Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is distinct from Business Process Management (BPM), but the two technologies overlap to a certain extent and often get confused with one another. This article, based on reviews of top RPA tools and top BPM tools on IT Central Station, takes on the RPA vs BPM discussion and highlights the difference between BPM and RPA. There is often RPA BPM integration because BPA and RPA together can solve business process management problems, similarly with RPA and AI, building on the value and benefits of RPA. Indeed, as the two evolve, they become more like each other, with BPM robotics, BPR RPA and RPA workflows emerging as new standards in the IT world.
Main Differences Between RPA and BPM
BPM is all about managing and optimizing entire business processes while RPA focuses mostly on automating discrete steps within those larger processes. One way to differentiate between BPM and RPA is to think about the difference between a business process and a business task. A business process is a series of steps, often consisting of multiple, separate workflows, that achieve a business objective. For example, processing an insurance claim is a lengthy, complex business process that involves the work of multiple people and usually one or more computer systems. There might be many separate business tasks within the insurance claims management process. A task might mean reading a claim form and assigning it to a claims adjustor.
A BPM solution seeks to manage and optimize the overall process. As Muhammad I., who does Operations Governance and Oversight at a consultancy put it, “The [Signavio BPM] solution will enable us to carry out the entire process environment life cycle in a unified manner.” Stanton A., Principal Business Process Architect at Met Office, similarly remarked, “The whole process architecture can be navigated by drilling-down or following lateral links.” BPM solutions also connect multiple groups, as noted by Janis S., Process Manager at an energy/utilities company with over 50 employees. She said, “This solution is also used to define the communication between the different departments and erase silo thinking.”
RPA is more finite in scope. RPA uses software robots (bots) to perform human-like tasks. Thus, while a business process might call for people to perform various tasks in sequence, an RPA solution may substitute a software bot for one or more of those people. For instance, according to a Senior Specialist - Controlling Service at a large pharma/biotech company, UiPath RPA makes it so “users don't need to type in data anymore and spend their time analyzing the process.” There is less of what he calls “monkey work” like typing. One benefit of less monkey work, in his case, is a reduction in typographical errors.
RPA bots take on discreet tasks, but usually not the entire process. Kamran K., for example, a VP Strategy at Interimage, a small tech services company, uses UiPath for processing resumés from recruiters. As he explained, “We're looking at the emails, pulling data off the resumes, and loading it into a database. We are also identifying resumes which might need some additional clarification. This saves a lot of time, so somebody doesn't have to go through each email, evaluate them, and pull the resumes down.”
In Kamran’s case, the business process is the complete matter of advertising open positions, recruiting for candidates, receiving resumes, interviewing, making job offers and so forth. The RPA solution helps with one task, enabling a human being to do more interesting work. As Kamran pointed out, RPA was a huge time saver for the organization.
Overlaps of RPA and BPM
BPM and RPA are starting to overlap as each technology adopts aspects of the other. In some cases, the same company makes BPM and RPA solutions, leading to unavoidable duplication of features. Thus, users can now avail themselves of concepts like BPM robotics, Business Process Reengineering (BPR) RPA and RPA workflow.
Tushare K., a Senior Software Engineer at Capgemini, offers an example of how RPA and BPM can come together. In his case, they use UiPath for automating processes on an SAP system. He described, how, “in SAP, the [process] chain needs to be monitored, and when it fails, it should be restarted. So continuous monitoring was a difficult task. Automating this process saves lots of manual hours.” As he put it, “It avoids or eradicates human errors by automating business processes.” In other words, he’s using an RPA tool to perform a BPM workload.
RPA BPM integration
Given the inter-dependence and inter-operation required to get RPA to work properly within a BPM environment, it makes sense that there are ways to achieve RPA-BPM integration. These vary by solution, naturally. However, in general, they tend to involve the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable the RPA and BPM solutions to invoke each other’s functionality as a process requires. In some cases, the two systems can be synchronized so bots perform tasks in an orchestrated BPM workflow.