Business Process Management (BPM) is a concept that has been on the market for many years and has earned the trust of users. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a relatively new technology with great potential.
Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is a popular topic today. At the same time, questions often arise, whether business process automation systems (BPMS) are disappearing into oblivion and whether a new technology is coming to replace that will allow automating processes more efficiently.
Evidence that BPM and RPA have something in common are abbreviations: in both of them, the letter “P” stands for “process.” BPM has a longer history, but at its core, both are designed to improve the performance of enterprises, albeit in slightly different ways. Despite this, BPM and RPA are increasingly being used together, and in some tools, they are even integrated.
It should be noted right away that BPM and RPA are not competing technologies. They help each other solve the same issue from different aspects. BPM systems solve the issues of process management automation and RPA – the automation of specific operations. The correct combination of these technologies gives a powerful synergistic effect, which we have seen more than once in our own practice.
Actually, the intersection of these technologies causes confusion – many users do not understand how they are connected and where the differences lie between RPA vs BPM.
But first things first.
What is RPA?
RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is a technology that allows you to shift routine work from a person to a robot.
Routine refers to the standard and repetitive operations that ordinary office workers currently perform using the keyboard, screen, and mouse.
A robot that does routine work for a person is a program that, just like an employee, needs a keyboard, screen, and mouse. It only uses them virtually.
The robot copes with the routine:
- faster than a person;
- no mistakes associated with the “human factor”;
- no vacations, weekends, and breaks;
- with a predictable and easily controllable result.
Implementing RPA does not rebuild the existing workflow – the rest of the employees only notice that work has begun to be done faster in the area automated with RPA.
Replacing humans with robots does not change the principle of work organization. The performer is changed – the speed increases, the number of errors decreases.
For more info, see our Robotic Process Automation Guide: All You Need To Know About RPA.
To understand how RPA can be useful in different industries, check the article about implementing RPA in finance.
What is BPM?
BPM or Business Process Management combines a management concept that considers a company as a network of interconnected processes, as well as specialized software for automating the process approach to company management.
Any business process is a daily purposeful activity of employees, which is completed and leads to a certain result. Examples of business processes are:
- bank account opening process,
- sales process,
- employee hiring process.
BPM breaks down the company’s business process system into a sequence of task steps, describes them in the form of a diagram, and automates them.
BPM systems are a special group of software products that implement the concept of process management. Thanks to the automation of business processes, their participants daily work with ready-made sets of regulations, tasks, and tips that ensure the fastest possible receipt of the planned result.
Modern BPM platforms provide management of complex, branched, dynamically developing processes. BPM tools allow you to model business processes, support users at every step of their operations, and track the progress of tasks, helping employees become more productive.
BPM and RPA compared
Definitions and core functions
First, you need to distinguish between them and figure out what each of them is. Most practitioners usually argue that BPM is a specific activity that a company does, not any specific tool or application. (As an analogy, DevOps is a way of working, not a tool.)
BPM in a broader context is the continuous work of documenting, analyzing, evaluating, and improving the processes that govern the day-to-day activities of an organization. And software tools for business process management eat the product of this people-centered practice, not the other way around.
On the other hand, RPA is literally software. “Robotization” should not conjure up associations with the books of science fiction writers. RPA rather refers to software bots that automate certain computer tasks such as extracting or transferring data. (For example, a bot that automatically copies data from predefined fields of incoming invoices and pastes it into another system, such as a accounts payable application.) People need to create and manage these bots to achieve their goals, but ultimately RPA Is just software.
Companies have been working to improve processes for a long time, and today they are also very concerned about process automation. As a result, a close relationship has developed between BPM and RPA.
In a broader sense, we see RPA and BPM as a symbiosis of technologies, especially for use cases in key areas such as HR, insurance claims processing, order processing, and more.
RPA vs BPM: Technology
RPA – Software Technology
A subset of business process automation, RP automation is a kit of technologies created to support and execute improvements developed with BPM. RPA relies on the application of software robots (often abbreviated as “bots”) to automate and optimize large-scale processes.
Brief: Software “bots” are configured to perform routine, repetitive tasks that an employee usually has to perform.
BPM – Holistic Technology
BPM is a complex set of technologies and processes designed to integrate and manage disparate business functions into a coherent whole. It is a key component of digital transformation, creating a bridge between legacy systems and new technologies, eliminating unnecessary waste and costs while increasing productivity and profitability. BPM solutions are strategic, integrating business intelligence, workflow automation, machine learning (artificial intelligence), and other automation tools to achieve positive business impact.
Brief: Includes a wide range of software technology components, including business intelligence, workflow engine, and more, to optimize business processes with maximum efficiency.
RPA vs BPM: Automation Focus
RPA – Manual Tasks
RPA is task-oriented. RPA robots excel at automating manual, repetitive tasks and have some ability to handle contingencies. Rule-based processes (such as approval routing) that do not require advanced decision-making are ideal for RPA technology.
Brief: Minimising manual, repetitive, and rule-based tasks that do not require complex decisions.
BPM – End-to-End Process Automation
BPM is process-oriented. It is used to plan end-to-end process automation. It is used to chart a course that focuses on reengineering and optimizing complex processes, simplifying communication and collaboration, improving decision making, and achieving corporate productivity and profit gains by eliminating bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and excessive risk.
Brief: Reorganizing process flows to remove bottlenecks, connect systems, and improve productivity across the enterprise.
RPA vs BPM: Deployment Effort of integrations
RPA – Low
RPA features low effort, speed, and tact. RPA tools can be easily and quickly integrated to work with specific existing applications. They can be used to solve specific problems without requiring a complete overhaul of your complete IT system or corporate culture. So, for instance, you can use RPA to create an automated user interface to provide answers to common customer questions through your web page user interface (improve customer experience) or to solve low-value repetitive tasks in your pre-pay purchasing system (P2P) to free up your employees to work more productively and strategically (workflow management). Standalone RPA solutions are typically less expensive than complex BPM platforms, both in actual cost and in the costs associated with culture change.
Brief: Runs non-disruptively within an organization’s existing processes and applications without requiring coding or extensive training.
BPM – High
BPM is a long-term process that requires a lot of effort. Effective BPM requires big vision and a lot of patience. BPM platforms are deeply transforming and, therefore, disruptive. In organizations using legacy systems, a successful digital transformation strategy may require cultural shifts, educational initiatives, and support from both management and staff, in addition to efforts to implement automation technologies. However, BPM is quickly becoming a must for any company looking to compete in the global marketplace.
Brief: Long-term effort that may require specialized technical resources, depending on the complexity and depth of the process.
RPA vs BPM: Business Impact
RPA – Quick & Immediate
Bots are gaining traction as they look promising in demo projects. As the use of bots increases, the benefits will multiply. The same effect was previously observed when deploying workflow and BPM systems in organizations. The difference between RPA and BPM is that bots can be used quickly, independently, here and there, automating simple repetitive tasks and gaining total tangible benefits. As bots get smarter, they can be used as machine intelligence to solve pinpoint problems and fuel the already incipient artificial intelligence (AI) frenzy. Over the past quite a long time, there have been no problems with managing and updating bots, so they take root. It’s hard enough to ignore the tactical advantages that RPA provides and focus instead on the big picture, so the proliferation of bots will continue.
Brief: Return can be implemented quickly and with minimal cost, but implementation may not always solve the problem of inefficiency in the main process.
BPM – Significant & Transformational
Processes provide insight into the workflow and balance of work, and of course, they cross-organizational and technological boundaries. The main challenges arise when implementing a workflow using multiple technologies and software stacks to solve complex problems that affect many organizational roles and divisions of the company. The starting time costs are more here, and it is not always possible to get the effect right away. But although the effect of these efforts does not come immediately, without them, it will not be possible to achieve a significant improvement in quality for the client. The effect here can be much higher, although it comes later. Considering also the fact that the term BPM is no longer in vogue, it turns out that BPM is a long-term game. The benefits of business processes will not go anywhere, and the patient will wait.
Brief: Significant gains can be made in overall productivity, agility, cost savings, efficiency, and regulatory compliance.
Difference between BPM and RPA
RPA is heavily used in the financial sector as these businesses often have large amounts of data stored in legacy systems – the primary use case for RPA. There is a lot of data. There are many processes at a scale where, when automating, you can see the impact on the business in terms of:
- mitigation of risk,
- business results can be easily measured.
However, the real value of RPA will be revealed when artificial intelligence is added to these applications. Adding AI to RPA will free it from its exclusive focus on mundane tasks. AI will make up an increasingly large portion of the digital workforce, and, after all, RPA will account for a small fraction of the total spending of the AI cabinet market.
For now, however, RPA is mainly used for routine work such as scanning records.
How is BPM used?
In contrast, BPM is used to automate end-to-end processes. This is done in different ways:
- It defines and clarifies all administrative responsibilities associated with the process.
- It describes the work that people do, that is, their work processes.
- Then it finds areas where these workflows can be optimized.
There are aspects of standardization and documentation here, but BPM is also key to getting people to work together. Ultimately BPM is about mapping a process, tracking its performance, and looking for opportunities to improve that performance.
BPM and RPA combined
Some say that this is a match made in procurement paradise. Indeed, RPA is a tool that can expand and elevate the basic tasks that BPM performs.
While RPA and BPM are different terms, they complement each other and, when deployed together, can contribute to digital transformation.
So what is the complementary relationship between RPA and BPM?
The ultimate goal of BPM is to improve processes, but by itself, it does not automate them (even if it brings the optimal result).
On the other hand, RPA is designed to automate certain types of processes, but by itself, it cannot improve or optimize them.
By automating an ineffective or faulty process, you are not fixing it — it will simply run faster and increase the repetition rate along with the failure.
By and large, organizations use BPM to create robust workflows that connect disparate systems, data, and people digitally. In turn, RPA works within these workflows to perform specific rule-based automation tasks.
So how RPA and BPM can work together?
BPM will help determine the preferred processes for automation
The essence of BPM is to better understand and document the wide range of processes that make up the day-to-day activities of an organization.
BPM is about managing business processes that are usually hidden in people’s heads as well as in guidelines, rules, laws, and worksheets. They inevitably accumulate in any business and tend to be poorly managed over the long term.
Thus, BPM is an excellent foundation for an RPA program because success requires well-understood, well-documented processes and a mindset focused on continuous improvement.
Remember – trying to automate processes that you don’t understand is going to be on a path to inherent failure.
BPM also allows you to identify areas in the various processes of the organization, including the workforce, where automation would bring the most benefit and where it is the only optimization tool.
RPA is a convenient and cost-effective way to automate gaps in areas where organizations have legacy platforms, web applications, or back-end systems that lack enterprise integration functionality.
BPM and RPA will help link legacy and modern systems
BPM has long been used by organizations to transform end-to-end business processes so that people in the organization can connect to them. It also links processes to underlying systems to ensure streamlined and efficient operations.
In theory, this looks good and is reminiscent of discussions between business leaders and IT professionals about what digital transformation should look like.
Some experts believe that digital transformation can be seen as the heir to BPM.
But that doesn’t mean that in pursuit of the goal of becoming a digital company, it will be able to get rid of legacy systems overnight or that it will instantly find itself in an ideal environment where people and teams always work together or where integration and automation come with the wave of a magic wand. Yet, most organizations cannot boast of this.
BPM continues to rely on complex and often legacy core systems that perform critical business functions that require human intervention to maintain them.
RPA plays a key role in integrating with complex systems and automates repetitive and manual tasks, especially when it comes to retrieving, transferring, and processing data. It can significantly save time, reduce errors and improve data quality.
BPM-RPA has been used for years to rapidly modernize legacy IT systems and business operations across many industries.
As an example, banking and financial services companies have deployed robust mobile applications that enable customers to mobile escrow, transfer funds or apply for mortgages from their smartphones.
To do this, they needed to find a way to connect mainstream legacy systems with modern mobile applications.
BPM is used to create digital connections between modern mobile applications and legacy IT systems, while rules-based RPA takes action to move data from one system and enter it into another.
BPM can help with exception handling in RPA rules
RPA operates according to the previously set rules – it does not know how to make exceptions or take “last resort” actions. When faced with them, the bot is practically out of order.
BPM will help you solve the problem with exception handling.
Both RPA and BPM can be very effectively combined in scenarios where RPA relies on BPM to handle certain exceptions to perform automated actions, such as when a bot encounters a missing document or information shortage while processing an HR process.
Conversely, BPM can rely on RPA to automate time-consuming and manual tasks such as transferring employee data to various payroll systems as part of the HR process.
The same can be said for other scenarios where BPM and RPA go hand in hand, such as in banking. RPA relies on BPM to handle any exceptions that do not match a set of rules, require human intervention, or a decision on a transaction. Because RPA is rule-driven, a changing environment or process can destroy the bot, so BPM can act as a kind of backup for it to handle all exceptions and keep it running.
In addition, BPM informs the company about existing exceptions and changes. Without knowing about them, enterprises are putting RPA implementation at risk – a bot can be disabled even by such a simple thing as a change in the configuration of the user interface of a web application.
RPA can be deployed and managed by people who are not developers
BPM is increasingly overlapping with IT, responding to organizations’ aspirations to acquire the expertise and skills needed to implement an automation strategy. RPA is a technology that allows you to do this without over-engaging IT professionals, as many of its tools are designed to be used by personnel who do not have deep technical knowledge. This means that the same people who work with BPM, such as business analysts or business units, can also deal with the automation of certain processes.
A collaborative approach to RPA is the preferred approach, but this does not mean that CIOs will need to recruit or reallocate additional developers or other IT professionals to support automation.
RPA bots can be customized by non-technical employees, which means less work for IT staff who are already overwhelmed by the fact that companies have moved their employees to remote work.
These features make RPA ideal for organizations looking to quickly deploy integration and automation solutions in response to change.
Future predictions about using RPA and BPM
At the macro level, automation continues to drive down costs for organizations by allowing them to invest these financial resources in more strategic areas of business.
In addition, the technologies that govern automation are continually evolving, including RPA, workflow mechanisms, and interactions between systems leading to seamless communication.
It helps to improve the BPM experience. In addition, these technologies are moving or expanding into the cloud, making the technology even more accessible to small businesses, helping them use these solutions to grow their business.
RPA is a living, working technology that is already in use. From the management side, RPA without BPM does not give a complete result. It is patchy automation of some operations. But the coexistence of BPM and RPA technologies has a cumulative effect.
RPA should be used to automate anything that can be automated without integration, and that is not a constant source of change. And BPM makes sense to delegate interactions between people, especially actions that require value judgments. In addition, BPM can be used to integrate with third-party systems.
Thus, it is too early to talk about a complete replacement of BPMS with robotic systems, and the separate use of RPA will not fully improve business processes. The symbiosis of BPM and RPA significantly increases the efficiency of performing tasks through automation. In addition, the integrated solution contributes to the overall reduction in operating costs and the improvement of the company’s operations.
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