RPA and BPM: What’s the Difference?

Digital transformation can seem daunting, but it’s also an imperative if businesses want to keep up with the fast-changing digital economy. Forty-seven percent of CEOs are being challenged by the board of directors to make progress in digital business, and 56 percent said that their digital improvements have already improved profits, according to a 2017 Gartner survey. Business leaders are quickly realizing that automation tools provide the agility needed to reap the rewards of a digital workplace.

At the core of many digital transformation strategies is business process management (BPM). As the need for improved efficiency continues to grow, however, many business leaders are looking to robotic process automation (RPA), an emerging technology that enables employees to train software “robots” to complete repetitive tasks.

The potential benefits of implementing RPA are impressive. According to an article published by McKinsey & Company, one organization reduced processing cost by 80 percent and saw a tremendous improvement in process quality after implementing RPA. In order to effectively leverage the technology, however, it’s important to first understand how it differs from traditional BPM, as well as how both BPM and RPA work together to achieve common business goals.

Defining terms

BPM concentrates on reshaping an organization’s existing business processes to achieve optimal efficiency and productivity. BPM software provides the foundation for large-scale projects that improve and streamline how business processes are performed. BPM software components can include business analytics, workflow engines, business rule management, web forms and collaboration tools.

RPA is a software technology that mimics the repetitive, routine human activities within a process, such as logging into and out of multiple applications, triggering responses or inputting data. Non-technical users can self-serve, configuring robots for themselves to solve their own automation challenges. These robots work directly across application user interfaces, performing tasks across multiple systems on the behalf of an employee. As a result, employees can better focus on high priority tasks and more interesting work.

While both BPM and RPA have similar goals, it’s important to note that they are not competing approaches, since they can be implemented together in order to enhance process automation and bring more value than leveraging one tool alone.

Working together to streamline operations

Data entry, reporting and procedural tasks are critical to every organization. The person or team handling these activities, however, is using valuable time that could be redirected to projects that require more complex decision-making.

Below is an example of an automated network access request process, powered by BPM. After being approved by a supervisor, IT can then review and complete the request as appropriate.

In this example, the request has been automated with a BPM system but still involves methodical, manual work by IT. Some of the manual tasks required to complete the request could include logging into multiple applications, opening up the appropriate pages to grant access rights, applying the appropriate settings, logging out of the applications, and marking the request as completed.

While an IT professional may still need to monitor requests access requests, adding an RPA bot to perform the repetitive tasks in this process—as employees change roles, join the organization, etc.—will streamline and expedite the overall workflow. The person or team once responsible for fulfilling these requests reclaims valuable time to focus on projects that require more human intervention, reasoning and judgment.

Benefits of a strategic, combined approach

According to a recent McKinsey Quarterly, RPA has quietly digitized 50 to 80 percent of back-office operations in some industries. With that much success, RPA is destined to join BPM as a core tool in most organizations’ digital transformation strategies.

One reason for the rapid adoption of RPA software is because it can be used in conjunction with existing systems, enabling quick implementation without requiring backend changes. Existing systems remain in place and bots are added as an additional “layer” to perform the monotonous actions a person would typically need to perform. Once the bot has completed its task, BPM can take over and push the follow-up actions.

Strategic implementation is the key to successful deployment of these two technologies. BPM and RPA work together to enable organizations to offload time-consuming, repetitive tasks to bots, helping employees focus on higher priority work that allows them to use their talents on more interesting and impactful projects.

is a product marketing manager at Laserfiche, a leading global provider of enterprise content management software. He works closely with the marketing and development teams to develop strategy for Laserfiche’s business process automation product suite, including robotic process automation, case management and prepackaged process templates that enable rapid business process automation and deployment. In his role, Buccowich builds Laserfiche demand through marketing campaigns and generates educational and training resources to promote the understanding of business process automation and its benefits. Buccowich received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles.