Comparing Workflow, Business Process Management Suites (BPMS) and Blue Prism Robotic Automation Software

Because of Virtual Operations’ role in helping business process outsourcing companies (BPOs) implement robotic process automation in back offices, shared services centers and off-shore facilities, we are often asked to differentiate between technology choices.  Most often the questions are about comparing ‘traditional’ approaches to automation such as workflow tools or BPMS, with newer alternatives such as Blue Prism’s robotic automation software.

We decided to provide this high level analysis here for those visitors doing some self-comparisons, just to help you get started. We’re always glad to talk in more detail for those who are ready, and in that case we offer our more comprehensive robotic automation overview.  To schedule an overview complete the request form to the right.  In the meantime, here’s a quick summary on these three business process automation platforms.

Workflow is just a commodity tool like a word processor or a spreadsheet and a much less strategic asset.  Workflow software creates lists and queues of “cases” or “work items” that need to be performed.  It’s a glorified set of prioritized in-boxes with an audited means of allowing people across different business teams to coordinate activities, to hand off cases, etc.

Think of a batching system into which every customer request is entered. The system then assigns out (or makes available) these requests for a back office staff to execute on a enterprise application such as a mainframe system or ERP.

Workflow systems generally don’t provide any automation facilities and, if they do, they’re usually very situation or system specific.  You certainly wouldn’t characterize workflow by its automation capability.

Business Process Management Suites (BPMS) takes workflow a huge step further by seeking to automate the business processes themselves, including:

  • Providing a process definition layer that defines the relationships between queues and the business rules that govern the working of a case.  (Some of these process layers look like Blue Prism where you can visually map the process.)
  • Providing heavyweight back-end IT interfaces and APIs that allow the process steps to be automated.  Integration with BPMS takes time, uses traditional IT techniques and is all about creating custom code for specific applications and specific business need.  Granted, once the interfaces are built you get very good agility, customization, reuse, flexibility and maintainability, however implementing a BPMS solution often implies major business transformation, heavy IT investment and a great deal of development and testing time.

Robotic Automation Software refers to a style of automation where a machine, or computer, mimics a human’s action in completing rules based tasks.  In terms of back office processes, Robotic Automation refers to automation where a computer drives existing enterprise application software in the same way that a user does. This means that unlike traditional application software or BPMS approaches, Robotic Automation is a tool or platform that operates and orchestrates other application software through the existing application’s user interface and in this sense is not “integrated”.

Contrasting BPMS and Robotic Automation Software

BPMS is principally aimed at improving IT architecture to allow greater flexibility in automation and process management capability. Most often its aim is to support agent productivity through desktop acceleration, application connectivity, workflow management.  BPMS integrates via the back end and is about building heavyweight interfaces for core business functions.

Robotic Automation Software is principally aimed at clerical staff replacement as opposed to clerical staff acceleration as with BMPS. The philosophy of the approach is therefore to target routine, repetitive, rules-based tasks. RPA uses the front end of existing applications and is smaller, more lightweight, more agile and more suitable for short term or highly customized business need.