Is RPA only for the stupid and the cheap?

What is a good use for a robot? Are there any projects that shall not be done with any other integration tool than RPA? Our consultant Minttu shares her observations and experiences.

Minttu Mustonen


Minttu Mustonen

Team Lead, Integrations

Hyperautomation means process automation with integration platform that also utilizes Artifical Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology seamlessly. frends can orchestrate any RPA tool and not just UIPath. But what does it really mean? Who wants to use RPA?

I am a so called RPA-sceptic. But I have my reasons for it. When RPA hype started, many used RPA tools "in a wrong way" and made complex recordings that run a long time even though most of the tasks could have been executed faster and less error prone with any integration platform. RPA seemed to be interesting to companies for two reasons:

  • RPA was cheaper to implement than traditional integrations (even though the future cost of operations could be more expensive - but that is not always discussed when the tools are purchased);

  • RPA recording is easy to understand and to specify even for a less technical person because the robot simulates an actual person and one doesn't have to understand the process beneath;

Many of the RPA examples I encountered would have been simpler if proper interfaces would have been used instead of the UI, and the messages would have been mapped with a mapping tool instead of an Excel sheet.

Intelligent process automation utilizes RPA and AI Intelligent process automation utilizing RPA and AI (Hyperautomation)

First experiences with RPA

First RPA offer that I was involved in was a horrible experience. The RPA included some use cases and every one of them screamed "Yep, we didn't want to purchase the add-on to our expensive ERP system (Enterprise Resource Planning) and user interfaces. We decided to use the UI and export Excel sheets even though that is quite a kludge. At that point when for that use case described I was waiting for the robot "to open a large excel file", I wasn't sure if I should laugh or cry. I decided to get more coffee. We didn't win that offer - wonder why.

So I think I can say that my relationship with RPA didn't start smoothly. Because I'd like to consider myself to be an open-minded person, I decided to give RPA a new and fair chance.

One of our customers has purchased licenses to both frends and UIPath and they have had a PoC with RPA. After this one case they haven't utilized RPA, but utilized their integration platform frends iPaaS and other systems. While working for this customer I encountered a case where there was no interface to query some information but one had to use a website to download the data. Yes, that system was very 2000s but let's not go there now. I started to think if this finally was a case for the robot and suggested RPA to the customer. They replied that the use case was way too complex and error prone and they would rather download the data manually to CSV and import that to the target system. I believe they were right. Unfortunately, this experience didn't improve my relationship with RPA: apparently if integration platform couldn't do it, either couldn't RPA.

Does RPA have value?

I have still not lost my hope with RPA. Since then I have read of few use cases where RPA has been (at least then) a proper choice. RPA products have, among other things, such capabilities like to read texts from pictures. One can purchase many other products that do that too, for example Azure AI tools. I wouldn't necessarily purchase RPA product if I want to read my receipts as texts, but if I would happen to have an RPA solution already and need to read pictures as texts, why not to use it?

This seems to be the case with many RPA solutions: you have many alternatives to execute the same thing. You can fill in the forms and print PDF files with a robot. But there are solutions that take, for example, XML input and export preformatted PDF files with the given data. In the end the question is about the solution landscape that a company may have. It rarely pays off to purchase a solution for just one need but to use existing ones if that is anyhow possible.

So the answer is no, RPA is not just for the stupid and the cheap. Sometimes it is the best available option. One should keep in mind though, that when hyperautomation is implemented correctly, most of the tasks are run on integration platform that utilizes robot for some single task. Integrations are usually faster and more robust than RPA recordings. And I am still willing to make specifications for an RPA case if that is ever needed. But I'm not holding my breath.

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