Robotic Process Automation
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Although you don't have to ask modern businesses what is RPA, as the automation market proliferates, the choice of a specific tool is not always obvious. Next to the globally recognized software vendors, a given company may prefer an independent open-source RPA solution.
The main reason for such a decision could be the willingness to verify how RPA automation will work without incurring costs related to licensing and using commercial tools. At the same time, the goal is to avoid building the bots from zero, thus engaging specialists and burdening the budget.
Enterprises could associate open source applications mostly with developers-oriented programs so far. Many of those available on the market still address that group. However, the vendors quickly started to respond to the business needs and the enterprise automation market's direction.
From an RPA trends perspective, today's open-source RPA developers offer a middle ground in choosing between coding from scratch and buying. A growing number of them provide no-code and low-code tools, emphasizing convenience and ease of use. That allows many companies to get familiar with the technology and develop a well-thought-out strategy.
The described software is distributed with the source code, which opens a way for modifying all bots depending on actual needs. And this is what open-source stands for.
The idea behind the open-source software is to make the source code public, or more precisely, freely available for possible modification and redistribution. That means the companies may modify, share, and even build businesses on it.
The latter often results in misunderstanding. Even though every person or organization is free to change and re-share the source code of an RPA application, it doesn't mean the program itself must be "free of charge". For example, the game industry widely uses the Unreal Engine - a paid open-source software framework. The open-source license does not dictate the form, manner, or purpose of its distribution.
As with the proprietary (or close) code solutions (like Microsoft Windows), the potential open-source app user must accept the license terms to run the program. This state of affairs results from the requirements of the Open Source Initiative, which oversees the licensing processes. Thus, this type of software must be compatible with open-source community norms and expectations.
An answer to that question is not always obvious, but the argument for open-source RPA automation is the desire or market need to get to know the technology.
Such a product can meet all the expectations of a given organization or initiate further transformation toward automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML). However, there are a few factors to consider regarding the software.
The cost of licensing one of the top RPA tools, especially in medium and small enterprises, the investment may be too demanding concerning the actual needs. In this context, an open-source product may be financially attractive. It will be a much less risky way to implement RPA in the company for the first time, the more so if it has a team of programmers.
In other words, it can benefit the operating cost of automation - licenses, services, and internal work. At the same time, due to the lower investment in software, the Return On Investment (ROI) is increased. It is also worth pointing out the lack of license restrictions regarding the number of created and implemented bots.
Yet, this does not mean that the described alternative cannot generate additional maintenance costs, often covered in commercial solutions. A fine example may be a support policy. While commercial vendors provide full support bundled, open-source solutions rely heavily on peer-reviewed feedback and community knowledge sharing.
Using a commercial RPA automation solution often forces the organization to rely on the manufacturer. The software vendor provides and guarantees the security mechanisms of the RPA tool. In most cases, the buyer has limited possibilities to interfere with their design - he is dependent on the external developer.
Running the open-source solution, the company has full access to the source code and thus can locate and fix possible vulnerabilities, errors, or flaws. It has the freedom to implement additional safety functions.
Nevertheless, a lot depends on the implementation team and the software. Managing the code requires a clear understanding of what it does across a given apps system. That means having various tools to audit the code, identify its weak points, and provide additional information or guidance. The same goes for maintaining the databases. All this may require other investments.
As was mentioned earlier, open-source RPA may be the best choice for companies aiming to explore the possibilities of RPA automation for the first time. A given firm can decide if the solution meets the actual or future needs and build a proper plan.
For example, for a company planning to automate the process of issuing several quarterly financial reports, it may be hard to justify spending on additional commercial software and a long-term contract with its developer. The point is that a given bot or bots will perform only four times a year.
Of course, it is just a simplification, but having an open-source RPA does not prevent the company from implementing new optimizations in the future - without further investment.
More so, when a significant advantage of tools with an open code is customization and scaling options. Especially with mature products that use cloud solutions. All that allows companies to configure and extend their software capabilities, thus building fully-fledged Centers of Excellence without disrupting the budget balance.
Having that in mind, it is crucial to know today's top open-source RPA automation vendors on the market.
Among today's RPA software companies, the most appreciated and mentioned open-source brands are Robot Framework, Taskt, UI.Vision, OpenRPA, and TagUI.
Top 5 open-source RPA apps comparison.
Asked about Robot Framework RPA, many experts will say it is one of the most professional, advanced, open-source RPA tools available. The solution is supported by a non-profit consortium - Robot Framework Foundation - that ensures its maintenance, quality, and development.
The implementation of Robot Framework does not involve any licensing costs, regardless of the target number of bots to automate any number of processes. A well-organized community supports the program and actively participates in its development. The software is constantly updated.
Robot Framework streamlines business operations, improves IT infrastructure, and reduces workload and costs while increasing the overall flexibility of enterprises. The application fits into the philosophy of work automation, including high-value and routine tasks, with the least possible involvement of technical staff. The application is extensible and can be easily integrated with other tools for automation.
Robot Framework supports commands with human-readable keywords due to an easy syntax. The program offers valuable libraries and tools developed as independent projects.
The solution uses the modernized Simple Application Service (SAS) model, developed by Microsoft for the Azure platform, used in virtually all leading cloud services. It facilitates the implementation of RPA and the automation of business processes. At the same time, organizations can configure this service to add virtual employees or integrate with other systems.
Robot Framework was initially designed in 2008 by Nokia Networks. Besides the RPA, it offers the functionality to test various devices, protocols, or systems through GUI, API, and many other interfaces. The Python programming language, as well as Jython (JVM)) and IronPython (.NET Framework) is its foundation, but the solution can also work with other technologies. Application developers release it under the Apache 2.0 license and host it on GitHub.
GitHub: Robot Framework
Taskt, formerly known as sharpRPA, is a free, open-source, intriguing robotic process automation software. It offers easy to work interface and creation of automation bots without coding (no-code) or with minimal use of commands (low-code approach).
The standard build of the application offers dozens of commands and additional features like custom code execution, image recognition, and optical character recognition (OCR).
One of its most significant advantages is the screen recorder - with multiple recording features - which records certain user activities and thus creates scripts (RPA bots). Additionally, it contains a script generator with the drag-and-drop mechanism. It allows for designing bots in a "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) model, supported by an attached menu with basic commands.
Interestingly, Taskt is an RPA application that widely uses available web browsers. The developers offer users and businesses the opportunity to test application samples on the website. One can choose a trial version or even a self-configured app depending on the actual needs. All manuals, guides, and how-tos are available immediately on Taskt's site.
This RPA solution is developed with C# programming language on Microsoft .Net Framework. The distribution of the app is compliant with the Apache 2.0 license. The source is available on the GitHub platform.
Another fine example of open-source RPA automation software is UI.Vision. The manufacturer underlines its cross-platform character, as it works on Microsoft Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. The solution may serve as a standalone program or a free browser extension for Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, or Microsoft Edge.
UI.Vision is a tool supporting visual process automation with:
Providing features for visual UI testing as well as browser automation commands UI.Vision is helpful in the layouts (pages or sections) validation. That means their verification, along with canvas elements. Mostly it is done through the text and images recognition as a whole. The user has additional features at his disposal during the process, like a drag-and-drop interface. What's essential, resizing does not break the visual tests.
Another example, this time related to desktop programs, is the possibility of simulating various inputs (like keyboard and mouse) and completing a specific task.
It is worth underlining that the manufacturer describes its product (formerly known as Kantu) as an "easy automation for busy people" while guaranteeing Enterprise-Grade security. The UI.Vision is often considered to fit the highest data protection standards in this area.
OpenRPA is one of the best and free tools in today's RPA automation market. The software is being developed under the OpenIAP project, meaning the Integrated Automation Platforms. It is one of the most accessible and easy-to-use solutions of this type, guaranteeing far-reaching ease of use with a drag and drop interface.
The product is best suited for companies planning to decrease the steep costs related to the closed (mainly commercial) RPA programs. The vendor offers an easy to migrate automation tool and a switch to eventual flat rates.
OpenRPA is a mature product, ready to support businesses of any size. A significant advantage of this solution is the community gathered around it, actively contributing to the project. The result is frequent software updates - even several times a week.
The tool offers several functionalities, including remote management and state support, planning, or integration with the best cloud providers. There are also analytics dashboards, scheduling, and planning features involving the OpenFlow part of the OpanIAP venture.
TagUI is a cross-platform, command-line, and visual automation RPA solution for automating the desktop web, keyboard, and mouse actions. This RPA solution is considered the best open-source platform for remote RPA management.
It is a cloud-based application and thus can be available practically from any point globally. The solution offers to manage several sessions from a remote device - PC, smartphone, or tablet. It doesn't store any of the company's data while running on the local user's devices. That means no industry certifications - HIPAA, PCI-SS, or SOX - are needed.
The program is considered easy to use and supports a broad number of users. At the same time, as the community describes the program, it allows updating the company's environment and employees' skills without the downtimes risk.
An interesting feature (among many others) is that TagUI provides add-ons for Microsoft Word, Excel, and one of the leading commercial RPA automation products - Microsoft Power Automate. It also offers Python and R integration for artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and big data. It's worth mentioning that TagUI supports writing scripts in natural language-like syntax, extending the no-code experience.
Of course, the above five open-source RPA automation examples do not fully outline the topic. These are only an overview of the possibilities currently available on the market. Businesses can choose among many more solutions that differ in technology, architecture, and interpretation of open-source licenses (i.e., Visualcron, Robin, Automai).
Some derived from such an approach and moved closer to the market's commercial side (i.e., Robocorp, Automagica, Argos Labs, etc.).
Although open-source opens a wide range of opportunities in RPA automation, there is a crucial question that seeks the answer. Can those products compete with their commercial counterparts? For example, can the open-source realm offer software that meets the large enterprises' needs in the RPA context?
Looking at the evolution of RPA automation applications, it's evident that the market is still rapidly growing. Companies are aware that RPA automation is becoming a standard - over 53% passed the implementation. But thus far, many of them are just planning to adopt the Robotic Process Automation. In this context, open-source solutions can complement commercial software, filling the need for specific components.
Many experts emphasize that currently, no RPA automation software would be technologically and economically flexible enough to meet the expectations of any business entity.
For example, for small and medium-sized enterprises, the prices offered by commercial suppliers may be a limiting factor or prevent such investment. Therefore, when looking for Python-based automation, they may turn to open-source solutions in the first place.
Nevertheless, investing in open-source solutions requires a thorough understanding of their characteristics, approaches, and the available application ecosystem. Until now, most big organizations didn't recognize this particular part of the RPA market. In other words, this open-source RPA software is just emerging in the enterprises' awareness.
Another but equally important factor may be the so-called innovator's dilemma. As open-source products conquer the market, well-known commercial vendors may be forced to lower their prices. A Grand View Research shows that the RPA market could reach $ 11 billion by 2027, which will also be an additional impulse for open-source vendors.
As open-source RPA becomes a more mature and technologically advanced option, the is no need to assume that it can't overtake commercial technologies. A fine example may be open-source operating systems like Android. However, it is a long road ahead.
It seems that representatives of international companies, and even broadly understood large businesses, will continue to choose recognized products from commercial suppliers. In this case, the returns still outweigh the investments. However, competition in this segment also requires analyzes and comparisons - for example, Power Automate vs. UiPath, or UiPath vs. Automation Anywhere - which of the products better suits the individual needs of a given organization as well as industry.
Turning the coin over, it is worth noting that medium and small-sized entities will be more likely to reach for open-source solutions. And as of today, they seem to be the target group.
The open-source approach makes it easier for them to explore RPA automation at a significantly low cost, as long as they consider additional activities related to implementations.
RPA solutions with open codes are by no means inferior products. On the contrary, they can compete as equal in many fields with commercial applications. However, today, the primary determinant of their usefulness is the type and size of the business. After all, the market will decide the future of open-source RPA automation vendors and their software.
More information on the widely understood RPA automation is available on our blog.