Web Scraping (sometimes called web harvesting) is the general term applied to the extraction of data from websites.
There are many reasons why one might want to undertake web scraping activities, for instance retrieval of companies contact details for storage in a database or perhaps for performing price comparison analysis on competitors or the market in general
Where does Robotic Process Automation fit in?
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology emulates what a human operator would do at a computer’s interface. So what? Well, moreover, rpa tools also come with powerful integrations for web operations and scraping – pretty cool.
In this way it is a relatively straightforward process for an RPA designer to build powerful and repetitive automations in order to scrape data from websites. Imagine receiving an alert every time one of your competitors changed the price of a comparable product? Or when they had a sale? That sort of information is critical to maintaining business advantage
But I don’t just want to scrape the web!
Whilst more traditional web scraping utilities allow you to retrieve web site data and extract it, RPA allows you to go further. Robotic Process Automation is just that – automation technology. So whilst you can build extremely powerful automations to repetitively and accurate retrieve all the web data you want – you can do so much more!
Remember that RPA works with the interface just as you or I might. Well that means that not only can you use it to read data but you can use RPA to automate interaction with web sites as well. Perhaps your HR system has a web front end and you need to automate tasks in there. Maybe your organisation uses cloud accounting software and it would be a huge time saver to automate creating invoices in there. Anything you can do using your browser can be automated using RPA. Think of the power and the time that puts back in your hands.
Take the example of scraping company contact details, maybe you have a list of potential clients and would like to send an introductory email to each of them. Not only could RPA scrape the contact information but you could then have it send your email to your potential client. That might be a simple example but it demonstrates the value RPA adds over and above traditional web scraper tools
Why is RPA so good at this?
Well if you’re already interested in RPA or better still, already using it to automate business processes then the good news is that you can harness its web scraping capabilities without having to look for alternative scraping solutions in the market place.
Also, RPA bases its interface technology on elements. An element is a well-defined area of the program (or web page’s) presentation interface which RPA can understand. So, this isn’t co-ordinate based screen scraping – RPA can identify target regions, elements, on the web page in order to derive the actual data required.
And there’s more. Whilst RPA automations run on the concept of a robot – software responsible for actually carrying out the automation – this is not analogous to a web trawling bot. Robotic Process Automation uses, loads and ‘views’ webpages in just the same way as you or I might.