2016 was the year AI and robotics went mainstream. We saw the emergence of chatbots and bot lawyers. Voice recognition went from something fun and frivolous on our mobile devices to delivering useful services via devices such as Amazon Echo and Google home. AI and robotics are now set to disrupt multiple industries and to change the very way we interact with the internet.When they first emerged Business Process Management Suites (BPMs) and workflow technologies were disruptive technologies, transforming the delivery and efficiency of business processes. As we come to the end of 2016 the BPM industry itself is becoming disrupted through the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics technologies. This year for example mainstream BPM vendors began to acquire smaller Robotic Process Automation (RPA) organizations highlighting a growing awareness or maybe panic within the BPM industry that robotics and AI is set to fundamentally transform how we design, execute and interact with business processes.
At the moment RPA and BPM applications are complementary technologies. RPA is used to deliver the rapid automation of simple, repetitive desktop based business process activities and address legacy application integration issues while BPM and Case Management are used to deliver the end to end optimization of key business processes.
Today RPA deployment is often a tactical decision while BPM and Case Management projects are more strategic decisions. Yet this won’t always be the case. RPA and Artificial Intelligence technology has exposed the flaws with today’s BPM technologies and rather than nibble at the edges or the carcass of the process automation market RPA is set to consume a bigger portion. RPA technologies are successful and are disrupting the BPM market because they address three key issues with today’s BPM suites:
The stated benefits of process modelling and process standards are dubious. Process modelling standards such as BPMN(2) and CMMN often appear to deliver benefits for the BPM business analyst rather than for the actual BPM customer. Process standards frequently act as a barrier to BPM adoption adding increased training costs and complexity for prospective customers. The costs associated with BPMN and CMMN outweigh the benefits.
RPAs eliminate process modelling and offer an alternative way of designing processes using a watch, learn, do approach that is more intuitive and can be quickly adopted and understood by RPA users. In the near future processes could be optimized by linking together multiple RPA bots with the process participant or employee deciding which bot to invoke at a particular stage in the process.
The professional services costs associated with integrating the BPMs to third party applications often consumes a huge part of the budget of a BPM or process optimization project. Robotic solutions however can be implemented with limited assistance from IT. Robotic software can work with most underlying applications with the interaction occurring through the user interface. While maybe not as graceful as an API based integration the benefits in terms of cost and speed of the watch, learn, do approach in many cases outweigh the negatives.
Speed of Deployment and ROI
Many BPM and process optimization projects can take several months or even years to complete with tangible ROI delivered much later. Lower training and adoption costs as well as simpler third party integration mean that even significant 100 step RPA processes can be analyzed and automated within two weeks, delivering rapid ROI. Businesses using RPA approaches to process automation can fail fast, learn fast and innovate fast.
Robots are addressing the weaknesses of today’s BPM solutions. AI and robotics will have an impact across industry. 2016 was the year the BPM market got disrupted.
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