Published Jun 21, 2024

Choosing between RPA and API integration


Efficient operations and positive customer experiences are closely linked–making adapting your processes to align with customer expectations vital to the success of your business. However, this can be difficult when error-prone manual processes slow down your teams.

On top of that, tech stacks are continuing to expand and a digital transformation has become a top priority for IT teams. To address these challenges, businesses are turning to automation to help them streamline operations and boost efficiency.  

As you set out to automate your business processes, you will find there are two common solutions: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Application Programming Interface (API) integration. Both have strengths and weaknesses, but which is the right fit for your business?

To answer this, let’s dive deeper into both solutions.

Understanding RPA and API integration

What is RPA?

RPA is a screen-scraping technology that allows a user to build scripts–commonly referred to as “bots”– to mimic human actions. By doing so, you can automate processes and integrate any application through the user interface and a control dashboard/orchestrator. 

RPA works best in repetitive, rules-based tasks that use structured digital data. Therefore, it’s commonly used for data entry and migration, invoice processing, and customer service automation.

What is API integration?

API is a set of rules that allow different software entities to communicate. With API integration, you can connect software systems through their APIs so they can share data without interruption. 

API integration can be used to automate a variety of business processes from finance operations to supply chain management. For example, API integration can be used to facilitate real-time data synchronization between enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems, keeping customer data up-to-date and accurate. 

Here are a few other ways you can leverage API integration:

  • Monitor stock levels in real-time by integrating ecommerce platforms with  inventory management systems.
  • Ensure timely customer support with integrated customer service and ticketing systems.
  • Automatically generate invoices by connecting financial applications.
  • Enable real-time tracking by integrating supply chain management systems with logistics providers.
  • Automate order processing by connecting procurement systems and suppliers.
  • Streamline onboarding and offboarding processes with connected recruitment tools and HR platforms.

Comparing solutions

Both RPA and API integration can help you automate your processes, but they have different capabilities. To determine the best option for your business, start by assessing your implementation, maintenance, flexibility, and data security requirements. 

RPAs are often easier to implement since they require minimal changes to your existing systems, whereas API integration requires more setup and planning. However, once both solutions are deployed, API integration is more robust and scalable due to its ability to handle large data volumes and complex integrations. Because RPAs rely on screen scraping and are highly sensitive to UI changes, especially with SaaS systems where you have no control over the changes made, they can be high maintenance, prone to breaking with system updates, and difficult to scale. 

Flexibility and scope are also weak points for RPAs since they are limited to repetitive tasks. In contrast, API integrations can manage intricate logic, facilitate real-time data exchange, and offer extensive customization. API integrations also provide greater security by using robust authentication and encryption mechanisms. 

Explore the benefits and challenges of each solution:

RPA benefits

  • Easy and quick to deploy 
  • Requires minimal changes to existing systems
  • Boosts efficiency by automating repetitive tasks and freeing up resources
  • Doesn’t require coding or programming

RPA challenges

  • Limited to simple, repeatable processes
  • High maintenance and prone to breaking with system updates
  • Difficult to manage at scale because scripts can’t adapt to changes
  • Unable to handle complex and broad automation needs
  • Potential risks when handling sensitive data due to lack of direct control

API integration benefits

  • Consistent and dependable data exchange
  • Easily scales with business growth
  • Can handle complex logic and extensive customization
  • Supports a wide range of integration scenarios
  • Enhanced security features for data protection
  • Compliant with industry standards for secure data handling

API integration challenges

  • May require more initial setup and coding expertise
  • Involves more planning and configuration

The importance of scalability

When evaluating automation solutions, it’s essential to not only take into account your current business needs, but also your future requirements. API integration often outperforms RPA in terms of scalability, efficiency, and reliability.


API integration is inherently designed to support scalability. It can be deployed across distributed systems, scaled horizontally, and can handle numerous concurrent requests seamlessly. Scaling RPA involves running more instances of bots, which can lead to increased infrastructure costs and complexity in managing and orchestrating these bots.

Efficiency and performance

Since API integration allows systems to communicate directly and efficiently, it can handle large volumes of data and requests with minimal overhead. Unlike API integration, which is built for high-performance and low-latency operations, RPA tools simulate human interaction with software applications. This approach can be slower and more resource-intensive compared to direct system-to-system communication.

Error handling and reliability

APIs provide robust error handling and standardized responses. They are typically built with reliability in mind, offering retries, fallbacks, and detailed error messages. RPAs, on the other hand, are prone to errors due to changes in the user interface, network issues, or unexpected pop-ups, which can interrupt the automated processes.

Hidden costs of RPA

On top of the capability differences between RPAs and API integration, they also have different costs associated with them. While RPAs have low initial setup costs, they must be frequently updated and monitored to keep them functional. To do so, you will need technical resources with specialized training. You can leverage internal resources or outsource developers, but both options are time-intensive and expensive. 

It’s crucial to consider the hidden costs associated with RPA, which can affect its scalability and long-term viability. While RPA offers immediate relief by automating repetitive tasks, it often incurs significant long-term costs that may not be immediately apparent.

A report from GovTech highlights that the hidden costs of RPA include the complexity of scaling and managing multiple bots. Unlike APIs, which are inherently scalable and designed for efficient data handling, RPA tools require running additional bot instances as demand grows. This can lead to increased infrastructure costs and complexities in bot orchestration​.

Additionally, RPA solutions often lack portability. Automations built on specific RPA platforms may not be easily transferable to other systems. This leads to vendor lock-in and higher costs when technology needs to evolve, or platforms are updated​.

Leveraging an iPaaS for API integration

While relying on developers to custom code your API integrations can also be time-consuming and expensive, you can utilize an advanced iPaaS (Integration Platform as a Service) to streamline this process. Advanced iPaaS solutions go beyond the capabilities of a traditional iPaaS by empowering non-technical users to build, manage, and monitor their own integrations with a low-code/no-code platform. With an advanced iPaaS, you can manage all your integrations on a single platform. This simplifies monitoring and troubleshooting and enables business users to create integrations themselves without relying solely on IT.

iPaaS also offers advanced automation capabilities like the ability to manage complex workflows, advanced business logic, and real-time data processing. Plus, you get robust security features for data protection–allowing you to ensure compliance with industry standards. 

The verdict

While RPA can be a good solution for specific, repetitive use cases, it isn’t built to scale and handle complex automations. If you’re looking to transform your operations and stay competitive in rapidly evolving markets, API integration is the solution you need. 

With API integration, you can ensure reliability regardless of changes in user interfaces and provide your teams the consistent data access they require to make better business decisions. API integrations are prepared to grow with you as your business requirements change and you process larger amounts of data. With the reduced need for manual intervention, API integration improves overall efficiency. It is also more cost-effective in the long run with low maintenance costs. 

API integration is a more dependable, adaptable, and cost-efficient automation method compared to RPA. As technological advancements continue to revolutionize the business world, having the right automation strategy in place is crucial. It’s more than just choosing between RPA and API integration; it’s about choosing the right path for your business’s journey toward automation excellence.