Keeping it in the family
RPA and BPM display a lot of similarities, and as such are often confused with one another. They are certainly members of the same family, though they could not ever be called identical twins.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has roots that are situated in the evolution of software robotics, as can that of business process management (BPM). In fact, so similar are these two that the terms are sometimes used interchangeably with one another. However, they are not so much like identical twins as they are second cousins.
The definition of RPA describes it as ‘the use of software with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required a human to perform’.
The chief aim of RPA is to automate those tasks that tend to be repetitive and routine and which are consequently dreary and uninteresting. The average knowledge worker employed on a back-office process is faced with a wide range of such tasks, and RPA is able to mimic the activity of a human being in carrying out such tasks within a process.
Moreover, it can ensure that such repetitive jobs are completed more rapidly and accurately than a human could manage, and since it is robotic in nature, it performs such tasks tirelessly and without complaint. This, then frees up humans to undertake other, more complex jobs – the kind that require emotional intelligence, reasoning, judgment and interaction with the customer.
In the contact center, the benefits of this are obvious – these include cost savings and scalability advantages, benefits that are appealing to virtually any organization. However, RPA is especially valuable in this industry because it offers solutions to the many service, process and technology challenges that are commonly faced by this sector.
Many of the tasks faced by contact center agents, after all, could easily be described as monotonous or predictable. This makes them boring and dreary to undertake and can quickly lead to disillusionment, which inevitably increases agent churn.
RPA is at its most useful when it is able to mimic the activity of a human being, undertaking those jobs that a human would find uninteresting and perform these tasks more quickly, accurately and consistently. This means that human agents can be freed to do other, more complex tasks, such as those that require emotional intelligence, reasoning and judgment – the ones that require a higher level of care and interaction with the customer.
Some of the key benefits that RPA offers include the fact that it automates workflow processes and thus elevates service levels, it helps to reduce process cycle times, thereby increasing agent productivity and it delivers increased quality with minimal error rates. In addition, it offers improved audit and compliance analytics, provides real-time customer data and ultimately leads to better resource utilization.
BPM’s definition, on the other hand, suggests that it is ‘a systematic approach to making an organization's workflow more effective, more efficient and more capable of adapting to an ever-changing environment. A business process is an activity or set of activities that will accomplish a specific organizational goal’.
The contact center, of course, is something of a sweet spot for business processes in the organization. BPM can assist in developing a systematic structure to manage customer relationship initiation, maintenance and termination across all customer contact points, in order to help maximize the value of the relationship portfolio.
Since most customer-centric processes begin, end and often flow through the contact center, ensuring that effective processes are in place here is key to delivering the best possible customer experience. Moreover, given the constant churn of agents, a process-centric approach is equally essential to delivering consistent, quality service without incurring massive training costs.
BPM is therefore an approach focused on the streamlining of business processes in order to achieve maximum efficiency and value. It is essentially an in-depth look at how your company’s processes are operating, a means of identifying areas for improvement, and a foundation for building solutions.
Where BPM really proves beneficial to the enterprise is in its ability to improve customer service, by bridging systems and functional units to help organizations offer a more consistent and responsive customer offering. In addition, it increases productivity by helping to streamline processes – thus reducing bottlenecks - and focusing resources on more productive activities. Finally, BPM also improves employee satisfaction, by enabling faster problem resolution through providing access to the information required.
RPA and BPM are neither in conflict with one another, nor are they the selfsame thing. You could say that they both have the same goal, just with different implementation strategies. It is clearly possible to use RPA to handle certain high frequency processes, of the kind that would previously have been undertaken by people, although you would perhaps not necessarily want the type of transaction that is core to the success of your business being handled in this manner. Unless, of course, you made sure that the process itself is as tight, efficient, and self-contained as possible, and it is when transforming the process itself that BPM really comes into its own.
Where RPA is mainly about reducing cost and headcount, BPM focuses on re-engineering the underlying processes within the operation. RPA achieves its goal through the automation of repetitive tasks and by training robots to complete activities, while BPM defines and implements an entire process management model for the enterprise. Moreover, BPM not only assesses and monitors current processes for adaptable optimization, it also continuously improves processes to reach new and updated needs.
During such assessments, there is a high likelihood of discovering one or even several processes that would benefit employees if they were to be automated. And this is where RPA comes into its own, as it is able to apply changes without needing to change existing applications or underlying systems.
So, in effect, BPM is a tool designed to correct, develop and maintain the strength of businesses internally, while Robotic Process Automation is the automated friend that can free up time, hands and streamline work efficiencies. As I said at the beginning, they are basically cousins – related closely enough to demonstrate similar interests, but far enough apart to also exhibit totally different strengths.
[About the author] Dylon Mills is the Director of Marketing Content Strategy & Development at Jacada. As such, Dylon’s main responsibilities are to strategize, create and deliver content for Jacada’s product portfolio that align with the global Go-To-Market strategy, corporate positioning, and marketing campaigns. Dylon’s prior work experience includes Product Management at one of the top Fortune 500 Technology companies, Symantec Corporation. Outside of work, Dylon enjoys problem-solving and any project that includes building/tinkering with tools. Dylon holds a BS Consumer Economics from the University of Georgia.