What is open source RPA? The technology explained
Automation makes your team more efficient and your life easier. But what is the value of open source RPA in particular?
April 19, 2021
If you’re interested in the benefits that automation can bring your business, and you’ve been following our work at Robocorp, then you’re likely familiar with “open source RPA.” To recap, RPA stands for “robotic process automation,” and it can help organizations—across industries and departments, from finance, to HR, to sales—save a lot of time and capital.
So how can you begin to take advantage of RPA? What are the best tools for you, and why should you consider an open source platform? And what should you expect RPA to yield for your business long-term? These are the questions we’ll be answering in this article, so let’s dive in.
What is Open Source Technology?
Before we dive into open source RPA, let’s discuss open source technology.
Open source technology, otherwise known as open source software, is the openly distributed program code that affects how an application or program functions. With access to a software’s source code, software engineers and programmers can add features, improve on utility, and optimize the program in question.
As you might have guessed, open source, by definition, is the opposite of closed source software (otherwise known as licensed software), in which a person or organization delivers the finished product, without giving access to the underlying source code. Examples of closed source software that you may use every day include Microsoft Office, Skype, and Adobe Reader.
A common misconception is that open source equals free, and this is not always the case. There are plenty of examples of free open source software, including Linux (a popular, incredibly customizable operating system alternative to Windows and macOS), Mozilla Firefox, and LibreOffice (a free alternative to Microsoft Office).
But what are some examples of open source technology you would have to pay for? Unreal Engine is one; you can use their open source technology to build your own video game, and it’s only free to use up to a certain point: if you wish to make revenue from the game (aka employ it for commercial use), you then need to pay Unreal Engine royalties. Robocorp offers a similar model: we offer free tools to build robots, but our consumption-based pricing takes effect when you want to put the robots to work.
Benefits of Open Source Technology
Some open source technology might sound familiar, including those we listed above, but why would a business (or person) use open source over a finished, standalone product?
Utilizing open source technology inherently carries with it several advantages, including:
It can be more secure
Because a company’s developers have access to the underlying source code, they’re able to more easily see, locate, and fix vulnerabilities in the code, not to mention any bugs.
It’s more flexible
The beauty of open-source software is that it’s customizable. You’re able to take the base product and add capabilities and features that are specifically optimized for your use/business.
It can be higher quality
With open source software, you often get access to a better quality tool. This is because it’s not rigid in its final format, dependent on your vendor for improvements - it’s often created by developers, for developers, who are able to build on the existing code to make it better and better over time.
Now we’ve covered open-source software, let’s explore the world of open-source RPA.
What is Open Source RPA?
First of all, let’s talk about RPA. As you likely know, RPA—which stands for robotic process automation helps businesses automate manual, multi-step tasks that are completed in high volume. RPA automates these tasks by creating software robots that understand and copy (and improve) human action within or across applications, and accomplish these tasks faster and with fewer mistakes.
Just how much faster, you may ask? Well, RPA has the potential to reduce your organizational and administrative costs by 30-50%. And since your software robot: 1) doesn’t take days off, 2) reduces costly errors, and 3) can be in multiple places at once: it has the capacity to scale, thereby reducing your overhead and increasing your bottom line in one fell swoop.
So why is open source RPA—as opposed to closed source RPA—particularly useful for businesses? It offers those interested in exploring the benefits of RPA a strong foundation to build their own customized robots without having engage with a commercial vendor, whose technology offers limited capabilities and high upfront costs.
At Robocorp, for example, we provide automation developers with the tools, documentation, and support to build robots that meet the business’s needs. And like many open source platforms, our community of developers contribute to the keywords, libraries, and sample robots that can be used by others.
Benefits of Open Source RPA
Open source RPA is particularly well suited to two types of businesses: 1) those who are just beginning to explore the possibilities of RPA, and 2) those who know RPA is beneficial for their business and have either implemented or given up on RPA projects in the past. When done the old way, 11 out of 12 RPA projects fail, and regardless of the type of business, going the route of open source RPA can get projects back on track.
For the first group, open source RPA tools offer a relatively low-risk, low-expense means of exploring RPA. They don’t need to lock into a contract with a vendor, and they can utilize sample code and other developer resources to build test robots for their use case.
In the second group, robotic process automation has proved itself useful already. These businesses have likely found that licensed software robots are too brittle and limiting, or the platforms are too restrictive or expensive. They know they can expand RPA to other areas of their business more easily by using open source and adding on their own optimizations and features.
In deciding whether it can meet your needs, it’s important to understand the major benefits of open source RPA:
It’s less expensive
For many small and mid-sized businesses, licensing a full on RPA tool may be prohibitively expensive, especially if they’re only beginning to understand the benefits of software robots. Open source is a low risk way of getting started with RPA, especially if you have a strong developer team on your hands.
It’s more flexible
Open source RPA can be deployed in instances in which licensed RPA simply doesn’t make sense. For instance, businesses that want to automate several financial reports at the end of a quarter may not want to get locked into a long-term contract for a service they use four times a year. Open source RPA offers the flexibility to only use robots when you need them.
It’s more customizable
Open source RPA tools are designed to be easily editable and customizable, so you can create the optimal software robot for your specific use cases. Conversely, proprietary platforms have pre-built automations that are hard to edit and implement.
Robocorp’s Open Source RPA Platform
Robocorp’s open source RPA platform removes friction that most automation professionals have experienced in the past. Robocorp makes it easier to build robots that automate what you need when you need it. Robocorp’s open source RPA platform consists of:
A Python tech stack
Not only is Python a modern and widely-used language, it is also native language of automation. We offer many Python-extensible libraries, so any Python developer can easily custom-build the robotic workers they need.
Developer tools, docs, and support
Robocorp seeks to optimize the developer experience with VS Code extensions and our own IDE, Robocorp Lab. Along with support from our team and the community, our robust documentation ensures that your developers have somewhere to turn for help.
Once you have built robots that are tailored to your specific needs, you can put them to work in our orchestration and deployment platform, Robocorp Cloud. Because we don’t believe you should pay for something you don’t need or use, Robocorp Cloud is based on consumption-based pricing. That means that you pay by robot runtimes instead of a high monthly fee regardless of use.
We hope we have given you an idea of the many benefits to open source technologies and to open source RPA, including that offered by Robocorp. To discuss your automation project with our team, you can contact Robocorp today. If you are a developer, you can start building and deploying robots today by exploring our tools and creating a free Robocorp Cloud account.