Hello there! In this book, we will be guiding you through a few real-world Robotic Process Automation (RPA) projects. Thanks for joining us. By the time you complete this book, you will be equipped with knowledge, techniques, and the mindset to work on simple to medium complexity RPA projects with UiPath and Automation Anywhere with minimum guidance.
RPA is an exciting new technology that is being seen as the first step to using new and advancing technologies to automate enterprise processes. We will learn how RPA brings a level of advancement to automation that is much more evolved than the earlier automation process through its use of scripts, macros, and so on.
RPA is advancing rapidly and is part of a bigger movement to low code and no-code tools. Compared to traditional coding, these tools are easier to use and faster to deploy. Organizations are now using these rapid development tools with emerging technologies such as process mining, artificial intelligence (AI), and analytics to enable end-to-end process automation. We'll take an in-depth look at the future of RPA in the Appendix – Looking Forward and Next Steps.
In this first chapter, we will cover the following topics:
- A quick introduction to RPA, its benefits, and the types of RPA
- Overview of top RPA platforms – UiPath and Automation Anywhere
- Installing and setting up UiPath and Automation Anywhere
To set up the RPA tools for this chapter, please ensure that you have the following:
- A machine that is running Windows 7 or above.
- At least 4 GB RAM, though ideally, your machine should have 8 GB or more.
- The Google Chrome and Internet Explorer web browsers installed.
If you have your hardware and software ready, then let's get started!
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) excels at automating manual and repetitive tasks. RPA, therefore, gives us a tool that we can use to automate all the unexciting work you may have been doing so you can do some exciting work! With this tool, you have more time to spend on unique human activities such as delighting your team, boss, and customers.
So, let's have a quick look at what exactly RPA is and the amazing benefits that makes it the hot technology that it is today.
RPA allows software robots to carry out tasks on a computer just like a human would.
The best way to visualize RPA would be to think of someone working on the computer and doing their daily work by clicking through computer screens, sending emails, and so on. Now, what if the computer clicks through, enters the required data, and performs the same work automatically? That is what RPA helps us do.
Here is an example of what RPA can do for you.
Let's say you are responsible for processing invoices in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). You would log in to your ERP, go to a specific screen, and enter the invoice details one by one. Now, if you'd like to automate this task with RPA, you would configure these task sequences to create a "bot." Once this bot has been deployed, it would carry out the same tasks automatically – it would log in automatically and carry out the tasks without you having to do this repetitive work!
RPA doesn't just automate ERP transactions. As we will see later, throughout our projects, there are many business areas where RPA comes in handy and automates business and IT processes. This results in some great benefits to businesses. Let's have a look at a few of them.
The benefits of RPA are as follows:
- Improved productivity: More than 60% to 90% of the repetitive effort can be removed, with RPA increasing the output for each of your employees.
- Rapid results and in-year benefits: Rapid implementation and results are a key promise of RPA as you can conceive, design, develop, and deploy in weeks, not months or years.
- Low startup costs: Each of the bot licenses is less costly compared to other software tools and the bot can perform the work of about two to three Full Time Equivalent (FTE), ensuring the startup costs are low.
- Reduced processing costs: The costs of processing are reduced drastically as the bot costs around one third to one fifth the cost of an employee, depending on location.
- Improved quality and accuracy: Your bots perform assigned work with 100% accuracy, thereby reducing any rework that may have been required.
- Improved compliance: RPA activities are logged and can be reviewed at any time. This gives you a greater degree of oversight and control over your operations.
You can gain these benefits using two types of RPA that have emerged so far – one runs on your desktop and the other type runs on a server.
We will complete projects with both types of RPA in this book. Now, let's take a look at what these types of automation are.
We have two kinds of RPA automation that are based on how the RPA tool helps you automate. One of them is like an assistant that you call upon to help you complete the tasks, while the other is a kind of automation that's mostly used for back-office work. What does that mean? Let's find out.
These are the assistants that run on your computer and help you complete parts of the tasks that you are performing. For example, if you usually copy and paste data from one application to multiple applications, you can invoke an attended RPA to take over just these sets of activities. The control is then returned to you by RPA to carry out the next set of tasks.
This type of automation is popular with agents at call centers. With this, the long, repetitive processes that an agent does are replaced with single clicks! This greatly reduces the time it takes to train your representatives. Therefore, attended RPA can reduce the average handling times, improving your customer experience.
You would use attended bots for the following reasons:
- Tasks that need real-time human-system interaction
- To augment your employee's day-to-day work, enabling them to do it faster and better
- To help your employees understand and embrace automation
If you don't need a representative or worker interaction to execute a process, you can usually run the process on a backend server. This is known as unattended automation, which can be used to automate back-office work.
In unattended automation, workflows are self-triggered and run on servers. They usually run to a predetermined schedule and are available 24/7. For example, you can batch your invoices and process them at certain times during the day. The bot would later send you a report, indicating the invoices that could not be processed automatically. You can review the report and only work on the invoices that need your intervention.
These automated tasks can be scheduled or started through control rooms. You can allocate tasks, adjust priorities, manage queues, and intervene, in the case of performance issues, through the control room.
Usually, unattended automation gives you more control over the automation process. It follows your rules to complete a process automatically. You would use unattended automation for the following reasons:
- Tasks that are structured and can be fully mapped
- To replace entire roles where possible
- To gather, sort, analyze, and distribute large amounts of data
You can use both unattended and attended automation either by themselves or together to implement use cases that give your business a distinct advantage. Most of the top tools give you the capability to implement both types of RPA. Let's look at two of them – UiPath and Automation Anywhere – both of which we will be using for our projects.
RPA tools help you automate business processes using multiple technologies. It all started with screen scrapping and workflow configurations to automate BPO processes. The emergence of AI technologies has helped the RPA tools include cognitive aspects. RPA, along with AI, is now being called "Intelligent Automation."
UiPath and Automation Anywhere are two of the top RPA platform vendors, as per the rankings from respected analysts such as Forrester and Gartner. They have taken different paths, as we will see, and have evolved into the top RPA platforms that we see today. In this book, we will be using these two platforms for our projects. So, let's understand a bit about them and their makeup before we dive into the projects.
UiPath is a top RPA platform by many measures. The company is one of the most funded in this space and gives you a sense of what investors consider the best RPA tool in the long run.
It is quite popular and has a big community. The secret to this is that Uipath made the platform easily accessible quite early. It is also one of the easiest RPA platforms with a comparatively low learning curve. This is why we have selected UiPath as one of the platforms for our projects in this book.
UiPath started as DeskOver in 2005. They first started by building automation libraries and software development kits for companies such as IBM, Google, and Microsoft. These libraries are still part of some of the products from these companies.
UiPath, which was DeskOver at that time, launched the first UiPath Desktop Automation product line around 2012. This product specifically targeted the RPA market. They worked with BPO providers to realize the market fit with RPA.
Fast forward to today, and UiPath is a top enterprise RPA platform. The UiPath platform helps you develop automation rapidly while being secure and scalable.
The platform has three main components:
- UiPath Studio
- UiPath Orchestrator
- UiPath Robot
Let's check out each of these components.
You design and configure your process workflows in UiPath studio. It is a low-code environment where you drag and drop prebuilt components. These components are provided by UiPath and are called Activities. The following is a screenshot of UiPath Studio:
You can also create your custom components if the Activity that you need is not available. All these Activities enable you to create bots that automate processes. When you have many bots, you can manage them with an Orchestrator.
Orchestrator, as the name suggests, is the central place where you manage the UiPath bots.
You can deploy and keep track of all your bots from this interface:
The Orchestrator is conveniently accessible through your browser and also through mobile apps. At the time of writing this book, UiPath has apps for iOS (Apple App Store) and Android (Google Play Store).
The Orchestrator allows multi-tenancy, allowing you to scale easily and enable discrete departmental RPA initiatives. The bottom line is that you can build your first bot and scale up to thousands of bots with this architecture.
UiPath Robot is your runtime executable and allows you to run workflows built using Studio. It runs on your local machines and can be accessed from the Windows Tray:
Robot can be run with or without people's supervision – attended or unattended, as we saw earlier. These robots need to be connected to UiPath Orchestrator to execute processes or you have to license them locally. The license you choose determines the capabilities of the robot.
The UiPath components we described previously work together to provide you with a rapid development environment where you can create your automation projects. Here is an integrated view of how these components work together to build, deploy, execute, and monitor both attended and unattended automation:
UiPath is an easy-to-use RPA tool that is easily accessible to developers through its Community Edition. Next, we'll look at Automation Anywhere, which is another top platform in the RPA space. We will be completing a few projects with Automation Anywhere A2019 as well.
Automation Anywhere is another top RPA tool. It has a good depth of functionality and features while being mostly user-friendly. You can get started fairly quickly and scale easily with this decently robust tool.
Automation Anywhere started in 2003 with a vision to replace manual scripting applications with process automation that could be designed by the user. Their focus was to support all aspects of automating business processes, including end-to-end processes.
Fast forward to today, and the current version of Automation Anywhere, known as A2019, can be deployed on the cloud or on-premise. It has a web-based Control Room where you can develop and deploy bots. The Control Room connects to a bot agent on your Windows desktop to execute the automation process. We will be using the A2019 cloud-based Community Edition for our projects.
Let's have a look at the primary components of A2019.
Automation Anywhere's Control Room is a central place where you can develop, configure, and monitor your bots using a collection of specialized web-based services. Here is a screenshot of the Community Edition Control Room that we will be using:
The Control Room connects to a local bot agent to run your bots. It is a plugin that can be installed on your computer that accesses the Control Room.
The Control Room provides us with the ability to build, manage, and analyze bots. Let's look at each of these aspects.
Automation Anywhere's web-based Control Room can be used to create and edit bots from anywhere you have access to a web browser. You can access the bot editor from the Control Room by navigating to the My bots section, as shown in the following screenshot:
You can also manage your usernames and passwords securely using the Credentials option. The packages that you can use to develop your automation are listed under the Packages option. Next, let's explore the My Devices and Administration tabs.
You can also configure your client machine and users using the Control Room.
The client machine that you use to connect to the Control Room to create or run your bots is called Devices. You can manage these devices from the My Devices option. In the Community Edition that we are using, we can run one bot agent, as shown in the following screenshot:
Enterprise administrators can manage various aspects such as databases, the credential vault, users, roles, packages, licensing, and so on using the Control Room. In the Community Edition that we will be using, we can only view registered users. If you'd like to find out more about the Enterprise Control Room features, visit the Automation Anywhere website at automationanywhere.com.
You can analyze the performance of your bots with the help of Automation Anywhere Bot Insights. This option, which can be found in the Control Room, provides real-time and interactive insights into your automated business processes:
You can explore the Explore Bot Insight option from the Control Room for your bots once you have deployed a few of them.
Automation Anywhere also offers an AI-based bot option called IQ Bot. Let's have a quick look at that.
Automation Anywhere's IQ Bot uses different AI techniques such as computer vision, natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning (ML) to digitize semi-structured or unstructured data. This means it can help us extract data from documents, forms, images, and emails.
We will be using IQ Bot in one of our projects, so you'll get a more in-depth understanding of it by the end of this book.
With that, we have provided an overview of both UiPath and Automation Anywhere. Now, let's have a quick look at what we will be doing together.
We have many use cases that we can automate with RPA. Usually, processes that have a lot of tedious manual work are ripe for RPA automation. We have identified nine use cases or projects that we will be completing as part of this book. These projects are as follows:
- Helpdesk ticket generation using UiPath
- CRM automation using UiPath
- Moderating social media using AI with UiPath
- Purchase order processing with UiPath's RE framework
- Completing an RPA challenge with UiPath and Automation Anywhere
- Sales order processing with Automation Anywhere
- ERP user administration with Automation Anywhere
- Employee emergency notifications using Automation Anywhere
- Using AI and Automation Anywhere for invoice processing
These projects are in the order they will be covered in this book, and go from being simple to more complex. It is our endeavor that you should be able to replicate these projects easily.
We have chosen tools with free community versions and a growing community so that you can implement and get help for these projects. Even the supporting software such as ERP, Helpdesk, and so on have free versions available for you to download.
Also, as you probably know, there are many more RPA tools out there. You may find that some are better than UiPath and Automation Anywhere for certain situations. For example, Blue Prism is a very widely used tool and one of the most robust ones around. You may want to explore this RPA tool too, depending on your interest and need.
Now, as the first step to completing our RPA projects, we're going to install and set up our RPA tools.
In this section, we will go through the step-by-step installation and setup of UiPath and Automation Anywhere. This will enable us to configure and run the projects in this book.
Before we get into the installation process, ensure that you have the hardware and software specified in the Technical requirements section, which can be found at the beginning of this chapter.
In this section, we will walk you through the steps you need to follow to install UiPath Studio and Robot. We will be using the Community Edition for our projects, so the installation process we'll follow will be for that version.
Follow these steps to install UiPath Studio and UiPath Robot:
- First, go to the UiPath website (https://www.uipath.com/) and find the link to access the Community option.
- Choose the Always free community option from the available choices.
- You will be asked to sign up with UiPath. If this is your first time registering, you may be asked for a few more details before you can sign up.
- Once you've signed up, you should be on the UiPath Portal, as shown in the following screenshot. Click on the Resource Center in the left-hand panel and download the Community Edition:
- Download the latest version of UiPath Community Edition (CE) from the Resource Center. Note that we are downloading the Community Edition and not the Enterprise Edition since our purpose is to learn.
- The executable setup file should start to download. Once the file has downloaded, locate it in your downloads folder and run it by double-clicking it.
- UiPath will take a few minutes to complete the installation, depending on your system configuration. UiPath Studio should automatically launch after the installation is complete.
- At the top of Studio, there should be a pop-up license screen. On that screen, click on Activate Community Edition. Note that the licenses for both UiPath Studio and Robot will be activated:
- The installation process will open the browser and indicate that UiPath was successfully activated on your computer.
Congratulations! Your Community Edition of UiPath Studio and Robot is ready for use. Studio is where we will configure projects, while Robot is where we will execute the automation.
Next, we will learn how to install Automation Anywhere A2019.
We will be using Automation Anywhere A2019 Community Edition for our projects. Let's learn how to access and configure the Control Room for our projects.
Let's register and activate A2019 community Edition trial account. To do that, follow these steps:
- Go to the Automation Anywhere website at automationanywhere.com and find the Community Edition.
- Sign up for it by providing your details, such as name, email, and so on.
- You should receive an email from Automation Anywhere with the details you can use to access the Control Room. Look for the Control Room URL and the credentials in the email:
- Click on your Control Room URL in the email. This should open your personalized Control Room in the web browser.
- Log in to your Control Room using the username and password from the email. When you access the Control Room for the first time, you will need to change your password.
- Once you've logged in, you will be on the home page of the Automation Anywhere Control Room. With that, you are all set to build and run your automation with A2019.
You should get a prompt to build your first bot. You can follow along with that to verify the setup.
Let's create a simple first bot to complete the setup process:
- Click on Create a bot..., as shown in the following screenshot, and provide a name for the bot:
- On the development canvas that comes up next, search for Message box in the Actions search box. Drag and drop this action in-between the Start and Stop buttons. Update the message that you wish to display and click Apply and Save, as shown in the following screenshot:
- Click on Run in the top menu to run the bot. At this stage, the bot needs to connect to your local computer to execute the automation. As this is the first time you're doing this, you'll be prompted to install the bot agent. Go ahead and save the executable and run the installable file. The installation process should be quick and will be followed by a prompt where you can enable the browser extension.
- Once this process is complete, A2019 automatically detects the agent and the Chrome extensions. It connects to your computer and runs the automation. You should now see a message box with the message you added.
When you go to My Devices, you should see that your device is now connected. This is indicated by a green checkmark. If not, you can use the Add local bot agent option, as shown in the following screenshot, and follow along to add the bot agent:
That completes the setup for A2019. We will be using this for the A2019 projects later in this book.
Before we start our exciting journey, let's quickly recap the first chapter.
RPA excels at automating manual and repetitive tasks. It is a capability that allows software robots to carry out tasks on a computer, just like a human would.
We saw that there are two types of RPA – one runs on your desktop and the other runs on a server. Most of the top tools give you the capability to implement both types of RPA. We looked at two of them – UiPath and Automation Anywhere – both of which we will be using for our projects.
UiPath is one of the easiest RPA tools with a comparatively low learning curve. This is why we have selected UiPath as one of the tools for our projects in this book. It has three main components: UiPath Studio, UiPath Orchestrator, and UiPath Robot.
Automation Anywhere is another top RPA tool and the latest A2019 community edition is cloud-based. We can create and deploy bots with a web browser. With the Control Room, we can build, manage, and analyze our bots.
Finally, we installed and set up the Community Editions of UiPath and Automation Anywhere. It's time to get started with our projects. Sound exciting?
In the next chapter, we'll get started with an Attended Automation Helpdesk project with UiPath.