Robotic Process Automation (RPA) provides a quick and inexpensive way to automate business processes. But there’s a catch. You can’t, and shouldn’t, automate all processes. There are specific processes that are better suited for RPA than others. There are some processes that simply can’t be automated with RPA.
Forrester’s Rule of Five
According to Forrester, there are certain attributes associated with business processes that make them more appropriate for RPA. Forrester’s Rule of Five suggests that you should look for tasks with fewer than:
- Five decisions made
- Five applications accessed
- Five hundred clicks
Some also believe that there are certain types of data sources that are difficult to automate. One of those is mainframe applications using “green screens”. These applications require a desktop terminal emulator for users to interact with the applications, and the navigation of these applications can be very complex. Most mainframe applications wouldn’t meet Forrester’s Rule of Five.
The way RPA tools automate mainframe applications is to interact with the same terminal emulator used by end users. There are typically two ways to interact with an emulator and many RPA products only support one of them. The two ways to interact with an emulator are:
- Extended High-Level Language Application Programming Interface (EHLLAPI)
- Screen scraping the emulator screen
EHLLAPI is much more accurate than screen scraping but is still difficult to use and doesn’t provide full functionality. Also, depending on the age of the emulator, it may not support the same calls built into the RPA tool. Because of this complexity, as well as the complexity of the mainframe processes, many RPA companies consider automating mainframe processes to be an advanced feature that requires a more advanced programmer.
Some RPA tools use screen scraping which is the same way they interact with Citrix applications. You have to know the screen coordinates of objects and data in order to interact with the screen. This is very inaccurate and should only be used as a last resort and for very small tasks.
There’s A Better Way
There is another way to automate mainframe applications, and it works with your existing RPA tool. Instead of interacting with a terminal emulator, why not interact directly with the mainframe the same way a terminal emulator does? ActiveOps (and formerly OpenConnect) has been providing mainframe connectivity products for many years and has the technology to automate mainframe applications without a desktop emulator.
How it Works
ConnectiQ connects to the mainframe using TN3270, the same protocol used by terminal emulators. The software maintains a persistent session with the mainframe and handles all of the screen mapping. The difference is there is no actual screen. Everything is in memory and the raw data is processed directly instead of sending to a screen for human, or robot, interaction. This reduces overhead and dramatically increases performance. Because it’s server-based, it will support thousands of concurrent sessions on a single platform.
ConnectiQ is a product that includes this technology and works well for integration with RPA tools. ConnectiQ does not rely on an API to interact with the mainframe application. It has access to the raw 3270 data, so it “sees” every attribute and every character making it more accurate than technology that uses an API or screen scraping.
Design Tasks Without Code
A task designer tool called Configure is provided to create the tasks that interact with the mainframe screens. It’s designed to be used by people who know the applications and processes, not programmers. Configure allows you to create tasks that perform common functions. Tasks can call other tasks allowing for reuse of common functions and reduction in time to deliver value. Once the tasks are complete, you simply deploy to the server and mark it as available to the services. Version control is provided natively and allows you to support multiple versions for each environment.
Users can access the tasks through web service calls using SOAP or RESTful services. This allows customers to integrate mainframe application data into any application including customer portals, mobile apps, front-office applications, back-office applications, and RPA robots.
ConnectiQ Provides Flexibility & Value
RPA tools provide methods to call web services to retrieve information. ConnectiQ provides the complex navigation of mainframe screens with high accuracy. Whether the mainframe applications are 10% of the process or 100% of the process, ConnectiQ is the right solution to embed mainframe applications into your RPA strategy. The tasks you create for RPA can also be used for other external applications such as customer/partner portals which provides even more value.