15 August 2017

Robotic Process Automation – automating the systems that API tools can’t reach

Traditional automation technology – for example workload, process and release automation - has been done by technologists on behalf of the business users. And for good reason; it uses application programming interfaces(APIs) – documented apertures in the application, built to industry standards, through which programmers can interact with the application and use them for purposes like automation.

However, there are lots of legacy systems in use by most organisations, and many of them were written before APIs became a standard requirement. I’m thinking here of mainframe/green screen or custom-built systems - and creating APIs for these from scratch is prohibitively costly and time-consuming and requires deep knowledge of the underlying system.

So, how to automate processes that depend on such legacy systems? Enter Robotic Process Automation(RPA) which, instead of using APIs, relies on emulating the interactions of a human user with the system’s User Interface(UI) – clicking buttons, making keystrokes, reading text, copying and pasting etc.

For example, updating a central company expenses system, using Optical Character Recognition(OCR) to search for and select a certain label, then pasting a value from a spreadsheet into a textbox after checking it and resultant calculations fall between acceptable range values.

Once trained in the use of a leading RPA solution like Automation Anywhere, business operations users can do their own automation - within guidelines crafted for them by a Centre of Excellence team (in-house Technologists helped by RPA Subject Matter Experts like Extra Technology) - making future deployments entirely self-service and training new software robots in just the same way they’d train new human users.

RPA deployment is much more rapid than API-based automation, requiring no technical knowledge of the underlying systems, and robots can be switched on or off as required – say for quarterly or annual peak workloads.

The ethos is so different that it’s not surprising that some companies struggle initially to embrace the idea of business-led but technology-guided automation. But, once over that initial hump, the deployments are so rapid and the cost-savings so impressive that they never look back.

Paul Donoghue-Parker

Mark Mannion is Managing Director of Extra Technology, specialists in enterprise automation solutions in general and RPA solutions in particular. The Extra Technology RPA team are accredited Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in Automation Anywhere RPA technology.

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