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Top 11 RPA tools

Apr 02, 2019 | Framingham, MA (USA) | CIO

Robotic process automation can streamline business workflows by eliminating tedious manual tasks without requiring you to completely re-engineer legacy systems.
 

If your organization is like most, you probably have a large chunk of old code that continues to work perfectly well, at least according to its original specs. The problem is that the original specs imagined that your business users would enjoy spending their days clicking on the same boxes in the same pattern and waiting for the same screen to refresh.

Enter robotic process automation (RPA). More a means for streamlining work with old software than anything to do with Asimov’s three laws of robotics, RPA is here to save your organization from boring, repetitive tasks better suited for a machine by adding another layer of automation to your stack that will click on those boxes for us. And it’s not just because clicking a button is such an imposition. The new robotic layer can also add more safeguards to prevent mistakes.

Some companies market RPA as “workflow automation” or “work process management.” Others distinguish RPA from plain-old “business process automation” by saying that RPA includes newer, more sophisticated artificial intelligence and machine vision routines. The tools have definitely gotten smarter at dealing with legacy screen shots and paperwork, but in the end, tools under each of these headings are all about relieving humans from the job of bossing around old software.

 
 

Interest in RPA is rising in part because organizations are realizing that, despite all their best intents, rewriting the old code means reading it, rethinking it and redesigning it — often starting with an old language few have the talent and experience to go at. So, if the software works, maybe it’s better to leave it alone and just glue another layer on top.

Plus, rewrite old code isn’t possible if it’s someone else’s. RPA bots are generally as adept at accessing data controlled by partners or, perhaps, even competitors as they are with local data. Parsing web pages and extracting the right data are common tasks for these bots regardless of whose web pages they are. All of the standard file transfer mechanisms like SFTP are old hat and the tools can also work with many of the newer ones like Dropbox and Google Drive.

If the web is like a candy store for these tools, the old green-screen interfaces may be even better targets because who is going to tweak those to make the interface look fresh, thereby breaking your bots’ routines. All you have to do with most RPA bots is let them watch you click around.

And it’s not just through the user’s screen where RPA does its magic. Machine vision routines, for instance, are increasingly able to suck numbers and words out of images of drivers licenses and other documents. These make it much faster for industries like banking and insurance to automate work that deals with physical documents.

The biggest advance, though, may be the way the tools are “programmed,” or “trained.” Most of the programming isn’t done by typing instructions in rigid syntax. Instead the robots often “learn” by watching business users click away. They then use this click stream to imitate what your users just did — similar to how spreadsheet macros can be created.

Still, RPA is not be as automatic is it sounds. The sales literature tends to downplay the amount of manual intervention and tweaking necessary during training. Do the robots jump over to Facebook to like a few photos before moving on to processing the next invoice? No. You will need to clean up some clickstreams not just to purge the detours but also to help the bots deal with ambiguity on the web pages.

In some cases this will mean writing code to handle something that can’t be done by a preconfigured bot. But you likely won’t have to do very much. The standard inputs and outputs work well and you’ll probably only need special code for weird file formats or strange interfaces. But the bots keep getting smarter, making training ever easier and edge cases less frequent. Artificial intelligence routines can also help look for patterns that may speed up the bots in the future.

If you’re ready to start welcoming robots into your workflow, here are 11 of the top RPA tools for streamlining your workflows and saving your users from the tedium of old software, as well as some open source projects to check out.

Datamatics

TruBots, the name Datamatics gives to their individual programs, are created with TruBot Designer, a tool that allows you to create and edit the software. It begins by watching keystrokes and mouse clicks, but also offers an IDE for fine-tuning. Much of the work can be accomplished by dragging and dropping standard components, but developers can also adjust the system-generated code in the IDE.

The actions of all of the bots can be coordinated with the TruBot Cockpit, which will deploy and monitor their actions. The system emphasizes text processing with special tools for scanning images (TruBot OCR) and making sense of unstructured text (TruBot Neuro).  

 

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