"Is robotic process automation really a new thing?" We get that question a lot. If you’re looking for a completely novel technology handed down by the universe (from the almighty Cloud, perhaps?), don’t hold your breath. RPA’s roots can be traced through the evolution of software robotics, so it may look similar to its ancestors, or one of its cousins, like business process management.
BPM (sometimes used interchangeably with business process automation) isn’t a specific piece of software but an approach to streamlining business processes for maximum efficiency and value. It is an in-depth look at how processes are operating, 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.
RPA, on the other hand, is designed to operate processes as a human would, so it exists on a more surface level. It’s faster to implement, ready to use with almost any software, and easily altered or updated to adapt to the changing world. As far as we see it, RPA and BPM are not in conflict with each other. They both have the same goal with different implementation strategies.
While you certainly could use RPA to handle high frequency processes which had previously been performed by humans, perhaps what is really needed is an overhaul of your workflow. If a certain type of transaction makes up the bread-and-butter of your organization’s service, for example, you’ll want to make sure that process is as tight, efficient, and self-contained as possible. There are times when you have to transform the process itself rather than relying on a surface-level fix. That’s the time to use BPM.
Of course, we all know that transforming a business structure isn’t always feasible. It requires a lot of development and a lot of investment (time and money). You may not have the luxury to build from the ground up. That’s when RPA may be the most fitting solution. If nothing else, you can use RPA to continue operations while investigating a deeper fix.
Consider this analogy to self-driving cars: a BPM approach would require us to rip up all paved roads and install infrastructure for the new cars to move about on their own, while an RPA approach seeks to operate a pre-existing car just as a human would. Google has come at the problem from an RPA angle, because replacing all roads (especially in the U.S.) is just unfathomable. That’s not to say that RPA is always the better option – not at all. The key is knowing the difference and using both tactics to their best advantage.