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The roots of robotic process automation (RPA) emerged from the domain of test automation. Test engineers used RPA’s predecessors to mimic the way people typed and clicked through applications in the early 2000s. In 2010, vendors began solidifying these early tools to automate repetitive tasks like copying data between applications, and RPA was born.

Now Robocorp, which emerged from an open-source test automation project, hopes to stake a position in second-generation RPA tools that promise to harden and scale the technology. It recently launched a beta version of Automation Studio that promises to bridge the communication gap between professional developers and business users. More importantly, this is based on the company’s second-generation RPA infrastructure and an attractive pricing model.

First generation RPA

It’s helpful to take a step back to understand why this is important. RPA sits in a crowded field 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 humans work with applications. Gartner lumps this ensemble of technologies into hyperautomation, which is expected to reach $596 billion this year.

Today, the RPA industry is led by companies including Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath—at least by revenue share. Microsoft recently started providing access to the client side of its Power Automate Platform. A recent report by Blueprint Software 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 makes tools for analyzing business processes and refactoring RPA code to work across different RPA platforms. About 40% of respondents used multiple RPA platforms.

Race room

The authors of the report note that “Since [RPA is] quite young compared to other enterprise software segments, it seems organizations are still discovering which RPA platform is best for them based on their needs.”

That’s good news for the bevy of RPA startups vying for a slice of the market, like Robocorp. Its new Automation Studio provides a shared view of RPA automations, called bots, for both developers and business users. It also builds on the company’s existing working 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 top developers who were active in the open source test automation community called Robot frame. The team created the infrastructure to transform the test automation framework into a robust RPA platform, much like the RPA pioneers.

The company’s CEO, Karjalainen, told VentureBeat that Robot Framework’s test automation capabilities can be applied to the RPA space to solve multiple problems not currently being addressed by traditional RPA vendors. So, they’ve created open source development tools and a flexible cloud-based orchestration platform to help creators quickly and securely build, deploy, and scale sustainable bots across their organizations.

This enables users to automate virtually any process and technology—with extreme speed and elasticity—without license fees and a consumption-based pricing model. Aligning usage with pricing can be important for businesses looking for cost reduction opportunities for their automation spend. The Blueprint survey found that enterprises spend an average of $480,000, with 13% spending more than $1 million on RPA annually.

“One of the big advantages of Automation Studio is how it supports switching between the modes of operation of both low-code business experts and pro-code developers in one platform,” said Jason English, principal analyst at consultancy Intellyx .

English noted that he was also impressed by Robocorp’s foundation for an open source automation framework that captures automations in transparently readable Python-like code assets. This makes it easier for companies to try it out with less risk of their own lock-in compared to established RPA competitors.

“The automation assets developed are portable and at home within enterprise work management tools, as well as automated software pipelines and GitOps,” he explained.

The field moves forward

To be fair, all RPA vendors have added significant improvements over the years to improve RPA quality, scalability, and development. For example, Automation Anywhere redesigned its original platform to run in the cloud, UiPath improved RPA management, and Blue Prism improved scalability.

One of the complaints about RPA is that it works at the user interface level, so the original bots had to click and type through applications. While this is much faster than a human, it is much slower than a custom-coded API integration.

One benefit of the Robocorp platform is that it allows developers to build applications that automate at the user interface level, location on a web page, API, or by specifying data access. This promises to give developers more flexibility in how they create automations that are more reliable and faster than UI-only automations.

Microsoft has begun doing something similar with its Power Automate platform, allowing developers to create automation that works through the user interface or API for select applications. However, Robocorp’s open source approach has already spurred a small army of consultants and system integrators to build a library of reusable automation across the industry.

This can give businesses a little more flexibility in their automation strategy. For example, the new Automation Studio interface can help improve communication between business users and developers.

“This opens the door for those who prefer a visual approach to automation, while keeping it open for those who prefer a more programmatic approach through multiple build methods,” Karjalainen said. “It’s also a good learning tool for civilian developers who want to become more familiar with the code.”

Robocorp simplifies open-source RPA

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