RPA runs on a PC, desktop, or servers like other software programs. The technology builds, deploys, and manages software robots that interact with in-house applications, Web sites, user portals, and other apps, emulating a human’s actions while carrying out the same task.
In essence, with RPA the (human) user records the sequence of actions and interactions with applications to build the workflow. The system develops the action list by watching the human perform the task and then it builds software bot that performs the task within the application’s GUI.
The software bots are programmed to understand what’s on a screen, enter appropriate keystrokes, navigate in different systems, identify and extract data, and other defined actions. RPA bots do all of this more accurately and faster than humans.
There are two different types of RPA models:
- Unattended RPA: Software bots do the work without any human involvement. Instead, they interact directly with computer systems, running through a process or task from beginning to end. The RPA bot usually runs on a remote service and is activated based on a schedule or a trigger condition.
- Attended RPA: Also known as robotic desktop automation, these software bots work with humans, focusing on set tasks within more complex workloads or processes that can’t be fully automated. The RPA bot is deployed to the user workstation and triggered by user interaction.
RPA acts as a workaround for the integration of legacy systems. Since RPA operates via the GUI, there is no need for developers to build APIs to connect systems. Instead, the software bot will jump from application to application as a human user would.
A unique attribute of some RPA tools is its accessibility to non-programmers, enabling domain experts without programming skills to build and implement RPA workflows. Known as a citizen developer, this person has no coding experience but is the domain expert for the work activity that is undergoing automation.
Although this attribute democratizes RPA, more advanced scenarios still require proper programming knowledge, especially relative to security and ongoing maintenance of the system. Ideally, the process is a good marriage between citizen and software developers, with domain experts building the RPA workflow and then handing it off to the software developer to ensure that best practices and safety requirements are incorporated.