Automation provides businesses with the opportunity to use resources more efficiently and cut the risks associated with human error. And as technology advances, there are more paths to automation available. In fact, Forrester predicts that this category of technologies will become “the tip of the digital transformation spear” during 2019, helping to re-shape business approaches and customer experiences.
Faced with multiple automation approaches to choose from, however, it’s easy for decision-makers to feel overwhelmed. This is especially true when these technologies seem to overlap.
Two automation strategies that often create confusion are robotic process automation (RPA) and digital process automation (DPA). While these terms sound similar, they actually describe two different—yet highly compatible—aspects of the automation ecosystem.
Here’s a brief overview of the two different automation approaches:
Robotic process automation (RPA) is an execution engine for processing repetitive, rule-based tasks, such as screen-scraping data for use across other systems. This automation solution uses software robots (or simply ‘bots’) that interact with business apps and systems on the same interfaces humans would use. This means that RPA can handle the rote, manual tasks that monopolize employees’ time. It also substantially increases task speed and accuracy.
Whether you’re looking to liberate skilled employees from robotic tasks or reduce headcount to cut costs, well-applied RPA solutions can help your business to move beyond those tasks that slow you down.
Digital process automation (DPA), on the other hand, is a modern approach to business process management (BPM). Through the provision of a low-code app development environment and smart data integration, DPA is a cost-effective, user-friendly alternative to traditional BPM tools.
With an enterprise-grade DPA platform, you can rapidly build business apps to automate a range of processes, connect your existing line-of-business systems, and elevating operational performance across the board. Having evolved from BPM, DPA takes a holistic approach to process management, enabling you to track all your process apps from one platform to quickly identify bottlenecks and drive continual improvement.
Combining the unique strengths of RPA and DPA
RPA is well-suited to automating tasks that are time-consuming and standardized with minimal exception handling, such as data entry and validation across multiple systems. Because RPA software interfaces with existing software, it can be rolled out relatively rapidly (often within weeks).
The danger here is focusing too closely on ‘quick wins’ at the expense of fixing underlying processes or systems which are not meeting your needs. If you use RPA to execute tasks that form part of a poorly designed process, the technology is unlikely to deliver the required ROI. In this case, a process re-design may be required before the RPA technology is applied to the relevant steps within this process. And this is where DPA solutions can add value.
With a well-chosen DPA solution, you have the tools to improve processes from the ground up by building custom apps that can orchestrate the flow of work across humans, robots, and systems. DPA provides automation capabilities where appropriate, but also integrates across siloed systems and emerging technologies, which means you can incorporate RPA and other tools to solve a range of business problems. All these solutions are managed from one central platform, which provides valuable process metrics and a clear view of performance across the board.
Benefits of combining RPA and DPA for maximum effect
It’s important to understand that both RPA and DPA have valuable roles to play in the business optimization context. Ideally, you want to play to the unique strengths of each technology.
Depending on your business goals, for example, you may want to combine the quick productivity gains you can achieve through RPA with the holistic transformation you can achieve through DPA. Because RPA can execute any app, it can work with those developed on the DPA platform—automating one or two key steps in the process that may have been routed to a human worker if the DPA solution were used alone.
Working together this way, DPA and RPA can swiftly streamline and automate processes that span multiple departments and applications. In other words: organizations have the ability to build applications that solve all their process improvement needs, in an extremely efficient way. Other technologies, such as artificial intelligence or machine learning, can then be used to add extra capabilities as these become relevant.
Allow people to manage their time wisely
Instead of just cutting labor costs through software robotics, you can combine RPA and DPA technologies to gain greater value from employees. When time-consuming tasks involving spreadsheets and paperwork are re-routed to bots, this saves a substantial chunk of employees’ time. These hours can be devoted to higher-value work, such as innovative or strategic projects that keep your business competitive.
Simultaneously, when processes are better streamlined and organized through DPA-powered workflows, your people are able to work more effectively. With mobile DPA apps, they’re also able to continue their work out in the field, making decisions based on real-time data or collaboration with colleagues. This elevates productivity further.
This does not only create a more fulfilling working environment for employees, but also a better customer experience.
With everything handled digitally by your RPA and DPA systems, you have instant access to a metadata pool that supports better oversight as well as smoother regulatory compliance.
With every process action logged, you have a clear audit trail available should this be required by auditors or regulatory authorities. This helps to alleviate the regulatory compliance burden that so many industries are faced with in today’s fast-evolving legislative landscape.
Towards smarter digital transformation
While RPA and DPA are discrete technologies, they can work together towards shared goals – over the short-, medium- and long-term. These tools can also underpin a powerful enterprise-grade automation platform that focuses on achieving digital transformation at scale.