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RPA Or API? That Is Not The Question

There are a wide variety of reasons why companies choose digital transformation. Be it to automate repetitive tasks, make better use of valuable resources, or optimize customer service. There are a wide variety of automation approaches, depending on the application. In addition to the technologies of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA), The use of an application programming interface (API) is also increasingly coming into play. 

Given the multitude of automation options, there is also increasing confusion about the right solution. Many companies fail to realize that they should consider both technologies – RPA and API – for their digital transformation because both RPA and API are designed to avoid human intervention and streamline repetitive processes – but for different scenarios.

What Is RPA?

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a technology that aims to automatically execute a specific task or process by mimicking human actions. RPA can quickly and easily model a business process by recording and emulating human activity on a user interface. The bot follows a series of predetermined steps to complete this task. In this context, automated means that the bot ultimately carries out the mission without human intervention. RPA saves companies time and money by replicating tedious manual tasks that humans previously performed.

What Is API Integration?

This fact is to be revolutionized by cognitive computing. Above all, pattern recognition and machine learning should contribute to the evaluation of raw data. Interactions from the past and sensor data from the immediate environment can be included in the assessments. The analyzes are then shared in real-time with people and IT systems to achieve the best possible result. Corresponding systems thus become self-learning and “intelligent”.

Benefits Of RPA

A key benefit of RPA is that companies can implement the technology without having to make changes to existing systems. RPA uses a drag-and-drop approach and pre-built components to achieve integration. Since RPA is applied to already institutionalized processes, RPA has a high success rate. As pure surface automation at the user interface level, RPA is faster and easier to implement than API integration, even for less experienced users. 

RPA is ideal for the integration of applications that do not provide an API, such as many legacy systems, whether commercial software or self-developed applications. This is where the ability of RPA helps simulate human interactions with legacy systems. In this way, RPA enables these systems to be included in automation and modernization efforts rather than replacing them. RPA offers quick short-term success and a significant return on investment (RoI).

Disadvantages Of RPA

RPA can be seen as a form of rationalization. It can indeed streamline existing processes. But it can’t necessarily improve them. Since RPA bots rely on the user interface to get their jobs done, mistakes can be made if something changes in the user interface. All regulatory changes within business processes also require a shift in the RPA bots. The much-touted drag-and-drop options reach their limits when a complex process needs to be automated. 

Then programming is essential. When talking about RPA, one has to be fair about the security of RPA thematize. Because the risks range from external cybersecurity to the internal handling of sensitive data, unclear roles and responsibilities within the organization. Bots need access to multiple systems, usually with the same hard-coded credentials. This opens a gateway for attackers who can then manipulate the bots.

Benefits Of API

Since many modern software applications publish their APIs, it is easy to create connectors that integrate these applications. APIs are recognized for their real-time connectivity benefits as they can quickly and efficiently connect to partner and SaaS applications. APIs offer a simple but flexible and scalable approach to digitizing companies to enable. They are no longer just modest technical interfaces. In their various forms, they facilitate the externalization of the company and simplify the integration of digital sales, marketing and trade channels into established business processes and models. 

API management tools can handle more complex data and application integration problems without much user intervention or high maintenance. An API contains a well-defined software-to-software interface. This allows applications to interact autonomously and, compared to RPA, deal with vast amounts of data. This makes APIs central to the integration infrastructure required to support digital business initiatives.

Disadvantages Of API

API integration is often time-consuming and complex and, in many cases, exceeds the core competencies of IT. Because setting up API integrations always requires coding and development. Developers are faced with consolidating a large number of functions and variations into one cohesive layer via various APIs. APIs are a collection of programming methods that developers can call when needed. To use them, the developer needs to connect the dots and chain the API method calls to solve a specific business problem. 

Much effort is required to achieve a result similar to that of an RPA, as the API method calls have to be manually coordinated and orchestrated to add value. And with every new API, developers face the unique challenge of determining how it works and the importance of its development effort. Many IT teams lack the bandwidth to set up integrations with APIs for various products and services while juggling other priorities, creating bottlenecks. In the case of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the proposal to provide dedicated and skilled resources to support integration requirements is not attractive and sometimes exceeds their IT budgets. 

Setting up integrations with APIs of different products and services while juggling other priorities leads to bottlenecks. In the case of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the proposal to provide dedicated and skilled resources to support integration requirements is not attractive and sometimes exceeds their IT budgets. Setting up integrations with APIs of different products and services while juggling other priorities leads to bottlenecks. In the case of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the proposal to provide dedicated and skilled resources to support integration requirements is not attractive and sometimes exceeds their IT budgets.

Difference Between RPA and API Integration

RPA generally interacts through the interface with the front end like an average human. On the other hand, APIs interact with the application via a backend. In contrast to an API, the development of an RPA bot is much more time-saving since an API has to be created from scratch, which costs time and money. In contrast, the maintenance costs and the maintenance effort for an API are significantly lower than for an RPA implementation. And while the implementation complexity is much lower with RPA, the scalability of an API solution is much higher.

Not Against Each Other, But With Each Other

Ultimately, when choosing between RPA and API, essential availability is an important consideration. The availability of an API, a native integration or an application source code is necessary for traditional, IT-controlled integration methods or web service calls. In contrast, one of the differentiators of RPA is its ability to run seamlessly on multiple applications and packaged solutions regardless of the availability of APIs. 

Therefore, RPA is considered a cost-effective solution when not relying on an API or web service call. Increasingly, however, the boundaries between API integration and RPA are becoming blurred. These technologies intrude and stimulate each other because there are also workflows in which both RPA and APIs can be used for integration.

UiPath Shows How It Is Done

The acquisition of the API integration platform Cloud Elements by UiPath shows that this path has a future. While bots typically only rely on the user interface to automate business applications, UiPath now offers its customers the ability to create automation bots that use an application’s user interface and its API. This API-based approach is particularly suitable for automating applications that are regularly updated. Because if the user interface of an application changes due to an update, all automation bots usually also have to be changed. In contrast, APIs don’t change with every update.


RPA versus APIs is not an either-or choice. Developers need an arsenal of tools and approaches to optimize their current infrastructure with the modernization and innovation required to grow the business. APIs and RPA are practical complementary approaches to automation. 

Rather than discussing RPA and APIs, companies should use them for use cases that are better suited to each. For deep application integration where an API is available, and the company has the necessary integration skills, API integration is the way to go. When it comes to automating a range of everyday, repetitive tasks, RPA is a better option because of its faster implementation and lower operating costs.


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