Do interfaces drive the opportunity for Automation?

Do interfaces drive the opportunity for Automation?

If a process operates entirely within a single application, it is unlikely that it is suitable for automation. Why? Well, the application itself should provide the functionality required or it is likely to do provide the functionality in a future release.

Automation offers the most value when there is more than one application involved.

This newsletter considers the different types of interfaces in processes that could exist.

File Exchange Interface

For many organisations there is a need to exchange files with clients, suppliers or regulators. The files of data could be small or large. The number exchanged per day will vary.

The mechanisms to transfer files between organisation either directly or across intermediate networks are FTP and SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol).

The reliability of connections across networks and constraint that the transfer of large files is achieved by sending small packets from the source before being re-assembled at the target location, has led to issues about needing to resume and retry transfers.

With this background, the Managed File Transfer (MFT) products were created. This category of software provides the automation necessary to deliver the business requirement in a consistent way.

The core protocols are still used by MFT but the management of the process is wrapped up with appropriate error handling, verification, encryption, etc., to deliver a quality service.

Leading RPA tools such as UiPath could be used to develop solutions equivalent to an MFT product, but unless there was a compelling need to only use one product, acquiring an MFT product is a good solution for the transfer process.

The RPA tools can then be used to process the contents of the file once the transfer is complete.

Customer and Supplier Portals

An alternative to transfer of files between organisations is the use of a Portal. These provide the facility for one business to “Logon” onto web facility and directly input or extract data as required for the business task. These solutions are generally “Point to Point” solutions with an organisation being the host for all of its Customers or Suppliers.

There are some industry solutions that provide “Hub” solutions for many businesses across a supply chain. One example is Haulage Exchange ( from the Transport Exchange Group. As a common facility, data placed in the exchange can be made available to other members.

These portals and hub exchanges, all require work to get data into and out from them. It is often the case that many man hours are spent interacting with such systems through web pages.

RPA solutions to automate the interactions with portals and exchanges can be an effective solution which can interact either through the GUI browser screens or via any available API facilities.

Data between Applications

Zapier has built a business as a connection specialist, but it is NOT an RPA tool. Zapier state this on its website. It is aimed at data synchronisation. It uses a “ZAP” that define an “If” situation and an appropriate “Action”.

Zapier supports a vast library of applications (6,000+), making it versatile for automating a wide range of tasks, from email marketing to data sharing between platforms.

There are a growing number of competitors in this space such as Bardeen which is marketed as AI Automation. It is a competitor to Zapier but with more focus on Process. Like other related products the focus for Bardeen is on browser usage particularly Chrome. Some of these newer products in this space are only delivered as a Chrome extension.

RPA tools can deliver the same functionality as these data synchronisation tools but are also capable of automating the processing associated with any data changes.

RPA Connectors

UiPath like other RPA tools comes with a range of “Connectors”. Each connector provides a collection of functionality to interact with a specific application such as Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Excel, Salesforce, Hubspot, SAP, Oracle Financials, Xero. etc.

The leading tools have scores of specific connectors plus a number of generic connectors.

By utilising the connectors, the development of automations to work with the target applications is quicker than building bespoke integrations.

Automation of processes that interface one or more applications is where RPA tools deliver clear benefits compare to other software products.

As most businesses have many applications, it is easy to understand why there are so many good business cases to implement RPA solutions that can transform business processes.

If a connector to a particular application does not exist, either a custom integration can be created for a specific process, or a bespoke connector can be built.

Where there are going to be a number of processes that are going to be automated which use the target application, the construction of a bespoke connector can be a good investment at the start of an automation programme.

Message Exchanges

Some interactions between applications occurs through the use of “Message” exchanges. These are technical level interfaces that are not normally processed manually by people and therefore outside the scope of automation in most scenarios.


RPA tools provide generic capability for automations across a business and across business to business interactions. Automating business processes that involve 3 or 4 applications is quite common. Although RPA tools can provide consistency, it is important to recognise that there may be other solutions for specific scenarios (e.g. MFT).


Article Author

David Martin

Managing Director, Ether Solutions

About The Author


WORKSMARTPA – NEW IDEAS, NEW FRONTIERS The year 2021 sees our business celebrate 21 years of - a community supporting office professionals since our very first newsletter way back in May 2000. As we look forward to greet a new world of change beyond the pandemic, we are extremely excited to announce a new brand; a new look; and some new directions for our much loved, long-standing web site and communities to explore. It is time for change. To better reflect now what we do best for you, we have a new brand, web site and activities – a new name and web site that will be full of new ideas for a new business age and new working trends as we all seek to grow, expand and explore new frontiers.

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