RPA, BPA, BPM—there are so many automation initialisms today that it can be difficult to keep track of them all. The differences between them aren't always clear, either. Robotic process automation and business process automation, for example, sound similar, but they refer to two very different things. What is the relationship between these two and what do they each mean for your business?
In this blog post, we'll look at RPA vs BPA and break down their areas of application, including how they ultimately complement one another. Topics we’ll cover include:
- Processes vs. Tasks and Their Automation
- Moving From Existing Processes to Reimagined Workflows
- The IT Department's Role
Processes vs. Tasks and Their Automation
Business automation touches many areas, but all its efforts emphasize changing the way that a business handles one of two things: the way that individuals perform tasks and how those tasks form workflows. This relationship is the heart of the difference between business process automation vs robotic process automation: one reduces manual tasks and the other improves the way that you do business every day. Let’s explore the difference.
What Are RPA, BPA and BPM?
Here are some quick definitions to differentiate between these initialisms. We will apply these definitions to illuminate what you need to know:
RPA, or robotic process automation, is the use of a specific type of software to create automated, rules-based "robot" programs that efficiently execute basic manual tasks. RPA takes these tasks out of human hands and performs them faster, more accurately and without the need to take breaks.
BPA, or business process automation, also uses software tools to automate tasks that would otherwise require manual human intervention. However, BPA's scope is larger and more complex than RPA. Instead of using a software robot to copy and paste text, it can deploy automation to make an entire process more efficient.
Finally, business process management, or BPM, looks at the big picture. BPM is a holistic approach for developing automation strategies based on the analysis and examination of end-to-end workflow cycles. BPM often involves using tools to visualize and build new workflows that include RPA and BPA. It incorporates other advanced solutions, such as analytics software.
When considering business process automation vs business process management, the key difference to remember is that BPM can standardize workflows, avoid ad hoc workarounds and prevent policy deviations in order to promote productivity and efficiency.
Improving Task Management with Smart RPA
RPA involves tasks that take place at an individual employee's desk, rather than the sum of all the work that employees do together. Consider a knowledge worker in a back office who is responsible for maintaining dozens of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets with information that they copy out of web portals or enterprise software. These tasks take lots of time, have a high potential for accidental error introductions and redirect an employee's time to relatively unskilled tasks.
RPA can eliminate these concerns by mimicking human actions at a computer. RPA software observes and learns the sequence of events that human employees take, then replicates them at a much faster speed—and with virtually zero chance for error. This illustration is only one example of how RPA can work; there are many tasks suitable for streamlining with these tools.
RPA is excellent for ground-floor automation, but it has limitations. BPA enters the picture at this stage.
Focusing BPA on Better Process Management
Making entire processes more efficient from end to end is the core purpose of BPA and the tools that enable its implementation.
There are often steps in workflows that span multiple business departments. At these steps, manual human intervention is a necessity for one reason or another. A completed process in one department might need a handoff to another team, for example, or data must flow between separate computer systems. While RPA can integrate automation on an individual level, BPA can eliminate "invisible" slowdowns by linking these individually automated steps together.
Imagine that BPA serves as the director on a movie set, and RPA is the actors reciting their lines. BPA guides all these separate processes together to create an entirely automated workflow while analyzing the performance and identifying opportunities to change and improve. This example is an easy way to understand the difference between BPM and RPA.
Moving from Existing Processes to Reimagined Workflows
Preserving and enhancing your competitive edge while delivering better outcomes for customers requires a clear focus on where and how you automate. For many businesses, RPA is the perfect entry-level solution. It is cost-effective, easy to set up and typically doesn't require you to alter much about the way you do business.
However, making lower-level improvements on existing processes is only one piece of the puzzle. Over time, deploying software robots may reveal that some of these processes have inefficiencies of their own—ones that fall outside the scope of RPA. This stage is where your business will embrace the importance of business process automation and management and grasp the differences between RPA and BPA capabilities.
Is RPA a Part of BPM?
Yes—RPA can be a complementary effort that contributes to an organization's adoption of BPA solutions, and it can create improvements informed by BPM strategies. In fact, RPA has quickly become such an essential part of BPM that it can be difficult to separate the two when seeking solutions.
Automating low-level processes is the first step toward creating a foundation for the teams working on BPM solutions. However, RPA alone does not resolve inefficiencies that are inherent to a process—in fact, it may reveal those inefficiencies more directly. That fact is a benefit to your business: RPA provides information about where you need to target your improvement efforts.
How Does a Business Overhaul Its Big Picture Workflows?
Often, the biggest inefficiencies in businesswide workflows are invisible because there is little to no data within the company on how processes function. As a result, there are many opportunities for slowdowns and bottlenecks to develop and for individual employees to produce their own inefficient task patterns that fall outside of the company's standards.
Gathering information about how your business processes function and where problems exist is the first and most critical step. Analyzing this data comes next, followed by developing strategies to eliminate the problems at the root using tools such as RPA and BPA software.
Appropriate tools for deploying automation solutions are essential to your success. For many companies, selecting these tools is a significant challenge—especially when different departments may have made piecemeal efforts in the past. The result is a patchwork of solutions featuring poor integration and lacking a cohesive strategy.
With Kofax solutions, including standalone RPA and a broader platform called Kofax TotalAgility® designed to help businesses achieve true intelligent automation, a smarter way to work is within your reach. his platform allows you to secure process efficiency improvements because it is capable of integrating with many existing third-party solutions or providing the extensive functions that you require.
The IT Department's Role
It's one thing to discuss automation in the abstract but putting it into practice is another matter. Some elements are easy to incorporate, while others require the buy-in and commitment of colleagues across multiple departments. Convincing leadership that RPA and BPA are worthwhile is just the first step. As you move deeper into these efforts, IT will play a critical role.
Automation may seem to be the natural domain of IT, particularly because it involves software and changes to the way that your teams use computers or technology. But IT will not necessarily take the lead on your automation projects. The need for input from a wide variety of process participants and a holistic approach to the way that your enterprise works means that collaboration is essential. Which role does IT play?
Developing Implementation Strategies
One of the first and most critical roles for IT is assisting in the selection of automation platforms and determining how to use them. Assessing the potential for integration with existing systems and solutions is a crucial step for avoiding conflicts that could delay your automation program. While high-level decision makers will play a key role in business process management, RPA tools and other software do require input from IT.
Addressing Challenges in the Process
There will be times when a solution doesn't work exactly as you expect from the beginning. Users may struggle with new software tools or wonder why they cannot continue to use their own self-directed workflows. IT will play a vital role in getting everyone on the same page, providing insight into how best to work within these new systems.
An ongoing shift in the realm of automation is no-code and low-code platforms that enable the creation of citizen developers. These tools let users define and redefine workflows without the need for high-level development expertise while offering several other benefits. IT will assist new participants in the process with getting up to speed.
Monitoring and Maintenance
Automation is not a "set it and forget it" solution from Day One. BPM is an ongoing, ever-changing process that requires the continuous re-evaluation of performance based on new data.
IT helps ensure systems have the appropriate configurations in place to consistently provide alerts to all relevant parties. When downtime occurs, IT must take responsibility for putting your tools back in action as soon as possible to avoid the need for a temporary return to manual backup processes.
To summarize, RPA focuses on tasks, while BPA focuses on overhauling the way that you work through a larger approach informed by business process management best practices. Leveraging the benefits of these philosophies and tools can lead to greater productivity and an improved bottom line. Your business does not need to stage a fight between RPA vs BPM because there is no clash between these approaches—they simply require different applications.
Kofax solutions offer the ideal way to make inroads into automation at the pace that makes the most sense for your business. With companies generating an immense amount of data annually, learning from information has become even more difficult. By building toward intelligent automation with Kofax, you establish the framework for capturing and implementing key business insights.
There are accessible options for every organization, from using RPA in small-scale efforts to moving to a platform such as TotalAgility for better process management, document ingestion and data analysis. With our long-standing focus on preparing our partners for the transition to intelligent automation, we provide invaluable resources for exploring these new avenues.
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