What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

“Robotic process automation (or RPA) is an emerging form of clerical process automation technology based on the notion of software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers.” - BrainBotics 

In a nutshell, this means we take current human based activity and automate it using software automation. RPA operates on the surface, so if a user goes to a website and copies some information and then goes to their accounting system and pastes that information in, we can do the same thing, only without the person needing to perform the action. This approach means you don’t need to redefine the process—instead, the robot actually records the action and then repeats it with a few variables in place. It also means you don’t need to be a programmer to make one.

That all sounds great, but isn’t that what BPM and BPA tools do?

Actually, it isn’t.

BPM is a process for improving business processes and it has its foundation in operations management; fortunately, I have a background in operations management and information management so I have experienced both. BPM is a part of quality control. It’s purpose is to provide a process map that can be measured and improved upon over time, and it is the driver behind programs like Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing. The primary way BPM helps organizations is through a reduction in variance and through proper metrics, without those as a foundation, organizations (especially manufacturers) would have difficulty improving.

BPA Tools are often referred to as workflow tools and provide a way for you to map and automate business processes. The approach in a BPA tool is to recreate the process from the ground up, automating process steps through either predefined steps,like sending an email, or through programming functionality. Some tools are pretty easy to use and don’t require a developer, while others require a workflow developer to create the code to build a workflow.

Where I see the need for RPA is within systems integration. Often, systems integration projects are costly and time consuming, but with an RPA tool, you can pull from one system and move information to another without any programming required.

If a user can show a robot how it is done, then the robot can do it. RPA and BPA tools all have the same end goal in mind: save the organization time and money. Using the right tool for the right job will help your organization, no matter the requirement. It will also pay for itself in a very short period of time. Most organizations purchase these tools for a specific pain point, but quickly learn that it can be used in other processes, providing better value. Before you decide on a tool, you should consider where it can be used in the organization as a whole. If you can quickly identify three or more internal processes that could use the tool, you are likely to show a return on investment in the first year.

Both RPA and BPA serve a specific purpose, just the approach is different. No matter which tool we use, BPM should be the foundation for the process moving forward. If you dig down, you are going to find your organization probably has a need for all three. Even the best run organizations have room to improve. 

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