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The difference between RPA and DPA

I get asked a particular question a lot when I talk with organizations about process automation and the question goes something like this “I’m looking at automation within our business and I’ve narrowed it down to [Nintex] K2 and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Why should I invest in a Digital Process Automation (DPA) platform? RPA seems to do everything that DPA does so it seems to make more sense to invest in that.”

As this is so common, I decided to give my opinion. But before we launch into it, let’s start with an analogy.

Most days I sit down for some food at the dining table in my house. In front of me, I usually have a few items of cutlery – namely a knife, a fork, and a spoon. Depending on the dish that I’m eating I’ll choose the appropriate utensil for the job. If it’s soup, a spoon works.

If it’s something large, a fork to hold the food steady and a knife to cut it. If it’s a piece of bread with butter – a knife to both cut the butter and to spread. But back to my soup, what I don’t do is see the fork and think “if only I could make that into a spoon” then proceed to go into my garage and get the welding equipment out…

My point – each utensil has its own purpose and responsibility and the clever part is to know what to use and when. I understand that with DPA and RPA the lines can be quite grey but here’s my take on when to use each one.

Starting the process with RPA

Let’s start with RPA. RPA is the use of software to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required humans to perform and integrate with current systems. Single process tasks that are repeatable, predictable, and do not necessarily require human intervention. It provides companies with the tools to automate the monotonous tasks that monopolize employees’ time.

There are countless examples of workloads that can be delegated to a bot. A few include: compiling and emailing standard sales reports, processing routine invoices, and migrating data from one application to another to update records.

If we think of HR with a new employee onboarding – from an internal request from a department for a new headcount to the actual onboarding of the successful candidate – a robot could be used for searching LinkedIn for relevant candidates, verify CV information, and extracting key data, the setting up of accounts for a new employee, the creation of employee contracts – some very manual, time-consuming tasks that a human would otherwise have to do – but as this is a very formulaic process-based.

But think about the wider context of the holistic process we’re discussing, there are a lot of humans involved here. There may be a web page to allow a candidate to submit their application, there will be interviews to be scheduled and take place, there will be financial sign off on contracts and budgets, negotiations of terms, acceptance, and signing of documentation, etc. that all require some form of automation but are human-centric end to end processes.

Integrating DPA with RPA

This is where DPA comes in. That ability to Automate workflows, create rich user experience through digital forms, capturing and displaying rich sets of data to allow you to make better decisions, be provided with insights as to how your business is running, where bottlenecks are, where we could use robots to create efficiencies, creating new apps for your organization that can be used across multiple devices – in short orchestrating humans and robots in one cohesive process.

This provides and enhances any RPA offering with the out of the box task management, escalations, SLA’s, process monitoring, and orchestration across an organization. RPA can hang off DPA. DPA can enhance RPA.

Use RPA to:

  • Automate rules-based repeatable tasks that would typically be performed by a human.
  • Augment current IT infrastructure and applications without the need for additional custom integration.
  • Ensures compliance while providing improved efficiency and risk deduction on laborious data-driven tasks.
  • Focus on returning humans to the work at hand rather than repetitive, sometimes low-value exercises.

Use DPA to:

  • Automate, systemize, and create new end-to-end business processes.
  • Digitize all aspects of processes (forms, workflow, and data) and democratize the tooling.
  • Embrace data-rich and intelligence-driven decision-making to understands how your business is running.
  • Prioritize and focus on providing a first-class end-to-end customer experience.

When it’s all said and done, my advice would be twofold:

  1. Knives, forks, and spoons are all equally important, but they can only provide value within their appropriate use case.
  2. You could make your own fork from a spoon, but the longer-term impact will not be worth the hassle.



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