The way we need to do business is changing. We have to move faster, yet remain efficient, meeting the needs of customers on their schedule. That’s a challenge for so many organizations who deal with cumbersome processes that take too much time. And while the answer for certain situations might point to RPA (robotic process automation), we think there’s a bigger challenge that RPA may be a part of, but can’t resolve – modernizing processes and systems to support digital transformation.
An RPA Lesson in Brief
RPA is not new; it’s been around in some form for quite a while. RPA is the use of software robots to take over repetitive tasks from humans. This could be as simple as performing some data-entry or upload/downloading structured data between systems.
What’s nice about RPA is that it’s a no-code solution. You don’t change your current systems to implement it, it sits alongside your systems and performs the activities you define using those systems’ interfaces.
A couple of examples:
- It can scrape multiple websites, extract data, join it together and present a summary – works for financial managers who need to monitor data across a number of sites.
- If you have a lot of paper forms to process into a data-entry system, you can have the software scan the forms and perform this data-entry for you.
RPA has its place, but it’s not a solution for improving business processes; it’s a solution to speed up the time it takes to do repetitive manual tasks. If you want to improve your business processes or modernize your legacy applications, then you need business process automation.
Process Automation (BPA) Improves Our Efficiency
Business process automation (BPA) is not the same as RPA. Also often referred to as business process management (BPM), BPA involves the restructuring of business processes – operations and workflow to make a task or activity (or a series of activities) more efficient. BPA is also used to expose data or functionality from legacy backend systems to new modern interfaces like customer portals or web-based applications.
The ultimate goal of process automation is to improve the way things work, which in the end improves the employee experience and the customer experience. Let’s look at a couple of examples:
- You want to provide a self-service customer support portal for your customers, but your support systems are legacy systems that don’t provide web-enabled interfaces (and even if they did, your support system is not customer-friendly). You can implement a process layer between the new portal interface and these support systems where the process layer pulls the data needed to display in the portal and updates the support systems with the customer’s changes.
- Web-enabling a legacy system using process automation is another, similar example. Let’s say you have an insurance system that you want to give adjusters access to when they are on the road, dealing with customers. By implementing a process layer in front of the insurance system, you allow IT to design a mobile application that adjusters load on their iPads. The mobile app works whether it’s connected to the network or offline. The process layer ensures the information is uploaded to the mobile app for offline use, and the adjuster information downloaded into the insurance system when the iPad is on a network.
The Flavors of BPA – and the right one to choose
There are different ways to approach process automation, and we’ve talked about these before. You could implement a large BPM system that works across the organization. A large monolithic BPM tends to be very expensive and can take a lot of time to implement; you will have to cost-justify the expense with a number of projects that will leverage the BPM. Many BPM solutions also require a lot custom coding, lengthening the complexity of the system you are trying to modernize and the time required to get it in place.
The other, less expensive alternative is to implement a process automation tool that provides both process orchestration and workflow automation, without the heavy-duty BPM system behind it. A BPA tool like this sits in your environment and enables you to integrate it into projects as they come up. It’s often “low-code” or “no-code” meaning you can customize your orchestration or workflow rules by configuring components or elements.
A process automation solution like this gives you the ability to build reusable processes that many systems can use with little to no change. We provide a good example of this in our recent post on modernizing legacy systems.
“…the path to modernization isn’t to build another monolithic application that will be difficult manage and maintain over time; the path to modernization is to think of capabilities in terms of components or services that can connect through a process automation layer to deliver a complete application. This service-based design allows you to build your application in iterations, adding and removing functionality as you need to without affecting the entire application.”
Improving the Way You Work through Process Automation
If you are a company that has a development group that builds your own systems and is actively working on modernizing your application environment, a process automation solution can speed up both development and implementation time. But even if you don’t build your applications from scratch, your IT group can leverage process automation to implement new solutions like support portals and online customer applications.
The key is not to get tied up in an expensive and implementation heavy BPM solution or to spend money implementing an RPA solution that only puts a band-aid a bigger problem. It all comes down to what your requirements are, how your IT team works and, of course, budget.
Download Empowering Customer Experience with Process Automation to learn more about process automation.