This is the first part of a two part review covering key robotic process automation (RPA) features every customer should look for as they evaluate products and solutions. The goal is to help customers sift through websites of product and solution information without losing focus on what’s really important. In this article, three categories of RPA system-level features are discussed: Architecture, Security & Governance, and Performance.
Let’s begin with the elephant in the room – the UiPath blog being a source of feature information for robotic software. This won’t be a UiPath puff piece or open season on competitors. Any reader who perceives the opposite – certainly anyone with other viewpoints or opinions - is encouraged to express themselves via comments, along with the same courtesy on puff and open season content.
In terms of RPA providers, there’s a distinction to be made between robotic automation (RA) tools and robotic automation systems. For the purpose of this article, RA tools are defined as non-integrated, stand-alone software for laptops and workstations. Here's an example of a RA tool. RA systems are distinguished from tools by providing enterprise capabilities such as: deployment; security; scheduling; monitoring; reporting; analytics, etc.
This review as a whole will focus on key features to look for in RA systems, whether system level features themselves (the topic for part one) or robotic level features (the topic for part two).
Top 10 RPA System Features every customer should look for
As noted above, part one of this review focuses on the top ten RA system level features customers should look for when comparing systems from leading robotic automation providers. The review doesn’t cover “table stakes” features that are common to any reputable RA system. Examples of such table stakes features include: training resources, role-based access & single sign-on; auditing; centralized deployment; analytic dashboards; CSV report exports and robotic scheduling. That said, let’s go.
Hosting Options: Is the RA system designed to give a customer deployment options across Cloud, virtual machines and terminal services? The Cloud deployment option is particularly attractive to some customers for its flexibility and scalability, along with customary thin client advantages. Those customers should determine if the RA provider offers a cloud service that scales automatically.
Virtual & Enterprise Applications Compatibility: All reputable RA system providers will utilize object-based adaptors for presentation layer technologies (e.g. .Net (WinForms, WPF), Browsers (IE, FireFox, Chrome, Flash, Silverlight, applets), Java (AWT, Swing, SWT), Mainframe/green screen emulators, etc.).
- A customer should go beyond that minimum and look for a provider whose architecture provides a proven integration track record with: Citrix (including Xen) & other virtualization technologies; enterprise applications such as SAP (GUI & Web); Oracle; Siebel, PeopleSoft, Salesforce.com, FIS and BMC Remedy.
Security & Governance
Release Environments: Will the RA System provide staging and production environments for QA and compliance with the customer’s existing release methodology and compliance policies – including rollback workflows? These environments should be governed by role-based release actions. For example: 1) a developer (business or IT) publishes a workflow to a staging server; 2) a tester runs test scripts in the staging environment; 2) successful results cause the workflow to be published on the production server; 3) all activities, profiled by timestamps and actors, are logged and stored.
Centralized Repository for Version Control, Execution Logs and Credentials: Are robots published to a central, secured, database repository which services as book-of-record for version and rollback management? Does this repository receive log reports of detailed execution steps from all deployed robots? Are credentials stored in this secured repository and available to deployed robots via encrypted channels?
UI Security: Does the RA system allow you to lock a client computer while running a robot? Does the auto-login feature configure so that login is maintained only for the duration of robotic execution? Are all channels between deployed robotics, UI automation, linked applications and system servers protected by high level encryption and SSL protocols?
Rapid Development Support: Does the RA system provide a large library of re-usable business components based on object and process hierarchies? Is the customer able to reduce development time by building its own library of reusable process templates, based upon prior robotic design work?
Large Group Deployment: Is the RA system capable of automatically deploying of robots in groups of dozens or hundreds? Will this feature include agentless configuration, proactively eliminating runtime updates and central server synchronization issues by insuring client configuration and robot deployment coincide.
Rules-Based Exception Handling: Does the system support deployments with rules-based exception handling? This feature is designed to handle exceptions in an intelligent, proactive, manner. For example, if a robot reports an application exception, the following sequence is triggered: 1) the server re-assigns the same transaction to another robot for retry and removes the first robot from production; 2) if the retry is successful, the reassignment is maintained and a level 2 alert is raised to report exception and resolution; 3) if the retry is unsuccessful, the second server is unassigned and a level 1 alert is raised to report exception and failed resolution.
Highly Elastic Scalability: Is the RA system capable of dynamically up-scaling and down-scaling hundreds of robots in simultaneous operation? At a minimum, it should provide a web-based, centralized management console with features for monitoring and control, on-demand robot start/stop and robot add/remove.
Work Queues: Does the RA system have the ability for deployed robots to pull transaction data into their process flows from work queues populated from users or other robotic processes? These work queues should be stored on the server and available to all deployed robots.
Part two of this review will cover the top 10 robotic level features to look for in RA systems. Don’t miss it!
David Eddy has fifteen years of global application services experience.