people at a rally holding a sign reading "do we look like bots?"
PHOTO: Waldemar Brandt

As innovation continues to drive the world forward, companies are constantly on the lookout for ways to reduce menial tasks and replace them with tasks that drive revenue. Developers are some of the key players in streamlining workflows over recent years with the rise of concepts such as robot process automation (RPA) that help improve productivity, speed and quality.

According to Gartner, the RPA market is expected to grow at double-digit rates through 2024 as enterprises look for ways to optimize their digital efforts. The popularity of automation is being driven in part by one particular sub-set of RPA, web browser automation. We’ve spoken to experts to learn more about these browser automation tools and identify the ways businesses can benefit from them. 

What are Web Browser Automation Tools?

Web browser automation tools automate simple, repetitive tasks either to save humans time, or to increase the rate by which a task can be repeated in a short space of time. Samson Gonzalez, Technical Team Lead for eCommerce agency Guidance, says “browser bot automation is scripting that enables a browser to run on its own and mimic human activity. It can use a dataset to provide information to forms as needed.”

Akram Assaf, CTO at Dubai, UAE-based job board website, Bayt echoed a similar definition. “In short, browser automation is performing web operations automatically on a web browser, and it helps to achieve the results that would be impossible for humans. (think something like 10 000 queries per day!). It's used to accomplish repetitive, boring tasks for us humans, but not for [browser automation] bots,” he said.

Related Article: BPA vs. RPA: How Are They Similar, How Are They Different?

Getting Started With Web Browser Automation 

Browser automation tools can help simplify operations for businesses but how can companies get started with browser automation tools? “Traditionally, you had to use a tool like Selenium or even write your own Python script to automate a web browser bot. However, now there are several services that allow "script-less" setup of automated bots,” said Gonzalez. 

Assaf believes that your starting point, and whether you need an automation bot in the first place is required knowledge. “First, acknowledge that you have a need for browser automation bots. Are you struggling with web scraping, data collection, performance testing, or something along those lines? If that's the case, you could probably use a browser bot,” he said.

And there are several options for getting started. “There are many providers for such bots, and you will have to research them individually. Some of the best providers are Axiom, Cloud BOT, and Browser Bots. Most providers offer a platform to create your own bots, but you can also opt for a "built-for-you" bot service. It's optimal to have a designated developer in charge of browser automation in your company,” said Assaf. 

Web Browser Automation Use Cases and Benefits

Browser automation tools have a host of use cases and these yield tremendous benefits. “Data collection, web scraping, performance testing and automated testing,” said Assaf, are some of the primary uses. 

“Benefits include reduced human workload and improved data collection. When put to good use, browser automation tools can reduce the workload of up to 5 people in your company. There are many uses for browser automation, and you sort of have to find a creative way to put this technology to good use. One of our clients in the automotive industry uses it to collect data on jobs available to drivers, then, after filtering it through the company's internal CRM, places ads to drivers on various boards to make a commission,” added Assaf. 

According to Gonzalez the use case most often seen for bot automation is to perform automated testing of newly deployed code. This helps developers roll out projects faster, while spending less time testing and more time iterating.

"One limiting factor with rapid development is the time it takes to test after deployment. This can slow down deployments. However, it's important to run tests to detect that all of the site features are working together properly. In modern web development, there are several front end development suites (ex. Angular, React, Vue), micro services, and "headless" CMS and eCommerce; it's important to know that all of them are working together. To really understand if everything is configured correctly, you need to run through the site and test all of the features as your users would. A testing team can set up the automated browser bots to go through the site and check for anomalies. They can then look through the results and see if there are true errors or changes due to new feature behavior,” said Gonzalez. 

Related Article: Business Process Management vs. Robotic Process Automation: How to Choose

The Future of Web Browser Automation

Browser automation tools represent a small part of the larger use cases for automation. The opportunities to utilize automation are endless, so much so in fact that Udacity and UIPath have launched an RPA nanodegree in a move to democratize access to robotics and automation-related learning. 

As more enterprises embrace the power of automation, browser automation tools and RPA could see huge adoption in the next few years.