The enterprise software world loves acronyms. These acronyms often describe similar pieces of software and some that even have the same goal with different approaches. This can cause confusion in a market of enterprise software buyers that drown in a sea of never-ending acronyms. In this article, we clarify the difference between two acronyms that people often confuse with one another: RPA and BPM.
What is RPA?
Let’s start with Robotic Process Automation (RPA), defined by CIO.com as: “an application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, aimed at automating business processes. Using RPA tools, a company can configure software, or a ‘bot’ to capture and interpret applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.” The focus of RPA is the automation of high volume tasks using bots. This is a much narrower focus than that of business process management yet a highly effective technology nonetheless.
What is BPM?
UiPath defines Business Process Management (BPM) as: “an approach to streamlining business processes for maximum efficiency and value. It is an in-depth look at how processes are operating. BPM does this by identifying areas for improvement, and building solutions – usually from the ground up. BPM is about making sure the infrastructure of your business processes is solid.” Therefore, the focus of BPM is broader, a comprehensive approach to managing entire businesses processes from end to end. Businesses do not need to make the decision between RPA or BPM as RPA can compliment BPM quite well.
So, where’s the confusion?
A common misconception is that RPA and BPM are the same things. That is, many people believe that RPA automates processes end-to-end like robust BPM software currently does. This belief has led to many articles being published about how BPM as a discipline is outdated and will be replaced by RPA. However, this belief is simply not true. If you were paying attention to the definitions of RPA and BPM above, you know that RPA is a technology and BPM is a discipline. So, they are not even in the same category. Furthermore, not only is RPA as a technology not yet up to automating entire business processes, but RPA is not even designed to do that.
RPA vs BPM
Every business is ultimately the sum of the tasks, events, and decisions that add up to entire business processes. In the world of workflow automation, BPM is a holistic approach to optimize and automate business processes from start to finish. On the other hand, RPA is a technology that deals with smaller, repetitive tasks completed by bots that just comprise a part of a business process. BPM is an end-to-end solution for automating entire business processes and RPA is a compliment to a solid BPM approach. RPA certainly cannot replace BPM, even if they sometimes reap the same benefits like reducing human error and improving efficiency by automating high-volume, low-value yet repetitive tasks.
RPA solutions empower non-technical users to create “bots” to automate rules-driven business processes. These bots can mimic human activities such as logging into IT systems and copying and pasting data across systems. RPA also requires minimum integration with any existing IT stack. Organizations performing high-volume, transactional processes can potentially boost productivity and save time and money with RPA.
BPM is a discipline that helps businesses optimize processes to become more efficient, streamlined, and adaptable to changing conditions. Using BPM software empowers non-technical users to build and model business processes with low-code technology. However, BPM is more than just workflow automation. Analytics and reporting can help reduce silos and bottlenecks in any given process—helping organizations understand when and where they might need to adapt or make an adjustment.
Then, what does RPA mean for workflow?
While RPA is an exciting new form of workflow automation technology, it is no replacement for any existing software system, particularly BPM. However, what it does often replace are tasks previously done by humans. RPA is particularly known for helping labor-intensive organizations automate manual processes. It does this by mimicking humans, thereby reducing headcount, overhead, and costs as a result. This is where the negative perception of Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the lesser-known RPA often comes from. RPA makes a good complement to other workflow software that aims to improve the efficiency of an entire company’s operations. This is a goal that RPA can contribute to in a major way as part of a full-feature BPM solution.