Weigh these RPA benefits and challenges against APIs

RPAs have become increasingly popular as an optimized method for connecting different systems and for automating process flows. They provide a vital tool for data and application integration for software teams lacking the APIs for the job. And now many RPA products contain AI-driven functions that make them valuable for companies that pursue the goal of intelligent business process management.

However, robotic process automation (RPA) is not the right approach for every situation and does not replace the need for reliable APIs. Therefore, in most cases, RPA should act as a temporary solution.

Whether software teams are developing an RPA strategy as a short-term solution or as an integral part of business process integration, they need to properly prepare processes for automation to gain RPA benefits and avoid disasters.

Why is RPA used?

RPA is a great way to move data in and out of software when APIs are not available, provided the data transfer involves simple and static interaction.

Business development teams should add RPA to their automation and development toolbox, said Rob Dunie, analyst who presented at the Gartner Application Strategies & Solutions Summit 2019 in Las Vegas. Make sure, however, that the toolbox has other options.

Get to know the goals of RPA

The RPA software follows a series of actions with scripts that run on the user interface. This means she doesn’t make as many decisions as she follows the rules driven by the user interface, Dunie said. RPA capabilities are similar to well understood and tested techniques such as screen scratching and record and respond, but add a layer of visibility that can be used to identify certain buttons and fields in the user interface. Many RPA products also complement these scripted actions with machine learning and AI to add character recognition and chatbot text analysis. This is typically called cognitive RPA, which is also known as intelligent RPA.

A temporary entry point for APIs

The RPA benefits make it an addition to APIs rather than a separate path. API development is expensive and time consuming, so RPA can act as a temporary fix for integrating data when an API is not available for a particular application while the actions to be automated are routine. RPA connections are inherently more brittle than API integrations and are more likely to be broken during a UI change. However, a temporary RPA connection can give an organization the time it needs to approve and develop the required API.

“It’s not what you will keep forever,” said Dunie. “But it gives you a prototype or a workaround until you know what to put in there instead.”

RPA can act as a central, long-term part of digital processes that don’t change frequently. For example, a company could consistently use RPA for batch processing tasks such as invoice capture.

The preliminary work in an RPA strategy

RPA doesn’t come automatically; Software teams must carefully maintain their underlying application infrastructure as they would with manual administration. Additionally, using RPA requires software teams to thoroughly examine, document, and understand the systems and processes they want to automate, said Alan McSweeney, business solutions and data architect at EirGrid, Ireland’s electricity company.

The benefits of RPA lie in the rapid implementation of process automation and decision making, said McSweeney. “However, rapid implementation can mean that it is inconsistent, untested, unscalable, fragile, error-prone, and difficult to support.”

McSweeney emphasized that RPA users need to document the process for automation and have a thorough understanding of the decisions that are made every step of the way. No set of powerful tools can fix faulty processes. He added that there are resources in place that can assist organizations in doing this consistently, such as: B. Decision Model and Notation, a modeling language for precise business decisions and rule identification developed by the Object Management Group.

“Part of your RPA [strategy] is a discovery process where you go to the company and understand exactly how things work, “said McSweeney.” Document your current business process, understand its complexity and simplify this business process. “And don’t expect this to be the case simply: people understand their processes but don’t document them. When they do, exceptions and changes can quickly result in documentation being out of date.

RPA challenges

For all the benefits of RPA, analysts say that there are several situations where the automation features do not necessarily lead to improvement.

First of all, don’t assume that you can automate everything. Dunie explained that automation isn’t the answer when data isn’t clean enough, the task requires problem-solving or decision-making skills, or customers expect human interaction. He warns that RPA users should not bury themselves in a cycle of tracking systems they cannot control.

If you have ongoing interactions with a vendor or customer platform, you need an integration strategy that can withstand changes to the user interface and feature updates. RPA is carried out in specified automated steps. If the company has to constantly monitor and fix automation outages with every change, it won’t save anyone time.

RPA challenges

Don’t make these RPA mistakes

Security is a major advantage of APIs and a vulnerability for RPA, said McSweeney. RPA tools have elevated privileges to mimic human actions, and an attacker could use this unrestricted access to cause harm. Alternatively, a well-designed API is called explicitly, knows the access rights for the caller and then validates the actions.

Another RPA challenge is having too much freedom, especially for business units that write their own RPA scripts. IT can easily lose control of application dependencies across the software ecosystem. A system update can disrupt a workflow based on application integrations that you never knew existed, warned Dunie. Therefore, it is better to monitor RPA usage at the business unit level. This enables dependencies to be properly documented and tested, and ensures that private data is protected even outside of automated scripts.

Finally, the fact that RPA extends the lifespan of older apps is also a threat. “Do not give up [application] Modernizing for an RPA patch, “Dunie said. RPA may be able to connect and update legacy apps that weren’t designed to be integrated, but it’s a viable long-term strategy for enterprise architecture management.

There are numerous business process management tools, low-code development modules, APIs, and other integration platforms that can help round out an automation strategy without the risks of RPA. Focus on the process and goals of the project, then the how, and thoroughly test each implementation.

April 13, 2021