Robotic Process Automation

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Robotic Process Automation ( RPA , German: Robot-controlled process automation ) is an "approach to process automation in which repetitive, manual, time-consuming or error-prone activities are learned and automatically executed by so-called (bots) software robots". Software robots not only use technical APIs from system components, but can also control application software via the presentation layer , comparable to implementation by a human. Depending on the RPA platform used, necessary steps can be recorded with model-driven or self-learning approaches. RPA combines the modeling of processes, scripting and job scheduling .

Software robots as a paradigm of automation

Software robots are applications that can also mimic human interaction with user interfaces of software systems. Software robots work on the user interface (see also human-machine interface ) in a manner comparable to that of a human. While RPA digitizes the manual steps, traditional Business Process Management (BPM) changes the level of business logic. For example, the execution of data entry in an ERP system or even the execution of an entire business process can be mapped by a robot.

In a broader sense, RPA is "more than just a technology for robot-supported business process automation. It is a process model, framework and, last but not least, a newly established corporate philosophy that aims to re-examine all of the company's processes for topicality, appropriateness and performance. in order to take into account the accelerating processes inside and outside the company in the course of increasing digitalization. Specifically, it is about the use of robots to automate processes that have different properties with the aim of increasing reliability, speed, simplicity and safety while reducing the original process costs, the risks associated with carrying out the process and the dependence on external resources. "

Historical development

After simple problems could initially be solved using RPA-based systems, modern software robots are now able to take on complex tasks. The focus is not only on process optimization in customer service, but is also becoming increasingly relevant within the company (see also RPA examples). Since the beginning of 2000, software robots have been increasingly used for the creation of social media posts, the sending of generated e-mails or for customer advice over the phone in the form of interactive voice response . A significant development step in the history of robot-controlled process automation took place in the test automation of software quality assurance.

An RPA calculation example in test automation :

While manual testers effectively test around 3.5 hours on an 8-hour working day due to other occupational activities (e.g. reading e-mails, attending meetings, talking to colleagues, other work interruptions), which is 17.5 hours per week corresponds, for example, the RPA-supported test automation enables 168 hours of test time in 24/7 use, while at the same time complete automatic logging, the so-called test report, can be created.

The screen scraping is a related to the robotic process automation type of automation. However, RPA is considered to be a much more significant technological advancement of this technology. The resulting software platforms offer a much more mature, flexible, scalable and reliable approach for use in large companies.

Progressive RPA solutions can go beyond pure software robots and, in addition to machine vision systems, even have kinematics and voices to be able to operate touch devices and voice-controlled devices.


Offering such RPA services underlines the metaphor of the AI-driven worker in the sense that each software robot instance is assigned its own virtual workstation, comparable to that of a human worker. The robot uses mouse and keyboard controls to perform interactions on the user interface. Understandably, these interactions take place covertly in a virtual environment without a physical screen, as a software robot can do without it - instead, it interprets the screen signal electronically.

Characteristics of RPA applications


RPA platforms model processes abstractly in individual steps (often referred to as "step" or "task"). Many use the technology of flow charts or other decision trees to enable graphical process modeling using drag & drop . Process steps use reusable blocks from libraries, so that no programming is necessary to control system components. For example, RPA platforms often already have modules for controlling web browsers. The abstracted flow logic is usually translated into a script language within the RPA software.

Example (Robot Framework)

In the following example a process flow is abstracted with the help of the Robot Framework (in the Tasks section, lines 6–8). The abstraction is not done using visualization tools, but using human-readable textual process descriptions. A task is made up of so-called keywords. The pre-implemented keywords are in English and are imported in line 2. For a better understanding, an RPA developer builds his own keywords from this, which correspond to the technical language of the process (section Keywords , line 10 ff.). The process model is translated into Python here, but the RPA developer does not need to be a Python programmer for modeling, but only needs rudimentary programming knowledge.

 1 *** Settings ***
 2 Library    RPA.Browser
 3 Task Teardown    Close All Browsers
 5 *** Tasks ***
 6 Screenshot der aktuellen Nachrichten auf Wikipedia erstellen
 7     Hauptseite von öffnen
 8     Screenshot der Nachrichten erstellen
10 *** Keywords ***
11 Hauptseite von öffnen
12     Open Available Browser
14 Screenshot der Nachrichten erstellen
15     Wait Until Page Contains Element    xpath://div[@id="hauptseite-nachrichten"]
16     Capture Element Screenshot    xpath://div[@id="hauptseite-nachrichten"]


A major challenge of software deployments is that changes to existing systems first require knowledge of the complex relationships between the system components. The renewal, expansion or even the exchange of existing systems in large companies (system modification or also referred to as "change") poses a great risk, because changing the system components can also create unwanted side effects in the system infrastructure - even with an impact on subcomponents, which themselves have not been modified at all. A principle of RPA is to run automated regression tests for such changes .

Goals of the RPA

The most common goals of an RPA solution include:

  • Cost reduction of repetitive activities / work steps
  • Avoiding risks from human error:
    1. When performing the actual task
    2. When creating an RPA process
  • Relief for employees to focus on value-adding activities
  • Increase process speed
  • Reduction of the dependence on the shortage of skilled workers
  • Process stability

The future of RPA

The future of RPA can be diverse. The majority of early users result in new use cases and synergies. Possible scenarios can look like this:

Social influence

Academic studies assume that RPA, along with other technological trends, will be largely responsible for increases in productivity and efficiency and, in this context, will automate around 47% of all American professions within the next two decades (~ 2035), albeit not solely due to RPA could become.

Entrepreneur David Moss draws a scenario at a TEDx event in which the use of digital workers will revolutionize the service sector . In addition to a far-reaching influence on the cost structures of services, there are above all possibilities in the range, design, quality of services and, in particular, the ability to customize services.

Prof. Willcocks assumes, however, that software robots will also significantly change the image of society. By eliminating (taking over by the software robots) many mundane and highly repetitive activities, the daily work volume is significantly reduced. This leads to increased job satisfaction and intellectual stimulation. Thus, humane workers can concentrate more on their essential activities.

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Christian Czarnecki, Gunnar Auth: Process digitization through Robotic Process Automation . In: Digitization in Companies: From Theoretical Approaches to Practical Implementation (=  Applied Business Informatics ). Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden 2018, ISBN 978-3-658-22773-9 , p. 113–131 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-3-658-22773-9_7 ( [accessed August 14, 2019]).
  2. Example of an RPA solution with kinematics. In: WIANCO OTT Robotics, accessed on May 20, 2020 .
  3. ^ Hal Hodson: AI interns: Software already taking jobs from humans. In: New Scientist. March 31, 2015, accessed November 29, 2016 .
  4. Michael Azoff: Blue Prism's robotic process automation offers scope for artificial intelligence. (No longer available online.) In: June 24, 2015, archived from the original on July 31, 2016 ; accessed on November 29, 2016 (English). Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. ^ Michael Wilczynska: Robotic Process Automation. RPA statement, ethics and purpose. In: WIANCO OTT Robotics, accessed on May 20, 2020 .
  6. André Rist, Markus Stahl: Verifying the quality of complex systems with open source tools. (PDF) In: German Testing Magazin. SIGS DATACOM GmbH, May 2019, p. 23 , accessed on June 15, 2020 .
  7. Development of Robotic Process Automation. Retrieved September 23, 2018 .
  8. ^ Phil Fersht, Jim Slaby: Robotic Automation emerges as a threat to traditional low-cost outsourcing. In: October 24, 2012, accessed November 29, 2016 .
  9. Michael Wilczynska: Say “Hi” to EMMA - The Learning (ML) Robotic Process Automated (RPA) Test Engineer. Retrieved May 18, 2020 .
  10. Eric Lambeth: How robotics can improve legacy sourcing agreements: Go beneath the surface of your contract. In: Retrieved November 29, 2016 .
  11. Test automation - an overview of the challenges. Retrieved May 20, 2020 .
  12. Robotic Process Automation - RPA Statement, RPA Ethics, RPA Management and RPA Purpose. Retrieved May 17, 2020 .
  13. ^ Carl Benedikt Frey, Michael A. Osborne: The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerization? Oxford University Engineering Sciences Department, September 13, 2013, accessed November 29, 2016 .
  14. a b Leslie P. Willcocks, Mary C. Lacity: Nine likely scenarios arising from the growing use of robots. London School of Economics, 2015, accessed November 29, 2016 .
  15. White Collar Robots: The Virtual Workforce. TEDx Talks, accessed November 29, 2016 .