Process automation involves the designing of workflows to automate tasks also called as activities. To improve the efficiency of the workflow design process, the design of reusable workflows assumes importance. Developers can modularize the processes by creating stand-alone reusable components and adding it to a library or repository. These component workflows then can be directly assembled into another workflow design requiring the same functionality. Though making use of reusable workflows is not a new concept, it is of utmost importance in Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Unlike custom development, RPA is about automating tasks or activities in a process. RPA can be used on whichever part of the process that can be automated. This means RPA will be used several times within a business process and many times over across different processes. The incentive to make use of reusable workflows is higher in an RPA process. RPA developers can use code or reference workflows and use them in their designs directly or with minimum level of customization. The automation potential gets compounded many times over due to the availability of reusable workflows

Modular design approach

After having studied a process, the business analyst, solution architect and developers need to get down to componentizing a process to its most basic level. Components are the most powerful form of sub-system reuse. Next is the step of introducing ready to use reusable workflows. Reusable workflows can be used in a new workflow design which reduces the overall complexity and compounds the rate at which process automation can be carried out

Selection of reusable workflows

How does one identify which workflows are reusable? There are no rules here! This acumen comes with experience. There are some basic workflows which can be reused across automations, a few examples being Opening an application, Logins and Extracting data from a defined range. There are other automations specific to the organization like posting data to AWS or Azure cloud. Developers should be encouraged to use their intuition along with their experience in creating reusable workflows. Reusable workflows can be published and used as custom activities from within the RPA toolset’s development studio and referenced within the workflow directly. An assembly of reusable workflows can also be used as a single reusable component if it is being repeatedly used in workflows. Thus, we see that reusable components can have a modular structure and can be organized at different hierarchical levels. (Such reusable workflow structures are called by different names e.g. ‘Templates’ in UiPath and ‘Metabots’ in Automation Anywhere)

Advantages and Benefits

Reusing workflows offers many benefits. The code introduced need not be tested. Of course, integration testing will have to be carried out. But the fact that reusable components have been tested are free from errors is a lot of comfort to the developers. It is easier to assemble than code every bit. It reduces time and effort for development.  Most reusable workflows will be made available with a ready reference manual or documentation making it easy for the developers to use it in their workflow design. Most importantly reusable workflows can be shared with other developers at an intra-organizational level or even inter-organizational level. We have seen developers making the code base available for free or on a paid basis on bot platforms such as Automation Anywhere’ s Botstore and UiPath’s Connect platform.

The most crucial advantage here is that any changes required in the base workflows can be easily carried out and propagated to all instances where the workflow is being used. This prevents the code from breaking whenever there are slight changes to UI or the interface environment. More the reusable components available, the easier it is to manage the development with developers with basic level skillsets. This can be crucial as finding developers with considerable RPA experience is not easy.

Speed to development, quick testing, modular code base, easy debugging, agile change management are some key reasons why the automation potential gets compounded using reusable workflows. Less effort and less time translate to lower costs for the client and better margins for the service provider resulting in a win-win situation.

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