Sometimes people say RPA tool when they mean RPA vendor. In case you are looking for vendors, we have a detailed post on how to compare RPA vendors. I would recommend reading that if you are already trying to decide between one or two vendors. However, separately from the vendors, it is helpful to understand the capabilities of RPA tools on the market. No matter which vendor you talk to, you will come across 3 distinct classes of tools:
1- Programmable RPA solutions
The simplest and oldest tools in the market. Need to explicitly program the tool to perform the necessary actions to replicate a process or functionality. They work mostly with structured data in legacy systems and take advantage of legacy system integrations to complete tasks. These tools have 3 critical components:
Bot programming tools
Most tools include a visual bot programming tool that helps programmer model the process flow. For more technical users, code based bot programming interfaces are also available. UiPath Studio is an example.
- Macro recorders: Recording a complex set actions and having them automatically translated into a bot program facilitates programming. Most vendors offer such macro recorders.
- Visual drag&drop programming: An easy-to-use yet flexible visual tool will allow your team to program their bots quickly yet effectively.
Management console for your bots and processes. Allows you to start/stop or schedule bots, highlights issues that bots encounter and provides a dashboard for the processes that are managed by RPA. UiPath Orchestrator is an example.
- Business exception handling: No matter how well programmed, your bots will run into issues with the diverse data they encounter. These exceptions need to be highlighted, managed via queues and seamlessly assigned to personnel to be resolved before they lead to any bottlenecks or delays for customers in your processes.
- Different user access levels: Several user access levels enables orchestrator to be used by different personnel for various functions.
- Analytics capabilities: Bots will be working with legacy systems uncovering a trove of data that may not be available in other analytics modules. Capabilities to run advanced analysis and combine different data sources are critical
This is the most fundamental unit and there are already free bots offering limited functionality provided by Workfusion RPA Express and UiPath Community Edition. Robots can be run from employees desktops or from the cloud.
- Integrations: Integrations are necessary for your bot to work with your enterprise applications. Most bots in the market work with legacy applications (though coverage depends from vendor to vendor), web applications, desktop applications and other major enterprise software including SAP, Citrix, Java and mainframe applications.
Since these bots need to be programmed, there’s a whole industry of RPA courses and tutors. If you are aspiring to get a job programming RPA solutions, think twice before you pay for any training. RPA companies are doing their best to make sure that their solution is the most popular among developers so there’s quite high quality free training and community support online. I would first take some free courses and then explore paid alternatives after getting familiar with the products. Some examples:
- UiPath Community Edition’s Forum is like Stack Overflow for UiPath with quick response times and detailed tutorials.
- Workfusion’s RPA Express has free online courses for beginners.
- Similarly Automation Anywhere University offers online training.
Not all RPA providers offer free public training though. For example Blue Prism’s trainings are confidential to its partners.
However, if you are already working for a partner or customer of these companies, then you can use their trainings for free to improve your skills.
2- Self-learning solutions
These tools program themselves. Using historical (when available) and current data, these tools monitor hours of employee activity to understand the tasks completed and to start completing them after they have reached enough confidence to complete the process.
3- Cognitive automation
Cognitive automation is an emerging field, it is the future of RPA tools. Cognitive automation (also called smart or intelligent automation) deals with both structured and unstructured data. These are the solutions that get consultants and executives most excited. Vendors claim that 70-80% of corporate knowledge tasks can be automated with such tools. In comparison, first generation programmable RPA solutions are dumb and need to focus on simple, repetitive processes. To deal with unstructured data, cognitive bots need to be capable of machine learning and natural language processing. See our cognitive automation guide for more info.
This is a summary of the available automation tools in the market, check out our article on RPA vendor selection for more information on the vendors offering these tools or view the most comprehensive public list of RPA solution providers.