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Identifying Candidate Tasks for Robotic Process Automation in Textual Process Descriptions

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Identifying Candidate Tasks for Robotic Process
Automation in Textual Process Descriptions
Henrik Leopold, Han van der Aa, and Hajo A. Reijers
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
De Boelelaan 1081, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
h.leopold|j.h.vander.aa|h.a.reijers@vu.nl
Abstract. The continuous digitization requires organizations to im-
prove the automation of their business processes. Among others, this
has lead to an increased interest in Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
RPA solutions emerge in the form of software that automatically executes
repetitive and routine tasks. While the benefits of RPA on cost savings
and other relevant performance indicators have been demonstrated in
different contexts, one of the key challenges for RPA endeavors is to ef-
fectively identify processes and tasks that are suitable for automation.
Textual process descriptions, such as work instructions, provide rich and
important insights about this matter. However, organizations often main-
tain hundreds or even thousands of them, which makes a manual analysis
unfeasible for larger organizations. Recognizing the large manual effort
required to determine the current degree of automation in an organiza-
tion’s business processes, we use this paper to propose an approach that
is able to automatically do so. More specifically, we leverage supervised
machine learning to automatically identify whether a task described in
a textual process description is manual, an interaction of a human with
an information system or automated. An evaluation with a set of 424
activities from a total of 47 textual process descriptions demonstrates
that our approach produces satisfactory results.
1 Introduction
Many organizations currently face the challenge of keeping up with the increas-
ing digitization. Among others, it requires them to adapt existing business mod-
els and to respectively improve the automation of their business processes [29].
While the former is a rather strategic task, the latter calls for specific opera-
tional solutions. One of the most recent developments to increase the level of
automation is referred to as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). In essence,
RPA emerges in the form of software-based solutions that automatically execute
repetitive and routine tasks [5]. In this way, knowledge workers can dedicate
their time and effort to more complex and value adding tasks.
While the benefits of RPA have been demonstrated in different contexts
[8,21], one of the key challenges is to effectively identify processes and tasks that
are suitable for automation [6]. So far, research has focused on the establishment
2
of criteria [12, 38] and step-by-step guidelines [10] as means to support organi-
zations in addressing this challenge. However, what all these methods have in
common is that they require a manual analysis of the current degree of automa-
tion, i.e., they depend on the manual identification of tasks and (sub-)processes
that are automated or supported by an information system. This identifica-
tion task requires a thorough analysis of process-related documentations such as
process models and textual process documentations. While especially the latter
often provides rich and detailed insights, organizations typically maintain hun-
dreds or even thousands of them [3]. As a result, these methods do not scale for
organizations with hundreds of processes
Recognizing the large manual effort required to determine the current de-
gree of automation in an organization’s business processes, we use this paper
to propose an approach that is able to automatically do so. More specifically,
we combine supervised machine learning and natural language processing tech-
niques to automatically identify whether a task described in a textual process
description is a 1) manual task, 2) user task (interaction of a human with an
information system) or 3) automated task. An evaluation with a set of 424 activ-
ities from a total 47 textual process descriptions demonstrates that our approach
produces satisfactory results. Therefore, our approach can be employed to reduce
the effort required to determine the degree of automation in an organization’s
processes, as a first step in RPA endeavors.
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 illustrates the problem
we address using a running example. Section 3 introduces our approach for auto-
matically determining the degree of automation of textual process descriptions
on a conceptual level. Section 4 presents the results of our evaluation. Section 5
discusses related work before Section 6 concludes the paper.
2 Problem Statement
In this section, we illustrate the problem of automatically identifying the degree
of automation of tasks described in a textual process description. Building on the
three categories of task automation introduced in [10], our goal is to classify each
task from a given textual process description as either 1) manual, 2) user task
(interaction of a human with an information system) or 3) automated. Figure 1
shows an exemplary textual process description, the associated relevant process
tasks, and their degree of automation.
Figure 1 shows that this textual process description contains two manual
tasks, two user tasks, and two automated tasks. The manual tasks include the
decision of the supervisor about the vacation request (task 3) and the completion
of the management procedures by the HR representative (task 6). The user tasks
are the two tasks in the process that are executed using the help of an information
system. That is, the submission and the reception of the vacation request (tasks
1 and 2). The automated tasks are tasks executed by the ERP system. This
includes returning the application to the employee (task 4) as well as generating
the notification to the HR representative (task 5). Analyzing this scenario in
3
The$ vaca(ons$ request$ process$ starts$ when$ an$ employee$ submits$ a$
vaca(on$request$ via$the$ERP$ system.$The$ request$ is$then$ received$by$the$
immediate$ supervisor$ of$ the$ employee$ reques(ng$ the$ vaca(on.$ The$
supervisor$ decides$ about$ the$ request.$ If$ the$ request$ is$ rejected,$ the$
applica(on$ is$ returned$ to$ the$ employee.$ If$ the$ request$ is$ approved,$ a$
no(fica(on$ is$ generated$ to$ the$ HR$ representa(ve,$ who$ then$ completes$
the$respec(ve$management$procedures.$
Task%ID:%1%
Verb:% %submit$
Object:%%vaca(on$request$
Role:% %employee$
Type: %user$task$
Task%ID:%2$
Verb:$ $receive$
Object:$$request$
Role:$ $supervisor$$
Type: $user$task$
Task%ID:%3$
Verb:% %decide$
Object:%%request$
Role:% %supervisor$
Type: %manual$
Task%ID:%4$
Verb:% %return$
Object:%%applica(on$
Role:% %ERP$system$$
Type: %automa(c$
Task%ID:%%5$
Verb:% %generate$
Object:%%no(fica(on$
Role:% %ERP$system%%
Type: %automa(c$
Task%ID:%6$
Verb:% %complete$
Object:%%mgmt.$procedures$
Role:% %HR$representa(ve$
Type: %manual$
Fig. 1. Process description with highlighted activities and their degree of automation
more detail, reveals that the automatic classification of these tasks is associated
with two main challenges:
1. Identification of tasks: Before a task can be classified, an automated ap-
proach must be able to detect the tasks described in a text. Note, for exam-
ple, that the verb “starts”, the verb “rejected” as well as the verb “approved
do not relate to tasks. The first is not relevant to the classification task at
hand because it represents a piece of meta information about the process.
The latter two tasks are not relevant because they rather relate to conditions
than to tasks, i.e., “if the request is rejected” describes a state, rather than
an activity being performed. Besides identifying relevant verbs, the identi-
fication of tasks also requires to properly infer the object to which a verb
refers and the resource that executes the task, i.e. the role.
2. Consideration of context: To reliably predict whether a certain activity is a
manual, user, or automated task, an automated approach must be able to
take a number of contextual factors into account. Consider, for instance, the
receipt of the vacation request (task 2). While in this process description the
request is submitted to an information system, this might not be the case
in other processes (a request could be also received orally or in writing).
The fact that an information system is mentioned in the first sentence, must
respectively be considered when classifying a task described later in the
process.
In prior work, only the former challenge has been addressed. The technique
for generating process models from natural language texts proposed by Friedrich
4
et al. [11] can reliably recognize and extract tasks from textual process descrip-
tions. To the best of our knowledge, there does not exist any technique that
addresses the second challenge. In this paper, we do so by operationalizing the
problem of automatically identifying the degree of task automation as multi-
class classification problem. In the next section, we elaborate on the details of
our proposed solution.
3 Conceptual Approach
In this section, we present our approach for automatically identifying the degree
of automation of tasks described in a textual process description. Section 3.1
first gives an overview of the approach. Section 3.2 introduces the dataset we
use in this paper, before sections 3.3 trough 3.5 elaborate on the details of our
approach.
3.1 Overview
The overall architecture of our three-step approach is visualized in Figure 2.
The approach takes as input a textual process descriptions and returns a list of
process tasks that are classified according to their degree of automation.
Classification
Textual Process
Description
Feature
Computation
Extracted
Features
Manually Labeled
Training Data
A
M
M
M
U
M
A
U
Automatically
Classified Activities
Linguistic
Preprocessing
Annotated
Textual Process
Description
Fig. 2. Overview of the proposed approach
The first step is to parse the text and to identify the relevant linguistic
entities and relations that denote tasks in a process description. For instance,
we determine which words represent verbs and to which objects they relate. The
result of this preprocessing step is a textual process description annotated with
the linguistic information related to the process’ tasks. The second step is the
computation of the features we use for prediction. In particular, we compute
features related to the verbs and objects that characterize tasks in a process, the
resources that execute tasks, and a feature characterizing terms from IT domains.
The output of this step is a feature table that contains the extracted tasks
and their corresponding features. In the third step, we perform a classification
5
based on the computed features. In the context of this paper, we use an SVM,
which is a supervised machine learning algorithm that automatically classifies
the input based on a set of manually labeled training instances. The output of
the classification is a list of tasks, each automatically classified as manual, user,
or automated.
In the following sections, we elaborate on each step in more detail. Because of
the supervised nature of our classification approach, we begin with introducing
our dataset.
3.2 Dataset
For this paper we use a subset of a collection of textual process descriptions
introduced in [11]. The collection contains 47 process descriptions from 10 dif-
ferent industrial and scholarly sources. We removed one of these sources (i.e.
14 process descriptions) because the textual descriptions from this source were
obtained using Google Translate and their language quality was insufficient for
our purposes. To obtain the required classifications for the 424 tasks described in
this dataset, two researchers independently classified each task as manual, user,
or automated. Conflicts were resolved by involving a third researcher. Table 1
gives an overview of the characteristics of the resulting dataset.
Table 1. Characteristics of dataset
ID Source Type D S W/S MT UT AT
1 HU Berlin Academic 4 10.0 18.1 52 4 1
2 TU Berlin Academic 2 34.0 21.2 42 38 11
3 QUT Academic 8 6.1 18.3 51 20 1
4 TU Eindhoven Academic 1 40.0 18.5 36 8 0
5 Vendor Tutorials Industry 4 9.0 18.2 9 23 2
6 inubit AG Industry 4 11.5 18.4 9 23 3
7 BPM Practitioners Industry 1 7 9.7 7 1 0
8 BPMN Practice Handbook Textbook 3 4.7 17.0 14 6 1
9 BPMN Guide Textbook 6 7.0 20.8 30 30 2
Total 33 9.7 16.8 250 153 21
Legend: D = Number of process descriptions per source, S = Average number
of sentences, W/S = Average number of words per sentence, MT = Total
number of manual tasks per source, UT = Total number of user tasks per
source, AT = Total number of automated tasks per source
The data from Table 1 illustrates that the process descriptions from our
dataset differ with respect to many dimensions. Most notably, they differ in size.
The average number of sentences ranges from 4.7 to 34.0. The longest process
description contains a total of 40 sentences. The descriptions also differ in the av-
erage length of the sentences. While the descriptions from the BPM Practitioners
6
source contain rather short sentences (9.7 words), the process descriptions from
the TU Berlin source contain relatively long sentences (21.2 words). The process
descriptions also differ with respect to the degree of automation. Some sources
contain process descriptions mostly covering manual tasks (e.g. the HU Berlin
source), others contain a quite considerable number of automated tasks (e.g. the
TU Berlin source). Lastly, the process descriptions differ in terms of how explic-
itly and unambiguously they describe the process behavior. Among others, this
results from the variety of authors that created the textual descriptions.
3.3 Linguistic Preprocessing
The goal of the linguistic preprocessing step is to automatically extract verbs,
object, and roles related to tasks described in the input text. To accomplish
this, we build on a technique that was originally developed for the extraction of
process models from natural language text [11]. This technique, which is regarded
as state-of-the-art [32], combines linguistic tools such as the Stanford Parser
[19] and VerbNet [34] to, among others, identify verbs, objects, and roles. The
advantage of this technique is its high accuracy and its ability to resolve so-called
anaphoric references such as “it” and “they ”. To illustrate the working principle
of the technique, consider the first sentence from the running example in Figure
1:
The vacations request process starts when an employee submits a vaca-
tion request via the ERP system.”
The first step is the application of the Stanford Parser, which automatically
detects the part of speech of each word as well as the grammatical relations
between them. The result of the part-of-speech tagging looks as follows.
The/DT vacations/NNS request/NN process/NN starts/VBZ when/WRB
an/DT employee/NN submits/VBZ a/DT vacation/NN request/NN vi-
a/IN the/DT ERP/NNP system/NN ./.
We can see that the Stanford Parser correctly identifies two verbs “starts
and “submits” (indicated by the tag “VBZ ”). The dependency analysis of the
Stanford Parser further reveals to which subjects and objects these verbs relate:
nsubj(starts-5, process-4)
nsubj(submits-9, employee-8)
dobj(submits-9, request-12)
compound(request-12, vacation-11)
The verb “starts” relates to the subject “process” and the verb “submits
relates the subject “employee” as well as the object “request”. The Stanford
Parser also recognizes that “vacation request” is a compound noun (i.e., a noun
that consists of several words). Based on the part-of-speech tagging output and
the dependency relations, the technique from [11] automatically extracts task
7
records consisting of a verb, an object, and the executing role. It also recognizes
that the verb “start” in this context represents meta information and not a
relevant task. It is respectively not included as a task record. The final set of
task records then represents the input to the next step of our approach.
3.4 Feature Computation
The selection and computation of suitable features is the key task when building
a machine learning-based solution [9]. Therefore, we manually analyzed which
characteristics in our dataset affect the degree of automation of a task. As a
result, we selected and implemented four features:
Verb feature (categorical)
Object feature (categorical)
Resource type (human/non-human)
IT domain (yes/no)
In the following paragraphs we elaborate on the definition and rationale of
each feature as well as its computation.
Verb feature The verb feature is a categorical feature and relates to the verb
used in the context of a task. The main idea behind this feature is that certain
verbs are more likely to be associated with automated tasks than others. As
an example, consider the verbs “generate” or “transmit”, which likely relate
to automated tasks. The verbs “analyze” and “decide”, by contrast, are more
likely to relate to manual tasks. The advantage of introducing a verb feature over
using predefined verb classed (such as the Levin verb classes [28]) is that a verb
feature does not tie a verb to a specific automation class. The verb “generate”,
for instance, might as well be used in the context of “generate ideas” and, thus,
refer to a manual task. Such a context-related use can be taken into account
when the verb is considered as part of a set of features.
The computation of this feature is straightforward since it is explicitly in-
cluded in the task record from the linguistic preprocessing step.
Object feature The object feature is a categorical feature and captures the
object that the verb of the task relates to. The rationale behind this feature is,
similar to the verb feature, that certain objects are more likely to be associated
with automated tasks than others. As an example, consider the two verb-object
combinations “send letter” and “send e-mail”. Although both contain the verb
send”, the object reveals that the former relates to a manual and the latter
relates to a user task (sending an e-email certainly requires the interaction with
a computer). While the number of objects we may encounter in textual process
descriptions is much higher than the number of verbs, including the object as a
feature might still help to differentiate different degrees of task automation.
Similar to the verb feature, the computation of this feature is straightforward
since it is part of the task record from the linguistic preprocessing step.
8
Resource type feature The resource type feature is a binary feature that char-
acterizes the resource executing a task as either “human” or “non-human ”. The
reason for encoding the resource as a binary feature instead of a classical categor-
ical feature is the high number of resources that can execute a task. Depending
on the domain of the considered process, resources may, among others, relate to
specific roles (e.g. “manager ” or “accountant”), departments (e.g., “HR depart-
ment” or “accounting department”), and also systems (“ERP system” or “infor-
mation system”). Despite this variety, the key characteristic revealing whether
a task is likely to be automated is the type of the resource, that is, whether the
resource is human or not. Apparently, a human resource can only relate to a
manual or user task, while a non-human resource can also execute automated
task (especially when the non-human resource represents an IT system).
Unlike the computation of the verb and the object feature, the computation
of the resource type feature is not trivial. The task record from the linguis-
tic preprocessing step only contains the actual resource and no indication of
the resource type. To determine the resource type, we use the lexical database
WordNet [30]. WordNet groups English words into sets of synonyms, so-called
synsets. For each of the 117,000 synsets WordNet contains, it provides short
definitions, examples, and a number of semantic relations to other synsets. To
compute this feature, we leverage the hypernym relationship from WordNet. In
general, a hypernym is a more generic term for a given word. For instance, the
word “vehicle” is the hypernym of “car” and the word “bird” is the hypernym
of “eagle”. Based on this notion of hypernymy and the hierarchical organization
of WordNet, we are able to infer for a given resource whether its hypernym is
physical entity”, “abstract entity” or a “person”. Based on this hypernym in-
formation we then can automatically categorize whether a resource is human or
non-human.
IT domain feature The IT domain feature is a binary feature that reveals
whether a task relates to the IT domain or not. The rationale behind this feature
is that a task that relates to the IT domain is likely to be a user task or even an
automated task. As example, consider the text fragment “the customer submits
a complaint via the complaint management system”. This fragment contains
the human actor “customer”, the verb “submit” and the object “complaint”.
Neither of these elements clearly indicates a degree of automation. However, the
fragment also mentions a “complaint management system ”. The goal of the IT
domain feature is to take such IT-related context into account.
To compute this feature, we leverage the glossary of computer terms devel-
oped by the University of Utah1. Besides a comprehensive coverage of technical
terms, this list also contains verbs and adjectives that are used in an IT context.
If a considered sentence, contains one or more terms from this list, the IT domain
feature receives the value “yes” for any task that is part of this sentence.
1http://www.math.utah.edu/ wisnia/glossary.html
9
3.5 Classification
In the final step of our approach, the actual classification of tasks from unseen
process descriptions takes place. As described in the previous section, there is
not a single feature that independently reveals the degree of automation of a
given task. It rather depends on the specific context of the task in the process.
To be able to still classify unseen tasks, we employ a Support Vector Machine [7],
a supervised machine learning algorithm. The advantages of SVMs are, among
others, that they can deal well with relatively small datasets, they have a low
risk of overfitting, and they scale well. For these reasons SVMs have also been
frequently applied in the context of other text classification tasks [17,36].
The core strategy of an SVM is to find a so-called hyperplane that best divides
a dataset. While in a two-dimensional space a simple line would be sufficient to
do so, an SVM maps the data to higher and higher dimensions until a hyperplane
can be formed that clearly segregates the data. Since an SVM is a supervised
machine learning algorithm, it needs to be trained on a manually labeled dataset.
In the next section, we describe how we implemented the approach outlined
in this section and demonstrate the effectiveness of the approach through a
quantitative evaluation.
4 Evaluation
This section reports on our evaluation experiments. We first elaborate on the
evaluation setup and the implementation of our approach. Then, we provide a
detailed discussion of the results.
4.1 Setup
The goal of the evaluation experiments is to demonstrate that the approach
introduced in this paper can reliably determine the degree of automation of
previously unseen textual process descriptions. To this end, we implemented our
approach as a Java prototype. Besides the code from [11], which we use to extract
tasks from a textual process descriptions, we build on the machine learning
library Weka [16] to implement the SVM, and JWNL [37] for incorporating and
accessing the lexical database WordNet.
To evaluate the performance of our approach, we conducted a repeated 10-
fold cross validation using our dataset. The idea behind this validation approach
is to randomly split the data set into 10 mutually exclusive subsets (so-called
folds) of about equal size. The SVM is then trained on 9 of the 10 folds and tested
on the remaining (unseen) fold. This process is repeated 10 times such that, in
the end, all data has been used for both training and testing. The advantage of
this evaluation method is that it does not require to partition the data set into
training and test data. We ran four different configurations of our approach:
1. Training on action feature only (A)
2. Training on action and object feature (A+O)
10
3. Training on action, object, and resource type feature (A+O+RT)
4. Training on all feature (Full)
To quantify the performance of each configuration , we use the standard met-
rics precision, recall, and F1-measure. In our context, precision for a particular
class is given by the number of tasks that were correctly assigned to this class
divided by the total number of tasks that were assigned to this class. Recall is
given by the number of tasks that were correctly assigned to this class divided by
the total number of tasks belong to that class. The F1-measure is the harmonic
mean of the two. Note that precision, recall, and F1-measure are computed for
each class individually. To also provide aggregate results, we conduct micro av-
eraging. That is, we use the number of tasks belonging to a particular class to
weight the respective precision and recall values. A macro perspective (i.e. ap-
plying no weights) would provide a distorted picture because the three classes
vary in size.
4.2 Results
The results of the 10-fold cross validation are presented in Table 2. Besides
precision, recall, F1-measure for each class and configuration, it also shows the
number of correctly and incorrectly classified instances.
A A+O A+O+RT Full
Correct 320 320 340 342
Incorrect 104 104 84 82
Manual
Precision 0.75 0.75 0.80 0.81
Recall 0.83 0.83 0.90 0.90
F1-Measure 0.79 0.79 0.85 0.85
User
Precision 0.75 0.75 0.80 0.80
Recall 0.67 0.67 0.70 0.70
F1-Measure 0.71 0.71 0.75 0.75
Automated
Precision 0.82 0.82 1.00 0.92
Recall 0.43 0.43 0.43 0.52
F1-Measure 0.56 0.56 0.60 0.66
Total (mic.)
Precision 0.75 0.75 0.80 0.81
Recall 0.75 0.75 0.80 0.80
F1-Measure 0.75 0.75 0.80 0.81
Table 2. Results from 10-fold cross validation
In general, the results from Table 2 reveal that our approach works well. Out
of the 424 task instances, our approach classified 342 correctly. This yields an
11
overall F1-measure of 0.81. Taking a look at the contribution of the individual
features shows that the action feature is of particular importance. Apparently
the discriminating power of the action feature is considerable, already resulting
in an overall F1-measure of 0.75. We can further see that adding the object
feature has no effect at all. However, the resource type feature results in a further
improvement of the overall F1-measure to 0.80. The IT domain feature has little
effect, but apparently leads to the correct classification of at least two additional
task instances.
Analyzing the results for individual classes in more detail shows that there
are quite some differences among the classes. Most notably, the F1-measure for
the automated class (0.66) is much lower than the F1-measure of the manual
(0.85) and the user class (0.75). This is, however, not particularly surprising
when taking the class sizes into account. The automated class only contains 21
instances, which clearly makes it a minority class. It is worth noting that the
rather low F1-measure mainly results from a low recall (0.52). The precision
reveals that automated task are correctly classified in 92% of the cases.
To further illustrate the results, Figure 3 shows the ROC curves and the cor-
responding AUC (area under the curve) values for the total configuration.2ROC
curves are graphical representations of the proportion of true positives versus the
proportion of false positives and often used to illustrate the capabilities of a bi-
nary classifier. The AUC value represents the probability that a classifier ranks
a randomly chosen positive instance higher than a randomly chosen negative
one. The AUC value varies between 0 and 1. An uninformative classifier yields
an AUC value of 0.5, a perfect classifier respectively yields an AUC value of 1.0.
The AUC values for our approach (ranging from 0.75 to 0.78 depending on the
class) indicate that our approach represents a classifier with a good performance.
To get insights into the limits of our approach, we conducted an error analy-
sis. More specifically, we investigated which task instances were classified incor-
rectly and why. In essence, we observed two main types of misclassifications: (1)
misclassifications due to a deviating use of feature attributes and (2) misclassi-
fications due to insufficient training data. The first category relates to instances
that were classified erroneously because the feature attributes are typically as-
sociated with another class. As an example, consider the manual task “attach
the new sct document”. For this task, our approach misses the fact that the “sct
document” is actually a physical document. It classifies it as a user task because
the verb “send” is often associated with user tasks in our dataset (e.g. consider
send e-mail”). Another example is the user task “check notes”, which our ap-
proach classified as a manual task. Here it did not recognize the context of an
information system and bases its decision on the verb “check” and the object
notes”, which are often associated with manual tasks. The second category of
misclassifications relates to cases where our approach erroneously classified a
2Note that the way Weka generates ROC curves results in only as many threshold val-
ues as there are distinct probability values assigned to the positive class. Therefore,
the ROC curves from Figure 3 are only based on three data points. This, however,
does not reduce their informative value.
12
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Fig. 3. ROC Curves for each class
task because it has not seen enough training data. For example, consider the
user task “transmit a response comment ”, which our approach classified as a
manual task. Here the problem is that our approach has not observed a suffi-
cient number of instances using the verb “transmit”, which clearly relates to the
use of an information system.
Despite these misclassifications, we can state that the presented approach
represents a promising solution for automatically determining the degree of task
automation.
5 Related Work
This paper relates to two major streams of research: (1) the application of Natu-
ral Language Process (NLP) technology in the context of business process anal-
ysis and (2) process automation.
A variety of authors have applied NLP technology in the context of business
process analysis. Their works can be subdivided into techniques that analyze
the natural language inside process models and techniques that analyze the
natural language outside of process models, typically captured in textual process
descriptions. Techniques analyzing the natural language inside process models
typically focus on activity and event labels. Among others, there exist techniques
for checking the correctness and consistency of process model labels [24, 27, 31],
techniques for identifying similar parts of process models [20,26], and techniques
for inferring information from process models such as service candidates [13,25].
Other approaches focus on the analysis of process-related text documents, such
as approaches for the automated elicitation of process models from texts, cf. [1,
11, 15] and the comparison of natural language texts to process models [2, 33],
and process querying based on the analysis of textual process descriptions [23].
13
The focus on automation in the context of Business Process Management is
not a recent development. In particular research on workflow management and
automation reaches back over 20 years [4,14,35]. Research on RPA, by contrast, is
still relatively scarce. Lacity and Willcocks investigated how organizations apply
RPA in practice [21, 22, 38]. They found that most applications of RPA have
been done for automating tasks of service business processes, such as validating
the sale of insurance premiums, generating utility bills, and keeping employee
records up-to date. Their study also revealed the overall potential of RPA ranging
from a significant increase in turnaround times and greater workforce flexibility
to cost savings of up to 30%. Other authors also studied the risks associated
with BPA. For instance, Kirchmer [18] argues that RPA has the potential to
make mistakes faster and with higher certainty because there is often no human
check before executing an action. Davenport and Kirby also tried to answer the
question of what machines are currently capable of. They argue that there are
four levels of intelligence that machines can potentially master: (1) support for
humans, (2) repetitive task automation, (3) context awareness and learning, and
(4) self-awareness. Currently, they conclude, machines are capable of mastering
level 1 and 2. Level 3 is only covered to a limited extend, level 4 not at all.
They, however, stress that machines are advancing and that it is important to
understand how human capabilities fit into the picture. [8].
6 Conclusion
In this paper, we proposed a machine learning-based approach that automati-
cally identifies and classifies tasks from textual process descriptions as manual,
user, or automated. The goal of our technique is to reduce the effort that is
required to identify suitable candidates for robotic process automation. An eval-
uation with 424 activities from a total of 47 textual process descriptions showed
that our approach achieves an F-measure of 0.81 and, therefore, produces satis-
factory results.
Despite these positive results, it is important to consider our results in the
light of some limitations. First, it should be noted that the dataset we used in this
paper is not representative. Textual process descriptions in practice may deviate
from the ones in our dataset in different ways. However, we tried to maximize the
external validity of our evaluation by choosing a dataset that combines different
sources. What is more, our approach could be easily retrained on other datasets
to further increase its performance. Second, our approach cannot guarantee that
suitable automation candidates are identified. It rather gives an overview of the
current degree of automation, which can then serve as input for further analyses.
In future work, we plan to improve the performance of our approach by
including additional features and testing other classifiers. What is more, we
intend to apply our approach in organizations in order to obtain feedback about
its usefulness in practice.
14
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... One approach is the analysis of textual process specication. The problematic part of this method is the inaccuracy of the interpretation of natural language texts [2]. The second way is the form-based analysis in which employees ll out a data sheet about the workows performed. ...
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