Across industries, businesses desire to realize the cost savings and efficiency improvements possible with modern automation tools. As a result, they face a challenge: how to select solutions that will deliver the best results. With both mature and emergent technologies revolutionizing this space, zeroing in on what's best for a business is more difficult than ever.
Business process management (BPM) and robotic process automation (RPA) are two automation-related technologies capturing attention today. But what’s the difference between BPM and RPA, and what potential do they hold for your business?
In this post, we'll explore the answers as we examine RPA vs BPM and explain how it’s possible to unify these different approaches. Topics covered include:
- What Is Business Process Management (BPM)?
- What Is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?
- What Is Intelligent Process Automation (IPA)?
What Is Business Process Management (BPM)?
At its core, business process management is about reintroducing order and structure into business workflows that have become fragmented over time. This fragmentation leads to bottlenecks, potentially costly delays and inefficiencies that can impact multiple areas of the business.
BPM identifies ways to correct these problems. As a result, it’s both a philosophy about how to do to business and a technology that lets you put that philosophy into practice. Let's explore what that means.
One key item to note: there is a difference between business process automation vs business process management. BPA can be an element of BPM, but BPM is the intersection of methodology and technology rather than a platform for automation.
The Technology Behind BPM
BPM requires "zooming out" and looking at an entire process as it unfolds across departments. The workflows worth examining with BPM aren't efforts like comparing Excel workbooks or entering vendor data into an online portal. Instead, they are more complex: the methods your staff uses to accomplish tasks as they work together.
BPM software is an aid and guide to piloting a business through overhauling its workflows. A common feature in such software is a drag-and-drop workflow engine—a visualization method that allows for the clear definition of every step in a task. Such tools don't necessarily create the automation of tasks, but they do easily integrate with additional automation frameworks.
BPM software provides other essential features, too. For example, you could set a time limit on a particular workflow step. If the limit expires without a certain action, the system alerts a pre-defined manager or another responsible party to follow up on the problem. These features mean that well-implemented BPM offers a high degree of visibility into processes that can otherwise be opaque and difficult to track.
Breaking Down the Focus of BPM
BPM focuses on the whole organization, not one employee. While BPM makes individual jobs easier, especially in delineating responsibilities and work activities, its goal is large-scale process improvement.
What does it mean that BPM targets business processes that have become fragmented over time? Human decision-making is messy and unlike computers, we aren't always laser-focused on one task at a time. The busy nature of every workday means that, over time, teams can drift and deviate from end-to-end workflows. As team members implement process changes to suit personal preferences or the realities of performing a task, the business grows and responsibilities become murky.
Unlike RPA, BPM focuses on a high-level assessment of these processes via software to make invisible steps visible once more. It also identifies the areas where new technologies could lead to efficiency increases. Your goal with BPM is to make the business better at doing its work and ensure that everyone knows the role they play.
The Implementation of BPM
Implementing BPM can take some time, as it requires in-depth analysis and the digital reconstruction of process workflows in software. It also demands participation from multiple critical players in the business.
BPM does not have to function in a vacuum. When you supplement it with additional tools, including robotic process automation, it provides opportunities to streamline steps that might typically result in a bottleneck. A BPM deployment is a multi-faceted process that requires a broad solution.
The Differences BPM Can Make in Business
Why would a company make the investment in time and money to restructure the way that they work through advanced BPM? When your business fully realizes it, BPM delivers significant advantages, including:
- Enhanced visibility of process performance, identifying where bottlenecks exist and helping your team to create strategies to break the logjam.
- A decline in human error rates thanks to more well-defined procedures, fewer manual data entry requirements and better oversight.
- Support for the long-term digital transformation of the business.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?
Robotic process automation doesn't feature the same high-level focus that business process management does. Rather than seeking to define and refine whole workflows from beginning to end, the focus of this technology is to automate lower-level tasks that take up valuable time. Compared to the holistic approach of business process management, RPA targets the specific tasks that are a part of those larger workflows.
When your staff members no longer need to focus on the mundane “busywork” aspects of their job, they have more time and energy to refocus on complex tasks and meet the milestones set by BPM. RPA and business process management are complementary components of a unified automation strategy.
Let’s further define the BPM and RPA difference.
The Technology Behind RPA
Today, RPA typically doesn't require users to understand programming to be effective at using it. Instead, "no-code" platforms make it easy for users to automate workflows based on specific, predefined rules, Boolean logic gates and other principles. The "software robots'' that users create on these platforms can then run 24 hours a day, seven days per week, carrying out their assigned tasks according to specific instructions.
The Focus of RPA Efforts
RPA impacts processes that don't need complex decision-making or require human intuition to resolve. As a result, it primarily occurs within specific departments and, on an even smaller scale, within the work that individual teams complete. While BPM targets workflows, RPA targets the specific tasks that make up each workflow.
Manual tasks suitable for RPA solutions include copy/paste functions, sending boilerplate email alerts following particular actions, making quick rules-based comparisons between data, and retrieving data for display. RPA can help teams ranging from customer service and IT to accounts payable and general finance. Its convenience and ease of use have transformed RPA from a niche into a nearly $2 billion industry.
What about robotic process automation versus business process automation? At a glance, RPA automates singular tasks, while BPA automates a larger series of steps.
How to Implement RPA
Deploying RPA is so easy today that just about every business can benefit from exploring this type of automation. Low-code and no-code platforms put the power in the hands of users to design, customize, and automate workflows.
RPA takes the burden away from IT while offering the additional advantage of making employees feel more engaged with and in control of their job duties. Unlike business process management, RPA implementation does not require company-wide reviews and considerations. Instead, one user can customize it to a high degree to suit many needs.
The Benefits RPA Offers to Business
Although RPA has limitations, it is still an essential element of transforming processes with digital tools. With well-managed implementation, RPA delivers a unique set of advantages—especially when you use it as a launchpad to begin broader BPM considerations. The advantages include:
- Transforming tedious workflows, such as moving data between legacy systems, into rapidly-automated services that run according to strict rules.
- Eliminating troublesome errors that distracted or overworked staff can introduce into these processes.
- Integrating into BPM systems, including by passing off exceptions and rules violations to other workflows as needed with prompt alerts and clear resolution pathways.
Intelligent Process Automation
As we’ve discussed, BPM uses analysis and its own set of tools to give companies insight into how to make their processes more efficient and visible. RPA involves using software tools to fully or partially automate repetitive tasks for simple human-computer interactions, such as copying and pasting data between systems.
With BPM, RPA and business process automation (BPA), the sum of these efforts becomes greater than the individual parts. The combination of these technologies represents a unified approach to modernizing the way that you work: intelligent process automation.
What is intelligent process automation, and why should it be the ultimate goal for any business seeking twenty-first century practices?
IPA is the marriage of four distinct but interrelated business technologies that offer a business the opportunity to revolutionize its operations for the future. The four technological elements of intelligent automation are:
- Business process management, which provides the roadmap and framework for modernization
- Robotic process automation, which serves as the "ground floor" gateway into process improvement
- Connectors and integrators, including tools such as APIs and code-based frameworks, to link different business software together so that systems "talk" to one another and share data easily
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning applications capable of automating some higher-level decisions or operating in tandem with human knowledge workers
While BPM impacts specific task workflows and RPA targets a specific manual task , intelligent automation weighs the business’s larger efforts and goals. It concerns how systems integrate with one another and where and how high-level processes undergo automation. The goal is to increase productivity, which translates into superior outcomes for clients and customers.
IPA isn't something that a business can implement overnight. In fact, it's fair to say that this process has no true end: its implementation involves constantly evaluating the state of the business and looking for opportunities to streamline. Many businesses test the waters by trying basic RPA first.
Often, that revelation leads a business to make other investments in additional technologies such as document capture and other tools for digital process automation. That choice may only occur as they uncover additional bottlenecks and concerns. The result is a piecemeal solution where no two technologies truly integrate with one another, and the benefits they provide together remain out of reach.
To drive a true digital workflow transformation, businesses must ensure these solutions merge together with seamless communication and structure. Going piece by piece means missing “big picture” opportunities for long-term improvements in efficiency and reliability.
Deploying an integrated platform that gives a business the chance to both realize quick wins and to drive towards a long-term automation strategy is the heart of intelligent automation. This holistic approach leaves no stone unturned in the shift to a new way of doing business. With DPA, RPA, cognitive capture and more all working in a unified environment, there are always new opportunities for improvement.
When comparing business process automation versus robotic process automation, you will soon realize that a wider strategy is necessary to generate true change. That strategy may include BPM analysis and finally embracing intelligent automation.
Why should businesses put in the effort?
The Difference IPA Makes
IPA transforms companies when teams fully implement it throughout a business. In a sense, it represents the next step in the evolution of business methodologies. Because it provides a clear pathway to measurable results through process improvements, it offers the best of all worlds.
The process begins with the elimination of basic data entry errors and tedious tasks with RPA. When a workplace follows it through to the end, it provides C-suite decision-makers with the process-specific data, benchmarks and analyses that they need to chart the company's course. IPA enables businesses to unlock the full power of the data that they manage and produce while providing the guardrails to avoid process bloat and loss of focus.
There's a time limit on the old way of doing business with its chaotic workflows, siloed systems and poor process visibility. With growing competition in every market and an increasingly global economy, it is essential for organizations to be agile, responsive, and fully in control of their workflows. Through BPM, robotics integrations, and the pursuit of intelligent process automation, your company can place itself on the solid footing required to succeed both now and in the future.
At Kofax, our focus has always been on the long-term necessity of IPA and we've developed our products to enable robust intelligent automation throughout a business. From intuitive and easy-to-use standalone RPA products to advanced BPM and BPA platforms, these tools enable your organization to Work Like Tomorrow. Learn how to implement them today.