Both RPA platforms and APIs are used to integrate applications together as part of digital transformation initiatives. There are merits to each approach when considered from the classical definition. That said, the scope of both approaches is starting to blur into a broader set of automation technologies, which raises new questions.
RPA platforms help legacy systems
RPA’s ability to simulate human interactions with legacy systems allows them to be included in automation and modernization efforts, thus effectively encapsulating them instead of replacing them.
RPA projects are well defined
“Since RPA is applied to processes that are already institutionalized and integrates applications that are well understood, RPA has a high success rate,”
Modeling business processes
RPA can model a business process with speed and ease just by recording and emulating the human action against a UI. According to Shelton, the cost to model the business process and develop a service using APIs can end up being a lot more expensive. As a result, RPA can simply win from a total-cost-of-ownership perspective.
RPA is not process improvement
RPA can be viewed as a form of streamlining. It can streamline processes that are already in place, but does not necessarily improve them, Thielens said.
RPA can be brittle
As dependent systems change, RPA-powered processes may not be able to absorb the small changes that human beings would absorb without noticing. Changes like colors, button labels or menus can cripple RPA integration.
“APIs are a cohesive collection of methods that execute a single action and can be the foundation of an application, service or even an RPA,” Dolber said.
APIs are fast
APIs are hailed for their real-time connectivity advantages, as they are able to connect with partner and SaaS applications quickly and efficiently.
APIs are everywhere
APIs are ubiquitous in life, as well as in business. Because many modern software applications publish their APIs, it’s easy to build connectors that integrate those applications, Thielens said.
Connecting the dots
A downside of APIs is, in order to use them, developers have to connect the dots and chain the API method calls so they can solve a particular business problem, Dolber said. APIs are a collection of programming methods available to be invoked by developers when required. These are often simple functions that can be called.
Cumbersome change process
“Changes made to the API need to be tied into a formal IT change process,” said Graeme Provan, global director of business automation at Genesys, a customer experience solutions provider based in Daly City, Calif. This can be costly in terms of time and resources.
APIs not standardized
“It may come as a surprise that there are currently no widely accepted API standards, making the promise of APIs and their real-time processing capabilities slow to realize,” Thielens said.
APIs can be poorly designed
“Less than stellar API design has impeded the use of APIs,” Thielens said.