There is still a lot of confusion around the differences, similarities and complementarities between BPM and RPA technologies. In this post I'll try to clarify, in simple terms, the main differences and i'll share my thoughts on how BPM and RPA can be combined.
The adoption of RPA technologies is taking by storm the business world thanks to their ability to bring an incredibly fast ROI to enterprises. RPA technology not only brings immediate savings to enterprises but also frees up employees to work on more creative tasks.
From a technology perspective, Robotic Process Automation is based on the idea of a software robot: a system that replicates the actions that a user takes through the user interface of a computer system.
Business Process Management technology it's all about coordinating people, machines and things (and we should also include robots). BPM provides support for real-time human collaboration as well as decision management capabilities.
Both technologies use the term "process", as part of their name but also to describe a sequence of tasks, steps, actions that will be automated. This is where the confusion lies.
One could say that actions performed by robots are repetitive actions that are part of a global business process. A business process that can be automated and managed using BPM technology.
Going a bit more in details, you could consider to use RPA technologies in the following situations:
- Automation of high-volume, repeatable tasks within existing business process
- Robots that mimic the way a person interact with applications
- Single user tasks automation involving multiple applications
- Frees up employees to focus on more creative and customer oriented initiatives
- Support of robot automation triggered by humans or by other robots
- Integration with back-end, legacy and new systems via UI’s
and the use of BPM when there is a need for:
- Management of customer facing processes and applications
- Support of structured, unstructured and adaptive business processes execution
- Coordination of work between people, systems and processes
- Business processes transformation and new business processes automation
- Creation of end-to-end customer experiences connecting user interfaces and processes
- Integration with existing systems via APIs
RPA and BPM are in fact key technologies that are part of the new automation market scene (as described for instance by Neil Ward-Dutton on his presentation about the evolution of the automation market). Those technologies can be used separately but IMO they deliver even more value when they are combined.
Enterprises can use BPM and RPA combined to manage end-to-end process automation in their digital transformation initiatives. BPM being responsible for process orchestration, customer interactions, exception management and complex decision-making by humans. RPA being in charge of repetitive sequences of tasks that can be fully delegated to a virtual “digital workforce” of software robots. A digital workforce of robots that execute those tasks with perfect accuracy and allows organisations to scale.
In the following diagram there is a high level summary describing how RPA and BPM can complement each other and how they can be used combined.