Decades ago when we heard about the TLA (three letter acronyms) of BPO (business process outsourcing), BPS (business process services), and BPA (business process analysis), the world was quaked by the models of process outsourcing + offshoring where business activities are managed at a distant to primarily gain a cost advantage.
The key concept was to move away the organization’s non core competencies / activities that do not add “value” directly by the organization’s employees and it can be outsourced – get a cost/ productivity advantage and move the current employees to do better/ more core/ business focused tasks and operations. Essentially move the entire organization one level up in the value chain: people who do mundane operational tasks will now do tactical tasks and who did tactical activities will move over to take strategic actions. It was surely never about moving out jobs, or even closing down business operations – or M&A. It was a move to do Business Process Optimization by moving to Offshore (a low cost location) or outsource the process (to an organization that will do it much more efficiently- quicker and effectively- with less error and pass on the benefits of doing so to the main organization).
It is almost that wave felt now with RPA = robotic process automation, while I would want to give an added letter in the name with RBPA = Robotic business process automation. There have been several conversations about what is the difference between a traditional automation and Robotic automation, and I would urge people to read the attached article to get a few examples and insight to this question (http://www.xchanging.com/system/files/dedicated-downloads/robotic-process-automation.pdf).
One simple way to explain is to imagine a process that has say 10 steps/ activities or tasks. We can categorize these 10 steps in a way to understand process automation & RPA:
- A few steps may be performed by a human,
- A few by a software/ application/ program/ machine, and
- A few in combinations to both i.e. human using the application performs the steps.
When we say traditional process automation it means
- To maximize the number of steps done by a software/ application/ program/ machine
- To try and move some of the steps done by the human to either being done by human+machine or purely by machine
And when we speak about RBPA (robotic business process automation) it means
- To ask a Robot/ an invisible program to perform tasks done by a human (in more or less the same way) but more efficiently & effectively [as many tasks can be moved in this way]
- To not “change” any of the existing software/ applications/ systems or try and do lot of system integrations.But to bring in a separate program/ a Robot who will do the same tasks more effectively & efficiently.
The essence of RBPA is to characterize an application/ software/ program as a Robot who can perform the quintessential tasks to perfection. The key benefits of RBPA for an organization are:
- Increased Productivity/ Effectiveness: improve time/ SLA/ commitment to customer (external and internal) for the business processes execution
- Improve Accuracy/ Effectiveness: reduce the error rate for the process execution and improve more accurate outcomes
- Improve Speed/ Efficiency: improve the time to market and delivery of any task/ activity/ complete process
- Availability/ Efficiency: As we know the Robots are available 24×7 while the humans can effectively work only for certain period of time (8 hrs!)
- Business Agility: Changing the process is much easier as it is quicker to train a Robot (although ageing does effect Robots!)
- Reduce Cost: as a outcome of all the above forces, the cost of operations will be reduced
While some of the statements from above may be my individual opinions, some of these are yet to be proven with satisfactory results. It may sound as if the RBPA is an extension to the BPO / BPS world but it is much beyond the same- in terms of defining the right set of tools/ frameworks/ processes to enable a Robot to take up operations and tasks.
Traditionally Business Process protagonists have always spoken about LSS = lean six sigma as a critical methodology to improve/ automate/ get the business processes in the organization to next level of maturity. Where Lean focuses on reducing waste, the Six Sigma focuses on reducing the error rate and brings in standardization and consistency. The methodologies may involve complex attributes development of a process such as standard deviation, sigma etc, but the results were fruitful with improving the process effeciency and effectiveness and reducing cost. So what is different with RBPA is that RBPA can be very well built on the principles of LSS – where the robots/ programs being designed to perform the human tasks can be engineered with LSS at the backdrop.
Two key technology areas will attract interest in this field of RBPA i.e. ERP (enterprise resource planning) and BPM (business process management). Traditionally ERP have seen automation as a key driver to enhance/ upgrade/ provide next level of system design e.g. SAP ERP moves to HANA with performance as a key measure, while BPM products (BPMS- bpm suites) are closer to realization of process automation for traditionally human focused tasks. We should watch out for the next level of Technology and Tools coming up in this direction of Robotic Process Automations, along with BPM and BPS focus area.