RPA vs BPM: Guide for 2024

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RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and BPM (Business Process Management) are both popular approaches that companies use to drive digital transformation. While it’s easy to confuse them to mean one and the same thing, these two have fundamental differences worth understanding when making decisions around which one to use: either, both, and why?

In this guide, we explore the differences that matter between RPA and BPM, as well as the strengths of each.

What is RPA?

RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is the use of robotic software to automate repetitive tasks that are normally performed by humans. The bots are designed to mimic human actions in a digital setting. Some common examples of such tasks include: 

  • Copying and pasting data

  • Logging into systems and applications

  • Filling forms 

  • Sending invoices to customers

  • Generating reports

  • Scheduling appointments

  • Processing orders

  • Managing inventory

  • Creating payroll

  • Updating customer records

  • Posting to social media

  • Monitoring website traffic

  • Analyzing data

  • Software testing

RPA helps businesses to achieve efficiency by reducing the typical errors that humans are otherwise prone to.

For a comprehensive dive into automation, please read our expert guide into automating IT processes

What is BPM?

Business Process Management (BPM) is about the processes, just as the name suggests. It’s the science of understanding and managing business processes so that they deliver optimal value to the organization and stakeholders. 

BPM seeks to achieve the following: 

  • Streamline workflows

  • Eliminate waste

  • Reduce operational costs in the long term

  • Scalability

The focus of BPM is to enhance collaboration, visibility, and control over the sequence of how work or different projects are performed within the organization.

Traditionally, this process was conducted manually by process experts. They would interview users of the company's processes, including employees, then use the insights they gain to design process diagrams.

The diagrams were designed with the use of tools like Microsoft Visio and other visual diagramming solutions. The final files needed to undergo additional work in order to make sense, since they were simply static. The shift to modern tools that capture the diagrams automatically instead of modeling them is what has given birth to BPM.

RPA vs BPM: The Key Differences

At the very top level, RPA is for automating repetitive processes, whereas BPM is for managing and streamlining business processes.

In other words, RPA focuses on automation at the task level without seeking to change any aspect of the process. Take the example of an invoicing process that involves manual extraction and entry of data from email messages to a spreadsheet. If the company decides to apply RPA to this task, a bot will be programmed to perform the following tasks:

  • Extraction of data from emails

  • Inputting the data into the spreadsheet

The RPA bot does all this without interfering with the underlying process that entails the fundamental sequence of steps or decision-making procedures that the company uses to manage invoices.

At a more granular level, the following distinctions act as the fundamental differences between RPA and BPM.

1. Technology

RPA makes use of programmable bots to accomplish the automation of repetitive tasks.

Unlike RPA, BPM is more of an approach and not a solely software-based system. BPM entails a streamlined guide of how processes operate, constantly checking and bringing out areas that need improvement, and providing direction on how each process can be best improved.

RPA just automates. But it does not look at the process to critique the efficiency and ensure that it's truly up to expectations. It just works at the surface level. So, for example, you can automate data collection and entry such that instead of relying on humans to get the right data from thousands of documents and enter it into a spreadsheet, you can use RPA software that is tailored for this task. However, the automation of these tasks does not necessarily mean that you will end up with the right data. If you do not have a clear process on how the software should identify the right data, how quality is checked and how the entries are organized, then the automation may as well be an exercise of no value. 

So, in the above example, BPM will check the processes to ensure that the RPA software is collecting the correct data, tha the data is of high quality and that it's entered correctly in whatever medium.

BPM relies on different types of tools such as:

  • Business process modeling tools

  • Workflow management systems

  • Process automation platforms

These technologies are designed precisely for the purpose of analyzing, optimizing and automating business processes.

2. Goal

The main goal of RPA is to automate routine human tasks that can actually be done without the involvement of humans, or very minimal involvement if any.

On the other hand, the main goal of BPM is to effectively manage processes and enhance the efficiency of those processes.

Let's look at practical examples of a task and a process. 

For RPA, imagine automating responses to customer inquiries via email. Instead of the customer support staff having to manually type out responses to common questions, a bot could recognize keywords and generate automatic replies. This frees up the human agents so they can attend to more complex queries.

For BPM, think of managing a fast-food restaurant. Currently, each employee handles orders on their own way:

  • Taking customer orders

  • Assembling the food

  • Checking the food for accuracy

  • Handing the food to the customer

Since each employee is doing it their own way, it can create confusion and make it so hard to reconcile orders at the end of the work day. A lot of time is wasted in addition to the employees getting overwhelmed.

When you apply BPM to the restaurant's order management process, the system will create a detailed checklist that each employee follows to handle each order. Each step is clearly defined to minimize errors. Each employee understands what to do, leading to faster service, happier customers and employees.

3. ROI

Both RPA and BPM offer impressive Return On Investment, so no problem on this. The only difference is the duration it takes to realize the ROI, as well as the size of the ROI.

For RPA, the ROI is realized in the short term. As soon as you implement an RPA software, you see the changes within a short time and the users feel relief. Think of an employee who was previously involved in manually copying data from emails and pasting it to a spreadsheet. When you implement RPA, the employee stops performing these tasks. The time they used to perform the repetitive task will be invested elsewhere.

For BPM, ROI takes time to realize because the process is elaborate and the impact is on processes rather than tasks.

However, in terms of magnitude or size, the ROI from RPA is relatively basic compared to the returns from BPM. 

4. Deployment

The difficulty level encountered when it comes to deploying either RPA or BPM varies.

RPA is generally simpler to implement. You can deploy an RPA software and get up and running within a very short timeline.

Compared to RPA, BPM is relatively complex when it comes to deployment. This complexity can be explained by the fact that BPM combines many technologies applied to different processes which require seamless integration. In most cases, businesses will need to start by rethinking their entire operations and business model before they even get to the level of deploying the BPM.

5. Use cases

RPA is suited for use cases such as copying and pasting, processing invoices, data extraction, reconciling accounts, and among others. It reduces manual errors and accelerates process execution.

BPM is best for use cases such as identifying bottlenecks and optimizing workflows. It excels in scenarios where a comprehensive understanding of the entire process is necessary to drive improvements and make informed decisions. In other words, BPM helps in identifying inefficiencies, streamlining operations, and adapting to changing business requirements in a systematic manner.

6. Existence 

RPA is relatively new compared to BPM. RPA grew in prominence with the onset of Artificial Intelligence technologies such as Machine Learning. The emergence of these frontiers enabled organizations to leverage intelligent software bots to execute repetitive tasks with speed and precision. 

Meanwhile BPM has been around for quite some time, way longer than RPA. BPM is rooted in methodologies such as Total Quality Management (TQM) and Business Process Reengineering (BPR). The frameworks have evolved over the years to adapt to rapidly changing business landscapes and advancements in technology. In short, BPM is relatively older than RPA. 

Even the market numbers paint the same picture. The RPA market size is at around 5 Billion in 2024 while the BPM market size is at around 15 Billion.

Advantages of BPM

There are unique benefits, and here is what to expect:

1. Complete view

Obviously, this had to come first in the list of BPM advantages. As we have been emphasizing almost all through this guide, BPM delivers the unique benefit of providing a complete view of the entire company's processes. From leaders on top to juniors on the grind, everyone can see the strengths and weaknesses of the processes that are instrumental for their work, including those hidden inefficiencies or loopholes that can ignite a disaster.

With this complete view, it's very easy to identify where improvements are necessary.

2. BPM aligns strategy with execution

It's critical that your processes are always aligned coherently with the company's business goals and objectives. 

Again, thanks to the complete scope, BPM provides clarity that ensures all processes are well aligned with the vision of the company. In other words BPM enables organizations to achieve perfect execution that is flexible and compatible with strategy.

3. Winning collaboration

Collaboration is a must-have in the modern enterprise. But it's not that easy to achieve effective collaboration without a clear view of processes. Remember that when colleagues at work collaborate, they are basically collaborating on business tasks that are guided by processes.

BPM provides the foundation upon which each process is mapped with smooth collaboration in mind. It ensures that everyone in the organization easily understands their roles, and that all dependencies are clearly structured to achieve optimal collaboration.

4. Risk management

No matter how perfect you think your processes are, there will always be risks that can easily lead to huge disruptions.

Fortunately, BPM is like that towering big brother that offers an ecosystem that supports the understanding of risks, and the establishment of solid prevention mechanisms.

Because you can see all the processes in perfect clarity (thanks to BPM), it's easy to see those areas that pose the greatest risks.

5. Scalability on the go!

Many organizations struggle with scalability when the need to scale knocks, but not those who are on the right side of BPM.

As soon as you realize that some areas of the business need to be scaled ASAP, BPM provides the levers to scale on the go. This means you are able to activate swift responses to fast-changing conditions from different angles, including markets, competition, working culture, and so on.

6. More tools, more power!

The expansive scope of BPM means that organizations have room to integrate as many tools are necessary to get the processes well oiled.

Once you have a grasp of the areas that need improvement, the next step is a matter of identifying which tools will do the job — and bring them in. And guess what, RPA is one of those tools you can incorporate into the arsenal of the BPM assembly- just one of the tools!

7. Continuous optimization is the norm

Because of the many plausible methodologies that are the foundation of BPM, companies are able to gradually develop a culture of continuous optimization.

Each methodology provides an avenue to achieve various wins that all lead to overall improvement — all the time. There are methodologies that emphasize AB testing, there are others that empower testing, while others are great for feedback collection, and so much more.

Advantages of RPA

Like BPM, RPA also offers its own set of distinct advantages, which may not necessarily be the same as those for BPM. Here are the key ones:

1. Performance at scale

The mere fact that RPA automates repetitive tasks means you can accomplish so much in real-time. Such is the power of automation. It lets you perform as many tasks as you have instantly or on an ongoing basis. Want to copy data from one location and paste it in another location? Automation will do this on the go. Compare this to a human who will have to do this task for hours, days or weeks. With RPA, you simply set the rules, click and go.

At the same time, you can also scale back when necessary, meaning you use less computing resources. This is different from when you have humans performing repetitive tasks. If they are employed on a full-time basis, you will still have to pay them full salary whenever the volume of tasks is low. When the volume of tasks is high, you may need to bring in more hands so that the work is done in shifts. This translates to more expenses. 

2. RPA improves employee morale

No feeling easily beats that of an employee who is highly motivated. A highly motivated employee will give you better value than an overworked, fatigued counterpart. With RPA, you can achieve the former.

RPA frees up employees so that they do the kind of tasks that are high value and with less potential to overwhelm them. It means they have more time to think through tasks, consult with their colleagues, and even catch healthy breaks from time to time. The combination of these factors delivers a healthy work environment that inspires employees to enjoy their work — a plus for the employer.

3. RPA contributes to data accuracy

In an era where data is driving businesses to monumental success levels, data accuracy has become critical. Luckily, Robotic Process Automation tools are designed to achieve high levels of data accuracy, which is a huge benefit over the human hands that are error-prone.

With the help of BPM, RPA can validate data and verify it against rules or knowledge bases. This ensures that the data being used for business functions is highly accurate. BPM can also help establish efficient processes that prevent data loss

This is a very important aspect especially with the rising number of organizations which increasingly rely on data to make fundamental decisions.

4. Speed where it's needed most

Since robotic process automation is about taking over those repetitive tasks that normally waste the time of human workers, it then follows that speed is one of the critical benefits organizations stand to gain.

The bots can work round the clock, consistently. This is a big contrast from us human beings who need sufficient rest per day in order to be productive.

5. RPA contributes to cost-efficiency

A study conducted by Deloitte on the impact of automating transactional tasks [in the healthcare industry] revealed that the automation of high-volume transactional processes (such as invoices, purchase orders and requisitions) can reduce the time by 60% to 80%. Though the percentages may vary, this is the kind of significant impact RPA can have across most industries. This significant impact can be replicated across most industries.

Contrast this with the traditional method of paying staff who perform such tasks by the hour, for example, and it is easy to see how much can be saved in this category alone. Furthermore, automation also reduces costly errors.

6. RPA is easy to integrate with legacy systems

RPA tools can be integrated withlegacy systems, even when the systems are lacking in modern attributes.

Through system integration, RPA makes it possible for organizations to comfortably use their old systems while taking advantage of modern agile tools. You do not have to go through the costly process of making a complete replacement at a time when you do not have enough resources to do so.

Want to take automation to the next level? Learn about hyperautomation 

RPA vs BPM — Choosing the Right One for Your Use Case

The first step in picking the right option between RPA and BPM, is to get a crystal clear picture of what exactly you want to achieve in the end.

If the focus is to automate repetitive tasks, then you should choose RPA. On the other hand, if the focus is to transform processes at a larger scale that are comprehensive in scope and affect many departments with potential involvement of third party integrations, BPM is the way you go.

If the processes you need to transform have lots of repetitive tasks that will require automation, then you need to think about combining both RPA and BPM.

In precise distinction, we can assert that RPA constitutes a technology while BPM embodies a discipline.

As a technology, RPA tackles smaller tasks that are repetitive by deploying bots to perform the tasks. These tasks typically involve structured data and follow predictable rules. Please note that these automated tasks are often integral parts of broader business processes. Keep this in mind.

Unlike RPA, which targets specific tasks, BPM looks at the entire workflow, from initiation to completion.

The magic of combining RPA and BPM

As we have seen, RPA and BPM individually offer significant advantages. Now imagine the potential of bringing these two together. The combination leverages the strengths of both to deliver a potent force with the following benefits.

1. RPA + BPM ensure perfect alignment with goals

Even when you just want to automate tasks, it is important to cosnier the role BPM can play in ensuring that that automation is well aligned with the company's goals.

For instance, BPM will ensure that RPA does not automate tasks that bring no value to the organization, or tasks that are so costly to automate but bring minimal benefit.

2. RPA + BPM yield significant competitive edge 

We have heard stories of companies that have been caught up on the wrong side of a rapidly changing technology landscape. This is a place you do not want to put your company.

The combination of RPA and BPM ensures that the organization does not miss out on the tools that are providing the fuel for future success. Even more, you are sure that the competition is not leaving you behind.

RPA and BPM will also give your company a strong competitive edge over those competitors that are yet to consider deploying the two together.

3. RPA and BPM deliver one true source of critical visibility

In business operations, administrators and managers require real-time visibility into what is happening, including automated tasks. This visibility is essential for effective decision-making and efficient operations.

RPA+BPM offers the most optimal visibility in this regard. Through a single source of visibility that brings RPA and BPM together, you are able to see at once where bots are doing a good job or bad job as well as where processes need improvement.

4. RPA + BPM = Better ROI

Return On Investment is the end goal of whatever technology any organization implements, and this too applies to RPA and BPM. When you combine the two, you harness their combined power to achieve enhanced ROI thanks to the synergy.

Whether ROI means more profit, more partners or even more customers served per hour, these two will make a huge contribution towards hitting the target. 

Please note that even when you decide to deploy the combined force of RPA and BPM, it’s important to realize that IT operations are still a complex affair that needs prudent execution. To ensure you are getting it right, please spare some time and go through the best practices for IT operations. Go the extra mile to measure success by using these most important metrics for IT

RPA and BPM are not competitors! 

While the differences are many, RPA and BPM are complementary and together they provide a great framework that aids organizations in becoming digital-efficient.

RPA can be integrated as part of BPM. In such a context, BPM will impact an entire process, whereas RPA will automate certain repetitive tasks within the processes being subjected to transformation by BPM.

For example in a loan processing operation, RPA can be used to automate the entry of information from physical forms to the loan processing software. BPM will guide the overall flow (including the workflows within RPA). When you deploy both RPA and BPM, you achieve comprehensive digital transformation. It's far much better than when you implement transformation in disparate patches, which often bring complications around visibility and decision-making.

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