Say “hello” to AutoBloks! Earlier this year, we set out to build a new automation tool, and the initial offering from that journey is officially launching today with support for web automation through Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. With so many automation tools already on the market, you may be asking “why build yet another automation tool?” We believe the answer to that question is easy… too many people who could be using automation simply are not doing so. The tools have been around for decades, so why aren’t people using them? Answering this question is a little harder than the first and there is surely no one answer, but we believe a big part of the problem is that the tools don’t fit the users.
While functional testers in a QA department are part of an IT organization, that does not automatically grant them the technical skills of some of their IT colleagues. Automation tools are often complicated or unapproachable to these users, so they keep doing their work manually. This is the user who is underserved by automation tools on the market today and are exactly who we believe can benefit the most from AutoBloks.
What About Keyword-Driven Frameworks?
For many years, the solution to the complexity of automation tools has been for a team of advanced users to create keyword-driven frameworks. Users of any skill level could then use familiar tools, like spreadsheets, to build their automation from a series of keywords established by the automation team. A special driver script, written in the automation tool itself, could then read these keywords one-by-one to perform an action corresponding to each. This is a great concept because it allows a small team of expert users to handle the complexities of automation while enabling a much larger group of users to translate their business knowledge into automated scripts.
While the concept is great, the execution is often flawed. The initial set of keywords is rarely enough, so users are frequently asking the automation team for more support. As the number of keywords grows, it becomes more difficult for users to know which keywords are available or to fully understand what each keyword does. Most keywords cannot properly execute without one or more arguments as input, so users now must understand which data is required, the types of data allowed, and how to populate it. That’s even before you try to tackle having the output from one keyword be used as input on another. Automation is also an iterative design process (try, fail, fix, repeat), so users are not removed from needing to use the original automation tool. What starts as a solid effort to improve automation then turns back into the exact problem they were trying to solve in the first place… a complicated automation solution.
AutoBloks builds on the great concept of a keyword-driven automation framework while addressing many of the shortcomings. First and foremost, users are given a tool purpose-built for automation at any skill level and not asked to use spreadsheets, text editors, or other tools designed for anything BUT automation.
Relying on an automation team is a bottleneck, so we have given the user all the power. Keywords are presented in AutoBloks as categorized Activities. Each one has a description of what it does and the arguments, if any, are clearly defined with all the details the user needs to know. Users simply drag-and-drop the needed activities, populate any arguments, and move on to the next activity. When it comes time to test what you’ve built, you do so directly in AutoBloks. Run your process from end-to-end, step over activities one-by-one, or set breakpoints to pause at a certain step. If your playback fails, AutoBloks will let you retry the activity, skip over it to continue, or stop playback completely. You can even correct a bad activity before retrying it, so you don’t have to start all over again!
Just the Beginning
This is, quite literally, just the beginning of AutoBloks. There are many more capabilities we want to add to AutoBloks but believe what we have today can already address the automation needs of many. In the near future, we will be adding support for important automation concepts like centralized element repository and reusable activity blocks (i.e. user-defined functions). Of course, we will also be expanding the list of built-in activities to provide more and more functionality out-of-the-box. It is going to be a long journey, and one we are excited to continue.
FREE Community Edition!
We are delighted to make this new product accessible to non-enterprise users who may not have otherwise had access to automation tools. Individuals, non-profits, and small businesses (under $1 million of annual revenue in US dollars) can all download and use the Community Edition of AutoBloks completely free! Absolutely no strings attached, although we hope the community will share their feedback with us and help us build a better product for everyone.
Go ahead and check it out today, and please let us know what you think.