In the year 2016, I wrote a blog post called "I don't need no stinkin' API - Web Scraping in 2016 and Beyond" which to my absolute surprise, went on to be #1 on Hacker News for nearly a full 24 hours. My site crashed; luckily it was on AWS so I could upsize the server quickly. Someone was kind enough to quickly create a cache of it somewhere too.

By the way, if you aren't familiar with the term RPA, it means software automation.

It's now 2020. I've taken the post down - even though I'm still getting hits to it, it will now go to a 404. Maybe I should at least do a 301 for SEO but let me get back on track. What I wrote about 2016 is still relevant today - especially the mindset behind the words. If they don't give you an API, just create a bot to do the job - a bot to do your job.

I recently heard that Robocorp has secured a $5.6M USD seed round funding to bring Open Source RPA to the market. It also turns out that this is on the back of an existing open source platform called Robot Framework.

The fact that investors are putting money behind something doesn't always validate a market. But if you have a good amount of domain knowledge, and if you are able to see capital moving around, the chances are your gut feel will be correct. Open Source RPA is going to be a game changer for the RPA industry, as well as all tech-enabled companies for years and tens of years to come.

Antti Karjalainen is the CEO of Robocorp. I'm half way through his presentation from RoboCon 2019 and he raises some excellent points.

People are not designed to move information from one system to another.

I completely agree with this and I couldn't have said it better. In fact, he goes on to link this act with job satisfaction levels. Obviously employees are, from time to time given tasks that involve a lot of manual, repetitive processes. If we could automate this very easily, naturally the efficiency around this company will go up as well as job satisfaction levels. This is one reason I'm very bullish on RPA.

But why open source? Because for any given emerging industry, an open source flavour is needed. Magento became the #1 open source option for eCommerce. Automattic changed the game of blogging with its open source software - WordPress. They later acquired the closed source, once popular platform Tumblr in 2019. Who will take the #1 spot for the Open Source RPA ecosystem?

I'm working on my ultra-modern RPA platform for the web called 80bots. I did not intend on making it open source, but I've had a chat with my 2 angel investors and they're 100% behind my decision, whatever it may be - and I'm very thankful for this. When I asked them, should I make 80bots or parts of 80bots open source, they were 100% cool with it. So it ultimately comes down to my decision.

Here's what I think in a nutshell:

Pros

  • Easier to get traction from dev community
  • Easier to market to certain companies (sensitive data etc.)
  • Higher probability of going viral
  • Feeling of contribution to society

Cons

  • Need to rethink monetisation model
  • Need to refactor a lot of code
  • Someone backed by big money might take it and spin it off, creating a competitor
  • Might impact future funding opportunities (but could be positive?)

I think pros outweigh the cons here, definitely.

Another reason I'm extremely bullish on software robots is that it is recession-proof. When and if the economy breaks what better time than that to deploy a digital workforce to supplement the downsized human resourcing. Well, ideally it should happen before the economy breaks to be really ready - but you get the point. I'm told that usually every 10 years or so, a world economic crisis of epic proportions happen.

The GFC happened in 2008 off the top of my head. 2000 was the bursting of the dot-com bubble. I'm lucky to be living in Australia which is usually shielded from a lot of macroeconomic and geopolitical events that happen - so we haven't really seen - or I, at least, haven't really had to feel the impact of these events. Maybe I was too young. But I can't help but to be a little bearish on the world economic outlook most of the time. It's not that I want something to happen, but betting on RPA seem like a smart move to counteract such events.

There's a million other reasons to be excited about the power of RPA. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg - if you have seen it or heard about it at all. I feel like 99% of the addressable market is still untapped. Open source will definitely help bring RPA to the masses - not because it is easy to implement, but because it will help raise awareness.

Awareness is the one thing that is most lacking about RPA at this stage I feel like. I mean, I only came across the term towards the end of last year - and I've been doing web automation like forever. Any movement that embodies communities will undoubtedly and naturally bring awareness so let's end this post for now by saying this is why I'm again bullish on the open source flavour of Robotic Process Automation.