How to decide between using API and using RPA?

This is a discussion topic for the original post at How to decide between using API and using RPA? - Botcity | Blog

Many of the questions we made while we compare two or more technologies and, in the end, need to decide which one to use, such as the doubt in choosing between API and RPA, we end up falling into the same standard answer: it depends. But this is not on purpose. Any decision of which technology to use depends on some factors. And we will discuss them in this article.

First of all, let’s understand the differences between API and RPA.

Understanding what is an API

API means Application Programming Interface, which is a program that acts as an interface between separate projects. The goal is to facilitate communication and data transfer in specific formats (JSON, XML, and others).

APIs are useful when you need to access a system’s data or functionality made available by a tool or company. In other words, APIs allow different systems to communicate according to some rules and standards. A simple example is the Post Office API. You can use this API to ensure that customer address data is correct in your system based on the zip code entered.

But already exercising the reflection of how to make the decision, supposing that there was no Post Office API available for use by developers, one way to search the data correctly would be with RPA, interacting with the company’s page, through the DOM or by computer vision, identifying elements on the screen of where to click, where to type, and so on.

Understanding what is RPA

RPA means Robotic Process Automation. It is a technology used to automate repetitive tasks.

RPA is applicable when you must perform tasks involving GUI (graphical user interface) interaction, such as filling out forms or clicking buttons in an application. But it is also beneficial when you need to interact with other systems, even without using the GUI, but acting in the application’s background through headless commands. You can understand more about the differences between GUI-interacting and background-acting RPA in this article.

When no APIs are available for use, the RPA project development format is often the best way out. But this does not mean it should be the only information considered for this decision. After all, if there is no API, we can build one, right? Once again, we will use the answer: it depends.

What is essential to consider when making this decision

To decide which approach is the most appropriate, consider the following factors: security issues, available accesses, what is the knowledge of the team that will do the development, how will the monitoring of executions be done, and thinking about formats to deal with state changes, among others.

Understanding a little more about these points:

  • Knowledge of the development team: This is important, considering the time for the learning curve of new technologies for the team to use. It is necessary to evaluate what makes sense for the project.
  • Existence of repetitive or manual tasks and processes: This strongly indicates that RPA will be an excellent choice for your project.
  • Project complexity: Both ways, API or RPA, can be built with the same relevance and concern as a software project, considering governance, scalability, and security, among others. But in many cases, if the tasks are not very complex, it is easier to use frameworks (python, for example) and orchestration tools to build and monitor the necessary automation.
  • Interaction between systems via the GUI or in the background: If the tasks involve interaction with the graphical user interface, RPA may be more suitable.
  • API availability: If the system you need to interact with already offers you a well-documented and stable API, implementing the automation as an API may be easier and faster. But this is not always the case, and it is worth using RPA so that you have access to the information needed in that particular system.
  • Parallelism and scalability: Depending on the project, these must be some of the first worries. And although APIs can provide ease of control and better scalability, these tools are not restricted to APIs alone. It is also possible to scale the production and use of robots made in RPA, in addition to the advantage of parallelism that automation built with a programming language can offer.
  • Security: It is essential to analyze how you can implement the data security part of your system and what your software can and cannot access, whether via token, digital certificate, or other forms of authentication.

In short, both technologies are helpful. But if what you need to do does not provide a well-documented and up-to-date API to use, RPA will be the way out. Especially in cases of repetitive tasks and manual processes. This does not stop using RPA and API together, where the RPA automates necessary tasks, and the API brings you support regarding authentication, for example.