So, before talking about the difference between automation and RPA, let’s first understand what exactly these two mean. In order to answer the question ‘how is RPA different from automation?’, we’ll slowly understand each of these automation techniques and then only we’d be able to do a comparative study of RPA vs traditional automation.
Robotic Process Automation, popularity known as RPA, is employed by most of the current day organizations. In short, it allows them to automate most of the tasks independent of applications and systems that would have needed human involvement otherwise. Hence, the main advantage of Robotic Process Automation is that it can interact with the existing framework and fits seamlessly into the workflow without any major changes.
The workflow of any large organization consists of several layers. To understand this point automation vs RPA better, let’s take a look at the different components of the standard business architecture.
At the highest level, you would usually find various business processes centered around the products, sales, and clients. To cope up with the changing market conditions and stay updated and relevant, the enterprise evolves continuously.
A typical enterprise also needs the IT backend to carry out the operations. But the building blocks of this layer (e.g. ERP systems, SaaS units, etc.) are usually disconnected in the sense that they do not communicate directly among themselves. This leads us to another kind of problem: it’s not always possible to match the changes that take place in the earlier layer mainly because of financial and complexity constraints. Hence a technological gap arises that needs to be addressed.
And this is why the human workforce is hired – to fill the aforementioned gap. But there is this issue with any kind of human resource – they tend to be error-prone. No matter how expert or efficient they are, a human resource is bound to make unwanted mistakes. Moreover, hiring new employees and training them is a costly affair – both money and time-wise. Even the tiniest change in the upper layer means that you need to hire new resources – an absolute No-no!
Let’s consider an example. Some Italian food chain, says Guido’s Pizza Shack, has decided to give their customers a big 60% discount on their next order whenever they buy more than 3 pizzas in a week. But the problem is that as this decision was taken in the board members’ meeting in a hurry, all the machines and systems are yet to be configured to handle this new scheme. So, this is what a technological gap is. Human intervention is needed until it’s solved.
And this is where things like Robotic Process Automation or traditional automation comes into the picture. By integrating software they try to automate the business processes, in principle at least. These can result in increased efficiency, reduced risk, and enhanced profitability.
In the case of traditional automation, the whole workflow is dominated by small modules or tools. And each of these tools performs a very specific job – nothing less and certainly nothing more! Take Selenium or Telerik for example – these two are two of the most popular tools that most of the enterprises use to automate their web-based applications. The RPA vs test automation tools is in itself a huge topic and we’ll talk about that in another article.
Now, compare that to RPA tools where the key focus is to use virtual workforce instead of human resources to do most of the tedious and repetitive jobs. Human resources would better be used for tasks such as handling clients or supervising that in general can’t be assigned to a virtual bot.
Traditional automation relies heavily on programming and is dependent on APIs and other integration methods. So, a fair bit time is invested to come up with the language and the framework that would suit one’s organization and workflow best. As a result, the developers and the programmers need to have sound knowledge of the target domain.
RPA, on the other hand, dies not necessarily need a deep understanding of the target architecture, although a good grasp of the domain always helps. The AI-powered bots work at the User Interface level and mimic the users’ actions. This has another advantage – as the bot is learning directly from the user, there’s no need for the developers to worry about the complexity of the application.
As explained in the earlier sections, the traditional automation demands competent developers as well as rigorous testing afterward. Studying and creating accurate test cases needs fair a fair amount of time.
Both the turnaround and test design time is lower for Robotic Process Automation. The reason is pretty simple: RPA barely needs any complex programming or testing process. The result is that the RPA is beneficial in terms of overall time to market.
Another major positive of Robotic Process Automation is its immense scalability. In RPA, hundreds, if not thousands, of bots are assigned the specified tasks. As the bots live inside virtual machines, you the administrator do not need to worry about the system getting overloaded.
In the traditional automation in contrary, the capabilities of the machines are immensely important. You certainly need physical machines with a considerable amount of processing power for parallel computing.
Now comes one of the most important aspects of this Robotic Process Automation vs traditional automation duel: the operating cost. In general, RPA costs more in the initial phase compared to traditional automation. But think of RPA as your Arabian horse; it’s going to prove its usefulness only over the long haul. It can save you and your organization a hefty amount of time as well as money.
Another somewhat subtle aspect of the difference between RPA and automation is the level of personalization and customization that one can achieve. The rigid workflow of the traditional workflow makes it highly inefficient and at times impossible to personalize the tools. But RPA has got a major edge over traditional automation as you can easily personalize the experience of the client. The automation can span across personal tools (such as calendars, emails and so on) as well as enterprise-grade tools (any ERP or CRM).
Traditional automation vs RPA is a huge topic that has attracted a lot of attention recently. However, covering every bit of Robotic Process Automation vs test automation in a single post was really difficult. We’ll be covering RPA use cases in another post. Stay tuned till then.
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