Even the modern workplace can be boring and repetitive. Enter robotic process automation (RPA): a smart set of tools that deploys AI and low-code options to simplify workflows and save everyone time while also adding safeguards that can prevent costly mistakes.
What is RPA?
Robotic process automation (RPA) is an application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, aimed at automating business processes. Using RPA tools, a company can configure software, or a “robot,” to capture and interpret applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses, and communicating with other digital systems.
In some organizations, RPA is a way to modernize old software without replacing it. Most organizations have business applications that work perfectly well but require users to click on the same boxes in the same patterns all day long. RPA tools aim to replace that tedium, adding a new layer to automate repetitive tasks without having to reinvent the application at the core.
RPA is also a relatively simple way to integrate AI algorithms into old applications. Many RPA platforms offer computer vision and machine learning tools that can guide the older code. Optical character recognition, for example, might extract a purchase order from an uploaded document image and trigger accounting software to deal with it. The ability to suck words and numbers from images are a big help for document-heavy businesses such as insurance or banking.
The biggest benefit, however, may be how RPA tools are “programmed,” or “trained” — a process by which the platforms’ robots “learn” watching business users click away. This job, sometimes called “process discovery,” can use a click stream to imitate what your users just did — similar to how spreadsheet macros can be created.
Still, RPA isn’t automatic. Manual intervention and tweaking is necessary during training. Sometimes code must be written to handle what can’t be achieved by a preconfigured bot. But you won’t have to do much of this. Moreover, the bots keep getting smarter, making training easier and edge cases less frequent. AI routines can also help look for patterns that may speed up the bots in the future.
Top RPA tools
RPA tools have grown to be parts of larger ecosystems that map out and manage the enterprise computing architecture. These systems can manage the various APIs and services while also helping the data flow with extra bots.
RPA tools are also starting to take on roles managing the cloud. While the first iterations were aimed at desktop users, functions that help with backend control are more common. The boundaries between RPA for the desktop and maintaining the databases and services is blurring more and more.
The RPA marketplace offers a mixture of new, purpose-built tools and older tools that have been given features for adding automation. Some began as business process management (BPM) tools and expanded with new features. Some vendors market their tools as “workflow automation” or “work process management.” Others distinguish RPA from “business process automation” by saying that RPA includes more sophisticated AI and machine vision routines.
Following is an alphabetical list of the top RPA tools available today. For more on how to determine which RPA tool is best for your organization, see “How to choose RPA software: 10 key factors to consider.”
RPA toolMajor featuresUse cases
Document editing and signature tracking
Contract and agreement processing
Java-centric bots offer cross-platform range
Client management and compliance paperwork processing
The Center of Excellence (CoE) manager tracks the performance of the various bots in a centralized dashboard; Bot Insight drills down to track the performance of each bot
Opening up bot development and deployment across the enterprise
Pay-as-you-go pricing simplifies adoption
Chatbot management; front-, middle-, and back-office document processing
Automating backend data flows in the Amazon cloud
Fixing problems and smoothing data movement between services
Built for the Chinese market with a wide range of plugins tackling major platforms and services with AI
A wide range of markets, including mobile
Integration with AI for OCR and language analysis; mainframe integration; desktop version
Chatbot and call center support; desktop automation
Open-source edition; tighter integration with AI for contextual and visual processing
Supply chain management, financial transactions
Integration with Microsoft desktop applications
Claims processing, service industries
Deep experience with enterprise workflow; integration with many mainframes
Data capture, scientific process management; business decision automation, front-line customer care
Integration with enterprise content management tools; microapps platform to simplify deployment
Managing content collections; data pipeline integration
AI-powered chatbots and a cloud-native robots
The Work Execution System offers general support for document-centric business tasks
Focus on Windows 10 or 11 platform on the desktop or on Azure
Broad, enterprise-wide empowerment; AI integration
MuleSoft RPA (formerly Servicetrace)
AI-based OCR and a good editor encourages development; recent merger will bolster integration with API-based workflows
Banking, utilities, and other industries with heavy compliance-driven work
Integration between desktop assistants and server-side backend
Call center automation; customer service tools; speeding workflow by creating robots that first learn by assisting humans before graduating to full autonomy in the back office
Tight integration with dominant desktop tools
Compliance pipelines dominated by documents
Heavy integration with Microsoft tools
Email processing and database integration; spreadsheet automation
Fully integrated with suite of enterprise tools for developing, deploying, and automating data processing
Regulatory compliance and integration
Document processing and data extraction
Samsung SDS Brity RPA
Aimed at improving industrial and enterprise business flow through automation
Time-saving and quality improvement for enterprise-driven tasks
Integration with the SAP stack
Automating the business processes tracked and driven by SAP
SS&C Blue Prism
Big investment in AI, including machine vision and sentiment analysis for classifying and responding to all messages
Building a full chain of document and message processing
Open environment allows integration of VB.Net, C#, Python, and Java code when challenges grow
Integration with full legacy stack solutions; transaction processing
Digital workers tuned to common roles for RPA and workforce automation.
Email and client interaction; task routing
Document-centric tasks such as PDF editing or generating eSignatures for contracts are one of the focuses for Airslate. The bots for simplifying the workflow are programmed with the drag-and-drop Flow Creator. Preprogrammed resources include connections to major backends such as Salesforce as well as a collection of templates for common processes.
Major features: Document editing and signature trackingMajor use cases: Contract and agreement processing
Appian acquired Jidoka in 2020 and changed the product’s name to Appian RPA while integrating it with its Digital Process Automation suite. Jiodka is a Japanese term that might be translated as “automation with a human touch,” a reference to how its software robots are trained to emulate humans interacting with the standard systems — mainframe terminal, web, databases, and so on. Appian RPA’s low-code integrated development environment (IDE) encourages fast creation of custom bots, while the dashboard tracks all the operating robots and can create a video of the screen to help debug the bots deployed across Appian’s cloud. The information is ingested into what they call a “Data Fabric” filled with not just numbers and letters, but relationships between elements. Deeper integration across both desktop platforms and mobile brings their tool to the edges of any enterprise network.
Major features: Java-centric bots offer cross-platform rangeMajor use cases: Client management and compliance paperwork processing
The Bot Store at Automation Anywhere offers a collection of tools for the Automation 360 platform that perform standard clicking and tracking as well as processes that glue together complex data files. There are bots for extracting information from spreadsheets, files, or web pages, and bots for storing this information in databases for issue tracking, invoice processing, and more. Many of the bots rely on APIs such as Microsoft Azure’s image analysis API. One of the goals is opening up access across the enterprise with easy-to-automate tools such as AARI, which can turn any web application into an automated worker. They also offer a “community edition” that is free for small businesses with a limited workflow and a cloud-based service, saving you the trouble of installing and maintaining the RPA itself.
Major features: The Center of Excellence (CoE) manager tracks the performance of the various bots in a centralized dashboard; Bot Insight drills down to track the performance of each botMajor use cases: Opening up bot development and deployment across the enterprise
The bots at AutomationEdge offer “hyperautomation” through a mixture of API interaction and AI. The focus is interacting with web pages, databases, and Excel spreadsheets. Its “Conversational RPA” brings a natural language interface to many interactions. Many bots in the bot store are preconfigured for specific industries or sections of a business, such as human resources or customer relations. AutomationEdge also offers a free version that’s limited in time, steps, and reach. Some AI-driven options such as the Conversational RPA and Intelligent Document Processing aren’t included. A cloud-based service is also available for those who don’t want to install it.
Major features: Pay-as-you-go pricing simplifies adoptionMajor use cases: Chatbot management; front-, middle-, and back-office document processing
The Amazon cloud is filled with options for data processing. Lambda functions act like logical glue for connecting services and automating work flowing through their networks. The functions can be as small or as large as needed and they can be triggered when new data arrives. Lambda functions are aimed more at automating work on the backend, and they are most efficient when working with AWS services but can be connected to any service with extra work.
Major features: Automating backend data flows in the Amazon cloudMajor use cases: Fixing problems and smoothing data movement between services
The Cyclone toolset is growing into a broad selection of tools that support low code and not-so-low code development. Its RPA Studio brings together basic automation tools for building data pipelines with advanced AI tools for OCR and computer vision. It also offers a low-code option for integrating multiple tools into a cohesive, automated workflow. Small and midsize businesses can also run the tools in Cyclone’s cloud using the EasyPie service.
Major features: Built for the Chinese market with a wide range of plugins tackling major platforms and services with AIMajor use cases: A wide range of markets, including mobile
TruBots, the name Datamatics gives its individual programs, are created with TruBot Designer, a tool that enables you to create and edit the software. Much of the work is accomplished by dragging and dropping components in a visual designer, but developers can also adjust the system-generated code in an IDE. The bots can be coordinated with TruBot Cockpit, and the system emphasizes text processing with special tools for scanning images and making sense of unstructured text. The tool runs in the cloud but some features can be installed on your own machine with a personal edition for handling more personal tasks, something Datamatics calls the “democratization of RPA.” Teams with document-heavy workloads can use TruCap, a tool for template-free data ingestion.
Major features: Integration with AI for OCR and language analysis; mainframe integration; desktop versionMajor use cases: Chatbot and call center support; desktop automation
The AssistEdge system helps build out your data processing infrastructure by integrating with major data sources and tracking users to discover common work patterns with AssistEdge Discover. Call centers and customer help portals can use AssistEdge Engage to automate the repetitive tasks of orchestrating multiple legacy systems. When possible, EdgeVerve relies on AI to provide contextual help and process incoming forms and other data. The document processing system, XtractEdge, for instance, offers OCR to speed form processing. The company also has systems optimized for industries such as supply chain management (TradeEdge) or banking. It offers migration from desktop to a cloud solution, and an open-source edition.
Major features: Open-source edition; tighter integration with AI for contextual and visual processingMajor use cases: Supply chain management, financial transactions
The RPA tools from Fortra (formerly HelpSystems) tackle business tasks ranging from responding to inquiries to generating reports. The core Desktop Automation tool scrapes data sources and interacts with web apps and local software by simulating events in the Windows GUI. There’s an emphasis on Microsoft Office tools to produce reports, both textual and graphical, consumed while managing a business. Larger jobs that span multiple desktops can use Automate Plus and Automate Ultimate for added scale. Document scanning is performed with Automate Intelligent Capture. All integrate security and audit capabilities to help managers after development.
Major features: Integration with Microsoft desktop applicationsMajor use cases: Claims processing, service industries
IBM offers a wide range of options for automating menial tasks, split into separate products, and bundled under the umbrella of IBM Automation. IBM Cloud Pak for Business Automation, for example, provides a low-code studio for testing and developing automation strategies. AI tools provide optical character recognition for documents. The Watson Assistant provides customer care with integrated bots. Teams can iterate over the workflows and explore hypothetical strategies with the Processing Mining tools. All the software can be deployed locally or in IBM’s cloud.
Major features: Deep experience with enterprise workflow; integration with many mainframesMajor use cases: Data capture, scientific process management; business decision automation, front-line customer care
ImageTech Systems makes Kofax, a set of bots for document processing and workflow automation. Its Design Studio offers an IDE for turning code written in Java, Python, or another programming language into instructions for their bots. Some users will want to use its Automated Process Discovery code for tracking existing workflows and producing bots. Code can also be spun off into smaller tools called Kapow Kapplets that handle focused chores locally. All the behavior is tracked with standard analytics and reported through a dashboard so you can watch for robotic glitches.
Major features: Integration with enterprise content management tools; microapps platform to simplify deploymentMajor use cases: Managing content collections; data pipeline integration
Laiye is another platform emerging from the Chinese marketplace to target retail groups and others with extensive customer requirements. The Automation Creator is a drag-and-drop IDE for turning workflow into Robots that can be deployed and tracked with tools like the Creativity Center.
Major features: AI-powered chatbots and a cloud-native robotsMajor use cases: The Work Execution System offers general support for document-centric business tasks
The Power Automate tool from Microsoft is part of the company’s Power platform for creating apps, virtual agents, and BI reports. The Desktop tool focuses on automating common Windows 10 (and higher) operations while the Cloud tool handles server-side tasks. The user-friendly interface enables everyone to track their workflow and convert it into an automated, editable routine. Power Advisor tracks statistics about performance to locate bottlenecks and other issues. Microsoft is integrating some of its AI into Power. Users can build new Automation scripts with natural language by describing what should happen. (It’s said to be in preview.) AI Builder can also create and deploy models that make predictions and even decisions, taking more work off of users’ shoulders.
Major features: Focus on Windows 10 or 11 platform on the desktop or on AzureMajor use cases: Broad, enterprise-wide empowerment; AI integration
MuleSoft RPA (formerly Servicetrace)
The Mulesoft RPA tool from Salesforce, once known as Servicetrace, is now part of a larger platform for workplace automation and enterprise architecture. The RPA tools use AI and machine learning to help decode documents and automatically collect data. Automation can be scripted with the drag-and-drop RPA Builder, which brings wizard-driven solutions, or collected automatically with RPA Recorder, which watches users to capture repetitive tasks. When the results are deployed with the bot Manager, the system’s vertical scaling enhances parallel operations enabling multiple bots to run simultaneously.
Major features: AI-based OCR and a good editor encourages development; recent merger will bolster integration with API-based workflowsMajor use cases: Banking, utilities, and other industries with heavy compliance-driven work
The NICE robots are designed to run as supervised assistants for humans or, if they’re competent enough, as unsupervised back-office tools. The goal is “Journey Orchestration” so customers or staff are helped along at each step of the digital pipeline. One assistant, NEVA, is billed as a friendly assistant and “workforce multiplier” for customer service issues. The Scene Composer for the Real-Time Designer can track how clicks and keystrokes interact with web pages. Data from other sources can be gathered through Connectors to standard back-office sources such as SAP, Siebel, and .Net servers. Its CXexchange offers hundreds of extensions and agents that speed integration. CXone, its open cloud platform, helps support this growth around the globe.
Major features: Integration between desktop assistants and server-side backendMajor use cases: Call center automation; customer service tools; speeding workflow by creating robots that first learn by assisting humans before graduating to full autonomy in the back office
The RPA tools from Kryon are now part of the Nintex data automation constellation, creating a complete platform for managing processes and business workflows. Process Discovery helps find the work that needs to be automated and turned into bots that can be deployed and tracked. For document-heavy processes that may require signatures, Nintex’s collection of RPA bots focuses on integration with Office365, Salesforce, and Adobe tools to automate the process of creating documents and signing them in a digitized legal pipeline. The results can run either in the cloud or on premises.
Major features: Tight integration with dominant desktop toolsMajor use cases: Compliance pipelines dominated by documents
NTT-AT’s WinActor was built to save Windows users’ time by automating the most common steps. It integrates with major Microsoft tools to build sophisticated workflows by recording user actions. These are turned into scenarios, and users can trigger these scenarios when a new event occurs such as the arrival of an email. A new request for information, for instance, can be turned into a qualified lead for the sales database with a few clicks. A wide variety of supplemental libraries can extend the tool to handle specific tasks such as creating PDF versions.
Major features: Heavy integration with Microsoft toolsMajor use cases: Email processing and database integration; spreadsheet automation
Pega from Pegasystems offers a wide variety of tools that speed up integration and processing for enterprises, including AI classifiers, chatbots, DevOps support tools, and pure RPA. Creating the right automation can begin with Pega’s AI-driven workforce intelligence tool, a bot that installs on desktops to track how people work. This survey will reveal bottlenecks where poor back-end processing can be automated now and in the future. Pega wants to deliver “self-healing” and “self-learning” applications that can use AI and other statistics to recognize new opportunities for better automation. Pega supports common use cases such as reconciling financial transactions and onboarding new customers. The company also offers low-code options for BPM.
Major features: Fully integrated with suite of enterprise tools for developing, deploying, and automating data processingMajor use cases: Regulatory compliance and integration
Juggling documents with Python-based bots on Linux, Mac, or Windows desktops is the main focus of Rocketbot. Text can be extracted using Rocketbot Telescope and then fed into backed data using bots trained by Rocketbot Studio’s drag-and-drop editor. Rocketbot Orquestador will manage them, running them as needed while compiling statistics.
Major features: Python-based botsMajor use cases: Document processing and data extraction
Samsung SDS Brity RPA
Samsung SDS’s Brity RPA is split into three parts. Designer offers drag-and-drop flowcharting for both desktop and enterprise back-end legacy services through a variety of connectors. Bot schedules and runs the various jobs at pre-set times or in response to events, rebooting virtual machines and simulating all events that might be generated by a real human. Bigger, more independent jobs can be split off to run in the Bot processor. Samsung is also integrating a wide variety of AI routines (ML, NLP, visual, and analytic ) and is expanding to deliver collaboration software for teams.
Major features: Aimed at improving industrial and enterprise business flow through automationMajor use cases: Time-saving and quality improvement for enterprise-driven tasks
SAP now offers a Robotic Process Automation option to simplify many of the workflow operations with its software. SAP’s tool can watch current teams to imitate their actions. When it’s done, you can tweak the process in a drag-and-drop low-code IDE. The results are deployed into the SAP environment to live as either attended or unattended bots. Teams that want to leverage the work of others can turn to the SAP RPA store to download bots for common tasks such as unpacking Excel spreadsheets looking for orders to recognize and categorize.
Major features: Integration with the SAP stackMajor use cases: Automating the business processes tracked and driven by SAP
SS&C Blue Prism
SS&C Blue Prism, one of the earliest RPA companies that began in 2012, pushes “intelligent automation” that mixes more AI into the process to simplify scaling and adaptive processes. The emphasis is on using AI and machine learning to “create journeys” for your data as it’s handed off along a chain of bots that often make fully automated decisions through sophisticated machine learning algorithms. You string together a sequence of actions at the beginning, but then each action generates statistics that can be used to train and improve the choices made. The company also maintains a digital exchange where third-party plugins and add-ons can be purchased to extend the powers by creating connections with traditional databases such as MySQL, larger providers such as AWS, and social media outlets such as Twitter.
Major features: Big investment in AI, including machine vision and sentiment analysis for classifying and responding to all messagesMajor use cases: Building a full chain of document and message processing
UiPath offers a full collection of tools for discovering workflows through Process Mining and Task Analysis and turning them an autonomous processes that can be edited and tweaked. These robots are controlled by Orchestrator, which triggers them in response to events while tracking behavior, generating reports, and controlling access where needed for compliance. UiPath is expanding into AI and is emphasizing machine vision tools that can extract information from images or screenshots. These are often focused on OCR to convert letters and numbers into machine-understandable forms.
Major features: Open environment allows integration of VB.Net, C#, Python, and Java code when challenges growMajor use cases: Integration with full legacy stack solutions; transaction processing
The digital workers from WorkFusion come with individual human names and special focuses. Tara, for instance, is a “top OFAC / AML expert who is laser-focused on keeping your transactions risk-free.” Casey is a customer relations specialist who is “obsessed with creating a better, faster customer experience.” Enterprises can begin with them as a starting point or create a custom version that can deploy OCR and some AI to their particular tasks. The digital workers are deployed with Workforce Enterprise to either run autonomously or work as assistants for humans that remain in the loop.
Major features: Digital workers tuned to common roles for RPA and workforce automation.Major use cases: Email and client interaction; task routing
The major companies are generally selling proprietary tools, although community editions with limited functionality are common. Open-source processes are less cosmmon but you can often accomplish many of the simple tasks by stringing together some open source projects. You are likely going to have to do much more work to train the tools yourself, often by typing code into an editor. Still, they remain an interesting option. Check out Puppeteer, Selenium, and Headless Firefox for a basic start.
Major features: Full open source access to code; no vendor lock-inMajor use cases: Web integration; data collection; testing and verification
BPM Systems, Enterprise Applications