow a business process. Executives will employ a business process to generate reports on compliance achievement, or to hire personnel, or to negotiate contracts. And even customers will follow a business process when they are purchasing items, or filling out information forms, or requesting support. Everyone in the business chain from the smallest customer to the most powerful CEO is a business process user. So, it follows that by streamlining the performance and reliability of business processes, you are increasing business agility.
How Can You Optimize Business Processes?
All right, I know I made that sound easy but, in reality, optimizing business processes is not as straight forward as it may at first seem. The core problem is that most business processes are extremely complex and difficult to orchestrate—far from being a linear step-by-step process. Complex workflows require the use of a variety of different systems and applications. For instance, a process may be initiated on one system, hosted on another, and accessed somewhere else. In fact, it is very common for the system running individual tasks in a process to have little or no integration at all. So, in addition, individual tasks within complex workflows may be dependent on the state of other system applications or procedure elements. The results of one task in a process chain may determine all the actions that will follow it. Alternatively, a process may need to be aborted or returned to an earlier state if an unexpected condition occurs. If, maybe, unless, possibly—these are all words that exponentially increase the complexity of a workflow.
Another point to consider is that individual tasks in a business process may require the expertise of different business professionals. An asset may be requested by a user which will require approval by an executive, a purchase order generated by an accountant, and deployment by an IT or facilities administrator. Each individual in the chain will have a different set of tools and a different way of doing things. And some processes may need to run in parallel. So, keeping all the various task elements in motion can be a very tricky juggling act, which is why there has to be some intelligence introduced into the business process to ensure optimal decisions are made during each task execution. It is a common mistake to put the weight of ensuring process reliability on the shoulders of IT specialist alone. They're not accountants, or salesmen, or marketers, or executives. They don't know these processes as well as the individuals who designed them. IT administrators and managers are most successful when they focus on improving IT performance and introducing new technologies that will boost business success and profitability rather than repeatedly performing repetitive tasks in order to fill the gaps in a complex process such as having to repeatedly copy data from one system to another, or manually executing tasks or even worst, hand hold the series of tasks through their completion.
As I mentioned earlier, business process performance is also impeded by the complexity of the underlying IT infrastructure. A single task element can touch a countless number of managed points. A simple application may access data from a remote storage system over a wide area network. Now ensuring that application performs its task correctly requires optimal performance from the application server hardware and its operating system, the remote storage server, operating environments, and all the network components between these two points. If any of those elements fail, it will change the outcome of the task. And the process will need to adjust accordingly. And that's a very simple example. Today, IT applications, data, and other services are being hosted on a variety of local and remote environments. You have static apps, web apps, software or service apps, private cloud apps, and virtual apps. Data is no longer centralized but is accessed from a number of discrete repositories and other services such as email, messaging and databases maybe hosted on a on-premise or off-premise, or both. And these environments never stay the same. They're constantly changing as new business requirements drive the adoption of new applications and new services which in turn requires the adoption of new technologies.
Complex environments are challenging because they limit the visibility organizations have to identify detailed states and conditions. IT infrastructures really are an ecosystem where the state of any single element can dramatically impact the performance of any other element. This complexity is precisely why the reliance on performing manual tasks to complete business processes is so ineffective. It's time-consuming, and I would actually argue time-wasting, to identify and interact with all those individual process elements and infrastructure components. It's unreliable because people make mistakes due to lack of knowledge or human error. The incorrect performance of one particular task can cause the whole process to fail. And related to that, manual tasks may be reliant on specific knowledgeable personnel. If those individuals leave the company, the ability to perform the task is lost, requiring the task to be rebuilt or new personnel to be trained on how to perform it. Also, when we discuss the complexity of the underlying infrastructure, it should also be clear that very few of these IT elements are visible to a manual task performer. So, they are typically all but ignored in the execution of the process, making it less efficient. And of course, this is all costly to the business. When employees are performing manual tasks, they're not getting other business-focused work done. And a slow process execution with unreliable results can have a profound impact on the profitability and success of the organization.
Automation: The Road to Efficient IT Management
Efficient IT management begins with automation. Any repeatable task can be automated. Automation creates repeatable outcomes and with reliable results, and tasks are completed with optimal speed. Now, according to our survey based research the most significant business value that automation adopters have attributed to the use of automation is the quantifiable reduction of operational cost. So, in short, IT operations is more cost effective when they use less administrative time to perform a greater number of tasks while improving their reliability. Also, highly regarded was improved problem identification and consistent security in executed tasks. And also the fact that automation actually reduces infrastructure complexity when it has a built-in understanding of the dependencies and relationships of infrastructure elements.
When we talk about automation, it's not uncommon for IT professionals to think very specifically about custom scripts. And I totally get that. I mean, prior to my current role as an IT industry analyst, I spent two decades managing IT infrastructures and I run a lot of scripts, a lot of scripts. In retrospect, I honestly wish many of the tools available existed back then but they didn't. I would've accomplished so much more. Custom scripts are not productive. Even the most basic script has a tendency to grow over time to accommodate changes in the environment until ultimately they turn into spaghetti-ware. Invariably, scripts contain logic bugs, typographical errors, or other unforeseen mistakes. These problems may run for months or even years before they are discovered. And debugging them can take a lot of time. And, in my experience, script failures always occur when you're behind on six other projects and have to work into the wee hours of the morning just to get it back to normal.
The Danger of Unsupported Scripts
Part of the problem is that scripts are not officially supported. When a script fails, there's no hotline to call. You can't get a maintenance contract on a custom script. The only person can really fix it is the one who created it in the first place. But what if he left the company? Well, I suppose you could get another knowledgeable administrator to look at it. But if, like me, you have ever had to debug somebody else's spaghetti code, then my condolences. You, too, have known true pain in life. And realize this does not apply just to script failures. This is also about script modifications too. The release of a new operating system or application version, or a change in the enterprise security policy or infrastructure architecture can require all affected scripts to be modified. This is particularly a problem for organizations that suffer from script sprawl. You think fixing one script is a pain? Try a hundred or a thousand.
A Process Automation Platform
Far preferable to manual tasks and custom scripts in the adoption of automation is the adoption of a process automation platform. This class of solutions allows a simplified method for automating individual tasks via a centralized interface that is easy to understand and administer. Since all users are creating these automated tasks using the same tools, revising existing tasks is intuitive and easy. But process automation goes much further than just automating individual tasks. Process automation links multiple tasks to reliably perform complex processes. This reliability is attained because individual tasks are automated by the professionals most knowledgeable about how they should be performed. When the chain of tasks is linked, it leverages the knowledge of the most proficient experts in the organization to consistently achieve optimal performance regardless of who executes the processes. In this way, non-IT users can rapidly perform complex business IT tasks without having to bother IT administrators. Just click on a button and your application deploys, or you generate a report, or you initiate a procurement process or whatever. However process automation alone still lacks a crucial element to be effective in all cases. It needs intelligence.
Not all tasks can be executed immediately. Some can only be performed at specific times, or they may need to operate on a specific system, or they require a number of pre-existing dependencies to exist before they can be executed. This is where job scheduling fits in. Job scheduling is the conductor of the business process orchestra. Ensuring that the right tasks are executed on the right system at exactly the right times. No matter how complex the underlying infrastructure, job scheduling ensures all the district components operate in-sync with the requirements of the workflow. For example database replication may require four independent automated workflows, probably needs more than that, I'm simplifying it. The first takes the database offline, the second backs up the database, the third replicates the database, the fourth brings the database back on line. Job scheduling ensures all these tasks perform in the proper sequence within established maintenance windows and with any dependencies such as available network bandwidth and makes sure that any of the appropriate systems, the remote and local systems, that are involved in this process all operate at exactly the right time and at exactly the right way.
So, putting the pieces together, the optimization of business processes requires both process automation and job scheduling working in tandem in order to create and manage complex workflows from a single point. So, just to be clear, it's not just a matter of owning both tools. They must be integrated. In order to work, job scheduling must inject itself into process automation so that when individual tasks are performed, they operate under parameters governed by the job scheduler. With both tools working together, processes are fully orchestrated to consistently achieve business requirements. To elaborate on this relationship just a bit more, with a unified business process approach, complex conditional links can be introduced into a process chain. Suppose a user is initiating a process for the deployment of an application, prerequisites can be introduced to ensure that the user is authorized to use the software and that the system they are requesting it for is configured to support it. The process could also include tasks for ensuring the network transfer connection is secure before installing the application to a system that is not on the local business LAN. Or some intelligence could be introduced to ensure the application is only installed during a maintenance window, or to install a software subsystem like a database if it doesn't already have one.
There's really no limit to the possible combinations of conditional paths that can be introduced in a logical and intuitive manner. And any individual task or series of tasks can be initiated on a number of different systems while all being controlled and managed from a single point. Another real world example where a unified business process approach really excels is in supporting auditing processes. Requirements for auditing have accelerated over the past decade driven by increased requirements for regulatory compliance, the adoption of more stringent SLAs, and an increased need for enterprise information to support business intelligence initiative. Although auditing is an essential practice for many organizations, I've actually never met anyone who enjoys performing audits. They're time-consuming, they're boring, and the efforts necessary to collect the data are almost never appreciated.
As an alternative, consider injecting a data collection process directly into business process workflows. Now, for example, let's take healthcare. A healthcare organization creates a business process that provides doctors access to a patient's radiological imaging files. Now, as part of the process, a data record is created, identifying which doctor looked at which file and when. And then stores that record in a secure central log. This log then provides a proof of compliance to meet that particular HIPAA requirement without investing any effort as opposed to say, I don't know, auditing every doctor's patient records every quarter? And not to be under-emphasized, unified business processes empower end users. With a click of a button, non-IT users can rapidly perform very complex tasks that leverage the experience of the most knowledgeable workers in the company. Today's users like to do things themselves. And if they aren't given the means to be self-sufficient, they will often make every effort to circumvent existing processes so they can do it themselves. It is not uncommon to have different individuals in an organization utilizing completely different processes to achieve the exact same goals. And none of which end up conforming to the practices employed by IT operations. Unified business processes allow IT operations to standardize on best practices while at the same time granting end users greater independence. This is the added benefit of freeing up IT administrators form performing repetitive daily tasks to focus on the more exciting role of introducing new business IT services and maximizing IT operational performance and reliability.
So, to sum it all up, it is impractical, unreliable, time-consuming, and costly to rely solely on manual tasks for performing complex business processes. And custom scripting provides little relief and can actually create a host of new challenges. Instead, complex tasks should be automated and logically linked together with the assistance of process automation. Job scheduling further enhances the value of automation by ensuring tasks are always executed in the right place, at the right time and in exactly the right way. To be effective, process automation and job scheduling must be integrated to enable unified business process management to support conditional tasks and ensure dependencies are met in all relevant systems across the enterprise. And with that, I'll pass it back to Pat to lead us through discussion on the HelpSystems solution to providing business process management.
What's Your Environment Like?
Pat: Okay, cool. Thank you, Steve. That was great. I think your example about writing custom scripts is so right on. It seems like it's easy at the time but I think you're exactly right. They grow and they turn into spaghetti and you're married to it because if there's a problem with it, it's going to be your problem. Like you said, there's no 800 number that you can call.
Steve: Administrators who are out there, you think writing a script is going to be easy. Easy, even a basic script just grows over time and becomes so complex. And until you've really felt that pain, you don't understand why it is so challenging. And then scripts sprawl. Once you have one script, you end up writing a hundred. And now you have a hundred that need to be managed. So, yeah.
Pat: Right, right. And changes to the operating system, etc.
Pat: So, thank you for that. Wonderful. Before I get into the HelpSystems solution, I've got a couple of questions for our attendees. I'm going to open up a poll. And I think I've just got three quick questions if you could answer. We just want to get a feel if you're using some type of a job scheduler now? Are you new to process automation? And if you use any of the applications that are listed down below in that list? I'll leave this open for just a few seconds and to get some feel for who you are.
Couple of other things while you're answering, I want going to say, the slide with the woman with the wrench beating on a workstation reminds me of the old press any key to continue. I believe that was a cartoonist from back in the '80s that was around. And also the fact that the number one value that people see with business process automation is reduced operational costs. I think that's important to all of us especially in this day and age and probably in any day and age.
All right, fabulous. Got a few people to answer. I'm going to go ahead and close that poll and it'll take a minute to get the results together. And we'll take a look at who we've got with us. All right, three, two, one. Can you guys see the results? I don't know if my poll is working.
So, looks like we've got a few people that are using Automate, a couple that are using Skybot Scheduler, about half the people are using another scheduler, and some are using none. People are familiar with process automation, I'm sure we've got a lot of SQL users and a few SharePoint users out there. Thank you very much for giving us an idea of who we have with us. So, before I talk about Skybot Scheduler and Automate, I'd just like to introduce you a little bit to HelpSystems and who we are and a little bit about our history in scheduling and automation before we jump into the demo.
The HelpSystems Automation Solutions
So, HelpSystems develops software for automating, monitoring, and job scheduling across all different platforms. Our focus in each of these areas is to bring a rich, reliable solution for helping to meet today's service level agreements, data analysis needs, and securing your company data. Our solutions are aimed at solving your IT problems. We have three buckets basically that our products usually fall into: systems and network management, business intelligence, and security and compliance. As you know, that is important in this day and age. So, this is our portfolio of products. As you can see, we have a lot of different products that we've developed over the last years. We've also acquired some of these. And, again, we've got a number of different products in the systems and network management area, SQL and ShowCase, our business intelligence tools, and then PowerTech and Safestone for security and compliance. So, if you have any needs in any of those other areas, be sure and keep HelpSystems in mind.
These are a few of our customers. And, as you can see, our products don't fall into any specific silo. We have finance, healthcare, a lot of retailers and manufacturing, transportation, education. So, we fall across all different types of industries. And we also pride ourselves in keeping touch with our customers. Our support is rated the highest that I know of. I was a customer before I joined the company and that was why I kept paying that maintenance was for that great support. And we still provide that great support for you. A little bit of who we are.
Introducing the Enterprise Process Automation Suite
Let's talk about enterprise process automation and our suite of products to help you with those issues. So, as noted, HelpSystems has been in the automation business for over 30 years. And now we're bringing it up to the next level, or actually maybe we're bringing it down to the desktop or down to the workstation with our integration of Skybot Scheduler and Automate. What we're going to talk about today is enterprise process automation. No doubt you've got processes that Steve pointed out that might be spread throughout your organization that are critical to your business. Spreadsheets on desktops, file transfers, ETL processes across the Spirit system or in the cloud, ERP systems, all of that data from these applications need to be fed back and forth into your system so that you get error-free processing from those critical applications. We've got a solution for you in the combination of Skybot Scheduler and Automate.
Skybot is an enterprise scheduler that consolidates job streams across multiple servers or applications. And Automate is our no-code automation software that builds multi-step tasks that you can build using drag and drop interface so there's no more script writing required. Show you how these work; we're going to go online in just a minute.
So these two products can stand on their own or they can work together to orchestrate entire business processes from desktop or website to servers and enterprise applications. As I've mentioned, Skybot's a cross-platform enterprise job scheduler and it consolidates management of your servers or VMs into one interface that you can use to automate any batch type processing. Automate works along with Skybot to automate those processes that you can't or don't want to write scripts for. You can create Automate tasks that include pulling files from email, looping through spreadsheets for data, logging into a website and entering or downloading data, and a lot of our customers use it for FTP and transferring files.
About Skybot Scheduler
So what is Skybot Scheduler? Skybot, as I said, is an enterprise scheduler that has built-in interfaces that will integrate with ERP applications like SAP and Oracle E-business Suite. We've got integrations into Informatica to use that for ETL system and also to build a data warehouse. So, we like to look at Skybot as the center or the hub of your operations. And it touches all of those applications that are part of your business processes. We also like to keep Skybot generic so that you can run any script, or any executable, or BAT file, or any web services request. So, along with integration into specific applications, we also want to keep it generic so in case you have to automate and schedule other applications as well.
So, this is a flowchart or job flow of a business process. Not quite as complicated as the one that Steve brought up on his side, but I wanted to keep it a little bit simpler. So, good examples of real life business, I might use Salesforce or Dynamics as my CRM application. I've got to feed that application into my ETL manager. Also I've got an ERP package, maybe SAP, that I run all my accounting on. So, all of these systems and all of that data need to feed into my data warehouse. So, I want to be able to extract what I need, format it the way that I need to see it, and then load it into the data warehouse. And then from there, I can run different reports that I may run them in Excel, I might use SharePoint. Again, so there are a lot different applications that might be on-premise or in the cloud that you can manage with an enterprise scheduler. So, it doesn't really matter where your data is stored or where your application is installed, we can automate that process from the beginning to the end.
Couple of screenshots of what Skybot looks like. This is a dropdown box. So, when you want to schedule a command, whether it be an Automate task or another command from one of our other integrations, you just pick from a dropdown list. And so, we've got two different products in Automate that we work with; Automate task from the Automate product and then Automate BPA, which is more of an enterprise-level Automate, as well. So, you pick from a list and then I can pick from a list of individual tasks that I've got. Dallas is going to show you how to create those tasks. So, everything within Skybot is dropdown list, point and click. Again, so that you don't have to do scripting that you're going to have to manage for the rest of your career. So, that's what Skybot does. Now, we're going to take a look at Automate. Let's bring on Dallas. All right Dallas, you should have control of the slides.
Dallas: Yes. All right, thank you, Pat. So, we are going go ahead and start with this flow chart first before we go into seeing these screenshots of Automate. This is a typical business process in that we're going to try to translate in Automate later on when we do our demonstration. In this example here, basically what we're doing is we can have an Automate workflow that starts getting emails. I'm pretty sure all of us have emails that we get every day and then we have to read the data and then download the attachments. That whole process can be automated. So in this case, what I'm doing is I'm getting emails, I can read data from the email attachments, maybe I need to query some data from a database. After that, maybe we will have to combine the data from the email attachment along with the data from the database and combine it into a report. We'll take a look at Automate a little bit later where we do have a built-in Excel process where you can actually just drag and drop, and build and automate your entire Excel report generation.
After that, we can also encrypt the file before we start uploading to a website, uploading to SharePoint, or upload through FTP. And lastly, what we're going to look at later is the integration between Automate and Skybot. So, if we're kicking an automated process off on Automate, we can also launch a fast Skybot job which nicely integrates with other applications such as Informatica. So, that is a typical workflow that we'll look at in a little bit. Before we do that, I'm going to talk a little about Automate.
So, what is Automate? As Pat mentioned earlier, Automate is a drag-and-drop application where we do not need to know any programming language in order for us to start automating. In a little bit, we'll look at all the built-in action that is available in Automate. We have so far, over 625 built-in actions that you can use by basically drag and drop to start building your process.
And we're going to go on to the next screenshot here. This is an example of the Skybot action in Automate. As I mentioned before, we have over 600 actions that you can use by drag-and-drop. And this one here is one of the actions that's available and integrated with Skybot. So, on the list here, we can see, other than basically connecting with Skybot, you can also take up jobs or take up different job suites in Skybot through Automate. So, that's just a screenshot of the Skybot actions. So, we are going to go to the live demo right now. So, Pat do you want to go first or should I go first?
Pat: You can go. As long as you've got control. You want to go ahead and go?
Dallas: Okay. All right.
Automate Workflow: An Excel Example
Dallas: I'll start. All right, so, we are looking at the Automate management console. So, this is an interface of what the application looks like. This is where we can basically manage, modify, or create any Automate workflows here. So, what I have here so far is a workflow that translates from what we saw earlier in the PowerPoint presentation. So this is a flowchart in Automate. This is built by drag-and-drop. So, anything that you see on the left-hand side is available for you to use to build this flowchart. So, what I have here, I have a scheduler that kicked off this process. I have this Automate task that will actually go into my inbox and download my email attachment for me. Then if it's successful, it will go ahead and kick on another task to query my database. After that, it will create my Excel report, encrypt my report, and then upload my report, then launch a Skybot job. So, it's a pretty straight forward process. And you can also see here, other than successful arrows, I also have failure arrows. So, because of the flexibility of the flowchart, you can add any error handling to any of the tasks that you like. It can be as simple as an email notification or maybe you want to kick off another process to handle the exceptions.
So, this is just how the flowchart looks like. And on the left-hand side, just to touch on it a little bit. There's other logic flow that you can add to your flowcharts and also conditions. If we want to look at different conditions, have Automate wait for files, things like that, those can be added to your workflow. So, it can be a simple workflow or it can be a more complex flowchart here. Right? So what I'm going to do next is I'm going to open up one of the tasks which is to create Excel report task to give you guys an idea of what Automate looks like with the action.
So, what I have opened here is the task that will actually create an Excel report for me. Now, everything should display in English. So, again, that's why we don't need any programming language background at all. We can build this whole task just probably in minutes by using these actions on the left-hand side. The actions are on the left-hand side here. As I mentioned there are over 600 actions here. What I'm using here are the Excel actions. So, you can see that under Excel, there're a bunch of different activities that we can use. We can open a workbook, we can read it, we can write it. So, what I have here, for example in this case, if I want to open up or create a workbook, all I have to do is just select my action and then drag it out, and there goes my action box. And what I have to do is just specify in this case if I'm opening up a workbook, all I have to do is specify the following, press on the icon, specify the file that you want, and populate it. And then if I click okay, that becomes my step 16 here. So, that's how easy it is to build a step in Automate. I'm going to delete this step and then just run this process to show you how that works.
As I mentioned before, this example task here creates an Excel report. So, what it's doing is I should query my database. And Automate can do that. All you have to do is just connect to your database and then specify your database table and what you want to query from your database and it will create the report. I put a little five second pause so that we can actually see it generating the Excel report. So, I'm going to hit the run button. So, what you will see in a little bit is an Excel report generated with today's date. It just grabbed a few employees' data and then that's it and it just created an Excel report.
No Code Automation via Drag-and-Drop Tasks
So, that's just an example of a simple desktop task in Automate. Other than that, as I've mentioned there are other actions. We saw earlier where we have a Skybot action as well. So, that's also something where you can actually create by drag-and-drop. Before I turn it to Pat, what I'm going to do is go back to our server management console. Other than being a centralized location where you can actually create your flowchart, the server management console also allows you to manage all your users. When you have different users as we've mentioned, where you might have IT administrators, you might also have developers, operators, or users that might want to use Automate to build a process. So, you can create different users and different user groups and give them different permissions to access this application and this is where we can manage it. Other than that, there's also a lot of reporting that will help you with centralizing everything on a single platform. You can actually come back here with the report to see what's executed and if there are any failures. There are also audit event trails. If you have different users and they modify different things, this where you can also manage it here.
Okay, that's pretty much the Automate process where you can manage and then create activities or automated process on a Windows environment. Okay, so I'm going to pass it back to Pat.
Pat: Thank you very much. That was lovely. I love Automate. I'm just starting to get to know it over the past few months so…yeah. Great little product for any of those…gosh, just about anything. So, let's take a look at Skybot.
Integrating Workflows Across the Enterprise with Skybot
Pat: I know, you just touched on just a few things. Exactly. So, the other tool that we have that we're integrating with Automate is Skybot Scheduler. And like we said, it's an enterprise scheduler, it's browser-based, so there's no client that you need to install on your workstation when you're scheduling jobs or monitoring, etc. Everything is done through dropdown menu options. We've got a number of objects that you create once and use them multiple times. Here's where we define the Automate servers so that we can point to it and pull down those tasks and schedule them. Also, FTP servers: you can define those and web servers as well. So, if your application resides on the cloud, we can get to it as well. Like I mentioned, we do have some third-party integrations with SAP, Informatica, SQL server. And so, again, they need some definitions for them.
As far as security is concerned, we do have role-based security, will interface with an active directory or an LDAP server so that you can create a group over there and then map that group to a role within Skybot and determine who has what type of access to any of the objects as far as change or just view or execute, etc. Audit history as I think Steve and Dallas both mentioned how important it is to be able to audit any changes that occur on your systems. Also, you don't want to make that a huge work task. You want the system to be able to do that for you and capture that information. So, our audit history helps you to do that.
So, what we're looking at here is a flow diagram of a business process. A business process not quite as complicated as the one that Steve had up on his screen. I think I'd still be working on that one if I was but his is more reality actually. So, I try to make this simple so that we could take a look at it. So, what we have are a number of tasks. Some are performed form Skybot with our integration into Informatica or SAP, and other ones are performed in Automate. And so, the way that this job stream is setup is that these two jobs at the beginning are scheduled. They have a certain time that they run. If I right click, I can go in and I can take a look at the job setup. Just show you the example. Well this runs in SAP, data extract, and I run it every day at 9:40 and 15:00 for some reason. But there're a number of different schedules that you could have based on when you need that to run. Scheduling is certainly not rocket science, it's scheduling, but you want to make sure that things run exactly when they're supposed to. And I'll show you some ways to set up prerequisites, exceptions for holidays, etc.
And here's that screen that I had earlier that will show you the command that this job is running. So this one is running in SAP, ABAP program. So, I've got an SAP system defined and then I've got a number of ABAP steps that I want to run. So, I just select again from a dropdown list. And it will run that. Then I'm just running a sleep command to slow this down when it runs.
Notification and Monitoring with Skybot Scheduler
So you build your job and then as far as notification if there's an error or delay, we want to be made aware of that as well. HelpSystems has always talked about managing your systems by their exceptions. Everything is running okay, go ahead and run, and don't bother me. But if there is a problem, I want to be notified of it. So, for each job you can set up a status notification. And when a job runs, it goes through a number of different statuses, submitted, running, completed, failed. And then what you could do on a failure is I can send an email or capture the job log the standard error. And I can send that to my help desk. I could send an SNMP trap to my ticketing software and automatically open up a ticket. And I could send a normal completion to someone else. So, lots of flexibility in who needs to know about those errors.
And then the other type of monitoring that we do, even if a job doesn't get an error, sometimes you need to know what's going on with it. A maximum duration, for example. The job runs longer for 30 minutes, I need to know because normally it only runs 5. Or if you've got any SLAs you want to make sure that this job is completed by a certain time. And if it isn't, I need to know. So again, I can do something to make sure that I meet that SLA. So, we can monitor for overruns and underruns, always have the same type of notification, email or text messages and/or SNMP traps. Underruns, if my back up only runs a minute, even if I don't get an error, I know that something is wrong. It didn't back up what it was supposed to, so I can notify and then a late start. And a job might be late based on some prerequisites that it has. Maybe it's waiting for a file or the completion of another job and it didn't run. So, we want to keep a close eye on those jobs to make sure that they're running on time.
So, I'm going to go ahead and run this. And it's going to run that SAP and that other command, and I'll go ahead and let that run. And then I'm going to go down to the Automate. This tasks integrates with Microsoft dynamics and runs, pulls some data from there. And it runs at the same time. It's running on a different system so I'm fine. And the way that I have the command set up in this job is that I'm running an Automate task. So, if I look at my dropdown list, I can either run a task, an individual task or a workflow, a BPA workflow like Dallas was showing you, or one of our other command types as well. Prompting this is just going to ask me for the Automate system. And then again, I get a list of all of the tasks that I've got out there. And I just want to select the one that I run. So again, don't have to have scripting to run those tasks. I'm going to go ahead and run this guy as well. And then I will show you how those other jobs are going to go ahead and run. I'll go ahead and run this task.
Now, the next step is to push those files to Informatica or my ETL process. And again, the job setup is exactly the same. The difference here, as far as the schedule is concerned, this sits as an unscheduled job. I've got this job reactive to those two prerequisites. So, I'm going to run an FTP and push both files over to my ETL system. So, the way that we setup those prerequisites is on this job that I've created. What needs to occur before this job runs. I don't care what time it is, as soon as these two jobs have completed, I want to go ahead and trigger this next step. Now, I can group these together and I can say if either of those steps occurs run the next one, so you can group them. As you can see you can have multiple prerequisites. And they can be other Skybot jobs, other types of events, other monitors. We've got a lot of different types of options that you can use as those prerequisites. Because you want to make sure that jobs run when they're supposed to and they wait for those prerequisites to run.
So, it's kind of happening in the background here. And all of these jobs are dependent on the previous one. So, if I go now to job history, you can see that these guys ran earlier today. There is my SAP and my CRM and they ran on the schedule. But now this SAP job is running and the user ran that job. So again, as far as auditing, we're going to keep track of any of those types of exceptions. And I was the one that ran it and this was the time that it ran. If I go back to that screen, I'm guessing it's going to refresh and I'll see all of those jobs completed. Yup. So, here are my two jobs that I ran and then all of these are reactive to that. We've got all of the other steps in that job process and it doesn't matter if they're running on a Unix or Linux server, or an IBMI, or a Windows server, if they're running in Automate, it doesn't matter where they are. You can manage them all from the Skybot server.
So, that's kind of our quick overview of Skybot and Automate. If you have any questions, you can send them to the chat window. And we will take a look at them. I think one came in earlier. I've got a question here from someone that says, "Would the introduction of business process automation in anyway alter the job function of IT administrators?"
Steve: That's a great question. And I think I'll fill that one.
Dallas: You'll take that one? Perfect.
Steve: Sure. And my answer to that is yes. And I hope so. Think of all the things that administrators hate to do: eploying patches, responding to mundane user requests, and systemic firefighting. Business process automation minimizes all these responsibilities to administrators. So, the administrators can get back to what they really want to do and what they really should be doing which is introducing new technologies, developing new business IT servers, enhancing the IT infrastructure so that it is highly available, fault tolerant, high performing and cost effective. IT administrators want to play with the toys. And this is their chance to do that rather than having to be stuck in the mundane day to day activities. And IT administrators are still maintaining control over individual tasks in an automated process. So, they're able to enforce greater control and standardization while the same time diminishing the amount of effort they have to put in to it. So, from my perspective, this is a win-win. It's good for the administrators, good for the users and good for the business. Well, I guess that's a win-win-win, isn't it?
Pat: It is a win-win-win. Exactly. And I think you're exactly right. And that's what I found working with automation for the last number of years. I love going to customers and installing these products because it makes their lives better. They're not going in on month end or they're not having to monitor those jobs on weekends and it changes it and changes it for the better.
Steve: Yeah. Absolutely. IT administrators didn't get in to this business because they like to deal with mundane day to day issues. They want to work with the technology. They want to make things better and enhance things. And this gets them back to that.
Pat: That's exactly right. Well, thank you Steve so much. I think you really shined a light on business process automation and just like you said how it can make your lives better and make your businesses run reliably and error free. And thank you Dallas for showing us Automate. Appreciate you. And I think that is it for today. So, if you have any questions, you can certainly email us. We will be following up with you and sending out this recording. So, if you did want to share it with anyone, you're welcome to do that. So, thank you all for joining us today. You're all free to go and have a great day. Bye, bye.
Steve: Thank you.