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5 Differences Between Test Automation and RPA

Test automation and RPA are similar in some ways. Both disciplines are about automating processes that are repetitive, costly, time-consuming and error-prone. However, there are significant differences between the two.

When automating different types of tasks, people usually refer to RPA or test automation depending on the given task. Some companies purely perform one of them, while others use both and even perform tasks that could be argued to belong to both disciplines. 

How can you learn the difference between the two? Here are the 5 key differences of test automation vs RPA:

1. Software development owns test automation, any department can own RPA


One of the first differences we find between test automation and RPA is which department is in charge of the automation. Test automation always lies within the software development team and, most specifically, a limited set of users in the quality assurance team. These are the people in charge of running test cases to ensure quality in specific software applications.

On the other hand, RPA ownership lies in the hands of any department that might want to automate a repetitive and error-prone business process. This means that all members of a team or a department can own run their own automation flows to satisfy their needs at any given moment.New call-to-action

2. RPA is about completing processes, test automation is about checking them


Both test automation and RPA are implemented to increase the efficiency and quality of certain interactions between a human and a computer. 

In RPA you automate sequences of tasks in a clearly defined path to successfully execute a process that will allow you to complete your work faster while reducing human error. On the other hand, in test automation, you conduct automated test cases to see where an application fails so that you can asses quality and risk before a release.

This means that when you create an automation flow in test automation, you expect this flow to either pass or fail. If it fails, you would flag the given flow and move on to the next. However, in RPA, you create a flow with the expectation that it will pass – or work as intended – and if it doesn’t, you should take immediate action to resolve the issue and then carry on. 

Therefore, in test automation, failures provide insight on business risk while in RPA they become an obstacle towards successful task completion.

3. The nature of test automation is to involve a single application, RPA involves several


One of the main differences between test automation and RPA is the System Under Automation (SUA). Test automation cases are applied to a single application, software or product in different environments, whereas RPA flows run across multiple applications simultaneously. 

Moreover, RPA is usually implemented in applications that rarely change while test automation is used in applications that are typically incomplete or evolving. Therefore, test automation delivers coverage while RPA focuses on doing the same sequence over and over again. 

For example, if you are a software company, the software you sell to your clients is considered your product. You would use test automation to test that your product has no bugs and that all features are working as intended before a release. However, you can also apply RPA to other business processes within your finance or HR departments, for example. These business processes might involve different programs such as web and desktop applications, such as using Salesforce and a CRM system.

[Find out more about how LEAPWORK utilized RPA within their HR Department] 

4. Test automation requires domain knowledge, RPA requires process knowledge


In conventional test automation, the tester or QA analyst must have thorough domain knowledge of the functionality of the application under test. This knowledge is needed in order to define test scenarios that will then serve as the basis for automation. 

In RPA, users must have strong knowledge of the process to be automated. However, they do not need in-depth knowledge of the inner working of the applications that will be used to complete that process. 

5. Traditionally, test automation required programming knowledge, RPA did not


RPA does not require any programming knowledge from the user. RPA tools allow users to automate through a visual user interface that is intuitive in nature. On the other hand, test automation has been traditionally implemented through automation tools that require coding skills. However, this has changed in recent years and now more and more test automation tools provide codeless automation to allow for more collaboration in quality assurance teams.

In sum, the 5 differences between the two relate to:

  1. Ownership
  2. Purpose
  3. Scope
  4. Domain knowledge
  5. Programming knowledge

Learn more about test automation and RPA in this eBook:

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Lucia Cavero-Baptista
Lucia Cavero-Baptista
Content Marketing Manager

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