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Digital transformation plan: RPA and BPMS tools, better together

A sound digital transformation plan gives companies the ability to change quickly. Business process management suites and robotic process automation -- used together -- do that.

Traditionally, software tool vendors portray their products as standing alone and linking to other special-purpose tools like database management systems. Today, however, business process management suite (BPMS) vendors and robotic process automation (RPA) vendors are starting to join forces and, in some cases, jointly sell products.

The better-together stance makes sense. Each of the software tools offers specialized capabilities that complement one another. That said, joint ventures by software tool vendors is not something you see very often because implicit in this approach is the admission that neither of these product groups is the best fit for all circumstances.

But these are unusual times. As vendors and enterprises alike scramble to keep up with consumer adoption of digital technology, they need a digital transformation plan that will ultimately serve customers. Permit me to break down why BPMS and RPA are better together than alone and why both technologies should figure into your digital transformation plan.

BPMS as an orchestration layer

There is a caveat: Any business operation or process should be improved or redesigned before BPMS or RPA is used to innovate or even simply automate it.

BPMS tools are tried and proven. They work! These tools are great for modeling an operation, supporting its redesign, allowing simulation (true of some, but not all, BPMS tools) and then correlating all the necessary information on data, rules and metrics to generate (low-code or no-code) applications. BPMS tools have evolved to support rapid change and are fairly easy to use. They do come with different levels and types of support, so it is important they be matched to what you want to do with them.

BPMS tools also have another ability that is not used much but really makes all the difference: BPMS tools can be used as an orchestration layer, calling in other types of applications -- from legacy apps to RPA software to AI and licensed applications like ERPs. This use allows tremendous flexibility -- any application can be accessed over APIs. In this way, the orchestrating application is independent of the external application and whatever it is built in: It just links to the external application, which is executed in the application's native environment, and the result passed back. You can also build a program layer between a legacy application and the BPMS product to make the linked-to legacy application look and act modern.

RPA paves way to digital transformation plan

Need a primer on BPM? Here's a
short video that gives you the basics.

RPA tools are not really model-driven in the same way BPMS tools are; they are driven by organized lists and are, thus, fairly easy to build, follow and understand -- especially for a technology professional. These tools generate focused programs called software robots or bots, as they're commonly known. Each bot is highly specialized and great for automating largely manual, repetitive tasks that are closely governed by clearly defined rules. This automation generally eliminates error and provides operational consistency -- as well as greatly speeding up the work.

RPA tools handle interfacing differently from BPMS tools and, thus, may help to streamline that part of an orchestrated BPMS-based offering. In use for this task, the RPA bots will be called by the BPMS and executed, with control passing back and forth between the two operating environments.

The goal is business success

Of course, each tool can and should be used alone where it is appropriate. Each has its own strengths. The question is not really a technical one as much as it is a question of what can be done when the tools are used together -- and, most importantly, how their combined capabilities can be used to provide business flexibility and, thus, increase the company's ability to compete. This is a critical point: I believe that IT's ability to support low-cost, low-risk, very rapid business operational and application change will not just be the difference between succeeding or failing to execute on a digital transformation plan, but will also be a deciding factor in the future success of a company.

Process improvement before automation

Both BPMS tools and RPA tools have the potential to significantly improve business operations -- either alone or together -- and help IT execute on a digital transformation plan. But there is a caveat: Any business operation or process should be improved or redesigned before BPMS or RPA is used to innovate or even simply automate it. The biggest reason? It is not a good a move to make a broken activity work faster. You just get errors faster and make everybody look bad. It will highlight the fact that the underlying business practices were poor and that IT did not really help to improve much of the business operation.

The ability of new-wave technologies like BPMS and RPA to automate and improve processes by creating interfaces with many types of applications is essential to any digital transformation plan. These tools also facilitate a new approach to IT that is focused on digital customer interaction -- with external and internal customers. And they help provide what every digital transformation plan needs to accomplish for companies: an ability to change quickly. That is what will make a difference as companies try to leapfrog over competitors. Doing this requires new approaches and, yes, new, flexible technology -- tools that work together, as opposed to those designed to work in isolated silos.

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