How to Make Sense of Front-End and Back-End Automation

Organizations today continue to make the shift toward automation—and for good reason. Automating business processes offers significant benefits, including boosting productivity, improving accuracy, and optimizing resources across organizations, divisions, departments, teams, and employees. According to McKinsey Global Institute1, ‘automation of various activities can improve the performance of almost any business process. Beyond enabling reduction in labor costs, automation can raise throughput, increase reliability, and improve quality.’ Yet even with the tremendous advantages automation offers, when and how organizations choose to leverage automation solutions varies considerably. As companies begin to automate processes, they are faced with virtually unlimited decisions about what to automate and how to automate it. And the terminology that characterizes where automation runs can seem just as endless. Terms like front-end or back-end, front-office or back-office, front of glass or back of glass, attended or unattended, background or batch processing, and interactive processing all define where automation can occur. Front-of-glass takes care of things like website data scraping, running Microsoft Access reports, anything where you see a cursor moving on the screen. Back-of-glass can run SQL queries and send results to a spreadsheet, send files via FTP, monitor inboxes and process attachments, anything that takes places behind the screen. But no matter what you call it, evaluating opportunities for automation in your business should start by understanding these different approaches. In this blog, we will define two different approaches to automation, examine processes well-suited for each type of automation, and explore how you can evaluate your current processes to determine the best automation fit for your organization.

Examining Front-End Automation:

One of the most common forms of automation is called front-end automation. Front-end automation is a way to characterize automation that streamlines tasks focused on interactivity, websites, and attended processes. Robotic process automation, or RPA, is considered automation on the front end, or from the front-end (UI) level. And its growth, according to Gartner2, will continue to expand. In fact, by 2023, there will be a 30 percent increase in RPA for front-end functions. There are benefits and challenges associated with front-end automation that are worth considering. Benefits of front-end automation include quick task building with no programming knowledge, no required changes to existing programs or applications, and those individuals who know the keystrokes can easily build the automation task. Conversely, sometimes front-end automation is not stable as screens and application user interfaces can change, screen resolution can affect performance, and even remote environments can affect performance. So what processes make the most sense for front-end automation? Typically, the best front-end candidates include fully or partially attended processes like website data extraction, interactive application report generation, data entry into websites or a Windows client application, user application monitoring, and web page testing. Front-end automation ensures these tasks are performed quickly and accurately, enhances the customer experience, and provides a frictionless process of interaction between an organization and its customers.

Exploring Back-End Automation:

Another approach to automation is back-end or unattended automation. Back-end automation is commonly known as workload automation or sometimes referred to as API automation because it leverages application programming interfaces for specifically-defined, high-capacity transactions. The benefits of back-end automation are numerous, and include stable and quicker execution based on direct access to data, higher performance than back end of the screen, and the ability to not be affected by changes to the user interface. However, with back-end automation, users must know where and how the data is stored, they may need to be familiar with web services, and they may need some programming skills. The best candidates for back-end automation include unattended processes like file movement, database processing, PowerShell scripts, and API driven applications. Automating these types of processes enable organizations to define, streamline, manage, and monitor critical back-end functions, while reducing overhead and optimizing resources across the business.

Evaluating Opportunities for Front-End and Back-End Automation:

Determining where to start in automating processes in your organization depends on your unique needs and requirements. Some organizations like to start small in their automation efforts, then scale later. Other companies like to tackle larger enterprise automation challenges that target a diverse set of platforms and applications. No matter where you start, it’s important to look for high-volume repetitive tasks that take away time you could spend on more strategic, value-added activities. Many organizations have realized that bringing together front-end and back-end automation affords true end-to-end automation that embraces a holistic approach—from the front office to the back office. Moreover, organizations today ultimately have need for both front-end and back-end automation, so it’s important to not be held back by your automation software. Instead, look for solutions that offer a full spectrum of automation capabilities and allow for more robust automation deployments

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