Is BPM under threat from RPA bots?

By Marilyn de Villiers
Johannesburg, 25 Jan 2018

The business process management (BPM) world appears to be under threat from a number of sources with many questioning whether there is still a place for BPM in today's rapidly changing business environment.

Megan Potrzeba, marketing and content strategist at BPM software solutions provider Appian, points out that traditional BPM is going through a period of transition as process management tools are increasingly built into large-scale platforms that complete a wide range of functions.

In addition, low-code development platforms and similar solutions that fuel digital transformation are also placing pressure on traditional BPM.

Another source of pressure is the rise of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) bots, says Jim Sinur, Vice President Research at Aragon Research, a technology-focused research and advisory firm.

According to Sinur, while BPM is widely regarded as intimidating because of the high levels of investment and commitment it requires, RPA bots hold the exciting promise of replacing low level tasks initially and assisting human activity in the future.

"Bots are gaining momentum because they demonstrate great promise in proof of concepts projects. As organisations ramp up larger bot projects, the benefits will multiply," he explains, but notes that workflow and BPM had exhibited the same effects in their early roll out within organisations.

The difference, however, was that bots could be leveraged quickly, realising benefits through the rapid displacement of low level and redundant work.

"Making these bots smart empowers them even more and feeds off the artificial intelligence frenzy going on simultaneously - starting with applying machine intelligence to point problems," he adds.

However, Sinur warns that issues around bot management and updates are unlikely to emerge until well after the bots have become entrenched in the organisation. "It's hard to turn down tactical benefits and keep the big picture in mind, so the impact of bots will last," he says.

So where does that leave BPM?

According to Sinur, it should not be a case of either/or when considering BPM and RPA bots.

He explains that processes, which are essential to represent the flow and balance of work, transcend organisational and technology boundaries.

"The problem arises in instrumenting a flow to handle multiple technology and software stacks while also trying to deliver on the complex goals of multiple job roles and organisational units," he says.

While this takes longer to implement and won't deliver immediate benefits, the benefits it can deliver will be significantly higher including what he calls "great customer journeys and other necessary cross organisational flows".

"The impact of workflows and processes are here to stay and the benefits are real," he adds.

What is really needed, Sinur continues, is to have both technologies - BPM and RPA - working together.

"The tasks that complete work have to be as automated as possible and work does flow from speciality to speciality in most organisations. There may come a day where one person or bot can handle all the knowledge, data, and work necessary to complete a business outcome, but right now we need both cooperating intimately," he adds.

Sinur predicts that as RPA bots and BPM increasingly work together skilfully over time, they will eventually participate in or as Digital Business Platforms - platforms that bring together new and emerging technologies required for the realisation of digital transformation.