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As we wade through the sea of technologies within the modernization realm, automation, especially process automation, has grown by leaps and bounds, taking on a new guise in the form of robotic process automation or RPA. However, process automation is not by any means new to the computing industry. Starting from the days of lean manufacturing and assembly-line production, the process automation movement has been about optimizing processes to increase efficiencies and reduce costs, while providing a higher quality end product.

What Is Business Process Automation?

Business process automation (BPA) automates workflows to improve an organization's efficiency. BPA does not focus on a single department, but rather on the entire organization by implementing software systems that integrate all existing applications. Rather than focusing on individual tasks, BPA focuses on the overall end-to-end process.

An in-depth analysis of the business’s inefficiencies is typically required with business process automation to assess the largest problems the organization is facing. That’s because business processes lay the foundation for back-office and front-office business functions — from managing invoices and records to quickly opening customer accounts and offering real-time promotional offers to prospects.

At the end of the day, business processes allow all the different parts of an organization to efficiently and effectively work together. Back end functions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) implement BPA. Benefits of business automation include, lower costs, increased employee productivity and customer satisfaction.

Related Article: Business Process Management vs. Robotic Process Automation: How to Choose

What Is Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic process automation (RPA) contains software robots (bots) that imitate human tasks. These bots complete rules-based tasks by recording the process workflow humans perform. They can log into systems, navigate the page and input and extract data, mimicking the interactions humans have with computer systems.

Traditional automation has followed instructive code, whereas bots are trained following illustrative steps. This allows bots to adapt to dynamic circumstances. Traditional automation cannot execute steps outside of its code. For instance, when processing data in an excel sheet, traditional automation would find an error in a blank field and need human intervention. RPA bots would identify the issue and find the relative data missing in the blank field. Bots interact with other applications regardless of the technology the application uses — once trained they continue to perform their action.

Small and large corporations are quickly incorporating RPA in business functions to improve their productivity. As a result, the RPA market is growing, with different vendors targeting different needs. Certain vendors incorporate machine learning and cognitive data, allowing bots to operate with structured and unstructured data, while other vendors focus on large-scale automation. Examples of vendors include Automation Anywhere, UiPath, Blue Prism and many more. The first uses machine learning and handles both structured and unstructured data — these bots aim for decision making and adaption to unstructured data rather than mass automation.

Industries in finance, banking, healthcare and many more have implemented RPA to streamline processes, mitigate risk and increase productivity. Bots improve data analytics and accuracy through sophisticated data management by extracting data from different sources and screens, then combining and migrating the data to form metadata. Inaccuracies and duplications are removed. Another benefit of RPA is its easy implementation: it is integrated in current software without changing existing computer systems. Employees have more time to perform value adding activities that require human characteristics such as creativity, emotional intelligence and customer service.

Related Article: Busting 8 Robotic Process Automation Myths

What Is the Difference Between RPA and BPA?

BPA and RPA both have a similar purpose: to execute business functions more effectively through automation. BPA was first introduced to the technology market and can implement RPA within its system. Three main factors distinguish BPA from RPA: integration, workflows and pricing.

Integration

BPA follows a more holistic approach, by addressing the overall end to end process. The goal of a BPA is to streamline all the work processes in an organization to make quicker and more accurate decisions. On the other hand, RPA's primary function is to replace time-consuming human tasks with software. RPA does not disrupt existing business processes and can be integrated in existing BPA software like ERP and CRM.

An example of RPA implemented in CRM is chat boxes on websites. Chat boxes that pop-up saying “how can I help you” are run by bots. These bots transfer the collected information to an employee who then handles the customer. RPA is commonly used in procurement automation, where human tasks like submitting forms, reviewing emails and populating vendor-specific forms are replaced by bots. On the contrary, BPA is a very invasive form of integration. It overhauls existing systems with its own software and implements its own system. BPA uses a central system that all business units are connected to and automates all workflows. The entire business process efficiency stems from the BPA.

Related Article: Navigating RPA Potholes on the Bumpy Road to Digital Transformation

Workflows

The goal of RPA and BPA is to create more efficient and effective workflows. However, both use different forms of automation.

RPA bots access the existing user interface on desktops and perform human tasks — e.g., copy and paste, move files, send emails. The entire workflow is recorded and repeated by the bot, completely replacing human tasks. Although certain bots have decision-making and intelligent abilities, most bots have not advanced to this stage. Bot automation follows screen scraping, meaning they record certain information on web forms and store the recorded data for later use. 

The workflow used in BPA is more complicated, where a single processing model is used to create workflows that integrate diversified systems. These systems exchange and extract information with each other in order to automate tasks, requiring APIs and database access. This requires heavy IT support for coding and development. There is no need for an API when using RPA: the bots record, train and act on their own.

Pricing

RPA pricing varies. An estimate of UiPath pricing differs according to the subscription. The studio licenses ranges from a $2000 to $3,000 (annual), while attended bots range from $1,200 to $1,800 (annual) and unattended bots are $8,000 (annual). BPA pricing depend on the size of the corporation. A middle-tier software with functionally across business functions can range from $10,000 to $100,000 and a top tier can grow from that in leaps and bounds.

In essence, Business Process Automation or Business Process Management is the umbrella term used to describe process engineering as well as automation of large-scale end to end business processes in an organization whereas RPA is a tactical technology used to automate specific manual and repetitive process in a large workflow. As technologies they are synergistic and can form a part of a total modernization approach based on need and viability.