Microsoft RPA – What is it? How does it work?

Microsoft now has it’s own RPA!

To me, the great news for all of us RPA practitioners is that this is another validation of the technology. With SAP and Microsoft in the fray, it is now proven that there is a real need for this kind of technology in the enterprise.

I would also argue that this technology is in a unique position to orchestrate all the emerging technologies like AI and Blockchain. With supporting technologies like Process Discovery, iBPM (Intelligent BPM), ICR (Intelligent OCR) etc. also enabling Process Automation, this is an exciting space to be in right now!

Microsoft RPA – UI Flow in Power Automate

Microsoft has added the RPA capabilities to its Flow Platform which was rebranded to “Power Automate”. The RPA capability in Power Automate is called “UI flows”.

UI flows is right now in public preview. Creating a UI flow is like in RPA – point-and-click experience with some coding. It can automate and orchestrate tasks across APIs with prebuilt connectors for more than 275 apps, SAS providers, UI-based recording, and even do Virtual agents and AI – now that may be a real end to end Automation platform!

We will look at each of the other features separately in a bit but before that, let us see how it actually works.

How does it work?

If I have to say it simply – I think it works almost like UiPath. Why not take the lead from the most popular RPA in the market? ūüôā

You start off by choosing if you want to do a Desktop or Web automation.

Next up, choose the inputs you want to use. It is like adding variables in UiPath.

Then as in UiPath and other similar RPA, you have a recorder. Use the recorder to point to the items on the screen and map them.

You even get a Recorder panel like UiPath!

Once you have recorded the steps, you can add it to an overall flow like below. I feel that Microsoft has made it easier to add your Actions (like UiPath Activities) and configure them as well. So when fully developed, this may be more like StudioX and maybe better.

   Screenshots from Screengrab Рcourtesy Mariano Gomez

So, that was a quick look at how the UI Flow actually is. You can view a complete video of how to create a simple workflow here.

Now that you got a sense of the UI Flow RPA, let us look at the other features of Power platform itself. It is more than just RPA.

Microsoft Power Virtual Agents

This is a low-code application that allows you to create and deploy chatbots. So, from an RPA perspective, you have integrated, easy to create Chatbots that you can use with your automation.

The idea is that people in business like customer service, sales, marketing, finance, or HR can easily create these Chatbots. It has an easy to use, guided low-code point-and-click graphical interface to create these Chatbots or “Virtual agents” without the developers.

How cool is that? Microsoft Power Virtual Agents is also now in preview but you can try it out here.

Microsoft AI Builder

This is another low-code application to add AI to your workflows. They have a few prebuilt AI models‚Äď like key phrase detection, language detection, sentiment analysis, etc.

It enables organizations you to add AI to your specific business needs with your unique data without the need to hire data scientists or developers as per Microsoft. It takes common AI scenarios and provides point-and-click solutions to solve everyday tasks like forms processing, object detection, and text and binary classification.

Now available in preview, these prebuilt scenarios include:

  • Key phrase extraction‚ÄĒ identifies the key talking points from your text
  • Language detection‚ÄĒidentifies the predominant language for your text
  • Text recognition‚ÄĒextracts embedded, printed, and handwritten text from images into computer-readable form
  • Sentiment analysis‚ÄĒdetects positive, negative, neutral, or mixed sentiment in your text data

Process Discovery with FortressIQ

Microsoft also announced a partnership with FortressIQ to enable you to discover the Processes for automation.

FortressIQ is a computer vision based solution for process discovery. They use your computer Graphics card to passively identify opportunities for process automation. Apparently, you can create a Power Automate “Flow” with the click of a button!

There are other aspects to the Power platform like Power Bi and Power Apps that you can explore here. I only covered the aspects which I thought were key to Process Automation.

So, that was a look at the Microsoft RPA and the overall Power Automate platform. It is an emerging low-code platform that can in the future help us create a quick end to end Automation.

Here is my take on what it means for the existing RPA vendors.

Top 5 Open Source RPA Choices

We are seeing a good amount of interest in Open Source RPA.

To my surprise, a post on a Linux version of TagUi garnered quite a bit of interest. We recently saw a company announce a $5.6M investment to bring open-source RPA. We also had Softomotive announce a new project to develop an open-source RPA programming language.

Mainstream tool vendors have marketed RPA as “Bot” creators that can carry out tasks Cheaper, Better and Faster. While RPA mostly delivers on ROI, the Pricing or Licensing costs are critical issues hampering scalability as per HFS Research.

 

Source HFS Research

Considering the recent developments, I think we will soon start seeing a wider array of Open source options for RPA.

Generally, as the Technology matures, we would see more compelling open-source options that could even overtake the mainstream technologies (eg. Android, Linux, etc.)

This could be the next big thing in RPA!

So, I thought I would summarize the Top 5 evolving options we have as of now. Note that all these tools are evolving and do not have a mature Control room or Orchestrator. So, this can be used only for simple Automation.

With that said, here are my top 5 as of now.

TagUI

TagUI is an open-source RPA maintained by AI Singapore, a government-funded initiative. It currently has nine contributors and has pretty good documentation.

TagUI uses “human language” like Command line syntax to build your automation. So, you can automate with “language” like this:

You can also do Visual automation for Websites and Desktop using integration with Sikuli. Under the hood, it converts that “language” you wrote or recording into JavaScript code.

Here are some key features:

  • Automate Chrome in visible/invisible mode
  • Visual automation of websites and desktop
  • Write in 20+ human languages & JavaScript
  • Chrome extension for recording web actions
  • Python & R integration for big data / AI / ML

Here are some advantages with respect to other mainstream RPA tools:

  • Cross-platform works on Windows, macOS, Linux
  • $0 to use, under Apache 2.0 open-source license
  • Headless, runs in the background – you can continue using the computer uninterrupted.

They also are in the process of adding Python RPA.

If you like to try out, TagUI tools and documentation is on Github.  Python Beta library is here.

Robin

Robin is a free open-source programming language specifically for building RPA software bots.

The idea of Robin is to develop a standard language for RPA tool development. This would enable easy migration of bots built on one platform to another.

Softomotive, the company behind Robin is looking to build its future tool version based on Robin. But would others follow suit? The current vendors are unlikely to as of now. But, we could see more Open source tools that build on top of this providing better options.

From a technology perspective, Robin is a Microsoft .NET Domain Specific Language (DSL). It runs on Microsoft .Net Common Language Runtime (CLR), the virtual machine component of Microsoft’s .NET framework. You would need a basic understanding of that to get started.

Robin Software Development Kits (SDK) is expected soon and should make it easy for developers to code. As per the site, developers can ‚Äúturn your code into a Robin module filled with actions with just a few steps.‚ÄĚ

Robin is in the initial stages and has a long way to go.¬†It is currently at the beta stage ‚Äď version 0.9. They plan to release a Version 1.0 on Github soon.

You can download and try it out!  Here is a quick start tutorial to get you started.

Robot Framework Foundation

Robot Framework is a popular open-source automation framework for Testing. It is a generic keyword-driven test automation framework for acceptance testing and now RPA as well. I am assuming they added RPA functionality as it has a lot in common with testing.

They have a dedicated page for RPA but not many details. As I understand, they have a bunch of libraries that you can use to build your automation. Some of the functionalities available include “optical image recognition, database access, HTTP APIs, iOS and Android application support, and remote execution”. I think you will have to work with the partner companies listed on the page to meaningfully use this.

Based on what I can see from the Testing framework, it can work on any operating system and on any application. It uses a syntax based on keywords that are quick to edit and configure to match the application being automated.

The core framework is implemented using Python. It is easy to create new libraries for your specific needs out of Python or Java code.

The test automation solution and has a pretty active community with many companies using it in their software development. So, the Robot Framework is actively supported and continuously improving.

The libraries and documentation are on Github with over 95 contributors.

Robo Corp

This is a new Open-Source RPA which is under development. The tool though has investor backing after a recent $5.6 million seed investment.

The Robocorp RPA is being built on top of the open-source Robot Framework project, that we looked at above. They say they have been working on it for ten months and is looking to release it soon.

As per the Robocorp builders, they want to fill a gap.¬†“What is missing in RPA are the tools and a platform that can unify the industry and enable companies of all sizes to benefit from automation. Building this kind of ecosystem needs open-source tools that are widely available to everyone, and that is exactly what Robocorp is launching.”

They already have a Robocloud platform that they are piloting with “consulting and system integrator partners across finance, transportation, logistics, and other high-impact industries.”

Robocorp is¬†looking to create a¬†new industry called “robosourcing”. As per them, people will not look to outsource work to India or the Philippines. They would look to outsource¬†work to robots and they like to be in that.

You cannot try it out yet but you can sign up here to stay updated on their progress.

Auto Magica

Automagica is a company out of Belgium that has an open-source RPA platform that they call “Smart Robotic Process Automation (SRPA)”. They have a portal where you can sign up and go about building your bot. Here is how to get started.

Auto Magica is implemented using Python.  It helps you build out Automation scripts using Python. They provide wrappers around known automation libraries to enable you to automate. It is not exactly the easiest or quickest way to automate but then with Open-source, you may want to be ready to put in the work.

Here is an example that opens Notepad and types ‘Hello world!’

Automagica officially supports Windows 10. Linux and MacOS are not officially supported as of now.

Here are a list of features:

Automagica can be downloaded from their Github site. They have pretty good videos on YouTube.

 

Those were the top 5 Open-source options that I have across. ‘Am I missing anything?

I appreciate your comments and feedback!

 

 

 

Open-source RPA Language – Robin

Robin is a free open-source programming language specifically for building RPA software bots.

It runs on Microsoft .Net Common Language Runtime (CLR), the virtual machine component of Microsoft’s .NET framework. You would need a basic understanding of that to get started.

Robin Software Development Kits (SDK) is expected soon and should make it easy for developers to code. As per the site, developers can “turn your code into a Robin module filled with actions with just a few steps.”

To use of UIAutomation and WebAutomation actions in Robin, you have to use AppMasks. AppMasks contains the selectors for the elements of Web and Desktop Applications used.

Fair warning – this is in the initial stages and has a long way to go. You would be disappointed if you start comparing this to mainstream tools.

It is currently at the beta stage – version 0.9. They plan to have new versions every week which is pretty ambitious!

Softomotive (who has created this) may follow the UiPath Community model to enable wide adoption quickly. We should be seeing free online training soon from Softomotive.

Excited to see how this pans out.

Meanwhile, do download and try it out!  

Here is a quickstart tutorial to get you started.

Selecting the right RPA tools for your use case

In a previous post, we explored how to select the right processes (use cases) to automate. Now as a next step, let us see how we can choose the best RPA tools to automate these processes.

Many RPA tools have sprung up in various niches thanks to the hype and investment in RPA.  With so many different RPM tools, it’s a bit difficult to understand which tool works best for your needs.

Each tool has its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s therefore important to understand which features are important for your use cases and select the appropriate tool. For eg. If your use cases have a lot of unstructured data to handle, select the tool that does OCR best.

When you are looking to select a tool for your organization, you may want to look at all the use cases and see which tool fits best for your use cases in general.

Here are my top 10 criteria to select your RPA tool

Development Environment

RPA tools provide an “OS” for us to develop and manage bots. It is important that we have the best development environment for our needs. What does that mean?

To me, it means three things:

Ease of use

One of the most sold features of RPA is that the development is “easy” as it is within a low-code (or no-code) environment.

So the tool that you choose should ideally be easy to work even for people in the business who probably do not have much programming knowledge.

Most of the current RPA tools comes with drag-and-drop features which helps you develop workflows quickly as well as make any changes needed quickly as well.

Architecture

Just as any tool, a robust architecture will help you in the long run.

In terms of RPA, the tool should allow you to separate out the logic and functionality. This would help you with the following:

  • Reuse of components – build and reuse across your automation
  • Help different team members divide the work and work independently
  • Reduce the impact of any changes in future

So, tools that allow for better abstraction of work is better.  As we discussed in one of our previous lessons, Object-oriented tools are better for reuse and abstraction though script best tools also have come up with great ways to reuse components and libraries.

Recorder

Finally, depending on the team you’ve got, a recorder may be a very useful thing to get the development started quickly.

The recorder can record the initial steps of the workflow based on clicks and then you can go in and customize the automation to your specific needs.

A recorder is useful especially if your team does not have much development background to start with.

Bot Operations

Most of the RPA tools have a control center to deploy and manage automation solutions. The Control center usually has three important features:

Bot Allocation

Once you build the automation workflow, RPA Control center provides a way to allocate these tasks to ‚Äúbots‚ÄĚ. This is usually performed by administrators who select which tasks a machine should perform and on what schedule.

The administrators allocate the tasks to make the most out of the bot licenses available and the machines (usually VMs)  available. The best RPA tools allow for the assignment of tasks in such a manner to balance the various constraints like Infrastructure, Bots and Schedule.

Monitor and Control

The Bots that are deployed in production needs continuous monitoring and support.

RPA Control center makes it possible for you to monitor, handle and fix errors. A good tool makes it easy for you to monitor for real-time errors and send out notifications as required. It also maintains a detailed log of the errors encountered. This allows for a support team to monitor and fix any errors that may come up in the automation.

Most RPA tool also ensures you can upgrade the environment and automation easily when required.

Analytic Dashboard

Many RPA tools display real-time analytics on an “always-on” dashboard.

The dashboard usually has charts and graphs that help you track:

  • Person hours saved
  • Total cost savings
  • Cost savings per bot / per process
  • Monthly bot ROI
  • Bot License usage
  • Infrastructure Utilization

You can use these metrics to trigger appropriate actions to ensure continuous Improvement in your automation

Security and Compliance

Just like any person in the organization, the bots are also likely to handle information that is sensitive.  So most of the tools have robust security and compliance measures included.

You may want to have a checklist especially from IT in terms of what security and compliance requirements you like the tool to meet. A few key security and compliance considerations I would include are:

  • Provision to clearly separate development, testing, and production environments.
  • Ensure that every RPA access is authenticated.
  • Ability to encrypt and secure data in transit and at rest.
  • Ensure GDPR compliance to keep track of data that needs to be deleted under the ‚Äėright to be forgotten‚Äô clause.

Unstructured data/OCR

More than 80% of data in Organizations are in documents and forms. Digitizing this information is key to enable many automation scenarios.

If this feature is important for your use cases, you may want to look for tools that provide for more reliable handling of unstructured data. Note that none of the tools are 100% reliable as of now (May 2019).

Many RPA tools have now graduated to using AI and ML technologies though to improve the OCR capability of the tool. You may want to check if this improved OCR comes out of the box or is a separate purchase

VDI/Citrix

In many companies especially РOutsourcers and BPO РClients only allow access to applications remotely due to security considerations.  Citrix is one of the most commonly used virtualization technology for remote access.

What happens in such a virtualized environment is that RPA is unable to manipulate the UI elements directly as it’s only receiving a screenshot from Citrix.¬† Automating use cases that involve Citrix has been one of the major challenges with RPA tools.

Citrix issues though have reduced quite a bit with the advances in technology. The RPA tools now use computer vision to detect the screen elements in a more reliable fashion. You may want to check how reliable the tool is in virtualized environments if those use cases are important to you.

Process Discovery

Discovering processes suitable for automation has traditionally been a challenge for RPA projects. Of late, many RPA tool vendors have started including Process Discovery and Mining in their tools. Some of the tools offer this capability through a partner.

The process discovery providers claim that the tool collects data while your employees work on the machines and perform daily tasks. They then use various technologies from log analysis to AI to document the process and suggest the best candidates for automation. They also provide you key metrics like time and money that could be saved.

This is a nascent skill for RPA and the usefulness of this feature depends a lot on the process data that is available as well as the technology that is used. So you may want to do your due diligence and see have useful this feature is for your project.

AI / ML / New Technologies

Including intelligence and emerging technologies in the tools is also a new trend. You may want to look carefully at your use cases and see if there is a real need now or in the future to add intelligence or new technologies. You do not want to pay for these features which could be costly if you do not need them now.

Having said that, a provision to include emerging technologies could help you continuously improve automation as the technology evolves. It’s always advisable to find a tool that fulfills your current requirements and also has the ability to cater to your future requirements.

Community & support

As with any purchase, you may want to consider the ability of your vendor to support you reliably and quickly.

For the people using the tool, a Vibrant Community comes in handy nowadays. Many times you get better and faster answers from the community rather than the official support channels.

Dedicated support teams are still important and you may want to check how easy it is to reach them and get fixes for your issues quickly.

A strong community and vendor support backed by detailed documentation can be very helpful with your RPA  initiative.

Finally, as we discussed in one of our previous posts, also look for the type of tools the vendor offers. We saw that there are two types of RPA – attended and unattended. Check if the vendor provides both types if you like to use both types of RPA.

 

Top RPA Tools and Rank

Top RPA tools ranked by key features. These are my ranking based on my experience and what I can infer from other independent studies.

For details of each tool and explanation of ranking, click on the “details” tab on the right or click the respective logo.

 

Here is the ranking in Chart form.

A beginners guide to Blue Prism

Blue Prism is the most robust tool in the pack. If you are looking for a safe bet, Blue Prim is the tool. They are one of the pioneers in the field and even claim to have coined the term Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Blue prism has an object-oriented architecture which helps manage reusable components better. Overall it is a great tool if you have a developer but lacks a recorder if your team is less technically savvy and like to get things moving quickly. The virtual environment functionality needs improvement.

Features and Ranking

Development Environment A workflow configuration environment like Visio. Gartner rating for their development environment is high.
Recorder   Blue Prism does not have a recorder. It is an object-oriented tool, unlike other scripting based RPA tools.
Bot Operations Good support for Orchestration, Notifications, Logging, and Triggers. Can improve on Update & Upgrades, Backup & DR and Monitoring.
Component Reuse With its Object oriented architecture, you can build out a library of software objects that can be reused and accessed anytime.
Security framework Good Encryption, Credential, and User management comparable to other tools.
Unstructured data/OCR Uses GoogleTesseract OCR engines which is not the most reliable. Also can integrate with other paid engines like ABBY and cloud services which is better but still not 100%.
VDI / Citrix You need to use Surface automation for Citrix and other virtual environments which is unreliable.
AI/ML
Provides ‚Äúout of the box‚ÄĚ API integrations with AWS, Google, IBM and Microsoft to enable operational AI
Process Discovery Has recently launched a basic Process Discovery tool which is available through their portal.
Community Support Works mostly through partners directly with enterprises. Has a restricted forum on portal. Does not have a Community edition

Top 3 advantages of choosing Blue Prism

  • Robust Solution: Blue prism is considered to be the most mature and secure solution that enables scalability.
  • Reusability: Blue Prism Object studio enables users to create reusable objects as the building blocks for the business processes.
  • Credibility: One of the earliest RPA providers, they have a strong enterprise user base and market recognition.

Top 3 challenges with Blue Prism you need to be aware of

  • Virtual Environments: If your bot needs to work through Citrix of windows remote desktop, Blurprism will be a challenge.
  • Developer Dependent: Because of its Object oriented¬†architecture, the tool¬†is programmer heavy. It also lacks a recorder like other RPA tools.
  • Community: Does not have a community edition of their tool or community support.

Licensing and approximate cost for Blue Prism

Around 12k to 16k per bot. Usually, have to buy a set of 10 bots. These are the approximate costs as of November 2018. This pricing could be more complex and vary based on your agreement. For eg., There may be volume discounts.

 

A beginners guide to Automation Anywhere

Automation Anywhere has a good depth of functionality and features while being mostly user-friendly. You can get started fairly quickly and scale with this decently robust tool. Automation Anywhere is perceived to be hard to use and costly.

Features and Ranking

Development Environment AA is considered hard to use. Gartner rating for their development environment is medium.
Recorder ¬† AA has three types of recorders.¬† Gartner rates AA “low” on recording functionality.
Bot Operations Good support for Orchestration, Logging, Upgrades, and Triggers. Can improve on Monitoring, Notifications and Exception handling.
Component Reuse With the help of “smart adapter”, you can create unique automation blocks that are re-usable.
Security framework Good Encryption, Credential, and User management comparable to other tools.
Unstructured data/OCR Provides a comparatively better OCR with IQ bot. It uses computer vision, NLP and ML for better recognition.
VDI / Citrix Pretty good support for virtual environments with AI Sense from version 11.
AI/ML
Computer vision, NLP, ML used for processing structured, semi-and unstructured data in IQ bot. 
Process Discovery Provides process mining through a partnership
Community Support Smaller community compared to UiPath. Will likely pick up after the release of the community edition.

Top 3 advantages of choosing Automation Anywhere

  • Scalable Solution: Has a strong control tower with good support for Orchestration, Logging, and Upgrades.¬† Has Smart adapters for quick re-use.
  • Embedding¬†Intelligence: Has embedded AI, machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP) and computer vision (CV)
  • Bot Store: First off the blocks with a bot store with ready-made automation for all business functions

Top 3 challenges with Automation anywhere you need to be aware of

  • AA is difficult to work quickly and efficiently, especially compared to the other big RPA players
  • Understanding licensing costs is a challenge for several clients¬†– many perceive it to be expensive
  • Automation workflows are¬†written¬†in code that resembles psuedocode, unlike other top RPA tools that come with visual flow charts

Licensing and approximate cost for Automation anywhere

As per Forrester it costs between $50k and $150K to get started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Automation Anywhere RPA Community Edition

Automation Anywhere has released a community edition¬†which is basically a “cripple” version of their enterprise software. You would need the full version if you need to meaningfully use in an Enterprise environment. The community edition is anyway targeted for small business, developers, and students.

Automation Anywhere is using the same strategy that UiPath has successfully used to grow its developer base. Blue Prism hopefully will come out with a similar community license soon for developers. There are rumors that they will follow suit.

Automation Anywhere community edition has all the capabilities of the enterprise software except that Bot creation capabilities are supported only up to 2 devices. It can only be consumed from the cloud Рno on-premise version.

Another key differentiation from Enterprise edition is that the Tech support is via online forums only. One of the developers also reported that the Citrix feature is missing.

 

 

Top Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Tools

Many RPA tools have sprung up in various niches thanks to the hype and investment in RPA. Here is a summary of the top RPA tools. I keep adding to this list as I discover new tools.

Top 3 RPA tools

Uipath

Uipath is an RPA tool that is easy to learn and get started. Your team can download the tool, learn from their academy and get going. There is a decent community and many programmers if your team like to take external help. Uipath has a comparatively easy licensing model and is easy to procure as well.

UiPath Go! brings everything together to get started quickly. It has the Academy, Components and Community.

Automation Anywhere

Automation Anywhere has a good depth of functionality and features while being mostly user-friendly. You can get started fairly quickly and scale with this decently robust tool. Automation Anywhere has a complex licensing model and is perceived to be costly.

Automation Anywhere has a bot store that provides an elegant list of bots that you can get started with.

Blue Prism

Blue Prism is the most robust tool in the pack. If you are looking for a safe bet, Blue Prim is the tool. They are one of the pioneers in the field and even claim to have coined the term RPA. Blue prism has an object-oriented architecture which helps manage reusable components better. Overall is a great tool if you use a developer but lacks a recorder if your team is less technically savvy and like to get things moving quickly.

Other RPA tools

Workfusion

 They came into limelight for offering completely free RPA. With the free RPA Express version, you can write scripts to automate tasks. The free version is missing key features though and you usually have to upgrade to Smart Process Automation (SPA) for Enterprise level use.

Pega Systems

Pegasystems is a business process management (BPM) provider that added RPA with the acquisition of Openspan. OpenSpan uses robotic automation to ease the burden on customer service representatives (CSRs) by automating routine desktop tasks, thus increasing employee productivity and job satisfaction.

Nice

NICE is an Israeli enterprise software company – one of the largest technology organizations in Israel. It started its RPA journey with the acquisition of Eglue in 2010. NICE started as workflow automation business for Contact centers. It continues to be strong in that space with a chat based automation.

Kryon

Kryon has tools to mine processes within the organization highlighting the processes that can be automated. It has strong integration with ABBY, the leaders in OCR. Kryon uses computer vision to support Citrix which is a traditionally weak area for many RPA vendors.

Kofax

Kofax has a bunch of products one of which is Kapow RPA which was acquired in 2013. One of the strengths of Kofax is the ability to bring these various products with BPM and OCR capabilities to power the automation. Kofax is strong in the content management space and Kofax RPA is a tool that is used to enahance Content management smarts.

Antworks

AntWorks’ is a new and interesting company that claims to have an integrated Cognitive machine learning and autonomous automation in a single stack. Their main product, ANTstein is designed to understand structured as well as semi-unstructured data. The tool also has broader cognitive capabilities that include pattern recognition, photos, and images.

Redwood

Automating inefficiencies in Oracle and SAP ERP is what Redwood Software focuses on. It reduces manual labor in the supply chain, logistics, forecasting, eCommerce delivery, and financial posting. They have a catalog of Oracle, SAP, and other automation for faster deployment.

Softomotive

Softomotive is one of the pioneers in automation even before RPA was a thing! They have been in the automation space since 2005. They provide standalone server less product called WinAuotmation (attended automation) and a comparatively new server-based RPA called ProcessRobot (unattended automation).

New and Upcoming Tools

Fortressiq

A new RPA (ish) tool that records processes and then automates them with AI. It seems to be an automation tool that watches how we work, then uses AI-driven insights to configure the automation and also tell us how to work better on the fly.

They apparently have an agent that gets deployed and integrates into the video card. It captures everything going on, as a person interacts with a Windows desktop. With AI and Computer vision, the tool transcribes the captured “movie” into a series of software interactions.

Catalytic

Catalytic is niche RPA player that concentrates on unstructured data, like pulling information from documents or emails. It uses both OCR or natural language process (NLP) to ‚Äúread‚ÄĚ the document, depending on requirements. The platform¬†provides a variety of Actions, which business users can assemble to build out complex automation.
Catalytic is offered on a subscription basis as a cloud service. 

A beginners guide to Uipath

UiPath is an easy to use RPA tool with a comparatively low learning curve. The tool is easily accessible to developers through a community edition. It is quite popular and has a fairly large community.

It is one of the tools that has many certified developers thanks to free certifications through their academy.  UiPath has a comparatively easy licensing model and is easy to procure as well.

UiPath is not the most robust tool though especially with respect to error handling, security etc. Also, their Customer support seems to be stretched thin due to their rapid growth and is probably catching up.

Features and Ranking

Development Environment UiPath is considered easy to use and train on. Gartner rating for their development environment is high.
Recorder ¬† UiPath has five¬†types of recording.¬† Gartner rates UiPath “low” on recording functionality.
Bot Operations Good support for Orchestration, Logging, and Exception Management. Can improve on Backups & DR, Updates & Upgrades and Monitoring.
Component Reuse You can build modular automation and reuse at the workflow level. Also can extend functionality via custom activities.
Security framework Good Encryption, Credential, and User management comparable to other tools.
Unstructured data/OCR Provides Google and Microsoft OCR engines with the Studio which is not the most reliable. Also can import other paid engines like ABBY which is better but still not 100%.
VDI / Citrix Dedicated support for virtual environments with Citrix modules and Computer vision activities pack.
AI/ML
You can invoke Google, IBM Watson, Stanford and Microsoft APIs with Cognitive activities pack.
Process Discovery Provides process mining through a partnership
Community Support UiPath an active forum, a popular community edition as well as structured tutorials all accessible through UiPath Go.

Top 3 advantages of choosing UiPath

  • Ease of Use: UiPath has an easy to use interface to configure workflows. There is an inbuilt recorder that generates a part of the configuration for you. Since it is easy to use out of the box, it enables faster deployments as well.
  • Quickstart: You can get started quickly by downloading the tool and learning with the help of UiPath Academy. ¬†The tool is comparatively easy to learn, there are a lot of learning resources and a community to support as well.
  • ¬†Poised for growth: UiPath has a strong and growing subscription base that has resulted in valuation hike and a rapid pace of funding. This augurs well for the growth of the tool especially the addition of Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities.

Top 3 challenges with UiPath you need to be aware of

  • Bot management: UiPath is behind in terms of adding Security features and overall robustness of the tool. They can do better in terms of enabling the management of reusable automation.
  • AI/Cognitive: UiPath has added Cognitive features in partnership with ABBY and Celonis but is comparatively behind tools like Automation Anywhere. These features will hopefully become stronger with strong funding.
  • Domain Expertise:¬†UiPath is focussed on generic bots and lack industry-specific automation and offerings.

Licensing and approximate cost for UiPath

UiPath licenses multiple components separately. You can pick and choose what you need for your Automation needs. For eg. You can start off with Studio and Attended Bot and maybe add Unattended bots & Orchestration if needed.

UiPath Studio:

  • This is where you configure the workflows.
  • Around $3K per year.

Attended Robot

  • These augment humans and are triggered by people at computers.
  • About $1.2K per year

Unattended Robot

  • These are Robots that are triggered automatically and do not need human intervention.
  • Around $8K per year

Orchestrator:

  • This is an optional component that manages, controls and monitors UiPath Robots.
  • Around $20K per year.

These are the approximate costs as of November 2018. This pricing could be more complex and vary based on your agreement. For eg., There may be volume discounts.