Przemysław Włodarczyk | Software Development | 12.05.2021
In the era of popular Robotic Process Automation technology and the demand for RPA developers’ competences, many programmers are considering a career as an RPA developer. Today, thanks to intuitive automation software, representatives of the business sector who want to improve processes at their company can also start their adventure with RPA tools. Where to start? It’s worth familiarizing oneself with the RPA environments. One of the most commonly used RPA tools is Blue Prism – let’s take a look inside to learn about the basics and its capabilities.
The idea behind RPA environments is as follows: even a user with limited technical and programming knowledge should be able to automate processes. The following skills will be useful in the robotization of processes:
Blue Prism is comprehensive, integrated RPA software for automating selected business processes. It enables the creation of software robots that take over repetitive, tedious manual tasks, e.g. in back-office departments. Blue Prism is built on the Microsoft .NET Framework and enables the automation of any application built on all kinds of platforms (mainframe, Windows, WPF, Java, web, etc.). The tool provider is one of the leaders in the Gartner rankings. Other popular RPA tools include UI Path, Automation Anywhere and PEGA. Today I will focus on Blue Prism, which I use as an RPA developer at JCommerce.
The Blue Prism work environment is divided into two main parts: the process layer and the objects layer. Working with the solution includes designing logic with the use of components that resemble flowcharts used in business processes modelling. Block elements are equivalents of programming structure elements, such as variables of various data types, logical “if” constructions or arrays, which are represented by collections, as well as loops (interactions) used for joining (e.g. individual elements of a collection).
Blue Prism has also a Calculation Stage element for performing and implementing calculations using built-in functions.
The environment handles exceptions in case of unforeseen errors in the application, calculation errors, etc.
The process layer is responsible for storing business logic. On the main page of the project, you can create an overview (high level) of the individual steps in the process.
The steps in the process, such as launching the application, downloading data, data calculation, etc., are divided into subpages, which are the equivalent of functions or procedures. Similarly to functions, a subpage can have input parameters and return data.
Interaction with particular elements of the application takes place with the use of objects and actions defined therein.
The objects in Blue Prism are not the equivalent of objects from object-oriented programming languages.
One object is dedicated to a single application or function. For example, if we want to automate a web application, we create an object dedicated to it with a set of actions used to interact only with that particular application. Launching an application, clicking on a button or reading text from a text field – all these can be actions.
Blue Prism has a ready-made set of objects for the most commonly used applications, such as Excel, Outlook, or operations such as string manipulations, collection manipulations, etc.
To interact with the application, you need to map its elements. They are stored in the Application Modeller tool:
Blue Prism has a number of mapping modes (spy modes) that allow you to interact with almost any application.
If we need additional functionalities that Blue Prism does not have, we can add them using Code Stage – small pieces of code that are also implemented in objects. The Blue Prism environment supports coding in C# and VB.NET. In this case, basic programming knowledge is needed.
In order for the input data to be processed, it must be stored somewhere – Blue Prism has a queue structure for this purpose. Queued data is stored in the so-called items. For example, an invoice number, a sales order number, etc. can be an item. Each item, depending on its processing stage, has a different status.
Once the development stage is completed, the time comes for release, meaning the transfer (export) of all necessary components allowing the robot to operate from the development environment to production. A separate component, the Release Manager, is used to create releases in the Blue Prism environment. The release is placed in the production environment and run on virtual machines (VDI).
Blue Prism offers various training and certification paths depending on the specialization. For developers, having the following certificates will be valuable:
Nowadays RPA solutions are used not only by global organizations from the “Fortune 500” rankings but also by all those companies that want to improve processes and unburden employees from carrying out repetitive tasks. RPA tools such as Blue Prism have a low entry threshold, and the business logic designed in them can also be presented to business representatives. Does it really mean that anyone can automate processes? It is definitely worthwhile so that as many programmers as possible become interested in the RPA developer career and the opportunities offered by this dynamically developing technological trend.
The support of RPA specialists in the organization not only means development services, but also maintenance and the adaptation of the robot to any changes in the production environment.
Read more on this in the interview: Robotics Process Automation: what is the secret behind its popularity?