Business process automation is the technology-enabled automation of business processes that are otherwise complex and time-consuming. The goal of automation is to make these processes simpler, to increase the quality of products or services, to contain or cut costs, and to improve service delivery.
However, just like in so many things, business process automation is beset with myths.
What are these myths and what makes them just “myths” in the first place?
1. Process automation is about taking humans out of the equation.
News of automation or any form of innovation in a company always invokes fear among workers. People fear losing their jobs to machines and computers.
The truth is, there will always be those who end up losing their original positions. Most of the time, these are people who do manual, repetitive tasks. These include switchboard operators at a telephone company, weavers at a textile factory, and typesetters at a printing press. However, new positions are also created. Companies mostly train old workers to fill these new positions.
That machines and computer software are so powerful and smart that they can make human operators obsolete is simply a huge misconception. Regardless of how technologically advanced certain software or machines become, humans are still needed to operate them. And if these things conk out or malfunction, humans are still the ones who troubleshoot and fix them.
Technology does take over the more sophisticated tasks from humans. It gives people more valuable and more interesting work to do. Rather than putting people out of work, automation is really more about empowering them.
2. Business process automation is less “digital” than digital process automation.
Digital process automation or DPA is just a marketing hype. It still basically means the same thing as BPA. Digitalizing a process means reworking a process into something that a software can automate. And it’s exactly what business process automation does, too.
3. AI/Robots can solve all BPA issues.
Issues surrounding process automation have one absolute answer: artificial intelligence or robotic process automation. Wrong!
First, AI and RPA are two different things. What they bring to the table are also different, technically speaking.
When problems of process automation arise, people always say that smarter software is what they need. RPA, however, is not exactly “smart.”
The concept of RPA is for software to mimic the interaction between a human and some old application. It’s done by filling in forms, clicking buttons, pasting information, and other such tasks. This kind of automation can be sophisticated. However, for AI to come to the picture, what is needed is cognitive RPA.
Moreover, the problem with RPA is not the fact that its tools are not smart at all. In reality, the challenge is about its ability to deal with largely unexpected changes that come with IT. In other words, it is more of resilience.
So, adding the cognitive or “smart” aspect to RPA does not solve its issue with resilience. Cognitive RPA simply gives you a smarter technology. However, without resilience, your automated process remains as fragile as it was.
So if we focus beyond RPA, can AI help with our BPA? Not significantly. Several products on the market utilizing AI simply act as an autocomplete function for building workflows. Humans come up with a workflow, and the AI suggests what should be done next. And humans that we are, we surely wouldn’t want AI to tell us how we should operate our business.
4. “Wide” vs. “deep” DPA makes sense.
The distinction between wide DPA and deep DPA does not make sense at all. Wide DPA refers to the low-code platform vendors, with tools that are well suited for creating a large number of simple apps. Deep DPA, on the other hand, refers to companies that are better suited for creating complex and large apps.
Nevertheless, these two DPA categories are not really separate from each other. Sure, some low-code platform vendors do have their eyes set on larger apps while the others are more focused on smaller apps. But most of them are better suited for the other type.
Moreover, the notion of “large” is starting to lose its essence. This is because the best approach is to build these apps as modular components, to be assembled. These modular components are something a wide DPA platform would be greatly adept at building.
5. There are separate markets for low-code platforms and digital process automation.
DPA is being packaged as the next-generation of business process automation. But it’s really just marketing crap, and if you cut through it, you will see that DPA products are mostly low-code platforms.
What low-code represents is a model-driven and visual approach to building a software that does not need too much hand-coding, or any at all. In fact, many low-code platforms employ a “drag-and-drop” approach to creating apps. This approach makes it easy to construct workflows.
Many of the low-code products available now started as business process modeling tools. These BPM tools evolved into low-code platforms by adding the automation aspect to them.
DPA is similar in this manner. DPA is the other name for a low-code product that started as a BPM tool and that specializes in BPA.
So why are low-code platforms and DPA being presented as separate markets? Maybe it’s because the low-code market got too crowded. Maybe they just want to feature process-centric low-code platforms separately? My guess is as good as yours.
These myths show that vendors struggle to understand the evolving BPA value proposition that customers need. These also show that analyst firms are likewise confused on how to describe emerging markets.
Yet, with all the arguments regarding automation technology and automated processes, one thing remains clear: Business processes are still mostly about humans, the work they do, and their constant search for ways to accomplish more work in the least amount of time. And it is exactly because of this that process automation will continue evolve for years and years to come.
Photo courtesy of WOCinTech Chat (Flickr).