Robotic Process Automation in Software Testing
Robotics-based engineering is one of the top trends for 2019. These days robots are being used for more complex operations, including feeding humans, manning automated call centers, and in health care practices, not to mention some of the more fun ideas coming out of the MARS conference. But they can also assist in testing software.
Robotic process automation (RPA) is a new engineering discipline that enables the product team to take on designing and implementing powerful digital solutions. RPA systems develop a list of actions to automate a task by watching a user perform that task in the application's GUI, and then repeating those tasks directly in the GUI.
But RPA tools differ from other tools because they can handle data among multiple applications—for instance, receiving an email containing an invoice, extracting the data, and then typing it into a bookkeeping system.
Among the software teams that benefit from RPA, testers also come into the picture. To capture robots’ actions and simulate them for test purposes is no easy task, and RPA helps on several fronts. At a simplistic level, it enables testing not just for robot-based solutions, but for any technology-powered product. For example, it could be a retail platform with a point-of-sale device connected to simulate an in-store transaction. If this has to be automated end to end, RPA is key to simulating human actions in operating the device.
It almost takes you back to the grassroots days of computer programs. Just as how those programs helped us solve several challenges in a digitized manner, RPA brings in robots to simulate end-user actions in an automated manner. What automation did to the industry a decade ago is what RPA will do the industry in the next decade, because it can help us more effectively execute repetitive jobs. This ability is gaining prominence, especially as more robotic-based solutions are engineered too.
The industry is already flooded with several RPA tools. These tools often serve a specific niche, such as automating back office processes, automating web and desktop solutions, or dealing with large amounts of data. On the same note, test automation frameworks that work in a robotic style are nothing more than programs that follow instructions specified by humans. To that extent, isn’t that what our test automation is also intended to do?
RPA will mature and become more sophisticated over the years, not only integrating with existing tools but eventually bridging some gaps our current automation solutions have around end-to-end automation.
To that end, a lot of innovation and research and development is happening, both within organizations and in public workshops and meetups, to encourage students to develop an interest in this area of STEM. Visibility through forums and conferences is also welcoming to see.