Business process management (BPM) is the discipline of improving a business process from end to end by analyzing it, modelling it for different scenarios, enabling improvements, continuously monitoring and optimizing the process. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) on the other hand, automates repetitive, rules-based work tasks that rely on digital data. These tasks include queries, calculations, creating and updating records, filling out forms, producing reports, cutting and pasting and performing other high-volume transactional tasks that require moving data within and between applications.
In this article, I would like to propose the potential synergy with respect to both their domains and how organisations should evaluate a strategy to drive digitization coupled with digital transformation thru adoption of BPM and RPA.
In my conversations with business and IT heads, I have realized that many organisations seem to be taking the terms BPM, Workflow and RPA synonymously. It is important that we clearly understand that though from a feature functionality, a lot of the underlying toolsets have significant overlaps in this space, the selection of the technology will be driven by the usecase itself.
Workflow is a key capability inherently part of both BPM and RPA. We are also to be cognizant of BPA i.e. Business Process Automation, which is a super-set of the aforementioned topic of RPA. At this point, it would be best to clarify that BPA and RPA are eventually subsets of BPM.
One of the most striking difference that distinguishes BPM and RPA is the human centricity. Though it might be ‘controversial’ to claim that RPA looks at eliminating the human from the process, the core philosophy of RPA is to automate (read as eliminate) unproductive time taking cumbersome ‘data entry’ type tasks. BPM on the other hand, is the process of studying a business process (consisting of a main process and potentially several sub-processes) and trying to deliver differentiation by optimizing the way it is executed. The outcome might involve automation or no automation, but large BPM programs eventually drive streamlining and increase productivity by identifying opportunities of digitization and automation.
Lets go back to the topic of human centricity and further discuss the topic of BPM and RPA. A classic example everyone can relate to is in the area of Human Resources. Take the process of Hire to Retire for the purpose of this article.
The complete process of hire to retire can have several sub-processes within the overall process. For a simple representation, see below;
There are several business softwares that helps organisation manage the entire Hire to Retire process. Organisations tend to have differentiation by having their own variations to the overall process. BPM thus becomes the principle to model that organisation specific process, document it and also make it an executable and realizable business process leveraging technology.
In the same context, let’s explore how BPA (largely delivered as part of the BPM technology suite) could fit in.
Say that Performance management at ABC Corp. had a 10 step process with several personas interacting with the process. Post the BPM exercise, this has been optimized to a 7 step process consisting of;
- Setup G&O (Appraiser)
- Review G&O and Provide Feedback (Appraisee)
- Approve Feedback and Initiate Appraisal (Appraiser)
- Self assessment & submit G&O (Appraisee)
- Review & Submit Rating (Appraiser)
- On a metric of 10, if overall rating is in the range of less than 3 or greater than 8, Review and Feedback from next level is needed ((Appraiser’s Manager)
- Final Rating to be Approval from HR (HR Manager)
If the above was largely operated on paper forms and excel sheets or as part of a fixed template of a business application, the opportunity exists to digitize or scale as per the needs of the organisation.
This is where digitization or automation of the business process comes into play. A human centric workflow integrating the required systems of records, evaluating the involved business rules and triggering tasks to the involved personas will help digitize the above performance management process.
So then what about RPA itself?
Let’s say that as part of the Hire to Retire process, within the sub-process of Training & Development, there is an activity where a spreadsheet is emailed to a HR executive that contains the list of all learning programs, including the details of the nominations, rankings & scores, mandatory and optional electives etc. The HR executive then has to at the end of the day, upload all this information into the backend business application. Moreover, to complete the process, he or she needs to refer and update 3 different systems to successfully complete the information flow.
This is a classic case for RPA. Here you have an HR professional, doing a mundane task of data entry, a repetitive, boring, time consuming and almost unrewarding activity. Would we rather have that person do something more productive with their time?
Leveraging RPA, this entire process can be automated by having the software extract data from excel sheets, launch and enter data directly into screens, while in parallel accessing other systems to check or validate data, and thus in minutes complete the entire activity which might have taken hours if not for RPA.
There are two common type of RPA – Assisted and Non-assisted, and as you might have guessed, it is in the latter that we eliminate the human completely from the process chain. Remember that RPA as a primary goal, aims to have FTE savings.
Today, through intelligent technologies, we see advancements by incorporating AI and deep learning into these softwares including chatbot and conversational interfaces that support NLP. The emergence of IPA or Intelligent Process Automation has started to combine RPA and BPM softwares together along with AI, ML etc to deliver platforms that can scale and become more agile in automation, responding faster to changing business processes.
As we conclude this article, it is recommended that organisations draft a strategy to leverage the synergies between BPM and RPA platforms, incorporate a larger IPA strategy. As we saw in the example of the Hire to Retire process, BPM can help organisation ideate and document the business process specific to their organisation and take it to an implementation phase. BPA can help automate the overall process itself or parts of the BPM process chain (in our example the Performance management cycle) and with RPA, complement by introducing further automation of repetitive, data entry tasks (as we saw in the case of training & development) .
Organisations should also actively explore their maturity curve to adopt Hyperautomation that will bring together intelligent BPM, integration platform as a service, RPA, process mining and business rules platforms, creating a new wave of digital innovation.
Note: The original article can be found here