Robocorp simplifies open source RPA | VentureBeat
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The roots of robotic process automation (RPA) emerged from the field of test automation. Test engineers used RPA’s predecessors to mimic the way humans type and click to navigate applications in the early 2000s. repetitive tasks such as copying data between applications, and RPA was born.
Today, Robocorp, which emerged from an open-source test automation project, hopes to carve out a niche for itself in second-generation RPA tools that promise to strengthen and evolve the technology. It recently launched a beta version of Automation Studio, which promises to bridge the communication gap between professional developers and professional users. More importantly, it’s backed by the company’s second-generation RPA infrastructure and an attractive pricing model.
First generation RPA
It helps to take a step back to understand why this is important. RPA sits in a crowded realm of automation technologies, including low-code and no-code development tools, intelligent process automation, and automation capabilities built into enterprise software platforms.
Although the first generation of RPA tools are not as fast as low-code automation, they are much easier for the average user to understand because they essentially mimic the way people work with applications. Gartner groups this set of technologies into hyperautomation, which is expected to reach $596 billion this year.
Today, the RPA industry is led by companies such as Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath, at least in terms of revenue share. Microsoft recently started providing access to the client side of its Power Automate platform. A recent Blueprint Software report titled, State of automation in 2022, found that Microsoft Power Automate was used by 76% of respondents, followed by Blue Prism (34%), Automation Anywhere (33%) and UiPath (23%). Blueprint creates tools for analyzing business processes and refactoring RPA code to work on all RPA platforms. About 40% of respondents used multiple RPA platforms.
Place for competition
The authors of the report note that “since [RPA is] Rather young compared to other segments of enterprise software, it seems organizations are still figuring out which RPA platform is right for them based on their needs.
That’s good news for the assemblage of RPA startups vying for market share, like Robocorp. Its new Automation Studio offers a shared view of RPA automations, called bots, for both developers and business users. It also builds on the company’s existing work coding RPA bots in Python that can run on open source servers.
Robocorp was founded by Antti Karjalainen, Sampo Ahokas and a small team of high profile developers active in the open source test automation community called Robot Framework. The team created the infrastructure to transform the test automation framework into a robust RPA platform, much like the pioneers of RPA.
Company CEO Karjalainen told VentureBeat that the Robot Framework’s test automation capabilities could be applied to the RPA space to solve many problems that are currently unsolved by traditional RPA vendors. So they created open-source developer tools and a flexible, cloud-native orchestration platform to help creators quickly and securely build, implement, and scale durable bots in their organizations.
This enables users to automate virtually any process and technology with exceptional speed and elasticity, with no licensing fees and a consumption-based pricing model. Aligning usage with pricing could be important for companies looking for opportunities to cut costs from their automation spend. The Blueprint survey found that companies spent an average of $480,000, with 13% spending more than $1 million per year on RPA.
“One of the great things about Automation Studio is how it supports switching between the working modes of low-code business domain experts and pro-code developers on a single platform,” said Jason English, principal analyst at consulting firm Intellyx.
English noted that he was also impressed with Robocorp’s foundation of an open-source automation framework that captures automations in transparently readable Python-like code assets. This makes it easier for businesses to try it out with less risk of proprietary lock-in compared to established RPA competitors.
“The automation assets developed are portable and at home in enterprise work management tools as well as automated software pipelines and GitOps,” he explained.
The ground advances
To be fair, all RPA vendors have made considerable improvements over the years to improve the quality, scalability, and development of RPA. For example, Automation Anywhere refactored its original platform to run in the cloud, UiPath improved RPA governance, and Blue Prism improved scalability.
One of the complaints about RPA is that it operates at the UI level, so the original bots had to click and type their way through applications. Although it’s much faster than a human, it’s much slower than custom coded API integration.
One of the benefits of the Robocorp platform is that it allows developers to build applications that automate at the user interface, location in a web page, API, or by specifying data access. This promises to give developers greater flexibility in how they build automations that are more reliable and faster than UI-only automations.
Microsoft has started doing something similar with its Power Automate platform, allowing developers to create automation that works through the UI or APIs for select apps. That said, Robocorp’s open source approach is already galvanizing a small army of consultants and systems integrators to create a library of reusable automations across the industry.
This could give companies a bit more flexibility in their automation strategy. For example, Automation Studio’s new interface could help improve communications between business users and developers.
“It opens the door to those who prefer a visual approach to automation, while keeping it open to those who prefer a more programmatic approach through multiple build methods,” Karjalainen said. “It’s also a good learning tool for citizen developers who want to get familiar with the code.”