Kofax builds its RPA credentials with Kapow 10

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With Kapow 10, Kofax has created itself a position in the fast-moving Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology marketplace. Its new integration engine, providing support for automation of Windows-native applications as well as providing embedded mainframe terminal connectivity, means Kapow now has the ability to span the breadth of ‘legacy’ applications that so often populate environments where RPA works best.

Top takeaways

A significant heritage in web automation

Kapow’s heritage stretches back 10 years, when Kapow Software was founded as a web integration technology company to commercialise the engine that underpinned a popular online marketplace. Kapow has over 500 customers, with particular strengths in insurance, banking and logistics industries; and in finance and accounting automation cross-industry.

A significant heritage in web automation

Kapow’s heritage stretches back 10 years, when Kapow Software was founded as a web integration technology company to commercialise the engine that underpinned a popular online marketplace. Kapow has over 500 customers, with particular strengths in insurance, banking and logistics industries; and in finance and accounting automation cross-industry.

A usage-based licensing model

Rather than licensing Kapow on a per-robot basis, Kofax licenses the Kapow RPA Platform on the basis of usage (robot invocations) according to several pricing tiers. In environments with uneven or unpredictable demand for automation, the Kapow licensing model is likely to confer advantages over a robot instance-based licensing model.

Kofax Kapow: from website automation to RPA

A significant heritage

Kapow Software was originally founded in 2005 as an independent software specialist focusing on website integration and data extraction tools. Kapow Software was acquired by Kofax in 2013, and Kofax was in turn acquired by Lexmark in 2015.

Kapow’s product and customer base both have significant heritage and so not surprisingly, some of the 500 or so Kapow customers have very extensive operations: one customer runs around 10,000 Kapow automation robots, for example. To date, Kapow’s sweet spots have been in logistics, banking and insurance industries; with particular hotspots in finance and accounting functions (for example in supporting AP and AR automation).

Until relatively recently the Kapow product was positioned as a data integration platform – with its ability to automate user-website and portal interactions with software robots to enable ‘synthetic APIs’ positioned as one element within its wider capability. However, with the rise in popularity of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) concepts, the Kapow team has rebranded its offering as the Kapow RPA Platform.

Kapow 10: adding desktop and mainframe application automation

Crucially, version 10 of the Kapow RPA Platform now adds support for automation of applications that have Windows-native (including Java on Windows, and Silverlight) and character-terminal clients. Now, with version 10 of the platform, it’s able to work effectively and quickly across the mainstream variety of legacy applications that RPA platforms need to support in practice, including common enterprise applications like SAP and Oracle E-Business Suite. In the case of SAP, native automation connectivity is part of Kapow 10.

For its web automation capabilities, Kapow’s technology has long embedded a ‘headless’ web browser, meaning clients don’t need to run Kapow against separate virtual machines running instances of a browser. With Kapow 10, this approach is also implemented for mainframe terminal connectivity – meaning customers don’t have to deploy separate terminal emulation software. However, clients can also make use of any existing investments they might have in terminal emulation clients from the likes of Attachmate and Rocket Software.

Inside the Kapow RPA Platform

Kapow’s platform, like other RPA platforms, is designed to automate data entry, data gathering and other repetitive, routine tasks usually carried out as part of high-volume, repetitive work – for example, service fulfilment work in call centres, shared-service centres, and back-office processing environments.

As with other RPA technologies, the core technology at the heart of the Kofax platform is an automated software component that can be configured to drive applications and retrieve and update application data by mimicking a human user interacting through existing application user interfaces. Kapow robots support both attended and unattended operations.

The Kapow RPA platform has six main elements, as shown in the figure below:

  • Design Studio. With Kapow, you don’t specify automation by recording user actions in a desktop environment; you use dedicated design tool to define the behaviours of robots in interacting with applications and manipulating data. Within the Kapow Design Studio you specify the application(s) that your robot needs to work with, and then use a visual tool – pointing and clicking on user interface elements from those applications you specify – to identify the individual steps your robot should take. These typically include, of course, selecting fields, entering data, clicking on buttons, opening and closing windows, reading values from fields, and so on. You can specify branches and loops within robot specifications, as well as defining operations to read and write data from Excel, relational databases and filesystems.
  • Roboservers. These are the servers that take responsibility for executing instances of robots that are designed to carry out specific tasks. In Kapow, robot specifications are stored as XML files; individual Roboservers interpret these files to drive interactions with websites, portals, terminals and desktop applications. Each Roboserver can run many robots in parallel. As discussed above, each Kapow Roboserver has an embedded, headless web browser and an embedded mainframe terminal connectivity library available to all the robots it runs – meaning that where a robot needs to interact with websites or mainframe applications, it doesn’t need to connect to a separate virtual desktop environment.
  • Shared Repository. When specifying robots’ behaviour using the Design Studio, you can elect to create ‘snippets’ – sequences of actions – and store these in the Shared Repository for reuse between people and projects. Creating snippets from sections of action flow logic is simple, as is referencing a snippet within a robot’s behaviour. Importantly, snippets are reused by reference – so if you change the definition of a snippet, every robot what references the snippet will automatically update its behaviour next time it runs.
  • Management Console. This web-based application provides a set of simple operational dashboards for a Kapow installation that allows administrators to understand health and performance metrics for Roboservers and the running of robots. If you want to create dashboards and reports that provide more in-depth information about Kapow performance (for example, to show trends in the total value of customer invoices processed over time) you can use Kofax Insight (the company’s analytics tool) in tandem with Kapow. The Management Console is also the place where administrators manage connectivity to virtual desktop environments that are required to access Windows-based applications, in order to execute and run particular robots; as well as setting up batch-run schedules, tracking errors, configuring APIs for programmatic invocation of robots, and so on.
  • Integration Engine. This is in practice part of each Roboserver you deploy. It’s the set of components that Kapow uses to hook robots’ actions into external systems. As we’ve already explained web-, Windows- and mainframe-based applications are the main systems often considered first; but Kapow’s integration engine can also read to/from Microsoft Excel, filesystems, databases, and PDF documents.
  • Kapow KappZone. This is a web-based portal interface that you can use to host simple user interfaces for Kapow robots (called ‘Kapplets’), for those situations where human workers may need to manually invoke robots directly (for example, performing a quick on-the-fly customer status check in a call centre or populating data into an Excel file from a set of competitors’ websites).

kapow-rpa-platform

Source: Kofax

As well as being configured with simple user interfaces (Kapplets), Kapow robots can be easily configured to expose APIs (of both RESTful and Web Services varieties) so they can be invoked by other applications. There’s no queuing service provided natively as part of the runtime environment that would enable ‘teams’ of robots to work together to claim tasks and complete them; however with the API capability provided it’s straightforward to work with an external middleware or process application platform to play this role.

Rather than licensing Kapow on a per-robot basis, Kofax licenses the technology based on usage (the number of robots used, the frequency with which they’re run, and the complexity of their work). Kapow offers both perpetual and annual subscription licenses, and does not restrict the number of robots (automated processes) a customer can design and deploy.

Roboservers executing robots that interact only with websites or mainframe applications can run on Windows Server or Linux; where robots need to drive Windows-based applications, you will need to have a virtual desktop environment available. The Kapow robot runs on the Roboserver and communicates to the virtual desktop environment via an automation service that runs on the virtual desktop.

Recommendation: consider Kofax, particularly where web and/or mainframe integration are key to your automation use case(s)

With the launch of Kapow 10, Kofax has bridged the gap that previously prevented being seriously considered as a mainstream provider of RPA technology. Its new integration engine, providing support for automation of Windows-native applications as well as providing embedded mainframe terminal connectivity, means Kapow now has the ability to span the breadth of ‘legacy’ applications that so often populate environments where RPA works best.

Kofax’s licensing model for Kapow, based on robot invocations rather than being based on the number of robots deployed, will be particularly suitable for you if the scenarios you’re considering for automation with RPA entail variable, possibly unpredictable workloads.

Lastly, Kapow is particularly worth considering if web integration and/or mainframe connectivity will be significant components in your target environment. Kapow embeds these technologies as part of its server platform, making your operating environment simpler and cheaper to maintain.

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