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State-of-art business tech is a veritable alphabet soup – RPA, BPM, BPA, AI, ML, CLI, ERP, FTE, OCR, POC, ROC, RBAC, and the list goes on.  In this article, we will talk about RPA – Robotic Process Automation and BPM – Business Process Management, what they are, how they are related, and how, in synergy, they can drive business growth and enhance competitiveness in the business-place.

RPA vs BPM
RPA vs BPM

The connection between BPM and RPA

To understand the overlap in the Venn diagram of BPM and RPA, one must know what each of those is.

What is business process management (BPM)?

According to Gartner, Business process management (BPM) is the use of various methods to discover, model, analyze, measure, improve, and optimize business processes.

The need to integrate the elements of any business – people, information, and tools to run the business – is as old as the human enterprise itself. BPM is said to have evolved from When Business Process Reengineering (BPR) which was designed in the last decade of last century to enable enterprises to improve their work flow towards various outcomes such as improved customer service, saved operational costs, and stay competitive.

What is business process management (BPM)?
What is business process management (BPM)?

In essence, BPM is a management idea that induces organizations to pay explicit attention to their business processes throughout their gamut of operations. It encompasses thorough understanding of the steps that are part of a business process, the people who are involved in these steps, the information that is being processed while going through these steps, and the technologies that are invoked when executing the various steps.

Traditionally, BPM involved the manual crafting of process diagrams by the manual observance of the business function. These diagrams were later manually captured using visual diagramming tools like Microsoft Visio. In recent times, better tools have been developed and are used to automatically capture processes, highlight opportunities for improvement, and implement new workflows.

business process management process (BPM)?
business process management process (BPM)?

The implementation of BMP can encompass deep analysis of operations, mapping of business processes and incorporation of a comprehensive set of tools and capabilities to enable it.  The processes that make a business can be structured and repeatable, or unstructured and variable, and a good BPM captures all processes and seamlessly integrates them into a larger framework. In recent times, technologies are often used with BPM to orchestrate and monitor the automated flow of processes throughout the realm of business competency.  Modern technology used in PM systems includes sophisticated analytics that use business rules to evaluate multiple events and pick out patterns or relationships for further optimization.

BPM is a functional strategy and not a path toward digital transformation in itself.  While the management of the business process optimizes the functions of the business, as long as it relies on legacy systems for individual tasks such as data entry, onboarding, record maintenance, aggregating reports, order processing, etc., it cannot deliver the promised results in their entirety.  This is where RPA comes in.

What is Robotic process automation (RPA)?

A business process comprises smaller tasks, many of which are repetitive and rule-based.  Robotic Process Automation are programmable software, or bots, that automate manual, repetitive, rules-based tasks.  

The evolution of RPA
The evolution of RPA

Typical tasks that can be automated using bots include logging into applications, reading invoices, extracting data from documents, and matching/validating items in a system. RPA improves the speed and efficiency of these mundane tasks, lowers costs, and allows humans to engage in more strategic tasks. Some tasks that can be automated by bots and other RPA software are:

  • Information transfer information from a customer service chatbot into a suitable repository
  • Transaction bookkeeping
  • Line extraction from invoices, receipts, etc.
  • Mine data from publicly available social media profiles into a repository used by marketing teams
  • Mining of data from third-party databases to be incorporated into a workflow

RPA tools that are used in the business context today, are of two types:

  1. System Centric RPA primarily works on existing business systems such as ERP with minimum human involvement. Such systems are characterized by extensive integrations and API access. An example of an integration-centric process is online banking, which can involve different kinds of RPA tools and bots.
  2. The Human-Centric RPA is when the human is supported by RPA automation tools, While the primary processes are executed by humans, and automation is used to ease some of the mundane routine tasks.  Customer service, complaint handling, employee onboarding and report filings are some tasks that benefit from human-centric RPA.

The RoI (Return on Investment) of BPM and RPA

Data, complexity, and scale are the decisive factors that decide the RoI of any technology.  Let us see how BPM and RPA compare in RoI with respect to these factors.

Data

The integration of data in a BPM process can be complex because enterprises, especially large ones that have multiple core competencies have several data silos and complicated protocols to rationalize them.  Such data integration can be further complicated by mergers and acquisitions.  Robotic automation, on the other hand, does not usually deal with the entire enterprise (except if it is a small business), and therefore does not have to deal with data schemas. It merely uses current outputs in the same way that legacy business systems use.

Complexity

BPM systems can handle complex business rules and logic but requires extensive training and expertise for seamless implementation.  That said, many of the modern BPM systems are intuitive to use and that leverage features such as WYSIWYG operations, drag & drop features, and automation wizards that can ease implementation. In such cases, BPM and RPA are comparable in RoI.

Scale

The implementation of BPM, especially with interlinked automation tools, ala hyper-automation, is associated with a large-scale automation footprint.  This scale can be related to RoI only with respect to the size and turnover of the business. BPA on the other hand are less complicated, but their RoI again depends on the amount and quality of repetitive manual tasks that can be automated.  This is therefore a little fuzzy for comparison

The ROIs of BPM and RPA cannot be compared through the simple formula of (benefit/cost)*100 due to the following reasons

  • BPM is an enterprise-wide strategy whereas RPA is a task automation tool. The above formula fits RPA because it assumes definable functions, clear costs, and measurable financial benefits. BPM, on the other hand, is the use of strategies and technology transformatively across the entire business portfolio.  Evaluating their benefits across the entire company and not the functional touchpoints is complicated, and this simple solution won’t work.
  • The benefits in that formula need not always be fiscal. BPM may offer benefits that cannot be captured on the balance sheet.  Some intangible benefits that cannot be used in the above formula include accuracy, flexibility, compliance, employee morale, and energy savings.
  • Time span: RPA can start showing benefits over a shorter span of time than BPM.  Hence, it is not really fair to compare RPA and BPM in terms of RoI.  Nevertheless, both approaches have their benefits, and, when implemented in tandem, can certainly provide ROIs in both conventional and non-conventional aspects.
ROI of BRM and RPA
ROI of BRM and RPA


Similarities: RPA vs BPM

Does RPA enhance BPM or does BPM incorporate RPA in its functioning?  This is perhaps the modern equivalent of the age-old chicken-egg conundrum.

The synergy of RPA and BPM
The synergy of RPA and BPM

In the words of Jeffrey Brown, senior director of digital automation at global management consultancy SSA & Company  "Some kind of BPM is a prerequisite to any RPA deployment, as one can't successfully automate what one doesn't understand.”  So perhaps BPM may be considered the canvas on which RPA is painted.

But it’s not as simplistic as that. BPM and RPA are often considered complementary techniques.  The former may be considered the brain while the latter is the brawn of the business operation. RPA software has been reported to boost all aspects of business processes and workflows and can be part of business process management.  When most tasks of a business are supported by automation tools such as RPA which are orchestrated and optimized to suit the entire business process management may be said to be hyperautomated.

To synergize BPM and RPA, it is important to understand their differences.

 

RPA

BPM

Aim

To minimize manual, repetitive, and rule-based tasks that don’t need any complex decision making

To organize entire business process to improve efficiency and productivity

Technology

Algorithms and bots to mimic manual actions in monotonous and time-consuming tasks 

Identification of the steps of the business process and streamline them for efficiency

Expertise 

Low levels of expertise to setup and operate

High expertise in business management and a certain amount of technology expertise required

Business impact

Immediate returns on individual tasks

Long term returns in terms of enterprise-wide efficacy

The synergy of BMP and RPA makes use of the strengths of each, to enhance the efficacy of the business process.

RPA to free humans for higher BPM operations:

With RPA taking over mundane repetitive processes such as data extraction, employees can use their time, resources, and mental prowess on strategy, innovation, and technology that is part of the larger BPM system. This can improve process outcomes, shorten cycle times, and maximize efficiency.

RPA as an interface

A business process may have multiple legacy applications that must be brought under a common umbrella of BPM. RPA can act as an API for legacy applications and help in integrating the various disjoint applications into a common platform.

BPM to handle exceptions

While data extraction can be automated with RPA systems, exception handling requires a more strategic approach.  The handling of an exception path that involves the seamless integration of a human for review and resolution requires effective BPM systems.

The human in the loop in BPM

Not all aspects of a business can be entirely automated and there are some that would benefit from human involvement. Approvals and decision-making are such areas and without a human in the loop, the processes could become riddled with inconsistencies, obstructions, and the inevitable human error and oversight. With a HITL BPM, the overall processes associated with such actions as approvals and decision makings can have a judicious mix of automated analytics and human participation.

Is RPA the future of BPM?

RPA is certainly slated to be an important part of BPM in future.  According to Mordor Intelligence, the integration of automation tools such as RPA and IoT with BPM will boost the market for business process management (BPM) market from USD 3.38 billion in 2019 to USD 4.78 billion by 2025.  The demands of higher productivity, improved risk management, and better cost control has necessitated greater implementation of RPA into the BPM ecosystem.

Weaving RPA applications into broader enterprise processes that involve both human and AI elements can save enterprises considerable time and generate quick ROI. However, orchestration is essential for the benefits of RPA to be reaped. BPM-based orchestration capabilities of intelligent automation can enable full capitalization of RPAs features for enterprise-wide benefits.

In the big picture, both RPA and BPM would become essential for the success of businesses. BPMs require a redesign of workflows from the ground up, which is unwieldy.  However, automating inefficient processes with RPA and finally integrating them into the larger workflow can aid the redesign process. It is important to know when and how each approach must be implemented to maximize RoI and the competitiveness of the company in the business scenario.

Challenges to joint implementation of RPA and BPM tools

The main challenge to BPM implementation is the delay in seeing results.  It must be remembered that BPM is a heavyweight platform that must be integrated with the other systems, and this complexity can result in delays in seeing tangible results.  The absence of immediate payoff, however, does not mean that it is not working.  However, to hasten payoff, RPAs can be included in the BPM framework so that some of the time-consuming tasks can be speeded up, which in turn can speed up the efficacy of the BPM system.

Another challenge in integrating RPA into the BPM framework is a skill shortage. It pays to have a tech expert or even a team before embarking on the automation journey.

Another impediment to the RPA-BPM integration is the absence of awareness and knowledge among the stakeholders.  Change always begets resistance.  Change towards automation could generate fear of obsoletion among employees.  A good strategy to fold the employees into the transition would go a long way in implementing RPA-BPM strategies into the business process.

Some RPA and BPM tools

With the integration of AI and ML technology into various automation tools, RPA solutions have capabilities that go far beyond the simple replication of repetitive human actions.  Modern RPA solutions with AI/ML functionalities perform cognitive actions rather than rule-based methodical repetitions and can handle exceptions.  As was seen, handling exceptions and cognitive approaches are the domain of BPM, and it may appear that the boundary between RPA and BPM platforms is progressively thinning.

Nevertheless, there are specific examples of RPA and BPM tools that are available in the market today. Some of the leaders of RPA tools are

  • UiPath: While UiPath is a predominantly RPA tool, it also has enhanced features that make it amenable for BPM integration.
  • Blue Prism: Blue Prism is an RPA tool that has AI-related cognitive functions.  It is a code-free platform.
  • Power Automate: Microsoft's Power automate creates workflows between applications to synchronize files, get notifications, and collect data. Also AI-driven, this cloud-based solution uses triggers and actions to create chain reactions within a workflow so that repetitive, manual, and time-consuming tasks are automated.
  • Nanonets is an OCR software that can be part of the RPA sequence because it leverages AI & ML capabilities to automatically extract unstructured/structured data from PDF documents, images, and scanned files. A typical sequence involving Nanonets in the RPA protocol is as shown below.

Some popular BPM platforms are:

  • Pega: Pega is a suite of applications that focuses on customer engagement and digital process automation. It links customer-facing systems with backend process automation and has an RPA component.
  • Odoo: Odoo streamlines a range of business functions, including business intelligence and reporting, asset management, and marketing.
  • Bonita: Bonita provides workflow automation across different departments in an enterprise and has AI-powered analytics and prediction capabilities.
  • Case.one: Case.one also streamlines process automation via chatbots, reporting, and notifications.

Areas for RPA-BPM synergy

  • Healthcare: There is no other field in which the RPA-BPM synergy would be a literal life-saver, as the healthcare sector.  RPA can be applied to most of the processes in Healthcare including patient registration, patient data processing, doctor reports, medical bill processing, insurance data automation, and patient record storage. With the large quantum of data and information generated and gathered in the healthcare sector, the task of categorizing, compiling, and documenting can become unwieldy, especially since regulatory and legislative requirements must be meticulously met. BPM systems can ease the management of all of this information and activities, thereby ensuring compliance and reliability and reducing risks.
  • Customer service:  Customer service, like healthcare, requires inputs from various domains and must process them in a variety of ways.  RPA can be used to cull data and information from various sources, and bots can be used to provide first-level interaction support at the customer service end.  However, all of the information and interactions between the RPA platform and the customer must be analyzed for subsequent use in marketing and sales.  BPM systems can process the information provided by the RPA systems to enable better targeting in marketing, and in providing better customer service.
  • Public sector: Like all large businesses, governments also deal with labor-intensive, repetitive chores such as document processing, information dissemination, data management, and security compliance, which are its building blocks.  Governments are recognizing the benefits offered by RPA in its functioning and are increasingly adopting various RPA tools for their activities. Integrating RPAs with a larger BPM in the public sector P enables alignment of policy and strategy with its operational execution, better accountability, quicker responses to policy changes and unplanned events, and transparency to the public.
  • Finance sector: The service sector would benefit from RPA implementations in their core functions in finance to enhance productivity, bring down costs and streamline compliances. RPA can link transactional data from various sources, in finance and is already used in invoice processing, accounts payable, claims processing, payroll input, updating personal information, travel and expenses accounts and more.  The integration of RPA into a BPM framework in the finance sector can help firms handle and organize accounts more efficiently for a start. Gartner reports that integrating BPM solutions with financial workflow can boost annual RoI by 40 - 60 percent, and help minimize mistakes. BPMs would also allow financial teams to work more closely with other departments and customers in such aspects as contract management, account handling, and grievance redressal. BPM tools also enhance the accuracy of financial data, thereby enabling audit readiness at all times.
  • Human Resources teams: Human resources deal with daily administrative and operational tasks that can easily take advantage of RPA. By letting the bots do the non-decision-based work, the human resources department can free up time to be used in more fruitful activities. The synergy between RPA and BPM in the HR departments can reduce resource requirements and save time and money by streamlining activities like onboarding processes, benefits management, timesheet tracking, training, policy changes, salary revisions, and performance reviews.

Answers to a few FAQs

Some common questions that are posted on search sites by people attempting to understand BPM, RPA, and their interconnections are given below.

Drawing from the extensive discussion in the preceding sections, we will answer these questions.

What is the difference between RPA and BPM?

BPM is a management strategy that may or may not involve automation tools.  It is the skeleton of a procedural flow in a company.

RPA is a software tool or a “bot” as it is commonly called that performs rule-based tasks much like a human does.

RPA could, and is increasingly becoming one of the many cogwheels in the larger management strategy of BPM.

Is RPA a BPM tool?

RPA is an automation tool, no doubt and may be part of the BPM system.  It is not, however, a BPM Tool per se, and can operate independently.

What is the difference between RPA and workflow?

Workflow is simply a representation of the flow of work as happens in a business process.  Some common workflows in a business are invoice processing, customer relationship management, and enterprise resource planning (ERP).Workflow automation automates specific tasks within a business process or workflow. RPA automates entire workflows from beginning to end through rules.

What is the difference between Robotic Process Automation and Business Process Management?

See the answer to the first question.

Is RPA a workflow?

No, RPA is not a workflow.  It is an automation tool that automates workflows from beginning to end through rules.

What is workflow automation?

Workflow automation automates specific tasks within a business process or workflow.

Take away

The incorporation of RPA tools into a BPM system can improve operational efficiency and lower the costs of business operations. Jointly deployed RPA and BPM solutions would enable a powerful platform that can support the digital transformation of the enterprise as a whole.

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