BPM vs RPA: Which should you use to boost efficiency?

Business growth is a good thing, but for most organizations, growth brings challenges. Processes and structures that once worked often collapse under the strain of increased demand, making it necessary to rethink how things get done. Organizational systems usually need to evolve in tandem with teams, product lines, regions, and other business areas.

In many cases, the solution lies in digital transformation, a concept that refers to fundamentally changing the way an organization uses technology, people, and processes. Two important tools companies are using to accomplish this transformation are business process management (BPM) and robotic process automation (RPA). Keep reading for an explanation of the differences between BPM vs RPA and to learn how organizations are using them to optimize their workflows. 

BPM vs RPA: The distinctions

BPM and RPA are both about improving workflows to drive better business outcomes, but they each take a different approach. When you deploy them together, they can dramatically enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of your day-to-day operations. 

Business process management

Business process management is something companies do. It’s a high-level assessment of operations and a re-engineering of business systems across an organization with the aim of improving productivity.

Through detailed analysis, BPM helps identify systems that aren’t supporting the business in its current form. This analysis leads to the implementation of more efficient processes and continual monitoring and optimization — all of which are at the heart of BPM.

The purpose of BPM is to make large-scale changes, usually in relation to processes that are either human-centric or document-centric. For example, an organization that has multiple locations and wants to standardize its processes might use BPM to systematically assess and document the varying processes across locations. It would then identify and implement changes with the goal of not only standardizing processes but also improving efficiency across the organization.

BPM can take a lot of effort and time to implement, but organizations can reap significant and long-lasting rewards. When Wells Fargo was looking for ways to fine-tune its processes and offer more value to its customers, it created a centralized working group that would outline best practices and oversee BPM projects. One of its projects — the automation of a lending process — produced $30 million in savings for the company.

Robotic process automation

RPA is different from BPM in that it is something companies use. It’s a technology that helps companies automate repetitive tasks that require little to no human decision-making. That’s beneficial in a variety of ways:

  • It reduces the time it takes to do certain tasks, such as processing loan applications, sending out invoices, generating purchase orders, etc. Faster processes save employees time and enable better service for clients and customers. 
  • It minimizes the risk of error in performing repetitive tasks. There’s always the possibility of human error. RPA technology removes the human element, thus reducing the risk of mistakes. 
  • It frees up human resources for other, more complex tasks. Companies benefit when they allow people to use their talents to tackle higher-value challenges that will better serve the customer, instead of spending time on low-value, repetitive tasks. 

The benefits of RPA can be substantial in the short term — by some estimates the ROI ranges anywhere from 30 to 200 percent in the first year alone, and it usually compounds over time.

RPA is a much smaller, more targeted approach than BPM, but it’s important to realize that RPA will not solve large-scale workflow issues, nor is it likely to transform your organization on its own. However, if done right, it will produce business process improvements that will help you stay competitive.

A two-pronged approach: BPM plus RPA

The conversation shouldn’t necessarily be about pitting BPM vs RPA, but rather about considering how you can use them in tandem to identify opportunities for improvement. As you consider ways to transform your business with BPM, there may be tasks or areas you can automate with RPA. But the broader change to how the company operates is still BPM.

For example, a company that’s entering a growth phase will likely need to consider its supply chain management practices and how change in this area will affect sales, finance, logistics, and human resources.

It could use BPM to conduct the initial analysis, identify current inefficiencies, and create a new way of managing the company’s vendor system. BPM could also help the company evaluate the need for changes in other departments and implement them. RPA might be useful for streamlining a specific process or workflow as part of this overall effort, which could potentially take six months or more to plan and implement.

However, an organization that simply needs to increase its capacity for handling customer service calls could use RPA to increase the efficiency of this one specific area of work. In this case, BPM may never come into play, and the company could potentially implement the RPA solution within just a few weeks.

Here’s the bottom line: BPM and RPA are very different in scale and scope, but you should consider both as part of your organization’s toolkit in planning for future growth. 

Photo by Elevate Digital

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