Introducing Enterprise RPA
Robotic process automation (RPA) is a technology for automating business processes. Because RPA can be applied to a range of scenarios, including many that are beyond the reach of traditional integration projects, this approach has fired the imagination of many people. And because RPA can lower costs, increase flexibility, and improve process accuracy, as well as help business and IT work together more effectively, it’s a hot technology that’s being adopted by many organizations in many different industries.
The core idea of RPA is simple. Rather than have people interact with applications, RPA instead uses software robots that drive application user interfaces in the same way. (Don’t be confused by the terminology—these aren’t robots in the usual sense of the word. Still, the name RPA has become established in the industry, as has the notion of software robots.). Now, its very easy to learn RPA (Robotic process automation) than ever because of the online classrooms. Many leading software institutes like IQ Stream Technologies are providing RPA online training with flexible timing and advanced syllabus delivered by industry professionals.
Still, there’s some confusion. The term “RPA” is applied to a broad set of offerings, ranging from simple screen scraping products to much more complex technologies. The goal of this paper is to bring some clarity to this area. Specifically, we’ll focus on enterprise RPA, describing what it is and what’s required to do it well. As a concrete example of an enterprise RPA product, we’ll use Blue Prism.
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What is Enterprise RPA?
To understand the idea of enterprise RPA, start by thinking more broadly about the technology options for automating a business process. For business processes that rely on multiple applications, one approach is to rely on application programming interface (APIs) exposed by the applications the process uses. API-based integration is what’s used in products that provide enterprise application integration (EAI), for example, and it’s the right solution in many cases.
Yet automating a business process with RPA is often a better choice. As Figure 1 showed, RPA automates a business process solely through application user interfaces, which makes this approach simpler, faster, and less expensive than API-based automation. And because RPA can work with applications that don’t expose APIs, it can be used with a broader range of existing software.
To decide whether RPA or the API-based approach is better, you need to consider two main factors:
What kind of business process is being automated? How complex and important is it? Process automation that requires connecting two ERP systems when organizations merge is a multifaceted, business-critical operation. Automating a process that reads spreadsheets and feeds their data into an invoicing system is simpler to implement and probably less important to the business.
Who will do the work required to implement the process automation? API-based automation—the EAI approach—is largely the province of IT, as it requires very technical people. RPA, however, is commonly done by business people, although sometimes in concert with IT.
All three approaches—API-based automation, simple RPA, and enterprise RPA—have value, and so it’s important to make good choices about which one to use in each situation. Business processes that are a good fit for
enterprise RPA tend to have these characteristics:
The automated process needs to be scalable, reliable, secure, and manageable. In other words, the automation must be built on a solid technical foundation; your IT organization needs to be comfortable with
Automating the process has business value, but typically not enough to justify the cost of API-based automation. As a result, the process would never rise to the top of your IT organization’s to-do list.
Even though IT must be involved, control of the automated processes needs to remain with the business. This might be because the process changes frequently, and involving IT in every change would be too slow, or for
some other reason. Yet once IT has laid the groundwork, business people must be able to create and change these process automation on their own.
Characteristics of Enterprise RPA Technologies
What do enterprise RPA technologies look like? To a great extent, these products have the core characteristics that organizations look for in all enterprise software. Those characteristics include the following:
An approach that allows maintainability and reuse of software robots and the components they’re built from.
An approach to robot creation that balances the need for fast implementation with high-performance execution.
A development process that’s both repeatable and reliable.
Support for scalability, because enterprise RPA solutions don’t run robots on user desktops.
Support for reliability, letting robots run unattended on servers.
The ability to ensure access control and auditing, letting an organization be sure that its robots are doing the right things.
Effective management of robots, such as the ability to control them in groups rather than one at a time.
An ecosystem that includes partners, training, and the other things enterprises need to succeed with RPA.