Pros and cons of RPA platforms vs. APIs

Pros and cons of RPA platforms vs. APIs

RPA platforms vs. APIs

Both RPA platforms and APIs are used to integrate applications together as part of digital transformation initiatives. Each approach has advantages when viewed from the classic definition. However, the scope of both approaches is gradually blurring into a wider range of automation technologies, raising new questions.

“Classic RPA [robotic process automation] means surface automation or screen scraping, “said Ted Shelton, an independent RPA consultant.

Ted Shelton

This includes emulating a human moving a mouse, clicking, and entering data to interact with the application. In contrast, API integration generally refers to coding integration logic to automatically transfer data between applications. From this perspective, both can complement each other.

“It’s okay to use RPA platforms for simple, low-risk, low-volume integration tasks,” said Renat Zubairov, CEO and co-founder of, a German iPaaS provider. “For complex integrations with large amounts of data and risk potential, the API-based integration is a more secure and much more reliable approach.”

Complementary Technologies

RPA and APIs are complementary technologies,” said Herve Coureil, chief digital officer at Schneider Electric. While Schneider has implemented an API-first strategy, he uses RPA as an immediate, short-term solution for business cases for which no API is available. Other advantages of RPA platforms are quick and easy implementation and low maintenance costs without having to change the applications.

coureil_herve Pros and cons of RPA platforms vs. APIsHerve Coureil

Coureil says the company’s integration policy begins with a capability analysis to determine whether an RPA or an API is a better option. For example, if a proposed API has a high integration effort or a limited budget, RPA is a better out-of-the-box solution. In contrast, APIs are the preferred path for long-term strategic business use cases.

“Also, sometimes a hybrid approach is the right choice,” he said.

For example, RPA tools can better convert data captured by optical character recognition (OCR) into the correct formats for applications like SAP. From there, API integration can improve the flow of data into other business processes.

RPA professionals

RPA platforms help legacy systems

thielens_john Pros and cons of RPA platforms vs. APIsJohn Thielens

“Many older legacy systems, whether commercial software or internally developed applications, do not expose APIs,” said John Thielens, CTO of Cleo, an integration software and services company based in Rockford, Illinois.

RPA’s ability to simulate human interactions with legacy systems makes it possible to incorporate them into automation and modernization efforts, effectively encapsulating them rather than replacing them.

RPA projects well defined

One of the most challenging aspects of IT projects is meeting the right requirements.

“Since RPA is applied to already institutionalized processes and integrates well-understood applications, RPA has a high success rate,” said Thielens.

API projects are often new and include new applications or new processes. Therefore, it can take several cycles to achieve the desired result.

Overcome conflicts

RPA platforms can help resolve conflicts between business users and the IT department.

“The IT organization doesn’t want to expose the API, so the company is creating a shadow IT feature that uses RPA to bypass IT and get the job done,” Shelton said.

This is a common dysfunctional condition in organizations that has more to do with governance than with the merits of RPA versus APIs themselves.

tasks_automate_RPA Pros and cons of RPA platforms vs. APIsThese are some of the tasks that can be automated with RPA

Model business processes

RPA can quickly and easily model a business process by recording and emulating human action using a user interface. Shelton says the cost of modeling the business process and developing a service using APIs can be much higher. As a result, RPA can simply win from a total cost of ownership perspective.

Packaging business problems

dolber_sebastian Pros and cons of RPA platforms vs. APIsSebastian Dolber

“RPAs provide a package solution to a specific business problem that you want to solve,” said Sebastian Dolber, CEO of Astor, a cloud solutions consultancy based in Tysons, Virginia.

From this standpoint, you don’t have to worry about the insides as RPA platforms ensure that you can get from A to B in a single run. However, they lack the flexibility that an API can give you.

RPA disadvantages

RPA is not a process improvement

RPA can be seen as a form of rationalization. It can streamline existing processes, but it doesn’t necessarily improve them, Thielens said.

RPA can be brittle

When dependent systems change, RPA-based processes may not be able to absorb the small changes that humans would absorb without realizing it. Changes such as colors, button labels or menus can affect the RPA integration.

“So RPA can actually be less flexible than APIs,” said Thielens.

However, Coureil believes that better OCR and machine learning skills will reduce these problems by discovering changes and adjusting configurations.

“This potential self-healing property of future RPA could reduce the workload of change requests and improvements,” he said.

RPA is not an integration

Integration is a structured discipline that puts the ability to automate and evolve business in the hands of domain experts while maintaining governance and performance. While RPA is a useful tool in the IT arsenal, it is not a true integration, argued Thielens.

API professionals


“APIs are a cohesive collection of methods that perform a single action and can form the basis of an application, service, or even an RPA,” said Dolber.

Organizations can gain a lot in portability because they can reuse them for multiple purposes, as opposed to having an RPA that serves only one purpose.

APIs are everywhere

APIs are ubiquitous in both life and business. As many modern software applications publish their APIs, it’s easy to create connectors that integrate those applications, Thielens said.

APIs are fast

APIs are recognized for their real-time connectivity benefits as they can quickly and efficiently connect to partner and SaaS applications.

Better for nuanced problems

garrett_ross Pros and cons of RPA platforms vs. APIsRoss Garrett

“The value of RPA ends with trivial business processes like data entry tasks for swivel chairs or simple point-to-point orchestrations,” said Ross Garrett, chief product officer at Cloud Elements, an API integration platform based in Denver.

Most corporate business processes are far more sophisticated and rely on complex data and application integration scenarios to function as needed. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that corporate IT landscapes are adapting more cloud applications, creating the need for better data management and management that will be built into API management tools.

API drawbacks

Connect the dots

One disadvantage of APIs is that in order to use them, developers have to connect the dots and chain the API method calls so they can solve a specific business problem, Dolber said. APIs are a collection of programming methods that developers can call when needed. These are often simple functions that can be called.

“Getting a result similar to that of an RPA takes a lot of effort because the API method calls have to be manually coordinated and coordinated to get any value,” he said.

Cumbersome change process

“Changes to the API must be built into a formal IT change process,” said Graeme Provan, global director of business automation at Genesys, a customer experience solutions provider based in Daly City, California. This can be time consuming and resources.

APIs not standardized

“It may come as a surprise that there are currently no generally accepted API standards, which is slow to deliver on the promise of APIs and their real-time processing capabilities,” said Thielens.

CIOs need an arsenal of tools and approaches to balance optimizing their current infrastructure with the modernization and innovation required to grow the business.

John ThielensCTO of Cleo

APIs can be poorly designed

“Less than outstanding API design has hampered the use of APIs,” said Thielens.

Many organizations have good API management tools and even API design tools in place. However, the process of designing an API is often given to the application team.

Ultimately, RPA platforms vs. APIs is not an either / or choice, Thielens said. “CIOs need an arsenal of tools and approaches to balance optimizing their current infrastructure with the modernization and innovation required to grow the business.”

Of course, integration needs to be a core organizational skill, but both RPA and APIs play a role in meeting integration requirements.

Thielens advocated that CIOs bring developer disciplines to both RPA platforms and APIs.

“The ‘P’ in API is for programming and the ‘R’ in RPA is for robots. In many cases, however, integration projects with API and RPA don’t require programmers or robots,” he said.

However, getting the integration right requires a developer’s disciplines: requirements analysis, functional and non-functional design, life cycle planning, governance, and compliance. The tool selection must take these disciplines into account.

March 30, 2021