The Pros and Cons of Commercial vs. Open-Source Robotic Process Automation
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There’s no question robotic process automation (RPA) is invaluable to business success. It saves employees countless hours on manual tasks, giving them more time and mental energy to put towards activities that move the needle.
However, there are two types of RPA tools you can use to start reaping the benefits of automation: commercial RPA and open-source RPA.
Below, we’ll explain what commercial RPA and open-source RPA are and explore the pros and cons.
Commercial RPA: Pros and Cons
Commercial RPA is a paid software product—usually packaged as a SaaS or on-premise solution and licensed by the tool or how many robots are installed. These products have a team of people working on them to ensure they’re always working well and updated frequently.
Commercial RPA brings dedicated channels for support through resources, from customer service teams to blogs and forums about the product.
The pros of commercial RPA
Commercial RPA tools are official paid products built by teams of professionals. Because of this, they tend to have a lower learning curve for RPA developers to start their automation journey. Otherwise, the businesses that make them wouldn’t be able to stay competitive.
Commercial RPA programs can generally interact with more applications within your business. Once again, the competitive nature of the marketplace necessitates that commercial tools integrate well with your business’s other software.
Easy, consistent updates
There’s no need for you to worry about commercial RPA updates. The company that licenses the software to you has a dedicated team that handles that on their end.
The cons of commercial RPA
Commercial RPAs cost money. The market leaders tend to be a significant investment.
Yes, they can save you time and money in the long run. However, they may not be prudent until your business earns enough revenue and has complex enough systems and processes to warrant such an investment.
Coding knowledge required for maximum advantage
Often times in order to automate an entire process or achieve the most efficient solution, additional coding knowledge above what the RPA vendor provides out of the box is required. The additional code unlocks the additional benefits where the commercial RPA tool fell short.
Potential infrastructure changes
Small automations can be easy to implement from an automation perspective. However, those automations on a much larger scale may necessitate major changes to your IT infrastructure. This comes down to cost/benefit—can the large automation earn a high enough return on investment to justify the costs involved?
On the other side, small automations often require significant IT infrastructure to stand-up for organizations just getting started in the RPA space. Customers are often challenged by the up-front IT investment and order to justify the need for their smaller automations.
Open-Source RPA: Pros and Cons
Open-source RPA tools are free tools that are available for the public to use and leverage as they see fit. These are great for new developers who want to get familiar with RPA with little to no cost as well as senior engineers looking to advantage of a broader tool-set.
Additionally, companies that are slowly testing the RPA waters may start with open-source RPA tools to keep costs low as they try to find use cases in their organizations. Open-source might also be preferable if the company has already adopted other open-source technologies.
Depending on developer support, some of these tools can compete with commercial RPA offerings.
The pros of open-source RPA
Open-source RPA programs are mostly free to implement and adopt with very little restrictions. This makes them quite accessible to small and medium sized businesses, all the way down to a sole proprietor. Because of the low cost, they help businesses decide if RPA is worth the investment before dropping the money.
Great for collaboration
These kinds of programs work well for collaboration because, well, that’s how open-source programs are designed. It’s much easier to customize the tool since it’s open-source.
When open-source tools are designed properly and coupled with cloud technologies, they can scale quite well to meet any organization’s needs. Many businesses begin their journey into open-source and find themselves running their entire CoE's without investing a dollar into a commercial tool.
The cons of open-source RPA
Build vs Buy
While open-source is fundamentally free, the trade-off is the classic build vs buy conundrum. For open-source to be a fully featured solution that delivers value, companies will need to invest engineering hours to build and support the solution. Identifying whether something is easier to buy (Commercial RPA) vs. build (Open-Source RPA) is driven by priorities and what trade-offs companies may or may not be willing to make.
Companies need visibility into their open-source code as well as a very clear understanding of what that code is doing across applications and systems. Companies will need to depend on additional tools that can be used to audit open-source code for known vulnerabilities and databases that can be searched for detailed information and remediation guidance.
With open-source, there is no 1-800 number to call or support email address to send your bugs or issues to. Open source-software is developed in a decentralized and collaborative way, relying on peer review and the open-source community for support. This means customers must rely on the developer community and their internal teams for any bugs or issues.
Neither tool is superior—it depends on what type of organization you run.
Larger businesses with complex IT and security requirements might opt for the commercial tool. Commercial RPA offers a solution out-of-the box and with dedicated support. In exchange, larger firms will pay a hefty sum, but they can usually afford it, and the returns are worth it.
On the other hand, smaller or medium sized businesses have the option for an open-source solution. The low-cost nature makes it easy for these companies to dip their toes into RPA without committing the requisite dollars to a commercial solution—as long as they account for the efforts needed to build and deploy an open-source solution.
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January 9, 2024