RPA vs test automation. Similarities and differences

Tuesday January 3, 2023
6 min read
Microsoft RPA
Robotic process automation and test automation. Two peas in a pod. Are they the same or not? If you have been using one or the other or have been hoping to adopt either RPA or test automation, you might want at some point to compare their efficiencies and wonder if using one tool for both is possible? Although both methodologies introduce automation to save costs, increase accuracy and remove the burden of mundane, repetitive tasks, it is handy to see how they are different. And what each automation does for your business.

Microsoft RPA

What is robotic process automation (RPA)?

The future is here. Robotic process automation (RPA) is the way business processes can be done without (or with minimal) human intervention. RPA uses virtual robots (bots) and/ or artificial intelligence. To a great relief of software engineers, RPA does not require a person to write a code to communicate with a system via API for task automation. Instead, RPA creates a list of tasks or actions by watching a user perform them on an app’s interface. Then, RPA bots are able to repeat the entire process automatically. They use keyboard and mouse but no screen as they operate in a virtual environment. Robotic process automation can be used to complete almost any task that is predictable and repetitive. Those are very often things that clog up the business as usual (BAU) – invoicing, data validation, onboarding, registration processes, getting approvals, reporting, etc. A great benefit of RPA is that it can be used across all industries. Automation cases range from very simple operations to complex, global business operations (e.g. across different entities). The most common type of RPA task is data migration. RPA bots are capable of migrating data from A to B much more quickly (and accurately) than human users.
“Robotic process automation (RPA) is a productivity tool that allows a user to configure one or more scripts (which some vendors refer to as “bots”) to activate specific keystrokes in an automated fashion. The result is that the bots can be used to mimic or emulate selected tasks (transaction steps) within an overall business or IT process. These may include manipulating data, passing data to and from different applications, triggering responses, or executing transactions. RPA uses a combination of user interface interaction and descriptor technologies. The scripts can overlay on one or more software applications." /Gartner/

What is test automation?

Test automation can be defined as the use of software to control the execution od the tests. In test automation, it is the software robots – rather than users – who perform repetitive tasks and imitate end-user interactions with the system under test. Test automation increases quality assurance through increasing range, depth, reliability and stability of testing. The aim of software testing is to check if software performs as intended and if the expected outcome matches the actual outcome of the performed test. Testing is a complex and time-consuming part of the product development cycle, and test cases tend to pile up when performed manually. Software testing checks if software performs as intended and if the actual outcome of the performed tests are the same as the expected outcome. As testing is complex and time-consuming, developers and testers lean on test automation to save time and also increase test coverage. Through automation of repetitive test cases, test teams can reduce manual efforts and eliminate any potential bottlenecks. This helps towards continuous development of a software product. For example, test automation of UI testing allows testes to test adequately and fix issues on different platforms – something that without automated testing frameworks would be impossible. Once tests are automated, they can be used repeatedly, and in different environments, too. Test automation is all about improving the testing processes and making the testing project more efficient and… shorter through better planning, execution and management of tests and test cases.

Robotic process automation (RPA)

What are the differences between test automation and RPA?

To put it shortly, test automation uses a code or a software tool for automating the testing procedures. RPA uses software robots instead to automate business processes. However, we can also compare RPA and test automation with regard to what test automation and RPA offer around automation. Let’s now look closely at the similarities and differences between these two automation philosophies.

RPA vs test automation – similarities

Although their scope and use of automation itself differ, test automation and RPA have quite a few things in common. Looking at the definition is enough to see that they share a common goal: to become more productive, to reduce the number of errors to a minimum and take over the tasks which are too time-consuming for a human. They can also be both used where bandwidth is limited to perform rule-based tasks. Both test automation and RPA can be used for record and playback. They also have the capabilities to perform, or support, one another’s tasks. Both test automation and RPA reduce human (manual) intervention. This improves the quality of the outcome (be it a software product, business process or a workflow) and increase accuracy. With RPA and test automation, business have a high potential of saving resources and introducing agility and savings across the organization. Common benefits of test automation and RPA are:
  • Cost reduction
  • Business risk mitigation
  • Enhanced efficiency
  • Higher job satisfaction.

RPA vs test automation – differences

The design, maturity and intent or RPA vas test automation are worlds apart. Also, the extent to which test automation and RPA can be used vary significantly. For instance, test automation can be applied only to websites or products. Robotic process automation can be applied to business processes (several at a time) in order to automate them. The objective also differs – for test automation, it is to validate functionality and performance of software application whereas robotic process automation validates business objectives. Let’s take a look at major differences listed in the table below:
Test automation vs. RPA

Testing with RPA vs test automation – myths debunked

As we have seen above, robotic process automation and test automation are not the same. Although they are similar and offer the same advantages, depending on the adopted concept, they cannot be used interchangeably. Testing with RPA is not the same as using test automation. Although RPA has reached the point where it does not require coding skills (or only limited coding skills are necessary), in theory RPA can be considered a testing tool to automate anything, with no dependency on the target system. However, only at a very generic level. Where regression or performance tests are required, only test automation tools can be utilized. They are more powerful as they are purpose designed for test automation. Another common misbelief is that popular testing tools (e.g. Selenium) could be used for robotic process automation. Unfortunately, this is not possible. Test automation tools have one limitation – they need software to run on. And RPA can be applied to anything but not a product. That is why none of the testing tools available on the market can be used as a robotic process automation tool. Test automation and RPA are here to help people, not to make them lose their jobs. They introduce more effective working patterns and automate operations that are simple, repeatable and which are more error prone. This means that employers can focus on more complex tasks which require human intervention (and intelligence) and where automation is not feasible. Learn more about RPA in manufacturing industry. Or learn more about RPA in construction industry.

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