The challenges facing us as a society are almost too numerous to count. But a quick scan of any news feed will certainly turn up two that are impacting us immediately and profoundly: Covid-19 vaccines and supply-chain disruption.
A hackathon at the recent Appian World 2021 conference produced a winning app that deals with both issues.
Vuram, a global hyperautomation services company, used Appian’s platform during the online event to build an app called Trackable. According to Arjun Devadas, senior vice president of Professional Services & Operations at Vuram, Appian’s evolution from a low-code automation tool to a hyperautomation platform enabled developers at his company to quickly respond to a clear and present societal and economic need and produce an app that could support the delivery, distribution and administration of lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines.
RPA Today sat down with Devedas to talk about the idea behind the winning app, how it might be applied to other lingering supply chain issues and why hyperautomation can be the answer to other challenges facing organizations today.
RPA Today: Why is using hyperautomation the right way to be thinking about solving problems?
Arjun Devadas: First of all, hyperautomation is not one tool, it’s a collection of tools. If you look at the landscape of the companies we service, we’re employing low-code automation, RPA, AI, OCR and analytics. There is no single definition or tool. We see hyperautomation as an evolution, a methodology that will involve multiple technologies to solve problems.
The companies we service often have broken processes and no visibility. You have to send 10 emails to understand one. You don’t know where your workflow or where your process is breaking down or taking time, though you know that it’s delayed. Hyperautomation tools are perfect in those situations.
RPA Today: Moving on to the hackathon. What led to the decision to enter the contest with this idea?
Arjun Devadas: There were two driving factors. One was Appian’s expansion beyond a local platform. In recent years they have added RPA and other technologies, giving users more power for creating the automation apps they need. The second was how the world was going. Supply-chain disruption occurred almost immediately when the pandemic started. And when vaccines started being distributed those disruptions really hit home and started affecting peoples’ lives. So, when the opportunity of the hackathon arose, we thought a solution that would enable vaccine distribution to deal with the supply chain disruption would do well. We called it “Trackable.”
RPA Today: Describe the app and how it can make vaccine distribution and tracking more efficient.
Arjun Devadas: It has three modules. One is the administrative module, one is the support agent – the people who are actually handling the supply chain – and finally the module for the delivery drivers.
The administration feature gives users visibility from the manufacturer through delivery. It gives users an orchestration layer that integrates with existing supply chain databases. It also adjusts based on the device interface being used. Not so long ago we had to build multiple modules for each usage. For example, we had to create a webpage for computers and a separate mobile app for mobile devices. The app also provides live tracking with advanced technology like facial recognition that can track the driver to ensure vaccines are being handled by authorized personnel.
The technology also allows for demand management. How much vaccine is needed in certain places? And we are also providing some interesting demand trend analysis – what vaccines or supplies are being consumed by what sort of people in what areas?
The system also automatically detects and can operate in more than 15 different languages.
RPA Today: While you built Trackable with the Covid-19 pandemic and vaccine distribution in mind, you think the technology will have applications for supply chains in general. Is there an example you could cite?
Arjun Devadas: OK, how about a Mexican manufacturer who is selling its products in Florida? Once the manufacturing is complete and the product is ready to hit the market, it first hits the supply chain, and that’s when our system can come in.
The app automatically pulls data in from the producer’s manufacturing software. From that point, it can track the orders and assign the manufacturer’s products to each of these orders. As for setting delivery priorities, we built in some analytics there that let you see who your top customers are, who you have to serve first based on certain parameters that you have given. So, the system knows this particular customer in Florida, who meets the parameters, needs a certain amount of product delivered by a certain date.
Now, each customer has different delivery workflows as well. One could be ground, one could be through air, or it could be based on the need, time, geography, etc. From that, our system can automatically define this flow – where the product is going, how it is going.
And at that point, when you hand it over to the carrier there is an authentication mechanism using multiple methodologies including facial recognition, GPS and others. That gives us live tracking of how the goods are being moved and that they are in the proper hands.
So Trackable automates the process of pulling data from the systems of manufacturers, distributors, carriers, customs and retailers in multiple languages for users working on multiple devices. It creates an entire workflow from the factory until the goods reach the customer.
We started with the idea of Covid vaccines. We enhanced it to track Covid-related supplies like oxygen cylinders, PPE kits and masks. And the long-term plan is to expand this into a solution that automates very generic supply chains. Whatever kind of product you can think of.
RPA Today: How long do you think it would take someone to build out that capability for their business?
Arjun Devadas: For the solution we entered in the hackathon, it took three people three weeks of work, and that was just a side project. I would say, any low-code implementation for us using our platform generally takes between four to eight weeks. For processing PPP loans during Covid, we built a workable automation for banks in two weeks. You can produce very valuable tools in a very short period of time.
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