When I first began working in both the banking and animal health industries, we faced the serious challenge of maintaining code consistency. Developers all wrote code their own way, making it hard not only to understand the code but also to maintain it. Our organization needed to scale automation; and an empty pipeline or small developer team certainly wasn’t our issue. We had a huge number of people expressing interest in building automations! But our inconsistent, hodgepodge approach to writing code was the glaring obstacle stifling our ability to design and develop resilient automations, enable citizen developers at a higher level, and scale across the organization—all things we knew were achievable.
Automation frameworks were the key to revolutionizing our development practices and accelerating the growth of our automation program.
What are Automation Frameworks?
An automation framework is a predefined template that provides developers with a starting point each time they embark on a new automation design. Equipped with pre-built best practices—think creating working folders, log management, error handling, and establishing a secure working environment for automation executions—frameworks lay a solid foundation, enabling developers to focus on designing use-case-specific functionalities and value-added innovations out of the gate. However, automation frameworks are not just about code or the best practices of writing code. They are about envisioning smooth, stable, and scalable RPA operations within an organization.
Recommended Pre-Requisites For Establishing Your Frameworks
- Establish your standards and best practices for Quality Control - You need to establish a well-defined starting point from which to build automations, ensuring that every time a developer builds an automation, the foundation is structured in the same way. This includes creating a log file, making an error images folder, reading a config file, etc., which can be accomplished with a task bot within your framework folder.
- Organize Your Data - The best practice I recommend is to find a system where you can control access at a granular level: a file or folder level. Something that worked within my organization was SharePoint document libraries. We created folders for each automation and then defined access for each folder.
- Facilitate Auditability - It's essential to maintain transparency of automation activities, so if in the future you want to look back at older executions and debug anything, you will be able to pinpoint the wrong part. I recommend saving the automation-dependent files, creating folders for each automation within your document library, and managing them from there. It's also best practice to maintain a shared drive/folder right onto the machine, then use that folder as your root folder to save all your automation execution logs.
Benefits of Utilizing Automation Frameworks
Frameworks ensure code consistency and quality, no matter who builds it, and streamline security and audit practices. How exactly does that translate into tangible benefits for your automation program, you ask? In quite a few ways! Let’s cover the big ones:
- Consistency and standardization - When I talk about consistency and standardization, that also means reduced risk of errors, improved quality of developed automations, and streamlined maintenance. For us, this was a critical win! Automation frameworks include built-in error handling mechanisms and logging practices, so any issues that may arise are easier to identify and troubleshoot or debug quickly. All in all, this results in more resilient automated solutions.
- Efficiency and business agility - I mentioned above that automation frameworks lay a solid foundation, effectively creating a head start for developers with each new automation they develop. No more worrying about the nitty-gritty of start-up best practices. Developers of all ability levels can be off to the races, focused only on coding the functionalities necessary to a particular use case, thereby saving time, reducing redundancy, and enabling efficiency! More efficient development also results in greater agility should your business demand prompt responses to changing needs. The ability to pivot and deliver on an urgent ask will undoubtedly impress your stakeholders and earn highly valuable clout for your automation program.
- Reusability and scalability - Automation frameworks are templates of your established standards and best practices, which means they can be applied across a range of use cases and automation initiatives. This reusability gives you leverage to scale into new functional areas and have a resilient foundation with which to tackle automated solutions enterprise-wide.
- Citizen developer-friendly - Just as frameworks provide a head start to professional developers, they also lower the learning curve and afford a head start to citizen developers. With automation frameworks, citizen developers can quickly get up to speed and have the guardrails necessary to build their automations with confidence already in place. Frameworks are also vehicles for smooth collaboration and clear communication between professional and citizen developers because they have created a structured methodology that is easy for anyone to follow.
Automation frameworks are the key to unlocking consistency, resiliency, agility, and scalability in your organization. And significant benefits like that simply can't be ignored! Not to mention, if you have a citizen developer team or are considering starting one, automation frameworks will bolster your efforts to get new developers onboarded and up to snuff. Overall, frameworks make automation work easier. Couldn't we all use a little of that?