Automating routine IT tasks has taken on new urgency as staff levels drop and other resources dwindle. If you've ever performed a computing task several times and wished you had time to write a program to do the task for you, you'll like the premise behind Automation Anywhere (AA). AA lets you build scripts that perform repetitive tasks without writing code. Instead, you either pantomime your task or create a step-by-step procedure using AA’s point-and-click task builder. AA has several versions, ranging from the entry-level Automation Anywhere Standard edition through the multi-user Server edition. This review looks at the midrange Enterprise edition, which lets you create and distribute automation packages to other users even if they don’t have AA installed.
AA can automate a wide range of chores, from basic Windows configuration steps, through scripting desktop applications like Microsoft Excel and Word, to the ultimate: remote database and networking processes. You can access and interact with web pages, securely copy files via SFTP, and deploy tasks without an agent to other computers in a domain. Tasks can be scheduled for repeated execution, integrated into a workflow comprised of multiple tasks, or saved as a stand-alone .exe file, executable on any Windows box without any additional software.
The core of AA is its Task Editor, which you can open directly to begin composing a task script, or indirectly via AA’s Watch mode. Then you perform the chore you want to automate while AA records the steps and builds a script for you. AA sports hundreds of standardized task actions, such as running an Excel macro or executing an SQL query. Or you can create your own. While building a script you can execute steps incrementally, which greatly simplifies task streamlining. Also during editing, a visualization feature lets you flag individual steps with a Snap Point icon, which captures a storyboard of screenshots of the script at those points when you run it in development mode. This is a terrific feature for documenting the steps a script performs. Alas, you can’t save Snap Points in the Enterprise edition; only the Server edition has that capability. And, inexplicably, you can’t print the storyboard, which limits its utility.
AA includes a few dozen pre-built task templates that automate common tasks, such as website data extraction and scheduled file transfers. You can purchase an optional Integration Pack with advanced functions, such as optical character recognition (OCR) and the ability to integrate with Java, to integrate with a wider range of external applications.
One level up from the Task Editor is AA’s Workflow Designer, which lets you assemble multiple tasks into a series, with alternate paths available should a step fail or other conditions occur. Although Workflow Designer’s capabilities are rudimentary (it doesn’t support variables or iterations, for example), it’s useful for automating processes consisting of multiple tasks.
Alongside Workflow Designer is Report Designer, which lets you generate and print reports showing the execution history of tasks over time. A return-on-investment (ROI) calculator lets you assign financial values to tasks and compute the savings achieved through automation. However, Report Designer can’t print the scripts contained in a task, or the storyboard created by Snap Points, although you can export scripts as plain text files one at a time.
Two other wizards round out AA’s feature set. Deployment Designer lets you select an individual task (but not a workflow) for deployment to a list of machines in the Windows domain, with flexible scheduling and runtime options. Trigger Manager can execute tasks or workflows based on external events, such as a folder or file change, a service or process starting or stopping, or various system performance changes, such as disk space or CPU consumption.
Despite a robust feature set, AA has room for improvement. Its inability to print scripts or storyboards is surprising in a product costing $2,500.
Automation Anywhere Enterprise is a powerful tool that can simplify life for IT across multiple realms. In particular, the ability to encapsulate tasks and send them to users via email or web download is a boon to Help desk administrators.
Automation Anywhere 5.5 Enterprise