BPA vs RPA vs Process Optimization 101

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I often hear the terms Business Process Automation (BPA) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) used interchangeably, and while they are both important to improving processes in an organization, they are different. I’ve also included an overview of Business Process Optimization (BPO) below to validate that it too has different strategies & outcomes. Here’s your 101 on the various Process improvement solutions.

What Is Business Process Automation?

Business process automation (BPA) automates enterprise workflows to improve an organization’s efficiency. BPA does not focus on a single department, but rather on the entire organization by implementing software systems that integrate all existing applications. Rather than focusing on individual tasks, BPA focuses on the overall end-to-end process.

An in-depth analysis of the business’s inefficiencies is typically required with business process automation to assess the largest problems the organization is facing. That’s because business processes lay the foundation for back-office and front-office business functions — from managing invoices and records to quickly opening customer accounts and offering real-time promotional offers to prospects.

At the end of the day, business processes allow all the different parts of an organization to efficiently and effectively work together. Back end functions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) implement BPA. Benefits of business automation include, lower costs, increased employee productivity and customer satisfaction.

All connected or custom applications require BPA and includes system integration, connectors, business rules, data sources etc.

So what Is Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic process automation (RPA) contains software robots (bots) that imitate human tasks. These bots complete rules-based tasks by recording the process workflow humans perform. They can log into systems, navigate the page and input and extract data, mimicking the interactions humans have with computer systems.

Traditional automation has followed instructive code, whereas bots are trained following illustrative steps. This allows bots to adapt to dynamic circumstances. Traditional automation cannot execute steps outside of its code. For instance, when processing data in an excel sheet, traditional automation would find an error in a blank field and need human intervention. RPA bots would identify the issue and find the relative data missing in the blank field. Bots interact with other applications regardless of the technology the application uses — once trained they continue to perform their action. IBM Watson is an example of this.

In essence, BPA is the umbrella term used to describe process engineering, as well as automation of large-scale end to end business processes in an organization, whereas RPA is a tactical technology used to automate specific manual and repetitive process in a large workflow.

All that being said, the 3rd component that enters into discussions with clients is BPO. What is different about Business Process Optimization?

Regardless of the industry, a company’s process optimization project must identify ways to make their business processes manageable, with formalized, actionable information about how, and how well, the process is executing. Not unlike any other project, a business process optimization project must define the scope of the process to eliminate confusion and set the project boundaries. It will identify the process improvement goals such as cycle-time reduction, customer service improvement, and/or cost reduction, etc. It will identify the deliverables such as process maps, time studies, systemic enhancement opportunities, to name a few. Additionally, it will allocate the required resources including subject matter experts to define existing process strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. And, it will set a timetable for the development and execution of process optimization enhancements.

Business processes are typically event driven, such as the modernizing the factory floor, streamlining sales processes from lead to opp win, the close of a billing cycle, or maintaining and updating a commerce website. These are activities that are typically replicated and repeated with specific resources allocated to a particular working group such as factory line workers or customer service representatives.

Regardless of the process you choose to solve your organization’s challenges, it’s worth noting that the heavy lifting is not the actual day to day work itself. It’s the upfront work to create thoughtful, strategic decisions with a measurable ROI.

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