The technology behind Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is uniquely suited to giving test automation a much needed boost. A round RPA-built test environment is more robust, more flexible, but also more useful when applications eventually go into production.
“Testing automation has been around for 25 years,” says Gerd Weishaar, Senior Vice President of Product Management at UiPath. “The dream of automation has been around for a quarter of a century without coming true.” In practice, Weishaar saw how automation in testing proved to be inadequate. “Automation breaks down when things get out of control. That’s usually due to changes in applications,” he says. “A typical organization may have 1,000 applications in production, with an SAP system undergoing five to ten changes a day. That has an impact.”
In those 25 years of striving for automation, there was no AI, no technology that could detect errors. In short: it was not possible to deal with changes in a structural way. The result can still be felt in many companies. The testing branch is seen as an expense and a necessary evil; a place where IT experts are mainly concerned with drafting and keeping testing strategies up-to-date. What they build is quickly outdated and has little or no added value when applications go into production.
RPA in testing
With the Test Suite, which uses RPA technology to enable test automation in a manageable way, UiPath wants to change that. The Test Suite also enables automations in the context of testing to flow into production where they do deliver added value.
“55 to 70 percent of automation for testing is also found in production later on,” says Subashini Damodaran, Global Head of Automation Delivery at ITC Infotech. That may raise more money for an IT service provider, but it’s not a healthy way to work.
In 2018, Damodaran was already looking for a way to offer a large customer in the UK, structurally interesting and efficient help. Due to the synergy in automation in testing and later in production, she decided to use RPA technology from UiPath for testing.
“We built our own framework for this,” says Damodaran. “At that time, no one was really using RPA for testing automation. When we knocked on the door of UiPath to hear their vision, we discovered that they were working on a test product themselves. For her customer in the UK, Damodaran and ITC Infotech still built the framework themselves, but frequent conversations with UiPath followed. During these conversations, Subashini emphasized, for example, the importance of compatibility of the Test Suite with other software and products.
“The Test Suite therefore integrates perfectly with other services and tools such as Jira,” says Weishaar. Organisations that want to migrate from their existing testing system to a more modern and automated approach can do so gradually.
Robust despite changes
As previously mentioned, the strength of the new approach comes from the RPA technology, which today is mature enough and much better able to handle adjustments in applications. “It involves a combination of technical IDs that identify buttons and computer vision and allows it to see buttons and fields in a program when those IDs are not available. It ensures that changes in applications do not break the automations that have already been set up.”
The step to testing
That doesn’t mean that you can bring RPA technology, as it exists today for production environments, integrally to the world of testing without modifications. “RPA and testing are closely related, but each has its own challenges,” confirms Weishaar. “On the one hand, there are advantages. Testing is a less critical environment than production; if something does break, it’s not a disaster. On the other hand, there were gaps to be filled in.”
What Weishaar means is that the RPA testing tools should cover a wider range of applications. “For example, we didn’t have tools for mobile automation because there was no great demand for them in the RPA world. Within testing, that was very important. For testing, we also introduced version control.”
Eventually, UiPath closed the gaps and introduced the Test Suiten, not long after Subashini had successfully deployed her own framework. Meanwhile, ITC Infotech uses the actual suite, successfully.
Better for everyone
“Our customers are very satisfied, but so are our employees,” she says. “Testers who immersed themselves in automation with the Test Suite gain expertise that they can also use for automation in production. That gives them the chance to boost their careers. They start with RPA for testing, but before they realize it, they are building bots in production.”
Weishaar also sees the synergy with production as a major advantage. To begin with, you can work with RPA experts, which is a broader field of expertise than Selenium testing. Next, not only is the knowledge of the testers useful for other areas of the company, the automations that they build also come in handy. An automated flow built to test an application can also provide an efficiency gain in production.
Testing: no longer an expense
“An organization often invests a ton of money to automate its testing strategy using a combination of open source, legacy and other tools that only relate to testing automation. Then, they spend another ton of money to automate similar flows in production,” confirms Damodaran. “By using RPA for testing, testing no longer has to be an expense.”
These days she takes it a step further, convincing companies to set up ‘testing centers of excellence’. “Historically, too often testing teams worked in silos. They work with their department’s applications, while another team in another industry solves similar challenges in a different way. There is so much redundancy.” Damodaran believes a centralized testing department, automated on the basis of RPA and low code, is much more efficient.
“Automation is the main driver of digital transformation,” says Weishaar. “Thanks to RPA, test automation will make a comeback.” RPA today shows itself to be a mature technology for automation that can appeal to an increasing number of organizations.
“The technology has proven itself in the meantime. RPA in testing may be new, but the underlying foundation is not. It has already proved itself in production environments,” Weishaar points out in conclusion. Combine that with a tailor-made testing framework, which also neatly blends with other testing tools and suites, and you can assume that the world of testing is on the cusp of a major transformation.