Open source automation – what it offers in 2021?
I assume most of you readers are already familiar with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a concept. Some of you might even be experienced RPA developers, business analysts or RPA product and/or business owners. Regardless of your background, this post aims to provide some insights for the whole audience about the capabilities of a license-free substitute to RPA. We call it the ‘open-source automation’.
One of the fundamental issues that differentiates open-source ecosystem from RPA ecosystems is the lack of cross-cutting best practices for automation development and operations. Therefore, we are already seeing a wide range of open-source applications and platforms in the automation market – all of them providing more or less similar end-products with different engines under the hood.
So, in order to tackle confusion, I’ll briefly define what ‘open-source automation’ means for SKALER by chopping the term to ‘open-source’ and ‘automation’. ‘Open source’, in this context, indicates that the source code (Python and/or Robot Framework) of the application and utilized orchestration technologies/services are available to the public without any license costs. ‘Automation’ is simply a comparable concept to ‘Software robot’. It refers to a chunk of code that executes tasks, repetitive pieces of business processes or even larger and more intelligent E2E processes on a computer on behalf of humans.
In this post I aim to explain some of the technical capabilities of open-source automation and translate those into tangible business opportunities.
For anyone who is familiar with RPA, it is quite easy to realize the capabilities of open-source automation. In fact, it is fair to say that, technically, open-source automation is capable of all the same tricks as any RPA tool is. However, there are a few interesting viewpoints to open-source automation that I’d like to point out:
1. Scaling of runtime resources up and down is a no-brainer. Open-source automation comes with an ability to scale up and scale down the amount of runtime resources based on workload and process throughput requirements. Scalability as such is not a unique feature for open-source automation, but what makes it interesting is that it does not generate additional license costs.
Since there are no license costs related to operating the automations, it is only the cost of runtime resources that stress your wallet. Dynamic runtime resources generate cost only when they are active and run automations. Therefore, it is theoretically equally costly to run 1 process with 1 virtual machine for 100 minutes, as it is to run 1 process with 100 virtual machines for 1 minute. This is obviously a silly example and not valid for all business processes, but whenever the use case is suitable, the open-source automation does provide the possibility to build scalable solutions that meet the businesses throughput demands without the need to worry about increasing license costs.
2. Seamless integration to ML/AI services and algorithms. Intelligent automation and Hyperautomation are one of the hottest topics and most rapidly growing technology segments on the market 1. However, according to what we have learned, few organizations have managed to implement IA solutions in production just yet.
This is one aspect where open-source technologies prove their worth as they offer excellent and straight-forward toolbox for implementing a bit of cognitive skills to your automations. SKALER’s open-source automations are built on top of Python, which means that programming libraries like Pytorch and Scikit-Learn are easily available.
Why is this interesting to business then? There are at least three reasons why all business owners should pay attention to what open-source automation has to offer.
1. Cost efficiency. Implementing a business process automation is always an investment regardless of chosen technologies. Automations create business value only when they are running in production and executing tasks as designed, which means that the payback time starts no sooner than after the first production release. In order to reach breakeven points sooner, businesses should focus on minimizing both implementation and operative costs.
According to our experiences the implementation cost of an open-source automation does not differ from the cost of implementing a robot with RPA tools, such as UiPath or Blue Prism. However, it is fair to say that when it comes to operative costs, open-source automation stands out remarkably for the following reasons:
There are no license costs related to running the automation.
It is possible to use runtime resources that generate cost only when the automation is running.
2. New use case opportunities. I dare to argue that open-source automation could be the key to impactful E2E business process automation for many organizations. As Marko is writing in his blog post, if you seek to scale your business and discover the most impactful use cases for automation, we encourage your organization to aim high and start looking into optimizing large E2E processes instead of narrow tasks.
One of the tricky parts with such E2E processes is often related to a subprocess or task where human intelligence is needed for interpreting emails, other open text fields, sound, video, etc. We have learned that such tasks have not been particularly easy for most organizations so far, due to the natural limitations of RPA technologies. As explained before, adding such competence to rules-based workflow automation is not a problem for open-source technologies.
3. New revenue and modern service design. Business process automation should not be only about replacing manual and mundane work with “robots” or “digital workers”. It should also have a role in building new innovative digital services. In fact, SKALER has delivered many solutions for B2C service providers where the back ends of digital consumer services have been implemented with open-source automation.
Services, where a nice front end communicates with a software robot, do not sound overly complicated, but what happens if there are hundreds of users who require service at the same time? This might require a cost -efficient scalability of runtime resources which, again, is a native feature of the open-source automation.
We’ve seen how SKALER’s approach to knowledge work automation has created impactful value for a wide range of organizations with various levels of maturity in automation. It doesn’t matter if you are worried about increasing RPA license costs, or if you are already starting to build or perhaps even extending your existing Hyperautomation toolbox, I warmly suggest giving us a call and we’ll gladly discuss more about the business opportunities that open source-automation could enable for your organization.
About the writer:
Business Development Director at SKALER
Automation focused business developer and a fan of smooth processes.