Automating via an API vs a GUI, and Which One’s Best

When companies face the challenges of a digital transformation, the frantic rush to automate can be all too real. However, before you make the leap, it’s important to understand how different automation solutions work and the key technologies behind them.

Case in point: RPA bots typically rely on a Graphical User Interface (GUI) whereas HIRO relies on a Application Programming Interface (API). Over time, one of these can accelerate your success and the other can hinder it. In this post, we walk you through the big differences between each interface and reveal how automation via an API better positions you for future growth.

The Difference between a GUI and API
A GUI is highly visual in nature. As an interface, it consists of the screens and interactive elements that you scroll, type in or click through for software programs, webpages, operating systems and mobile apps. For example, the sliders, buttons, text fields, and drop lists that you interact with everyday are all part of GUIs.

In contrast, APIs are an unseen but ever-present digital reality. With more than 22,000 publicly in use, they are backend interfaces that transfer data, such as user requests and responses between applications and servers. Thanks to APIs fetching and sending data behind the scenes, you can see flight schedules directly on Google or log into a website just with your Facebook credentials or pay with Paypal at an online store.

Indispensable for digital business, APIs “have now become a significant engine of business growth. As the connective tissue linking ecosystems of technologies and organizations, APIs allow businesses to monetize data, forge profitable partnerships, and open new pathways for innovation and growth,” according to McKinsey.

In a few words, a GUI for a webpage would display info sent by an API along with interactive elements while an API would connect and transfer data between that website and a server behind the scenes.

The Benefits of Automating via an API 

Greater Speed
Compared to a GUI, an API integration can make your automation faster. In terms of speed, an API operates independently of a screen’s design, working between applications and servers. RPA bots must navigate from one screen to another, which can be impacted by the speed of the underlying application. So for example, if an RPA bot needs to resolve an IT ticket across multiple applications or transfer data between web pages, slow-loading screens will affect the RPA bot’s speed. Resetting a password could take ten minutes; with HIRO, it takes ten seconds.

Reliable Data Transfers
APIs can cleanly transfer data and field commands behind the scenes without waiting for screens to load. An RPA bot automates tasks by relying on a fixed layout of a GUI. Rather than make its own decisions, it’s programmed to “screen scrape” a GUI to find data in the same field or to click the same button in the same place over and over.

Unfortunately, a GUI’s layout isn’t so fixed or stable. For example, a normal software update can easily change the position of a text box, a button, or a menu item on a GUI. As a result, the RPA bot won’t know where to click or which data to pull, and in turn, will break. Your IT staff or 3rd party vendor will then need to fix it, which will cost you even more time and money. Given this issue, deploying an RPA bot usually requires your IT staff to extensively test it first.

Ever More Flexibility and Adaptability
An API is also one major reason why HIRO can adapt fluidly to new business processes. It receives a command from a software’s API, then uses advanced AI to apply the right knowledge for the right task or even variations on that task. As it learns more, it can automate new processes.

In contrast, RPA bots need to be re-programmed for every new task or re-tested for use with a GUI. Often called a “band aid” solution, RPA ultimately lets you continue using an old business process and legacy systems rather than finding a new innovative approach.

Increased Security and User Control
Beyond speed and reliability, an API integration can make automation safer, especially with apps or websites that need access to your banking info. Those might include payment, money management or load advice services. When these services use screen-scrapers, it’s through 3rd-party companies that use your credentials to log into your banking account from a separate domain. For you, there isn’t much oversight or control over what they can access, when, or how it’s shared. That also means a data breach can expose your login info.

When these services instead connect directly to a bank’s back-end API, you log into your bank’s website and then provide “informed consent” to the data that’s needed. You or your bank can always revoke that permission later in case of breaches.

Unlocking New Growth with HIRO
Using an API isn’t just about future-proofing your automation. It’s about opening up totally new possibilities for your business. According to Paolo Malinverno, research vice president at Gartner, “We already live in an API economy where CIOs must look beyond APIs as technology and instead build their company’s business models, digital strategies and ecosystems on them.” With HIRO’s combination of AI and knowledge automation, you get a powerful, cost-effective solution that can unlock transformative, new growth. And who knows where that will take you.