Guest Column | September 21, 2021

How Modern Retailers Are Effectively Using Technology

By Charles Sword, Chief Revenue Officer, Blueprint Software Systems


The desire to improve business processes, reduce costs, and accelerate digital transformation is driving numerous retailers to adopt process discovery technologies, such as process mining, task mining, and task capture software. These tools have been highly effective in helping retailers to identify, visualize, and improve their business processes, documenting all possible variations of recorded tasks while simultaneously identifying viable automation opportunities.

While it’s hard to argue with the benefits these technologies provide, many retailers are finding themselves frustrated by the time, effort, and resources required to manage and monitor them. The overwhelming amounts of data they produce, coupled with task models which are incompatible with output tools like robotic process automation (RPA) platforms, have left many retailers struggling to deal with usability issues and uncertainty in prioritizing what processes they should address first.

Retailers are also encountering security and privacy issues. While process discovery tools promise to improve employee experiences, some workers have complained that task mining software (which is machine-based and typically sits at the desktop level and records user actions such as mouse-clocks, hotkeys, and keyboard interactions) are invasive and hamper their work habits. Highly regulated departments, meanwhile, have been frustrated with the consent and privacy issues such technologies sometimes present.

To deal with these challenges and optimize their process discovery efforts, retailers should start not with technology but by identifying the high-level processes and who in their organization already knows and understands them. Too many organizations immediately turn to process or task mining software to discover their current-state processes and gain an understanding of their company’s status quo. Frankly, this is a misplaced investment since every retailer likely has someone already on their team who possesses that knowledge.

By turning to these subject matter experts and process owners, rather than a software package that will yield mounds of data that must then be analyzed to understand how the company operates, retailers will be in a significantly better position to unlock and drive their digital transformation. Armed with the right set of tools, these so-called citizen designers can provide the insights needed to identify and map the higher-level processes required to initiate a structured approach to process discovery.

Take, for example, the procedure for processing expenses to third-party consultants. Regardless of whether the objective is optimization for greater efficiency, error reduction, or automation, it all starts the same way: by defining the process. In such a scenario, anyone from a retailer’s accounting or finance department can probably serve as a citizen designer. They already know the process and can readily map it out in a user-friendly, intuitive process editor. And just as important, they can do this without relying on expensive process discovery technology or wading through volumes of data.

By using citizen designers to identify these high-level processes, retailers are ready to take the next step in their process discovery effort: capturing the low-level details of all tasks within each identified process. These low-level details include all of the actions, parameters, screenshots, inputs, value metrics, and applications with which the task interacts, which, in turn, leads to a better understanding of the services being used, the specific activities being undertaken, and the specific boundaries of those activities.     

Capturing this low-level, detailed task information enables retailers to quickly assess whether a particular task is too complex for automation or a viable candidate that can then be turned into a bot for increased efficiency and quality of task execution. It also expedites the automation development phase because it is precisely those applications, services, actions, and parameters that need to be coded in any automation. Ultimately, this critical information can be used by developers not simply to automate faster, but more importantly to generate higher-quality bots that experience fewer outages due to the rich and exact guidance the task information provides.

This is the point where technology enters the picture. Task capture tools – which are, at heart, local or browser-based recorders which can be manually triggered by employees to record every activity from mouse clicks to keyboard strokes when a task is executed – offer the best means for capturing these low-level details. As a more cost-effective, non-invasive alternative to process or task mining software, task capture tools allow retailers to map all of the information they gather into a process editor where it subsequently can be further modified and optimized. At that point, a company’s developers will have all of the essential information needed to assess whether a task represents a viable automation candidate.

On a side note, it is important to point out that some – but not all – task capture tools have the capability of packaging all of the information collected into a format that is compatible with any available automation platform. Some solutions even let the user know how much of a task will be immediately compatible with the RPA platform currently in use. Obviously, such capabilities can significantly accelerate and improve both development and deployment.              

Regardless of which task capture software is used, retailers must take one final step in their structured approach to process discovery: adding the process’ critical dependencies, namely all of those applications, business rules, regulatory and compliance constraints, and security protocols that impact and are connected to a company’s processes and tasks. While identifying high-level processes and capturing low-level details provide the “what” of any process, critical dependencies are needed to understand the “why” of each process step.

Why, for example, does someone from a retailer’s accounts payable department open a spreadsheet and delete a specific cell? The answer, which could be something as simple as the deletion is required by a specific data privacy regulation, is precisely the information critical dependencies supply. At its most basic, critical dependencies provide the context needed to understand what is currently occurring and why tasks are executed in a certain way. This, in turn, dramatically improves the quality of automation initiatives undertaken by the retailer.

Beyond improving and accelerating RPA efforts, critical dependencies also positively impact change management initiatives. If a particular regulation changes in the future, the automated process and process steps affected by that regulation could immediately be identified and reviewed to ensure compliance. This proactive approach enables retailers to eliminate (or, at the very least, reduce) the downtime that might otherwise be needed to pull bots out of production until that identification and review occur, enabling organizations to optimize returns and minimize business value lost.

Task capture software again offers the easiest way to identify critical dependencies and add them to a retailer’s processes. Most task capture tools offer an editable canvas with text boxes in which critical dependencies can be defined. To improve the context of process maps or the quality of RPA development, some tools also provide AI-assisted modeling that recommends critical dependencies that may otherwise be overlooked.

Regardless of the task capture tools chosen, taking a best practice approach – namely, identifying high-level processes, capturing detailed task information, and adding critical dependencies – represents the best way for retailers to optimize their process discovery efforts while minimizing the challenges that often arise when such initiatives are undertaken.

About The Author

Charles Sword is the Chief Revenue Officer at Blueprint Software Systems and is responsible for all aspects of market development for Blueprint’s Enterprise Automation Suite, a powerful digital process discovery, design, and management solution that enables enterprise organizations to capture, identify, design, and manage high-value automations with speed and precision to scale the scope and impact of their RPA initiatives. Charles is a recognized expert in emerging technologies with over 20 years of experience delivering high-impact, strategic solutions for Global 2000 organizations and is passionate about delivering technology that helps teams rapidly optimize, automate, and digitally transform their organizations. For more information, visit