At its most basic level, robotic process automation (RPA) is a technology that allows people to use bots to automate repetitive tasks and processes. A bot could, for example, be used to process new bank account applications or fill out timesheets automatically. RPA is useful for automating repetitive, monotonous tasks that humans despise. It can also bridge the gap between old and new technology.
For example, rather than investing millions of dollars and months or years migrating to a new system, if a company has an outdated legacy system that requires significant human effort, RPA can help automate processes in the legacy system to reduce manual effort and overall processing time. Its main goal is to automate processes to save time.
Test automation is used to look for things that don’t work as expected in software before it’s implemented for real-world use. It’s similar to RPA in that it’s used to automate repetitive tasks, such as regression and functional testing. Because regression and functional testing often entail hundreds or thousands of repetitive tests to ensure that software is working properly, they are frequently automated. The main goal of test automation is to save time by automating tests.
On the surface, test automation resembles robotic process automation (RPA). Both assist talent in avoiding time-consuming, repetitive tasks. Both increase efficiency and reduce the error rate of rote tasks and processes when designed and deployed correctly. Both have low options- or no-code. The underlying technology is frequently the same.
The differences between RPA and test automation
The distinctions between test automation and RPA are essentially genetic. The intended use cases and, as a result, the basic design is different.
Built-in testing functionality
While the ease of use of RPA is appealing, RPA requires extensive customization to meet basic testing needs not covered by off-the-shelf test automation. What happens when a test is passed or failed? Generating test results, capturing information about the test, and transferring that information to test management tools are included in these features, which can be built into RPA. Still, they will take a long time to develop, negating RPA’s main benefits: its ease of use.
RPA should work on repeatable, unchanging processes in a user-facing production environment. Change is introduced infrequently and only after extensive testing, resulting in a stable environment. Test automation tools, on the other hand, are the polar opposite. Test environments are constantly changing, and test automation tools are built to work in them. RPA tends to break into the testing environment because it lacks the built-in mechanisms to deal with change.
RPA tools were designed to be simple to use by anyone. Users do not need to know how to code because the system is controlled by drag-and-drop functionality and flowcharts. RPA’s ability to do different or very complicated things is limited by its inherent simplicity. Test automation frameworks can be built to do anything a user wants, including adding as many new features as necessary. However, doing so necessitates some technical knowledge.
Cost to develop
Because most RPA tools have a licensing fee, RPA is costly to develop. It takes a long time to create a process or piece of automation that will work in a test environment. Its design is heavily influenced by the fact that it will be used in a production environment. The built-in structure makes you spend a lot of time making sure it’s doing what you want it to do, keeping track of what it’s doing, and fixing it when something goes wrong. Test automation is relatively inexpensive because it is designed for the testing environment. Processes can also be automated in a fraction of the time.
RPA and test automation tools have different use cases, but they can complement each other when used together. Suppose you’ve already automated a process with RPA in a production environment, for example. In that case, that knowledge can help them prioritize which processes should be automated in a testing environment or provide lessons learned about navigating some of the challenges or complexities of automating a specific process.
RPA can also be used to automate data generation for testing environments. For instance, if users are testing a change that requires transferring money on a banking platform, they will need to simulate transferring money from account to account hundreds or thousands of times to test the change. Suppose an RPA script is already used in the production environment to transfer money. In that case, a user might use it in the testing environment to avoid manually doing so.
Choosing between RPA and test automation tools should be done with care, depending on the use case. Neither is good nor bad; rather, they are most effective when used to accomplish the tasks they were designed: RPA for automating production user processes and test automation tools for testing.