How do Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Business Process Management (BPM) fit together?
The obvious indication that BPM and RPA have something in common: The letter “P” stands for “process” in both acronyms. Business Process Management (BPM) has been around longer than Robotic Process Automation (RPA). But at the core, they both exist for the same reason – to make businesses work better, albeit in slightly different ways.
And they are increasingly working together. From a technology perspective, some tools even integrate BPM software and RPA software. This can lead to confusion among colleagues about how these two technologies can and cannot work together.
BPM vs. RPA: What’s the Difference?
BPM is something you do – like DevOps – and not some specific tool or application.
Let’s distinguish between the two terms and what they represent: Most BPM practitioners usually agree that BPM is something that you do, and not a particular tool or application. (Think DevOps: it’s a way of working, not a tool.) BPM is an ongoing effort to document, analyze, measure, and improve processes in the larger context of your company’s business. BPM software tools are a product of this people-centered practice, not the other way around.
RPA, on the other hand, is literally software. Isaac Asimov or any other science fiction writer shouldn’t conjure up “robotic”. Rather, RPA refers to software bots that automate certain computerized tasks such as data extraction or data transfer. (For example, imagine a bot that automatically copies data from preset fields in incoming invoices and pastes it into another system, such as an accounts payable application.) Employees need to create and manage these bots for RPA to achieve their intended goals to reach. But RPA is ultimately just software.
Companies of all types have long been concerned with improving processes. Nowadays, they are also very interested in automating processes. As a result, BPM and RPA have a thriving relationship.
“We see RPA and BPM by and large as symbiotic technologies, especially in several important use cases such as HR onboarding, insurance claims processing, order processing, [and others]”Says Rizwan Husain, senior director, product management at Automation Anywhere.
How RPA can improve BPM
That’s a topic: RPA is a tool that can extend and enhance the essential purpose of BPM.
BPM is ultimately about improving processes, but those processes alone do not automate them.
Here’s a basic way to think about this complementary relationship: BPM is ultimately about improving processes, but on its own it doesn’t automate those processes (even if that’s the optimal outcome). RPA, on the other hand, exists to automate certain types of processes – but these processes alone are not improved or optimized. (Automating an inefficient or flawed process doesn’t fix it; it just allows it to run faster and more frequently.)
“Businesses use BPM to create reliable workflows that digitally connect isolated systems, data and people,” said Chris Huff, chief strategy officer at Kofax. “RPA works within these workflows to perform certain rule-based automation tasks.”
4 ways BPM and RPA make sense together
Here are a few more ways to think about the relationship between BPM and RPA:
1. BPM can help identify strong candidates for optimization
The basis of BPM is to better understand and document the far-reaching processes that make up a company’s day-to-day operations. Jim Tyrrell, lead architect for key public sector solutions at Red Hat, recently shared with us, “BPM is the management of business processes that are normally buried in people’s minds. [as well as in] Manuals, rules, laws and worksheets. [These] They are inevitably created and exist in any organization, generally without adequate control over their long-term maintenance. “
“Trying to automate processes you don’t understand is a failure.”
This makes BPM a great base for an RPA program because success requires well-understood, clearly documented processes and the same attitude towards continuous improvement. Antony Edwards, COO at Eggplant, told us, “Trying to automate processes that you don’t understand is a path to failure.”
“RPA is an easy-to-use, cost-effective way to fill automation gaps when organizations have legacy platforms, web applications, or internal systems that lack business integration capabilities,” says Chan.
2. BPM and RPA can help to connect older and modern systems
Take a step back and consider why BPM exists and how companies are using it.
“Business process management has long been used by companies to transform end-to-end business processes and to connect these business processes with employees in a company and the underlying systems in order to achieve optimized and efficient processes,” says Husain.
For example, banks have deployed robust mobile apps that need to connect to core legacy systems.
That all sounds good, doesn’t it? In fact, it sounds similar to the way business and IT managers discuss digital transformation. (We recently discovered that digital transformation can be seen as the descendant of BPM.) However, that doesn’t mean you suddenly ditch those legacy systems overnight or step into a collaboration paradise where people and teams always work together seamlessly or where integration and automation take place happen with the wave of a magic wand. Dare to dream, but this is not the reality in most organizations.
“BPM still relies on complex, often legacy, underlying systems that perform critical business functions, and those functions often require human intervention and operation,” says Husain. “RPA plays a critical role by integrating seamlessly with these complex systems and automating repetitive and manual tasks – particularly those related to data extraction, transmission and processing.”
According to Husain, this can save considerable time and effort, reduce errors and improve data quality.
He points to the banking and financial services sectors and, in particular, how these companies have used robust mobile apps to give customers the ability to make mobile deposits, transfer funds, or apply for a mortgage from their smartphone.
“To do that, these companies had to find a way to combine legacy core systems with modern mobile applications,” says Huff. “BPM is used to create the digital connections between modern mobile applications and older IT systems, while at the same time triggering RPA based on a set of rules to perform certain data movement actions, such as taking data from one system and entering it into another.”
Let’s look at two more ways BPM and RPA make sense together: