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Business process automation (BPA) is the strategy a business uses to automate processes in order to contain costs. It consists of integrating applications, restructuring labor resources and using software applications throughout the organization.
There are three main techniques for delivering automation of a business process.
As most IT systems are inherently automation engines in themselves, a valid option is to extend their functionality to enable the desired automation, creating customized linkages between the disparate application systems where needed. This approach means that the automation can be tailored specifically to the exact environment of the organization; on the down-side, it can be time-consuming to find the necessary skills either internally or in the marketplace.
Specialist companies are bringing toolsets to market that are purpose-built for the function of BPA. Toolsets vary in sophistication, but there is an increasing trend towards the use of artificial intelligence technologies that can understand natural language and unstructured datasets, interact with human beings, and adapt to new types of problems without human-guided training. BPA providers tend to focus on different industry sectors but their underlying approach tends to be similar in that they will attempt to provide the shortest route to automation by exploiting the user interface layer rather than going deeply into the application code or databases sitting behind them. They also simplify their own interface to the extent that these tools can be used directly by non-technically qualified staff. The main advantage of these toolsets is therefore their speed of deployment, the drawback is that it brings yet another IT supplier to the organization.
The market is however evolving in this area. In order to automate these processes, connectors are needed to fit these systems/solutions together with a data exchange layer to transfer the information. A Process Driven Messaging Service is an option for optimizing your data exchange layer. By mapping your end-to-end process workflow, you can build an integration between individual platforms using a Process Driven Messaging Platform. Process Driven Messaging Service gives you the logic to build your process by using triggers, jobs and workflows. Some companies uses an API where you build workflow/s and then connect various systems or mobile devices. You build the process, creating workflows in the API where the workflow in the API acts as a data exchange layer.
A Business Process Management system is quite different from BPA. However, it is possible to build automation on the back of a BPM implementation. The actual tools to achieve this vary, from writing custom application code to using specialist BPA tools, as described above. The advantages and disadvantages of this approach are inextricably linked - the BPM implementation provides an architecture for all processes in the business to be mapped, but this in itself delays the automation of individual processes and so benefits may be lost in the meantime.
An area of discussion exists as to whether BPA is a distinct field of activity in its own right or merely a subset of a wider activity. Given the similarity in terminology, it is not surprising most casual observers would believe them to be closely related if not identical. However, to experts in these areas they carry very distinct meanings, even if they are ultimately complementary concepts. To explain this further it is necessary to define the scope of each activity:
The BPE rationale is that before any process can be automated, it is necessary to define (often at a very strategic level or enterprise-wide) all of the business processes running inside an organisation. From this the processes can be re-defined and where necessary optimised, including automation.
BPM practice asserts that before any process can be automated, it is necessary to define all of the business processes running inside the domain of endeavour. From this the processes can be re-defined and where necessary optimised, including automation.
The BPA approach states that until a process is automated, there is no real value in analysing and defining it and that the cycle of business change is so rapid there simply isn't time to define every process before choosing which ones to address with automation and that delivering immediate benefits creates more value.
BPE is an approach which has ceased to be of value due to the utopian nature of the practice. Process improvement methodologies such as Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma appear to align well with the BPM and BPA view of the world, as they constantly look for incremental opportunities to make processes more efficient and reduce defects, however, these methodologies can also be used downstream of a BPM deployment.
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