It’s high times for robotic process automation and the fun’s only just beginning

It’s an exciting time to work in robotic process administration and the fun is only beginning, Michael Heffner believes.

Mr. Heffner is the VP of global industry leads at Appian, providers of low-code development and BPM software. His area of responsibility includes financial services, banking, capital markets and insurance, and that is only a few of the growing number of industries where Appian is helping to transform industries.

For a 20-year-old company, Appian is unique because its original quartet of founders are all still with them. That contributes to a culture of open dialogue, Mr. Heffner explained.

“We don’t shy away from a healthy and productive debate of the issues. The tiebreaker is simplicity. Is there an answer that drives us toward simplicity and how we want to organize ourselves.”

Michael Heffner

Appian is slowly expanding into energy, oil and gas and utilities at the same time as it is growing its presence with large insurance companies and asset managers, Mr. Heffner said. Some of the latter using Appian’s technology to improve the customer service experience for high net worth individuals.

SWIFT asked Appian to participate in a pilot program to investigate ways to improve issues slowing down global payments, Mr. Heffner said. Key to the work is addressing irregular occurrences.

“How do we more effectively manage these case exceptions in an environment that’s dynamic, one that allows us to very quickly engage in a very compelling way?” he said of Appian’s approach to the task. “All banks are impacted by innovation and fintechs and they have to respond.”

An important part of Mr. Heffner’s job is to help establishment financial services companies navigate the tricky world of innovation and to overcome the heavy cost of their legacy software. In the past they usually implemented the software that made sense at the time, but now that software is deeply embedded in their systems to the point they can’t simply greenfield a replacement, he explained.

“And they need to figure out how to do it in a highly regulated environment in such a way that they’re unifying and getting the most out of their legacy investment.”

Many would be shocked to discover how old some institution’s back-ends really are.

“There’s a reason for that,” Mr. Heffner added. “It’s really hard to build an ROI out of replacing those things.”

Then there is the philosophical shift where many have to tear down silos that have been fortified for decades and replace them with an open collaborative culture.

An early step is to identify common patterns that exist in a company, regardless of department. Using the example of data ingestion, you develop a process that validates, transforms, ingests and transmits information. Whether that be in accounts, shipping or customer service, the steps are the same regardless of content. Once the company is satisfied with that process they can deploy it throughout the organization.

“They’re basically going through a business loop and saying ‘how do we modernize’ at an industrial scale,” Mr. Heffner explained. “How do you take the complex and simplify it?”

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