I just got off an informative and compelling webinar by SAP about its robotic process automation (RPA) offering. The bottom line is that SAP sees RPA and BPM (aka digital process automation) as belonging together.[i] Two direct quotes were “RPA by itself does not do the trick” and “RPA and BPM are two sides of the same coin.”
The SAP spokesperson said that buyers should not think of RPA and BPM as separate solutions if the goal is to automate an end-to-end or a mission-critical process. (Right again!) BPM (or digital process automation) tackles processes while RPA is for automating attended and unattended tasks. These are two different things that require two different approaches.
I totally agree with these statements and believe SAP’s take is one more piece of compelling evidence that the largest vendors have caught RPA fever because of customer demand (and from a software juggernaut, no less). My view? The RPA and digital process automation market are in the process of converging—and the convergence is picking up steam.[i] Over the next 12-18 months expect vendors on both sides of the coin to start buying one another, much as Kofax bought Kapow, Pega bought OpenSpan, Nintex bought EnableSoft, and Appian bought Jidoka. The digital process automation vendors will seek to buy smaller players with small customer bases but strong technology (along the lines of Appian’s acquisition of Jidoka.)
Whether the business solution at hand is a newly implemented packaged business application, a mission-critical custom-developed system or a business process automated by BPM software, there are always a lot of time-consuming, often monotonous, clerical tasks that were left out of the solution because these activities were overlooked, seen through a business-as-usual lens, or considered just too small or insignificant to worry about. But often these non-glamorous tasks are incredibly time-consuming, expensive to execute, and much more important than anyone realized. RPA is just the ticket for getting those tasks done. This is particularly true if the organization is relying on legacy systems that focused on the big picture for the application requirements and ignored all the manual and semi-manual tasks that went along with those automated activities.
Out of curiosity, I asked the webinar host which was the bigger market—BPM or RPA? His answer was insightful and in synch with how I see it:
- RPA is growing the fastest but has a limited future without integration with process automation.
- BPM (or DPA) has the largest installed base by far.
- BPM is more holistic while RPA is more specific.
- The two technologies complement each other; in the future, we should not think of them separately.
A few more nuggets that stood out to me in the briefing are:
- The most common RPA use cases in SAP’s customer base are finance and procurement – this is by far the biggest area of SAP’s customer demand, followed by human resources and supply chain.
- SAP’s customers are also using RPA to update master data management (which is a compelling use case.) One customer built a bot in three days that now updates MDM.
- SAP got into the RPA business because they have high customer demand and want to keep their customers “happy” by providing the best solution possible. They had 17,000 users of cloud-based RPA the first month using the free trial offer.
- RPA is integrated with SAP BPM and ships with Success Factors and Hana. SAP has a 90 day free trial for customers, sold through partners and direct sales.
- Seventy bots are provided by SAP as a quick start for customers, and this includes support for non-SAP sources. SAP views usability as very important and prioritized designing its UI and scripting so that customers can develop projects without significant training.
- The RPA product supports both attended and unattended applications and SAP processes can shift between the two.
- If you are an SAP customer, this RPA solution is well worth investigating and experimenting with.
- If you are looking at RPA, definitely consider the possibility of using RPA to update MDM data.
- Don’t look at RPA as a separate tool—consider the combination of RPA and BPM (digital process automation) for a more complete way to automate end-to-end and mission critical processes.
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