With so many different systems and data spread across various platforms and databases, obtaining the right data in a timely manner poses a challenge. One of the popular use cases for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is gathering data from different sources and consolidating it into a single location, often while performing data management activities in the process. In such scenarios, as a business analyst, my usual approach is to investigate whether there are any APIs available for these systems, whether we can connect directly to the database, or if we need to automate the User Interface (UI).
But what are the differences between RPA and APIs? When it is best to use each one, and how can they complement each other?
What is RPA?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) involves the use of software robots or “bots” to automate rule-based, repetitive tasks that were previously performed manually by team members. These tasks often include interacting with various software applications, scraping data, copying, and pasting information, and performing calculations. RPA is a valuable tool for automating time-consuming tasks that require minimal decision-making, tasks that involve mimicking human actions by interacting with application interfaces (such as filling out forms and clicking buttons), in processes with predefined rules and structured workflows. RPA can also integrate with legacy systems, bridging the gap between older systems lacking modern integration capabilities and situations where accessing data via the user interface is necessary.
What is an API?
An Application Programming Interface (API), on the other hand, is a key element of modern integration. It consists of a set of rules and protocols that enable different software applications to communicate with each other. APIs define the methods and data formats that applications can use to request and exchange information or functionality. In simpler terms, APIs facilitate communication between different systems, enabling them to share data. They provide a structured way to access data from databases, cloud services, or external sources and allow disparate systems to work together seamlessly.
The Synergy: RPA and APIs in Harmony
While RPA and APIs serve distinct purposes, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can complement each other in numerous ways:
- Data Extraction and Entry: RPA can extract data from multiple sources using APIs and then use that data to perform tasks such as populating forms, updating records, or generating reports. This capability is a significant differentiator, especially when dealing with large amounts of data that need to be added to the system. Using RPA would involve processing one record at a time, while with APIs, it is possible to add all the records at once and use RPA to verify a randomly selected sample.
- Triggering Actions and Scheduling Tasks: RPA bots can initiate API calls to trigger specific actions in external systems. This can be useful for tasks like sending emails, creating records, or updating information in other applications. For instance, an RPA bot can use an API to send a confirmation email when a customer’s order is processed. RPA can also schedule API calls at specific time or intervals.
- Error Handling: APIs can provide real-time data validation and error-checking services to RPA bots, reducing the likelihood of errors in automated processes.
In the pursuit of operational excellence, integrating different technologies can create a powerful automation ecosystem. This ecosystem not only saves time and reduces errors but also empowers organizations to make data-driven decisions. The collaboration between RPA and APIs is a recipe for efficiency, accuracy, and competitiveness in today’s dynamic business landscape. By incorporating APIs within RPA processes, data access becomes faster and less error-prone compared to using the User Interface.