Digital transformation requires the adaptation, optimization, and automation of processes. Increases in efficiency and the prevention of errors are important for the future. The overall quality of work, not only of products, must be improved. Two approaches come into play here. Business Process Management (BPM) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). I will initially keep the two methods apart. As a rule, we need the combination to make a sustainable improvement.
What is Robotic Process Automation?
RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is an idea for process automation in which software robots perform tasks that are normally performed manually by clerks. By automating standardized workflows, companies benefit from higher process speeds and fewer errors. The software robots connect to existing ERP systems and act on the application software without changing the business logic. As a result, companies do not have to make costly and extensive adjustments to the system landscape.
The focus of RPA-based automation projects is on repetitive processes that have a high potential for standardization. The input data that is processed must be available in a structured form. In order to enable RPA-based processing of a process, the process to be automated must first be recorded and analyzed.
Targets of RPA
- Cost reduction
- Increase in efficiency
- Reduced staffing levels
What is Business Process Management?
BPM (Business Process Management) focuses on the identification, design, documentation, implementation, control, and optimization of processes. Technical questions as well as organizational aspects are therefore taken into account. BPM helps managers to gain an overview, redefine, map, and ultimately coordinate processes. Software-supported techniques are often used for this. One of the central questions is: “Who does what, when, how and with what?
BPM should enable companies to use the existing information about their own business processes and thus to adapt to the requirements of their customers. With the help of this information, the company can better achieve its own business objectives.
BPM Scope of activities
- Planning and modelling of processes
- Execution of business processes
- Monitoring of the processes
All insights gained from the monitoring are then to be used for the further planning of new processes or the optimization of existing ones. From an IT perspective, BPM is primarily used to coordinate systems and business functions. This should increase efficiency, transparency, flexibility, and quality as well as reduce costs. BPM also promotes the development of new business processes.
Where do the methods differ?
Companies must ensure that products and services remain competitive. Modernization and adaptation of processes are always necessary. Those responsible can use both methods to achieve this goal.
The question of which method is better suited to which situation, however, arises time and again. Both methods pursue the same objective but are implemented differently – RPA is rather factual, BPM more strategical.
Software robots are algorithms that automatically take over the actual processing of various tasks. BPM keeps an eye on business processes and enables targeted analysis and optimization. The core elements of BPM are detailed modeling of all processes, their targeted execution and monitoring, and continuous improvement. The method supports companies in digitizing, modernizing and redefining processes. BPM thus works on the strategic level, which aims to adapt internal processes to the requirements of their target group in order to ensure the success of the company.
The different use scenarios
The methods and software-supported techniques of BPM deal intensively with the process steps of a complete business process and divide it into numerous sub-processes. BPM encompasses a wide range of software technology components and workflow engines in order to search for optimization potential, continuously improve workflows and ensure a smooth transfer of knowledge within companies. This also includes the use of process mining tools that support process owners in evaluating process quality. BPM is all about re-engineering process flows to eliminate bottlenecks, connect systems, improve data, and process quality and increase productivity throughout the company. All in all, BPM provides a complete view along the value chain.
The software “bots” of an RPA solution are configured to perform routine, monotonous tasks that an employee would normally have to do. Their goal is to minimize manual, repetitive, and rule-based tasks that do not require complex decision making. They are designed to work uninterrupted across an organization’s existing processes and applications without the need for coding or extensive employee training. If the process itself is inefficient, implementing a bot will not solve the problem. In this context, Thorsten Dirks, Member of the Executive Board of Deutsche Lufthansa AG, can be taken literally. “If you digitize a crappy process, then you have a crappy digital process!”
“I am often asked: How, when and where should I start once I realize that the quality of my master data in ERP is poor? The answer is simple: from scratch!” – Max Spies
This is where BPM comes into play, as it creates the basis for robot-supported automation of the process. Basically, every long-term change starts with the BPM analysis and leads to adjustments of the processes. Only then does the automation of this process via the use of automation technology, such as RPA, occur.
BPM and RPA work together
In view of the desired increase in productivity and efficiency, the methods do not represent competing ideas. By combining BPM and RPA, solutions for automation can be created. BPM is responsible for the arrangement of processes, interactions, management of exceptions and complex decisions by humans. RPA is responsible for repetitive task sequences that can be fully handed over to “digital colleagues” and scaled. By using both methods, companies can choose the more efficient approach at the process level when automating a meta-process.