POINT OF VIEW
There’s so many acronyms flying around in the automation sphere – it can get confusing to know why and how they are different. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Business Automation Workflow (BAW) sound like they should do the same thing, right?
How many different ways can you automate something?
This POV will be exploring the differences between BAW and RPA, highlighting key points, and suggesting helpful use cases for both types of software.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
RPA is a great ‘getting started’ automation software. Finding out how automation can benefit your organisation is best done by starting off small. Picking tasks that are visible to stakeholders and users is crucial to winning support for future projects and proving the business case.
RPA could be the thing to prove the power of automation – remove just one mundane task from staff’s lives and you will be on the pedestal.
RPA is used to automate repetitive, data-heavy, and rules-based tasks so resources can be utilised more efficiently on higher value activity. RPA bots are able to interact with interfaces designed for humans by performing actions such as copying and pasting, filling in forms, uploading/downloading files, performing keystrokes, and processing documents.
RPA adds value by increasing business efficiency – improving access to data across systems to reduce decision making time, aiding staff in completing their tasks more productively.
But this is just it. RPA performs tasks. Tasks are part of processes, but do not encompass the full process. Whilst you could spend time configuring RPA bots to complete all the tasks in a process, you would still have to manage the orchestration and flow.
This soon becomes costly, complex in terms or commitment and architecture, and lacks the efficiency that other out of the box solutions provide.
Figure 1 – RPA can be used on tasks/activities within a process
To summarise: RPA will automate individual repetitive tasks that are part of a workflow.
Example Use Case
Reporting of any kind can be aided by RPA. Take a cross-departmental budget report for example.
Most of the time spent creating this report will be compiling the data from different departments.
With RPA, this data can be efficiently collated by having bots access the systems of record for this information and pasting it into a consumable and accessible space to be used by a human to write the report and interpret the data.
The RPA bots can even write the report by filling in known data fields on a document. This will help minimise the chances of getting incorrect data from emails or by word of mouth, as the bot is going to the source of information, reducing the risk of human error and the need to make corrections.
The process of creating this report is shortened and more accurate, making it more efficient and timelier. Where the report took weeks to compile, it now takes less than a day, and is more relevant to the current budget situation. Decisions are more accurate based on real-time data.
Find out more about how Responsiv has helped customers implement RPA in their organisation by clicking below:
- Yorkshire Farmers Livestock Marketing – Enhanced Supply Chain Efficiency
- Oldham Council: Streamlining Bin Collection Requests ⤵️
Business Automation Workflow (BAW)
What is a workflow?
The first thing to clarify is: what is a workflow? Workflows refer to those sequential steps that facilitate a process to complete. They provide the layout of process steps for staff to follow when completing a specific task.
‘The sequence of industrial, administrative, or other processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion.’
Workflows allow data, documents, activities, and tasks to flow throughout a process and organisation to reach their assigned destination – whether it is in a person’s inbox or saved in the relevant system of record.
BAW can be seen as the step up from RPA. Put simply, BAW is a process orchestration tool. Whereas RPA focuses on completing one task repeatedly as necessary, BAW manages the whole process – automated and manual steps. If removing one mundane task from staff’s lives puts you on a pedestal, imagine what removing a mundane process will do.
In the same vein as RPA, BAW is used for repetitive processes. Multiple process instances can occur at once, and each instance will run until the designated process end point. Dashboards show how many instances are running, and the status of each. If human tasks are going unfulfilled, this will show, too.
BAW requires access to databases, APIs and integrations in order to do its job. This is because the automated process will go into systems to read and/or write data to complete the workflow.
Where integration is not possible or where policy dictates, manual tasks can be raised for human intervention, although this is not optimal as it can stall the process. Tasks can be raised for groups or individuals to complete.
Once a task is picked up by an individual it is locked from others unless there are escalation rules to open it back up to the group should it be left incomplete.
Figure 2 – BAW orchestrates the whole process
To summarise: BAW orchestrates and manages workflows end-to-end, with a mixture of human and automated tasks where necessary.
Example Use Case
This could be a recruitment application, a customer application (requesting a service, etc.), or an internal application. For the purpose of this example, we will assume a resident is requesting an update of their information on the council website as they are moving house.
The resident goes onto the council website and clicks a link to start the application. They are taken securely to the process interface where they can start filling in the form or upload a copy.
When they submit the form, the process is triggered. The form may be read by a bot and accepted or rejected based on defined criteria, or sent to a human for validation. If the form is handwritten, AI can be applied to read and interpret the writing.
The form is saved to a known system of record where it is kept with a complete audit trail. This itself can start an automated workflow to manage any data collected in line with data regulations.
If the request is accepted, the resident’s information is changed in the relevant systems of record to reflect the changed data – i.e., home and/or work address, name (if applicable), or contact information (phone number, email, etc.), the process may even have to delete the information if the resident is leaving the area.
This will also update any service requests in their new area such as bin collections, postal redirects, council tax updates, and more. BAW in this instance will remove the need for a human to update each system with the same information, reducing the risk of incorrectly filling in data or missing a key system.
If the request is rejected, a task can be raised to contact the resident to explain why the form was rejected and to resolve any issues. If the process requirements have been thorough, the BAW process can manage any avenue of exception and automate where possible.
BAW will orchestrate and manage the whole process from start to finish.
BAW and RPA
You may find that RPA is a complementary fit to a particular BAW process task. There is nothing to say various automation software cannot be used in conjunction with each other. It is about what provides your organisation with the desired business outputs in line with your business and IT strategies.
Whether you choose to implement RPA, BAW, or both, it is important to understand your business requirements and the process as a whole.
Spending time and money automating inefficient processes and tasks will hinder longevity and risks creating hostility towards future automation adoption. Reviewing existing processes will help to decide where to start with automation and uncover ways to improve process efficiency – even before you bring in any automation.
Amplify efficiencies, not inefficiencies
Overall, there are some very fundamental differences between RPA and BAW. They are not interchangeable in terms of the software purpose, management, or outcomes, but can be used to complement each other (and other automation software, including AI) to improve business efficiency.
RPA focuses on the tasks, BAW orchestrates the whole process.
RPA focuses on a small part of the process (the tasks), whereas BAW orchestrates the whole process.
For any automation project you undertake, knowing where to start can be daunting. Responsiv recommend finding a process or task that is highly visible to users and stakeholders so that any improvements are impactful.
Start small. Do not choose the process that all your business rests on as your initial project. Dip your toes in and get a hang of what an automation project entails instead of diving into the deep end straight away.
Find out how you can optimise your business with automation by contacting us today!