The ABC’s of Process and Task Automation

I got an interesting question about RPA this week from our graphical designer. She has completed the design and layout for many of my reports and blog posts about digital process automation. All those reports must have sparked a couple of questions. She asked:   

“Where does RPA fit in?” 

“It’s like a magnifying glass for operational inefficiencies, no?”

I told her that thinking of RPA as a magnifying glass for examining business processes is a good way to conceptualize the software. Then I added an explanation about the differences among enterprise apps, digital process automation, and robotic process automation.  Because these three categories are different technologies yet they fit together to support an overall process, it can be confusing how the software fits (or doesn’t fit) together. And also, because neither time nor technology stand still, there’s always more automation on the way that will ultimately layer onto this mix. 

Here’s a rather simplistic graphic that shows how I conceptualize the software for automated processes in my own brain. As automation progresses over time, we have developed new technologies and new ways of thinking about the process. This has resulted in the software vendors creating technology advances to automate parts of the business process that were overlooked by earlier solutions.

Here’s my thinking about how RPA fits into the business applications and digital process automation picture:

  • Packaged business applications tackle and automate the core business logic, such as updating customer records, placing an order, documenting customer engagement, etc. Examples are the enterprise suites, such as ERP, CRM, HRM and PLM.
  • Process automation software tackles business activities that are part of the business logic that got left out of the packaged business application. Examples would be prompting a case manager to call the customer, document the interaction, automatically update the database, automatically notify colleagues, and so forth. Examples are IBM, Pega, Appian, and OpenText.
  • RPA automates the routine, repetitive, manual tasks that were overlooked or unaddressed in the digital business process and the packaged application. Even though there was extensive automation, some of the work was left out of the solution. RPA tackles work that no one thought about such as reading emails and taking action, copying data from a spreadsheet into a business application, sending customized bulk emails to customers, and reading text and updating a database. Examples are: Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere and UiPath.

In summary, the three categories of software fit together to automate parts of the process that were previously left out of the solution. So here it is: the basic ABCs of how digital process automation and task automation (RPA) fit together to support core (automated) business processes. 

And here’s the thing to think about now:

 “Where does AI and machine learning fit into the business process?”

Good question!

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