Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has attracted significant investment from many corporate organizations in recent years. This has opened up many opportunities for using RPA, whether you are an experienced developer wanting to gain additional valuable skills or you're thinking about starting your career as an RPA developer.
In this overview, we explain what Robot Process Automation is. You’ll learn about Automation Anywhere (AA) and what it does, and get some initial insights into AA’s RPA tool. A number of versions of AA are available, and you will learn about their differences. Our focus will be on the latest Community Edition A2019. Besides being the latest version, there are several other reasons for learning RPA with this version. We will explain why this version is ideal for gaining actual hands-on experience and starting your journey in building software robots (bots).
Along with building bots, AA has a number of additional features and components. These include IQ Bot, Bot Insight, Bot Store, Mobile Bot, and Automation Anywhere University. We will show how you can benefit from these features and components.
To use AA A2019 Community Edition, you will need the following:
- Windows OS version 7 or higher
- A processor with a minimum speed of 3 GHz
- A minimum of 4 GB RAM
- Internet Explorer v10 or higher, or Chrome v49 or higher
- An internet connection with a minimum speed of 10 Mb/second
You probably already know what RPA is, but we will quickly review it here. The words automation or robot usually conjure up images of a physical machine performing repetitive tasks. We began to see this type of robotic automation years ago, particularly in manufacturing. Physical robotic machines were built to help automate tasks usually done by humans. This form of industrial manufacturing automation was later adopted by many other industries including logistics, distribution, and packaging. This also led to automation being taught in universities at the postgraduate level. Many new technology jobs were created from this, including roles such as robotics engineer, designer, and maintenance operative, as well as automated programmable manufacturing tools such as CNC machinery. Since the widespread adoption of the internet, we have seen the concept of web-controlled automation being introduced. As an example, large buildings often deploy internet-enabled CCTV, heating controls, and security systems, where all these systems can be managed remotely over the internet. You could have a very fulfilling career as a developer or engineer working in automation.
We can see the same thing happening with RPA. RPA is specifically designed to automate tasks that are performed by humans on desktops. Most jobs have an element that involves tasks that are high-volume, repetitive, and tedious. Such tasks tend to drain the enjoyment out of our jobs. RPA can be applied to automate these types of tasks.
We can build bots to perform these types of tasks, and this is specifically what RPA bots have been designed for. Having a bot can give you more time to spend on the tasks that you actually enjoy and excel at. This in turn would deliver more job satisfaction.
You may be thinking, well, what's the difference between RPA and traditional software development? Well, with traditional development, the developer needs to be proficient in developing the application with it being automated as well. For example, to automate a task in Excel you would expect the developer to have skills in VBA. To develop web applications, the developer may need skills in Java or HTML. The developer needs to understand how the application is executing the tasks as well as what the user needs to do. It would usually also involve a greater learning curve to master these skills and would involve writing lines of code to build the solutions. RPA is different. It doesn't really matter what application you are working with as it interacts with the user interface. The user only needs to understand how to operate the application they are working with without necessarily understanding how the application executes the task, and this is all that RPA needs to know. So, no specific expertise is needed to work on multiple applications. It also does not require writing lines of code, as you can build a solution by designing a workflow or using pre-defined drag and drop commands. This makes it an ideal technology to rapidly learn how to build bots; it doesn't require years of learning to become a bot developer. See the following comparison:
Figure 1 – Comparison of traditional automation against RPA
You can clearly see the benefits of having an RPA bot as opposed to building a new traditional-style software solution. So, what sorts of tasks can a bot perform? Bots can pretty much do most tasks that involve a human using the desktop. This includes the automation of the tasks shown in the following diagram:
Figure 2 – Tasks that can be performed with RPA
You should now have a good understanding of what RPA is. This is a growing market with great demand for RPA skills. We know we can learn these skills far more quickly and easily than those required for traditional development. The range of tasks that can be automated with RPA is vast and not limited to specific industries.
The number of RPA vendors on the market is growing. As in most industries, only a few become recognized and reputable as market leaders, although we have seen a handful of industry leaders emerging over the last few years. One of the key players has been Automation Anywhere.
The list of vendors that provide RPA tools is growing constantly. There are three main leaders in this automation technology. These are UiPath, Blue Prism, and Automation Anywhere (AA). All these vendors provide RPA tools with pretty much the same functionality. You can see the top 10 RPA vendors of 2020 at the following link, created by Horses for Sources: https://www.horsesforsources.com/RPA_Top10_2020_012920.
Although the aforementioned top three do provide similar functionalities, there are some key differences. The following table shows a breakdown of the features available from each provider:
Figure 3 – Top vendors' features comparison
We can see that AA and UiPath have the most comprehensive tools and features when compared to Blue Prism.
We will use AA, as they were the first to release a fully cloud-based RPA tool. This eliminates the need to install AA on your desktops to build, manage, and deploy bots. AA has won a number of prestigious technology awards and was recently named the market leader in RPA by a Forrester report.
AA also runs a number of annual events, including the Bot Games. Here, developers from around the world are challenged against each other to build specific bots. Maybe, once you have gained enough confidence in your own bot development skills, you can be part of these Bot Games.
The mission statement of AA, as published on their website at https://www.automationanywhere.com/company/about-us, is:
To enable companies to operate with unprecedented productivity and efficiency by automating any part of the enterprise that can be automated with the most intelligent and intuitive robotic process automation platform we call - The Intelligent Digital Workforce
We can break this statement down into three distinct elements:
What AA offers: Giving organizations the opportunity to increase productivity and efficiency.
How they can offer this: Creating the opportunity to automate any process within the organization by the deployment of intelligent RPA.
The outcome: This results in building bots that make up the Digital Workforce.
When designing and building an RPA solution, it is essential that a statement relates to why RPA is needed. The Digital Workforce has to add value within the organization. This can be measured in terms of cost savings, time reduction, or the reduction of effort. As a developer, understanding why automation is needed can help in designing a robust, intelligent automation solution.
We will now take a closer look at some of the additional features and components available with AA. This will show how AA stands out from the crowd of its competitors. We will look at the following features and components:
- The Digital Workforce
- IQ Bot
- Bot Insight
- Bot Store
- Mobile Bot
- Automation Anywhere University
Let's take a look at these in more detail.
A bot is referred to by AA as a Digital Worker as it clones the actions of a human to perform a given task. A Digital Worker is a member of the team designed to carry out a process just the same as any human worker. As more bots are built within an organization, you can see a Digital Workforce being created. These bots can work side by side with a human or can be deployed to run on their own. Decision-making is a key aspect when using RPA. RPA has the ability to perform condition-based decisions when the outcome is purely based on a single condition or set of conditions.
For example, a condition-based decision could be, do we order some keyboards?
We would check our stock levels in the stock database, and if it is below our re-ordering threshold, then yes, we do; otherwise, we don't.
In some cases, condition-based decisions are not sufficient to get the correct outcome. There are occasions when decisions have to be made using Artificial Intelligence (AI) or by applying machine learning algorithms. This is where RPA needs to be used in conjunction with AI. AA allows us to train an RPA bot to perform complex decisions involving AI and machine learning algorithms. This is achievable using the IQ Bot feature of AA.
As well as utilizing condition-based decisions, more and more processes require a certain level of cognitive intelligence to make decisions. An example of this would be when dealing with unstructured data. A common scenario involves invoices, which all tend to have the same type of data such as supplier, items, costings, and dates, but the layout and format vary between different suppliers. AA has developed a product called IQ Bot. This bot uses cognitive automation with RPA to learn how to handle unstructured data. This enables such processes to be automated from end to end without human intervention. It integrates AI technologies such as fuzzy logic, Natural Language Processing (NLP), computer vision, and Machine Learning (ML), all without the help of data scientists or highly trained experts.
Designing and building bots is not the complete story. AA has also developed a platform that produces real-time analytics about your Digital Workforce, processes, and business-level processes This is all a part of the Bot Insight tool, the RPA analytics tool for AA. Bot Insight is broken down into two categories: operational analytics and business intelligence.
As bots are deployed, as well as executing tasks, they also process data. This data is related to each specific process and can provide valuable insight. Bot Insight analyzes this data and transforms it into meaningful insights. It also captures operational data such as how well the bot is performing, tracking data as it is being processed. All this data can be presented in various formats including graphs, charts, and tables. It can also predict possible bot failures. It can be integrated seamlessly with other leading business intelligence platforms such as Tableau, ThoughtSpot, and QlikView. As an independent tool, Bot Insight provides a complete analytics solution without the need to integrate with other tools. It's simple to use; all it requires is tagging the data items that need to be analyzed and Bot Insight will do the rest for you.
You can learn more about Bot Insight at https://www.automationanywhere.com/products/bot-insight.
AA is the first RPA vendor to have a fully operational Bot Store. Bot Store is an online store with a collection of Digital Workers. The bots available here are built by independent developers from all around the world, as well as by AA themselves. AA Bot Store won the Silver award in the 2019 Edison Awards for developing the world's first and largest enterprise automation marketplace.
These are complete bots out of the box that will perform a specific task or role. They are available as bots for specific applications, categories, or business processes. These applications include Microsoft, Google Cloud, CyberArk, and LinkedIn. You can pick specific bots for particular tasks, such as NLP bots for converting speech to text or bots for converting a QR code image to text. The bots on offer are continuously growing as more of them are added. Many of these bots are available for free, but there are some you will have to pay for.
Once you have mastered bot development, maybe you can submit your bots to be hosted on Bot Store. This is a great way to promote your skills as well as having the opportunity to sell your bots.
You can learn more about Bot Store at https://www.automationanywhere.com/products/botstore.
AA has also released a mobile app to work with your bots. It allows you to manage your Digital Workers from your mobile device. Bot Insight is available on the mobile app. This app will give you live alerts on bot performance as well as business insights on bot data. You can control your bots from the app including starting and stopping them. It also provides a platform for you to connect with the wider AA RPA community.
You can learn more about Mobile Bot at https://www.automationanywhere.com/products/apps.
AA also has an online university that provides many learning paths and opportunities to earn a globally recognized certificate. You can gain many accreditation badges approved by AA by completing the online assessments. These assessments usually consist of multiple-choice questionnaires. To gain the Certified Master Professional accreditation, you will have to build three bots and submit them to the university. These will then be assessed to determine whether you qualify or not. There are many areas of AA that you can gain accreditation badges for, including Bot Developer, Business Analyst, IQ Bot Developer, Control Room Administrator, Solutions Architect, Technical Support Specialist, and RPA Program Manager.
You can attempt the accreditation badge assessments for free, but there is a cost for certification. These range from 50 USD to 100 USD depending on the certificate. These certifications are great ways to promote your RPA skills; I would recommend the Automation Anywhere Certified Advanced RPA Professional certification.
You can learn more about the AA University at https://university.automationanywhere.com/.
Hopefully, you now have a better insight into AA’s features. There is a distinct advantage to using AA for RPA over its competitors. We know that the AA platform offers far more than just bot development. It allows data analytics, a platform to showcase and generate revenue from our bots, and a tool specifically designed to incorporate AI in our bots, as well as a path to gain recognized certifications for our skills.
Along with these features, three versions of AA are available. We will now look at the differences between them.
Community Edition A2019 is totally free. The other two versions come with a 30-day free trial, after which you have to purchase an AA license to continue using them. Community Edition A2019 is specifically designed for students and developers. There is no limit to the number of bots you can build, and nor is there any limited functionality.
You can now see the benefits of using Community Edition A2019, as well as understand what additional capabilities the other versions have to offer. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at Community Edition A2019 as well as walk through how to register with AA in order to start using it.
AA Community Edition A2019 is the latest free version and was released in November 2019. The version prior to this, AA v11.x, used a client-server architecture where the management was done through the web-based Control Room app while bot development was done through a client application installed on the desktop.
Community Version A2019 is a fully cloud-based solution. Bot management and building are all done through the web application; no development client is installed on your desktop. You need to download and install a Bot agent on each device that is to run the bot. Once installed, you build your bot, connect to your device using a Bot agent, and then deploy.
Registration with Automation Anywhere
As Community Edition A2019 is free, you can start using it once you’ve registered with AA.
To register, follow these instructions:
- Navigate to https://www.automationanywhere.com/products/community-edition
- Complete the appropriate details, including your First Name, Last Name, Email Address, Country, Phone Number, and Company Name
- Then submit your details.
You will shortly get a welcome email including your login credentials. The key details to note are the following:
- Your Control Room URL
- Your username
- Your password
You will need these credentials every time you launch AA so keep a note of them. You need to change the password when you first log in.
You are now ready to start your RPA journey using AA.
You now have a good understanding of what RPA is and how AA is positioned in the RPA space. You also have some understanding of AA’s capabilities. Having registered with AA to use the free Community Edition A2019, you are all set to get AA up and running on your machine.
This article on robotic process automation with Automation Anywhere is part of Husan Mahey's book of the same name. To continue reading about RPA and AA and to learn more about the recent developments in process automation, check out the book here.