Robotic process automation isn’t a completely new concept. For many years, businesses have been using software to quickly complete processes that would be laborious for humans to carry out. However, today the rapid evolution of robotics and software has allowed RPA to take on a much greater role in businesses, which could have important implications for the business process management (BPM) systems companies already have in place.
Before exploring how RPA relates to BPM, let’s take a moment to define exactly what RPA is. According to TechTarget, RPA involves using software with machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities to handle repetitive tasks on behalf of humans. This is different from the IT automation that businesses have relied on for many years, as RPA software is able to adapt to changing circumstances, intelligently handling exceptional cases based on its previous experience.
RPA allows software to handle tasks that would previously have required human intervention. For example, if an important form in your human resources system contains an invalid zip code, a traditional IT automation system would only have been able to flag the error and wait for a human to come and fix it. However, intelligent RPA technology may be able to look up the correct zip code itself, without needing to delay the process by involving a human employee. This ability to operate independently means that RPA has many useful applications in a variety of industries, including insurance, finance, supply chain management, procurement, accounting, customer relationship management, and human resources.
RPA is not a replacement for BPM. Even though RPA is likely to take over many repetitive tasks in the typical office environment, the larger processes that include these tasks may never be completely automated. Therefore, it is still necessary to have efficient processes in place for human workers to follow.
If you go ahead and implement RPA in your business, you may be able to take a load off your human workers, giving them more time to spend on other aspects of their jobs and increasing productivity for the business as a whole. However, your business may still not be operating as efficiently as possible. In fact, there is a good chance that you might have automated processes that are poorly designed, rather than taking a big-picture approach to redesigning the processes to ensure they are appropriate for the way your business works. Overhauling your workflows in line with the principles of BPM is a much more fundamental way of improving productivity than simply automating a few simple tasks.
In the long run, both RPA and BPM will be essential for the success of businesses. It is not always feasible to redesign workflows from the ground up, as a traditional BPM approach would demand. In these situations, automating inefficient processes with RPA can greatly improve productivity. In other situations, the return on investment that comes from redesigning processes is great enough that a BPM approach is worthwhile. For the businesses of the future, knowing when to use each approach will be crucial for maximizing return on investment and keeping companies running efficiently and profitably.