Do modern API technologies make RPA overengineered?

RPA, or robotic process automation, is a type of automation software that works through the user interface. It involves teaching software bots to navigate programs and processes on a computer in the same way a human might.

But with the continued emergence of new and ever-popular modern API technologies, this method of interface-level automation may not be the exciting tool it once was.

So, do modern API technologies make RPA overengineered?

Modern API technologies

APIs – or application programming interfaces – are interfaces that tell one computer program how to communicate with (and use) another program.

In other words, modern API technologies are all about smooth system-system integration.

They work by specifying how different software components should interact. They act as the nexus that lets a program communicate with a completely different program. That might be to share data, or to trigger an action, for example.

In other words, APIs greatly expand the scope of the software tools you have at your disposal.

See also: ELI5: what is an API?

Modern systems, older systems, and automation

So, what do modern API technologies have to do with the automation of new and old systems?

Simply, modern systems are more likely to have more connectivity features built in. I.e., APIs that allow you to skip the complexity of RPA-powered user interface automation.

Previously, it could prove challenging to automate some processes without navigating the user interface (UI). Some specific RPA processes needed to exist because older software didn’t come with certain required web services.

Specifically, in some use cases, there was no way around the need for interface access to complete a process correctly. The older system couldn’t be automated with standard conditional programming. A button (or series of buttons) had to be clicked to perform a certain process. There was no way around it with APIs and automation rules.

But older systems are evolving. Now, these software products increasingly do provide those web services — thanks to modern API technologies.

RPA: overengineered, superfluous, and expensive

This leads to the structure and connectivity of systems today.

Today, whether you’re using newer systems, or older systems, APIs are included to aid with integration. Modern API technologies mean that systems can better communicate behind the scenes.

So, when it comes to automation, there’s no longer a need for convoluted user interface access.

APIs allow automation rules to be ‘translated’ across your software programs. As a result, there’s no need to train bots to use a program, because the instructions are already there for simpler automation practices to work.

In other words, RPA has become an overly convoluted way of automating processes, now that UI interaction is unnecessary.

Which brings us to cost. Now that modern API technologies enable so much, you needn’t pay £100,000 for RPA and its bots that work on the interface level. Instead, you can pay £2,000 for standard business process automation software (BPA). With BPA, you can automate the same things, in the same apps. APIs mean there’s no need for interface access at all.

In short, as a result of the shift towards modern API technologies, RPA is now an overengineered and over-expensive route to automation.

Modern API technologies

It will never again be a best practice to automate a user interface — all thanks to the existence of modern API technologies.

While RPA is a seemingly high-tech way to automate, that doesn’t mean that it is the most efficient. APIs mean that business process automation — the simpler cousin to RPA — is a considerably cheaper and simpler option. All, that is, with the same outcome.

Useful links

ELI5: What is an API?

The new buzzword: what is robotic process automation?

Is RPA worth it?