Mark and Brent walk through the week's news and dive into what is included in the Robocode General Availability release. Robocode is an exciting company making waves in the open-source RPA space. We got access to the product and walk through some of the high-level features and pricing.
RPA News & Robocode GA Release Preview
Brent Sanders, Mark Percival
Brent Sanders 00:02
On this episode of the podcast, we dive into some news as well as the Robocode General Available release. Talk about what's included with the pricing looks like what does it mean that the state of open source RPA a note to our listeners, we're looking into a future podcast on RPA ethics. We're looking for experts to speak with. Do you know somebody who's gone deep into the space about ethics? You figured this out on your own, get in touch with us on Twitter @formulatedRPA or email@example.com. We'd love to talk to you got any further delay? Here's the show. Let's start with what news, what news do we have from the last week?
Mark Percival 00:43
that a lot my
Brent Sanders 00:45
Mark Percival 00:47
Yeah, the sub stack, our RPA weekly. So we did obviously we did the interview last week with Tom Taulli. And then we did there was a podcast on scaling RPA, the smart way for us to put together a panel talking about RPA scaling. Yeah, so it was kind of interesting. The one we'll talk about the day, Robocorp opened up to the public. And let's see what else we have RPA talk. Yeah, SAP did a YouTube video on diverse views on RPA automation. There was actually a lot of content this past week that was audio and video. So it seemed like there was a little well a small amount of people creating decent content around this, not just written articles. And then let's see if there's anything else. Obviously you did your article persisting browser sessions and robot framework.
Brent Sanders 01:34
Right. Yeah, that was an interesting little thing. I mean, I think a lot of the experienced Selenium users already knew how to do that. But really, the point of that post is show how easy it is to what I what I would use the word transpose, how do you transpose your Python into robot framework, which is like if you're a Python developer, and you're getting into open source RPA, or writing bots, it can be really helpful because it's like you sometimes you may just want to drop into Python, but it expresses the same way you can basically do anything you can want to do in Python, I mean, not anything but just about call methods on things. But it was a fun little project to put together.
Mark Percival 02:17
Which probably gives you some experience and to robot framework. Right, which is useful for this week's topic.
Brent Sanders 02:23
Yes. So I think the first thing that's the most interesting about Robocorp's GA release, and you know, anybody who hasn't listened to our interview with Antti from Robocorp he introduced us to his platform. This is what probably a month ago or so. And then about a month, yeah, we were really excited about the conversation. Got involved. Got it. And we got early access from our conversation to the developer beta, which so we get to play with these toys before the general public, which was fun. And I think the most interesting thing to me about this release, is coming up with a pricing plan, right? Because it's like, as an early stage company, you know, that's kind of says a lot about how you think about the business and where you think you're going to be headed. And those things change. But they're, I don't know, what are your thoughts? I think they're hard to change, right? It's like once you roll out your first pricing plan, it's like, yes, it will change, but it's like, you're then grandfathering people in and you know, maybe upset the applecart.
Mark Percival 03:27
Maybe Yeah, if you look at them, the amount they're charging, I think it seems reasonable, it's kind of in line with what you pay for easy to compute. So I don't know, I feel like there's certainly plenty of margin for ECSU in those prices. So I think these guys can easily do that. And then the fact that you know, again, you're paying per minute. So this is something that is nice. If you're a small company, it's very easy to start off small and not spend a lot of money. But then obviously, as you get more utility, as you get more, you know, return on investment for your automations. And the price starts cranking up, you actually see that return. So it's actually very easy to accept that, you know, hey, I'm paying a little bit more than I expected, but I'm actually getting a lot more from it. Yeah. Which is nice. versus some of the other platforms, which is there's just a lot of upfront cost.
Brent Sanders 04:12
You know, and the thing we mentioned in our conversation last week, a lot of the platforms don't even have a pricing page, it's let's get in touch, let's talk we're gonna need to make a deal. And I do like that there, you know, the developer plan, you know, individual users, small businesses, unlimited run minutes, right. So you can Yeah, so let's break down the things that this platform has, you know, like most RPA platforms, there's a runner, right? I'm going to call it a runner or this may not be the right nomenclature that they're using, but there's something that's running on the machine that's going to be working that's a robo
Mark Percival 04:49
I think it's Roboworker as their
Brent Sanders 04:51
Yes the roboworker. Yeah. So you know, you have run minutes, which they seem to keep track of but unlimited run minutes are going on right now and to the launch of team and pro pricing plans, so not sure when those are happening, but I would imagine within the next year or so. So I think that even giving people an allotment of Hey, you could get to us 200 minutes for free. And you can kind of add people, you know, get five user seats, so you can add some people in your team. And so, again, I'm looking at this from the, you know, finance person who's trying to champion RPA, or maybe knows a little Python from doing stats, and, you know, wants to automate some bots whose, again, this is these are technical tools, these are they're not trying to make a point and click interface, but somebody who's, you know, maybe knows how to run some Python, maybe he's used Anaconda or conda, before, right, or Jupiter notebooks before, in an academic setting. I think they've done a really good job of making it easy for that person to get into their product and create some automations and like add value and demonstrate value before, you know, having a conversation. All right trial.
Mark Percival 05:58
So I think it's important for the listeners, because people are coming at this from different places. So I'm assuming somebody out there is, you know, maybe they're an automation x or sorry, automation anywhere person UI Path, Blue prism, and there's a pretty big difference here. But first, I would break down Just what are the components? So when you say Robocorp is GA? What does that actually mean? Sure. And I think what I would break it down in I think, I think I basically broke it down before, there's the IDE, which is the same thing as what you would download a studio on UI Path. But obviously more code heavy, you took a look deeper look at that. And that was, you mentioned, is very basically a Jupyter notebook.
Brent Sanders 06:37
Yeah, yeah. So I had installed that and ran, it was a great way to number one, it spins up, you can spin up a new project or new activity, I think, as they call it. And you get they're nice, very recommended code structure, right. So if you're starting a robot framework project on your own, you just kind of like okay, put your files wherever you, you kind of want and you have to come up with your own schema. So that's probably to me the biggest value right out of the gate isn't God, this this environment file I have? Yeah, conda set up, I have a of all the files kind of there and ready to go. And the projects ready to roll and it's opinionated? Yeah, it's been, it's good. It reminds me of, you know, like, back in the day, when, when rails was new, it's like, oh, this is interesting. You know, you have controllers and views, it's like, applying a sensible set of principles to how you organize your code, which can be really important as your project scales.
Mark Percival 07:32
But to be clear, this is, you know, UI Path is very GUI friendly. This describe is not this is more, this is very hard. It's more geared towards developers, right?
Brent Sanders 07:45
Yeah, you're writing code, you are not, you know, you have a code editor. But you don't really in the way that Anaconda works, or I should say, Jupiter, I keep mixing those two things up, the way the Jupiter notebooks, you're working with code, but they're sort of in blocks. And so you can kind of procedurally execute things and you can also go back and re execute things. It just works like a Python shell would but yeah, there's no drag and drop and, you know, in, in, in opposition to UiPath, you have to be you have to know what you're doing. You got to be pretty event, I mean, you have to from a like general finance person, you will not be able to really do much with this, I think you download it is you think RPA it's not it's not the fit. But if Yeah, you know, you are a finance person that's in the statistics world and you've taken a class on Python, you will feel right at home, because you've probably used Jupiter notebooks in your course. And so if you're doing forecasting with Python, or you've used NumPy, or Matplotlib, any of the popular kind of academic libraries, you will feel right at home. And furthermore, the editor is very, very nice and maintains a nice structure you don't get lost, has nice syntax highlighting all the nice things you'd want. So I would say it's interesting, but it's, again, in contrast with UiPath, you really, if you're a finance person, without Python, you're this will not be of help to you, you will be lost. I, yeah.
Mark Percival 09:14
But that's a big, there's a big group of growing group of people that are more competent with Python now because of Jupiter, because of people coming from the data science side, people that have taken data science courses, maybe that have had some experience there.
Brent Sanders 09:26
Yeah, yeah, I agree. I think it'll be interesting to see how it plays out with how the user base grows, because there could be a general assumption that, okay, if I'm a sort of Process Designer at an organization or business owner, or sorry, a process owner at a business, and, you know, I know I'm going to optimize a process and we're going to put it in UI Path or we're going to automate it. And, you know, is that actually ever the person that's actually making the bot right? It's like, if you get into The UI path, you can click around with some of the browser tools. But once you're past that, you still need to understand how to code. Yeah. And debug furthermore, like things are breaking, it's like, I got past the bunny hill, and it goes straight to the black diamond. There really isn't. Like, I don't know if this case of like, oh, you know, the average business person is gonna be able to use robot framework. It's like, that might be a fallacy anyways.
Mark Percival 10:27
Yeah, yeah. A robot could see a lie is the other component, which is, you know, I broke that down, because that's basically the it's really tied in with ID and the lab. But for me, it reminds me of the Roku COI, which is, you know, for, for Heroku. You could actually do things from the command line, like provision new processes, or you know, dinos on Heroku. Create new projects, that kind of thing. Same thing here, create a new project and provision it and upload it.
Brent Sanders 10:57
Didn't Heroku have a cooler name? did they call their tool belt?
Mark Percival 11:01
I think they eventually did call their tool belt. I don't think it was always called the tool belt.
Brent Sanders 11:07
Somebody needs to come up with better yet. He's like a really kind of unique names. Maybe that we can help her. Come up some ideas with the Robocop code. CLI could be like the, I don't know, we'll have to come up with a good name there. The bot belt.
Mark Percival 11:20
To me, it's gonna be hard to build the tool belt.
Brent Sanders 11:22
Tool belt tool belts pretty good. The bot tools? Yeah, I don't know, we'll have to brainstorm some ideas there and suggest them. But highly, highly useful tool. If you ever used Heroku, it's, you're in there, you're using it, it's incredibly helpful.
Mark Percival 11:39
Yeah, there's something about being able to do something on the command line, that's I, it's a little bit helpful. It's easy for scripting, that kind of thing. But yeah, this is the kind of stuff that typically it's, it's one you can use the COI or you can actually use typically the website to do the same thing. So Heroku is example is you want to spin up a new process, you can actually do it from the website. For most of the things, you want to add something like a database, you can do it from their website, you can also do it from the command line. But obviously, if you have the CLI tool, he lets you get a little bit more specific and anything with it. This is like AWS command line, right? Same thing, you can do most of the stuff on AWS command line from, you know, the GUI, or you can do it from the command line. And it helps try copying, try copying 10,000 files to a different S3 bucket through the website. Right. So certain power power user use cases, the tool belts will be really helpful. Yeah, it's great for provisioning an ACL that you have no idea what it's actually doing. And and creating site and creating an S3 bucket that's public to the world that you had no idea,
Brent Sanders 12:40
it's really good for copying pasting code from the internet into
Mark Percival 12:44
Stack Overflow is perfect for Stack Overflow. The big piece I think the biggest piece for Robocorps' do offering is the cloud obviously, they the robocloud is what they call it. And that is the orchestrator. I didn't call the orchestrator. But it's an orchestrator, the vault which is there for credentials, on a worker list, which kind of gives you your list of obviously, your workers. That's where the robo worker kicks off and says, if it's on a machine, it logs into Robocloud and puts itself on that list of available workers. And so from there, you can kind of see, you know, where are the workers? What are they working on? Are they currently you know, are they idle? Are they working on something, they have this idea of processes versus packages, packages are kind of reusable, and that a process is just a, a, you know, a list of packages that are gonna be run serially. So the idea is you can kind of build a bunch of packages that are reusable and other processes, processes there that supposedly allows you, I think, a little more flexibility, I haven't spent a lot of time playing with this, I did build one sample project and got it running on there. And so in my case, it was just one package that was run by one process. But pretty easy to set up. I was surprised by the pleasantly surprised by the fact that the Robocorp worker actually got provisioned really quickly, and didn't require a lot of setup on my end, I think I just use like a link and then it was linked that was done. And vault, I spent some time using vault which was it's you know, fairly similar, fairly similar to what you would see from most credential stores, which is but but the nice part is the the way that the framework is written when you when you create a new project is they have this idea of a local developer vault basically. And so you can kind of work on things with that and not check that into source code. But you can have those secrets available to you as the developer and then rely on them for coming from the vault later on when you actually run production.
Brent Sanders 14:40
Yeah, and I think that already kicks off like all of these tools and all the the whole suite promotes some pretty solid best practices, you know, yeah, moving, removing any keys removing things that are you know, configuration or environment based, getting those in a separate file, those are all real good things to be in the habit of doing
Mark Percival 15:00
But here's where I want to like, because this is my favorite piece, the RPA framework, this is where I get very confused. I know. So Robocorp is kind of 10. I mean, they obviously have involvement in the robot framework. But then they create the they, they, what is it that they maintain their own framework called RPA framework, which is a framework for robot framework, but focus on RPA tasks, which framework has also RPA tasks, but focus on RPA tasks that are, I suppose, more higher level. So typically, it's like interacting with Excel through wind calm, or wind 32 interacting with Windows desktop, when interacting with Outlook, they have some SAP plugin, some NetSuite plugins. And typically, if you're kind of in the Robocorp world, there's a chance that you will be interacting with RPA framework, an RPA framework, because it's maintained by them. I was interested to see was, that's where kind of the things like vault came in. They, they're basically keeping vault under the RPA framework umbrella. So when you include when you're using Robocloud, you're kind of automatically including RPA framework by default. So it's basically robot framework plus RPA. framework. But I still find this very confusing. The whole naming.
Brent Sanders 16:11
The naming, the naming is I've gotten over it, it's taken a couple weeks, you know, it's kind of like learning a new language. But it does seem like a lot of these libraries are outright, you know, sponsored or created by Robocorp, which is great to see them, you know, stepping in and you, you don't have to use those with Robocloud, which is kind of the nice sort of open source aspect of this is there, they should get credit for, you know, benefiting this community, their larger robot framework community. I mean, this comes from the test automation world. And yeah, test automation world can benefit from some of these new I don't want to call it, I think of it more of the RPA libraries, you know, because they're specifically meant for RPA. There's sort of this next generation, and they break away from the helm just trying to verify what's on the screen. And does it meet my, you know, assertions. And it's more so about, you know, interactivity, I want to work with Excel, I want to work with Word. The browser interesting development looks like they are sponsoring a open source project to really replace the browser, the Selenium driver, as sort of the thing that drives the browser with this thing called playwright, which is new, and it's under development. I tried to play with a little bit I couldn't quite get it running on my machine. And but it's in an early stage, and it looks very promising. I don't know if you've seen Playwright at all.
Mark Percival 17:40
I have not seen Playwright. I The thing about Selenium is, the market is very Selenium focused, right? I mean, if you just look for a if you're looking for someone to do Selenium work for you on Upwork, for example, you will not there is no lack of candidates.
Brent Sanders 17:58
So Playwright is a I think it's node based the way that you can automate. It's very similar to selenium, you can automate Chromium, Firefox and WebKit. It's got a single API for that. It's new, which seems to be you know, that's like one reason, because that's Selenium. The blog post I wrote last week, like how do you persist cookies, you know, and you have to know all these sort of magical arguments and dig into the, the Docs and understand and Sony has been around for so long. So I, I'm not sure what the limitations are that say, Hey, we need a new library. Other than this, this is just been around for a long time. And, you know, not much has really changed. So there probably are some things I'd imagine like any open source project is project in general that like, there's this, there's this thing that we need to fix in order to fix all these other bugs. And it's like a deep architectural problem. And I would assume that this allows you to get away.
Mark Percival 18:51
Oh wait, does Microsoft administer Playwright?
Brent Sanders 18:55
Ah, they may yeah.
Mark Percival 18:56
They do. Microsoft/Playwright. That is actually Who? Oh, I'm sold.
Brent Sanders 19:03
Mark Percival 19:04
I'm sold, although I prefer my open source poorly maintained. But this, this would probably be, I feel like this will win just because Microsoft will continue to dump money behind it. Which in the open source world is actually extremely helpful.
Brent Sanders 19:18
Yeah. funding help.
Mark Percival 19:20
This is interesting. Yeah, I'll have to I so this is, this is all new to me. I had no idea this existed.
Brent Sanders 19:25
So I dug into this a little bit just because, you know, I have the tendency like most developers. Yes. Isn't there something newer, right. I don't want to write and adopt the code that's going to be obsolete in, you know, a couple weeks or months. I'm writing it now and sensibly, I'm looking, okay. What is the modern answer to this because, again, I've been working with Selenium forever. I mean, it's a long, long, long time. So, and I know that it's not always easy to work with and has idiosyncrasies, so to speak, you know, trying to think of like the best way to go explain some really stable, it is stable, but it's got its quirks, right? It was run into little issues from time to time. So anyway, I tried running it. And Firstly, I didn't put too much time into it. But on my machine and I, I reluctantly didn't create an issue. So I really shouldn't be commenting on it too much. It does look like a really promising project and it's funded, right. So again, going back to, it looks very mature right? Now you can Playwright, but the robot framework dash browser project. So this is the and again, that's a little confusing, because it's part of robot framework, but then it's going to also work with RPA framework, because that will then eventually, I would imagine, be the thing that drives RPA dot browser, which is the RPA framework browser library, which gives you a nice really nice layer on top of the Selenium driver. So if you're out there and you're you know, test automation person check that out, because it may make your life a little bit easier to work with the browser. But anyways, is a long tangent about playwright and what might be changing in the space.
Mark Percival 21:07
So, I mean, to sum it up, we basically have Robocode IDE, which is a Jupiter basically a Jupiter Jupiter notebook with the CLI similar to Heroku CLI or AWS CLI, any of the clouds CLIs for interacting with the cloud service, then we have cloud, which has sort of the orchestration kicking off processes, the list of worker list and the vault, and then we have the workers. Right. And then we have obviously RPA framework has attended But as you know, obviously it's that's a core piece of it. So yeah, it's interesting. I mean, this is their This is their, their now public to everyone. So you can jump into this and give it a shot. Yeah, I've been fairly. I've been I obviously there's some, some points where I've kind of just mug, part of it was just me learning, I'm sure. But um, it seems like it's getting to a place where it this is gonna be a pretty interesting, competitive offer offering.
Brent Sanders 22:00
Yeah, and I would say I mean, I've been following along, we kind of hopped in at the end last month or so of the developer beta. But you know, the pace of change has been really fast. You know, improvements have been pretty quick to happen. So it's, it's being actively developed, it's, I think the team is growing from, from what I can tell, you know, I can't substantiate that with any headcount numbers, but it does seem like this is going to be well supported for, you know, years to come, this is not just sort of a flash in the pan. So really excited to see. And it, it's, it's nice to see that they've connected everything, right. So this is sort of this first release, where you can get end to end if you have an idea for an automation and you want to execute it without some of the other tools that require more the thicker licenses or you're a developer and you don't want to work with a GUI. This is a good option. And I think that having the workers now in place, you're not gonna be running on your, you know, machine kind of ad hoc, you'll have a some infrastructure to work with.
Speaker 1 23:03
Yeah, you can put a worker on your machine and then someone else can run stuff on your machine. Exactly. Because you can be pleasantly surprised.
Brent Sanders 23:11
Yes. It's not RPA without having Yeah, exactly. But really, and truly, it is really cool. Because otherwise, I think, you know, you have to be pretty I mean, we've deployed a couple of robot framework automation, just to kind of play with on, I did one on one of the Amazon Windows Spaces, you can spin up, yeah. That work pretty well. But it's a lot of work, right? It'd be nice if I could just install something to it. The one thing we forgot to mention about the Jupiter notebooks, it does upload and publish your code for you too, as well, which is a key feature, you don't really have to mess with git, you don't really have to mess with your like a non version control person. You get that out of the box.
Mark Percival 23:57
GitForce push works every time. It does, it really does. And it just works. That's it solves a lot of problems. Um, let's see if there's anything else. I mean, you can join their Slack. They have a pretty, I think, a fairly active Slack channel. Yes. So if you run into any issues, they are helpful there. Yeah. I don't think there's anything else I'll mention, from my standpoint, hopefully a useful overview.
Brent Sanders 24:21
Cool. Thanks for listening to this week's episode. Again, just a reminder, if you know anybody we should be speaking with about ethics in the RPA space. Reach out to us on Twitter @formulatedRPA or email us at Hello@formulatedautomation.com.