Often when we talk to Test Automation Engineers about Robotic Process Automation (RPA) the first thing we hear is “It is same as test automation with Selenium or similar tools”. I should confess that this is what I thought of it when I heard about RPA for the first time. However, my view has changed since I started learning RPA with UiPath. In this article, I will present the differences I have noticed between the test automation and robotic process alongside some views on how to maximise the benefit from different aspects.
What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?
Robotic Process Automation also known as Process Automation or Intelligent Automation helps in automating repetitive tasks without using human power. RPA is a kind of technology that consists of software bot, or a “robot” to emulate and integrate the actions of a human interacting within digital systems to execute a business process. The RPA bots can do a lot of things such as entering data, logging into applications, accomplishing tasks, reading and sorting emails, log out, etc.
RPA is primarily used in applications that require repetitive actions. Processes that require complex calculations, accuracy and precision can be assigned to RPA robots to get the task done efficiently. RPA robots utilize the user interface to capture data and manipulate applications just like humans do. RPA tools like UiPath incorporate elements of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and can be used to automate any structured data.
In summary, RPA technology is used to reduce or eliminate the need for humans to perform high-volume IT support, workflow, and back-office processes, such as those found in finance, accounting, supply chain management and customer service.
What can RPA tools do?
RPA tools are used by business users to automate any business process or functionality. They can be used to automate the process in web, desktop, mobile applications, mainframe and SAP based applications and also the applications that are running on virtual machines (Citrix based) etc. Unlike test automation tools, RPA is normally used only in production environments.
In my opinion, RPA tools can also be used for test automation, however, this would be an expensive option. RPA tools are more powerful than the conventional test automation tools. It is easy to setup and use RPA tools with no coding experience required, hence, they suited and mostly used by business users. Most of these tools have ready to use features like “Robotic Enterprise Framework” (RE Framework) in UiPath that speeds up process design.
List of Tools
What is Test automation?
Test automation is used as part of the development lifecycle to help the development team get quick feedback about the quality of their software. It is mostly used by the QA team to perform Regression testing. Automation testing tools like Selenium webdriver are used to test the functionality of a web application through a browser interface during the development phase of an application. Test automation is popular in Agile software development to increase team velocity.
There are different approaches for test automation such as Unit testing, Integration testing (API testing) and Graphical user interface testing. Each have separate tools available to support these test approaches.
In order to get quick feedback, automated test scripts need to be executed as often as possible, ideally after every code change that is pushed to the repository. You can read more about test automation in my blog post “How to optimise test automation on Agile projects”.
List of test automation tools
Here are the few differences between RPA and test automation;
- Test automation is automating the software product and RPA is automating the business process and repetitive tasks.
- Most of the test automation tools help to automate current web pages, unlike RPA tools that can automate all the backend processes.
- The automation tests run in test environments such as Integration, Staging, etc. whereas RPA tools are used in production environment.
- Test automation tools are used by QA team to get a quick feedback about the quality of the software. RPA tools are used by business users to speed up the processes.
- Basic or no coding is required for RPA as it is Wizard-driven process, whereas automation tools like Selenium required proficient coding knowledge.
- High domain knowledge is required for RPA compared to test automation.
- Test automation is part of a software development lifecycle, whereas RPA has its own development lifecycle (Analysis, development, testing and support & maintenance).
- There are a number of opensource test automation tools available in the market. When it comes to RPA tools, UiPath community version is free but the rest are paid-for tools.
- Test automation tools have limitations when it comes to the type of application they can support, on the other hand RPA tools can automate any application including web, desktop, Citrix, etc.
Hopefully this article has explained how test automation and process automation tools both have a role in delivering automation solutions. The way I see it, the main difference is the environment in which they are used and the type of applications they can automate.
Test automation is used by QA team to verify the application under development as part of development life cycle, on the other hand RPA is used by business users to automate the repetitive tasks.
RPA uses bots (robots) to emulate the human actions to complete a process. Test automation is applied to verify the quality of the product whereas RPA is applied to the process associated with the business environment. RPA tools can be used for test automation, but it will be an expensive option.
Once this distinction is understood better, I believe that the opportunities for RPA in particular become easier to identify and more numerous across a typical business. The analysis above is based on my experience with Test automation and RPA.