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RPA: Resuscitation of Process Automation?

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The growth of the market for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) looks a bit like a rocket heading to the moon. RPA vendors are taking off.

According to the 2018 Robotic Process Automation Annual Report by Everest Group Research, the global RPA independent technology vendor market grew by about 92 to 97 percent in 2017 and is expected to grow between 75 and 90 percent annually through this year. Gartner Research says the worldwide RPA software market grew 63 percent in 2018, and RPA software revenue will reach $1.3 billion this year. According to Forrester Research, the market could reach $1 billion in revenue by the end of this year.

Is this what real digital transformation should look like? Or is RPA the rocket fuel that will take digital transformation into new, unexplored territory?

BPM as a foundational automation tool

Let’s look back a bit. A decade ago, Business Process Management (BPM) was all about improving operations by managing business processes.

BPM engines (also known as workflow engines) made it possible to connect information systems and people in a way that supports a business process from beginning to end. BPM is a way to coordinate the entire organization through multiple departments, areas of responsibility, and information systems: it offers end-to-end process orchestration.

As BPM has evolved into Digital Process Automation, its automation capability has expanded to offer the opportunity for digital transformation initiatives. Low-code platform capabilities and iterative application development results in faster innovation and better user experiences. Intelligence capabilities offer more ways for continuous improvement through process knowledge and insights captured in process data.

Enter RPA - automation today

RPA uses software robots to automate repetitive tasks that humans really don't need to do. They can assist or take over the manual, routine sets of actions. Either way, they can free up creativity in the enterprise, allowing irreplaceable human ingenuity to innovate and improve.

But those tasks don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re highly likely to be part of await for itbusiness process. And further, digital process automation is really about transformation, not about the technology. Today’s BPM is focused on orchestration of people, process, information systems, and now... the digital workforce of RPA robots.

You might ask if BPM has been providing solid automation capabilities along with process capabilities for decades, why hasn't the BPM market been growing at 90+ percent year-over-year as RPA is? We could answer that the BPM market is bigger and so it's harder to grow 90 percent year-over-year in a mature market, but the reality is that RPA is delivering fast ROI to companies vs. a traditional BPM implementation. I believe this is what explains the amazing RPA momentum. UiPath and other RPA providers can convince a customer in days to give RPA a try immediately because putting a robot in production to automate tasks is way faster than a BPM automation project. 

But I don’t think it’s going to be enough for true digital transformation.

BPM turbocharges automation through RPA

As we used to say about BPM: automating an inefficient manual process without improving it just automates an inefficient process. What we can say about RPA: using robots on isolated tasks is an inefficient process just automates parts of an inefficient process.

With processes that involve multiple organizational layers and integration of an enterprise information systems environment that can include legacy and best-of-breed systems for CRP, ERP, communications, and more, a workflow engine with business process management capabilities is a necessity. A BPM process manages both human interactions and robotic exceptions. The workflow engine orchestrates essential manual approvals, applies business rules, and manages two-way integrations with third-party IS platforms. RPA software robots can handle repetitive and mundane tasks that humans really don’t need to do. They can also automate integrations that are not easily accessible via BPM engine APIs.

Using BPM techniques to model and then create critical business applications based on core business processes is the real first step to getting the most from RPA. BPM offers end-to-end process orchestration, so humans, robots, and systems work together efficiently. The ultimate result of this approach is full end-to-end digital transformation.

Make the most of RPA for business innovation

To accomplish real transformation, I recommend starting by rethinking core processes as a means to generate ideas for innovation.

Use process automation to keep processes moving and monitor them for improvement and intervention. Identify where people are wasting time and effort on repetitive tasks and use RPA to automate those and find where RPA robots can act effectively as digital assistants to augment human judgment and action.

Take full advantage of the new generation of BPM technologies...I mean, DPA technologies...together with RPA to push digital transformation in those key places where processes give you your strategic advantage.

Shoot for the moon in digital process automation. The sky’s the limit!