Robotic Process Automation or RPA has been touted as one of the hottest technologies that enables businesses to automate digital tasks. The market for collaborative robotics is predicted to reach $12 billion by 2025 as per a Markets and Markets survey. With so much hype and curiosity around RPA, many businesses who want to adopt the technology for improving their processes and drive cost efficiencies often wonder how RPA differs from traditional software development. That is, can they utilise their in-house software development capabilities for automation or if RPA needs a different set of skills.
In a nutshell, RPA leverages technology and skills not too different from traditional programming. Yet, there are key differences that make RPA solutions more niche and specialised.
To understand the key differences, let’s look at how implementing RPA differs from traditional programming?
RPA is a powerful solution to automate business processes by programming bots to perform repetitive, rules-based tasks. The biggest attraction of RPA lies in its ability to enhance efficiency and productivity ultimately reducing costs and errors. This also translates into happier employees who spend their time on better, high-value tasks. RPA, however, requires program management just like any other process.
RPA software programming
RPA programming uses low-code tooling and doesn’t require traditional coding or scripting. The main reason for this is that RPA is designed for business users bearing in mind that not every business user has the technical knowhow or expertise to code. It focuses on increasing efficiency by automating routine and rule based activities. Some examples include data entry, comparing data, and validating external systems.
The main difference between RPA and traditional software development is this: RPA provides a ‘record and play’ chance to automate tasks. On the other hand, programming needs complex coding and QA before deployment.
Software development life cycle typically involves collaboration between developers, IT team, testers and product or project managers, leading to added work hours.
On the other hand, RPA automation allows the inhouse IT team to manage and modify the RPA program by working with other teams. RPA is easy to integrate and synchronise with existing business processes such as calendar, email, ERP, CRM etc.
1. Intuitive drag and drop approach
RPA code is designed based on common actions that define the typical work processes in a work environment. For instance, copying text, clicking links, opening browser tabs, logging into applications etc. Using RPA, developers simply drag and drop the desired actions in a logical sequence.
This streamlined drag and drop approach helps developers build automation scripts rather quickly and more easily than software development programs. Having said that, the way the code is maintained and organised is of paramount importance whether you are programming or automating.
2. Maintaining RPA
Just like a software program or code, RPA needs to be maintained. One of the key benefits of RPA is that well designed automation scripts need fewer lines of code and comprise simpler syntax, making it easier to maintain and expand.
In contrast to traditional software development, RPA programs are not heavily dependent on the original developer’s preferences. This means that it is much easier for anyone to maintain or update the original RPA deployment as needed. In short, RPA programs are easier to maintain provided they start off well, thereby reducing the risks of disruption and inefficiencies.
3. Comprehensive and centralised solution
Traditional programming or development approaches rely on independent software tools and libraries put together in a unified software stack. This is helpful for users to execute automation scripts and gain insights into runtime activity.
However, RPA is an end-to-end solution. All the functionality that a user needs to develop and maintain automation scripts is bundled into the RPA software.
Typically, using RPA all automation scripts are available in a single repository where the status can be reviewed through a dashboard or other widget provided by the RPA platform. Users can schedule and maintain the scripts easily based on time or event based triggers.
4. Flexibility to use APIs
Software development depends on APIs to enable seamless communication between systems. This allows developers to complete the actions within the software with scale and stability.
But it’s not always possible to find an API for each piece of software and often the APIs have limited features and functions. Also, leveraging APIs efficiently requires somewhat of a learning curve.
Implementing RPA offers users a great deal of flexibility and choice in this aspect. You can automate processes that don’t have an API by communicating directly with the user interface. Alternatively, when a user has the option to use APIs, he/she can simply insert the code snippets with the relevant programming statements as modules in the RPA code.
In the absence of source code, traditional programming can be hard to scale up and requires significant investment. On the other hand, RPA solutions are much easier to scale and manage as there is no requirement for the source code.
This makes it possible for IT teams at small and medium businesses to work with other teams and add new rules for the bots when they want to scale the usage.
6. Cost efficiency
RPA automation is widely considered to be more cost effective than traditional software development. Since businesses across the world are looking to manage their operating costs and improve the bottom-line, RPA automation is more suited for their needs.
RPA use case versus traditional software development
Let’s take a look at a simple use case of RPA copying data from a spreadsheet and entering it into an ERP application.
The RPA program launches the excel document just like a team member would and then access the ERP app to enter the details. Here, there is no requirement to modify the ERP app’s source code to integrate the solution within ERP.
If the same set of actions is to be achieved using programming, the ERP app would need to be modified to open, read and copy the data. Also, all the processes would be carried out in the backend. This requires an in-depth understanding of the ERP’s source code. Additionally, the business would need licensing and approval from the vendor to modify the source code. This shows how a traditional software development approach makes any automation task cumbersome, long, and expensive.
RPA adoption continues to rise
The arguments in favour of using RPA services for process automation are quite clear. RPA is intuitive to use, requires a shorter learning curve and doesn’t require advanced skills to implement or maintain. On the other hand, traditional software programming needs expertise and knowledge of the source code to modify the underlying application. Is your business looking to streamline costs and timelines by automating routine tasks? Find out whether your business makes a good candidate for implementation of RPA, by scheduling a meeting with our expert.