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Is An Excel Macro The Same As RPA?

Twenty years ago, I invented RPA. There I said it!


I had a simple problem; take data from an ERP system and re-cut it to present to the senior leadership on a monthly basis.



Does this sound familiar?

When I was first given this task, I transferred the raw data into Excel and used copy, paste, lookups and pivots tables to cut the data into the right format to present the analysis the board needed.


Or to put it another way, I was way too busy to create the reports I needed within the reporting module of our ERP software so created a separate reporting system that was easier to manage. This was labour-intensive and error prone.


After the first deadline had passed, I wrote a macro which did everything for me. I used the “send keys” function to send keystrokes to the green-screen version of JD Edwards that we were using and set the macro to do all of the cutting and pasting, lookups and pivot tables for me. The macro was launched by clicking a button within my spreadsheet.


My macro produced much better results than I did both in terms of time and accuracy which in turn freed me up to better analyse the data I was presenting. Not bad, eh?


Marcos are very good for some things

I’ve been an Excel power-user for many years. I have used the macro-recorder and written code from scratch using VBA (the programming language of macros). Put simply, macros execute a series of steps, but most Excel users don’t know how to use macros and even less know how to write in VBA. As a result, few of us can make changes to macros so when that one macro expert in the team leaves, you’re stuck with something you can’t update and maintain. The final consideration is that macros can only work when Excel is open, which is restricting.


RPA is not the same as running a macro

RPA is designed to emulate human actions, specifically manual, repetitive, rules-based tasks. It sits on the surface of applications and can interact with many systems, just as a human would. RPA is autonomous, with the ability to be started from anywhere with or without a user being present. RPA also has the benefit of being able to interact with software and respond to stimuli. You can even add machine learning and AI to your bots which provides an extra dimension of functionality.


Macros are not RPA

As you can see, macros can provide some real value to an organisation. You can also see that RPA has gone far beyond the capabilities of macros, delivering value and creating flexibility. In some ways it is an evolution of the macro


That does lead me to another conclusion, perhaps I didn’t invent RPA after all...

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