This article is one of a series of lectures on Alibaba Cloud robotic process automation (RPA). It describes the background, features, technical features, functional features, non-functional indicators, and development of Alibaba Cloud RPA.
In 2011, with the rapid development of various businesses in the Alibaba Group, many internal departments faced a situation where manual computer operations were growing increasingly complicated and less efficient. A new approach was urgently needed to increase staff efficiency so that employees could focus on more important work. This was the context that gave rise to Alibaba Cloud RPA (formally called Codestore).
At that time, many Alibaba Group staff members trusted Alibaba Cloud RPA because the codestore had the following advantages:
(1) Proved: Adopted and proven useful by Alibaba business departments
Since its launch in 2011, Alibaba Cloud RPA has been widely applied in Alibaba Group service departments, including Taobao, Tmall, Ant Financial, Alibaba Cloud, Fliggy, and the Group Administration Platform. As a testament to its powerful functionality and stable performance, the number of Alibaba Cloud RPA users is growing each day.
(2) Advanced: Comprehensive functionality, secure, and reliable
Based on core technologies of Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba Cloud RPA provides powerful advantages in terms of system functionality, stability, and security. We are fully aware of the importance of data security to enterprises. Therefore, we use bank-level encryption technology to ensure the security and reliability of user data and prevent data loss or leakage.
(3) Professional: Rapid response to your service demands
Based on technology platforms of Alibaba Cloud, Alibaba Cloud RPA provides comprehensive and powerful customer support capabilities. We quickly respond to your demand and immediately do our best to satisfy you.
With the preceding advantages, Alibaba Cloud RPA is widely applied in various service departments and fields of Alibaba Cloud to improve work efficiency through automation and greatly save the manpower costs.
2. Technical Features
Alibaba Cloud RPA™ is a new process automation robot software that automatically runs processes by simulating manual operations.
It frees office workers from repetitive daily work to improve productivity. Specifically, Alibaba Cloud RPA is a new office business process automation technology based on software robots and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Just like the assembly line machines that replaced factory workers in the industrial age, Alibaba Cloud RPA can replace office staff who perform computer and software operations, automatically run software systems and processes, and automate business processes accurately and efficiently. Alibaba Cloud RPA has the following significant features:
(1) RPA works with multiple service systems and automatically runs tasks.
With a pre-programmed process, RPA simulates a robotic employee who automates the entire process. It works faster and commits fewer errors than a human and never gets tired. To complete a task, you simply run the RPA software.
(2) RPA automatically connects and re-engineers a series of operation processes.
RPA works like an industrial robot in terms of process automation. RPA replaces humans and automates a series of processes to re-engineer the processes.
(3) RPA does not affect the functionality and stability of existing IT systems
RPA runs at a higher software level than ERP, OA, CRM, and other traditional IT systems. Therefore, RPA does not intrude into existing software systems. While improving enterprise efficiency, RPA retains the stability and reliability of existing enterprise IT systems.
(4) Compared to the traditional efficiency improvement methods, RPA maintains a good balance between efficiency and costs, and reduces the ROI cycle.
To increase efficiency, enterprises generally increase manpower or use traditional software development methods. Now, Alibaba Cloud RPA provides a third option, with significant advantages. Increasing manpower is an inefficient method and humans are prone to error while traditional software development is expensive. RPA provides the optimal balance between efficiency and economy.
Alibaba Cloud RPA products and services provide a wide range of process-based automation technologies and industry solutions to improve the efficiency of customers and partners in industries such as banking, insurance, new retail, finance, taxation, and legal affairs.
3. Functions and Features
(1) RPA can run on public clouds and Apsara Stack.
Based on Taobao, RPA on public clouds provides e-commerce-based general solutions and enterprise application markets.
Based on the offline output, RPA on Apsara Stack provides a custom business process development mode for enterprises.
Note: Prices displayed in this article are accurate at the time of writing.
(2) RPA supports visual development mode and encoding development mode.
Visual development mode is suitable for the development of simple applications. In this mode, you can drag and drop controls and set parameters to develop processes.
Encoding development mode allows you to compile code in Python to develop applications.
(3) RPA supports unattended robots, unattended robots, and service robots.
Attended robots require human intervention. You need to log on to attended robots to run developed applications.
Unattended robots do not require human intervention and can automatically run developed applications based on scheduled tasks.
Service robots provide APIs, through which you obtain robot execution results, intermediate statuses, and other information, or remotely call robots to run corresponding programs.
(4) RPA supports cross-system collaboration.
RPA connects multiple complex service systems to automatically run complex processes, including WPS, WMS, OMS, CRM, link to TradeManager, email, WeChat, and OA.
(5) RPA can regularly run applications and work 24/7.
RPA allows you to manually trigger running applications on attended robots and set unattended robots to automatically run applications at regular intervals.
(6) RPA provides a powerful task scheduling function.
By using the task scheduling function on the console, you can schedule computers installed with the unattended robot clients to run scheduled tasks.
(7) RPA provides comprehensive asset management functions
To avoid disclosing account passwords and other assets to application developers, the administrator can store important assets in cloud variables in the console.
(8) Based on a Python engine, RPA supports custom SDK functions, allows you to import data to third-party Python libraries, and provides rich implementation logic.
(9) RPA provides an enterprise application market. After an application developed by an employee is published on the enterprise application market, other employees in the same enterprise can run the application after obtaining the necessary permissions.
(10) RPA supports image recognition OCR, text analysis, asset management (storage and calling of confidential characters, such as passwords), and data analysis and processing.
4. Non-Functional Indicators
- Security: Alibaba Cloud RPA can be deployed in private mode and uses a strict account authorization mechanism to control the permissions of robot schedulers, ensuring data security and compliance.
- Scalability: Alibaba Cloud RPA can be installed in Windows 7, Windows 10, Windows Server 2012, and later versions and can be dynamically bound to clients and scaled through activation codes.
- Ease of deployment: Alibaba Cloud RPA can be deployed on both public clouds and Apsara Stack.
- Availability: You only need to develop and debug applications on the client and run the developed applications using attended robots, unattended robots, or service robots.
- Proprietary intellectual property rights: Alibaba Cloud RPA products are independently developed and operated by the Alibaba Cloud RPA team. All internal technical architectures and SDK modules are protected by internal knowledge products of Alibaba Cloud and authorized based on official versions. These products have been developed based over a decade of technical experience of Alibaba Group.
- Cost-effectiveness and cycle: Process-based applications developed by using Alibaba Cloud RPA boast low development costs, short development cycles, and fast delivery.
- Fast and convenient customization: the Apsara Stack Edition of Alibaba Cloud RPA allows you to customize application development. With strong OEM technical support and the development capabilities of its partners, the Alibaba Cloud RPA team can quickly complete customized development tasks and provide an all-in-one process from consulting, development, training, to delivery.
5. Development and Future Prospects
Since its commercial launch in the second half of 2017, Alibaba Cloud RPA has been committed to serving users of e-commerce platforms such as Taobao and Tmall on public clouds. Providing e-commerce solutions and applications suitable for general scenarios, these platforms have a total number of over 300,000 registered users, with the average number of active users over 10,000.
At the end of 2017, the Alibaba Cloud RPA team began to provide RPA services to the Apsara Stack user market and developed RPA robot applications and solutions based on enterprise business processes through offline subscription. The team has served more than 50 customers, including Ant Financial, Cainiao Network, Anta, Bohai Property Insurance, Chambroad Petrochemicals, Import and Export Bank of China, and Be&Cheery.
In the future, Alibaba Cloud RPA will further integrate technologies such as AI, machine learning, big data, image recognition, intelligent voice systems, mobile Internet, and cloud platforms. As the technology advances, robots will be able to take over more and more business process operations and form a digital labor force.