When You Should Consider Business Process Automation vs. RPA

Business Process Automation vs. RPA - what is the difference?

As businesses strive to cut costs, improve efficiency, and retain high-value employees, it should come as no surprise that the interest in automating how a business process can be performed is white hot today. A number of technologies can help ease and scale how these automation programs operate. As you map out your business automation strategy, be sure to consider what options exist to make the best choice for your business needs. The popular topics most frequently discussed are not always the best fit for every business. For example, when considering Business Process Automation vs RPA, there are several factors to consider.

A good place to start is to determine the business challenge that you are trying to solve. Depending upon your answer, you can then evaluate whether a Business Process Automation vs RPA strategy is the best option.

First, let’s take a closer look at defining the foundation of both strategies.

What is Business Process Management?

Before considering how to automate or change a business process, you must first understand what the underlying process is trying to accomplish. This evaluation is a field of study, known as Business Process Management, that can trace its origin to Frederick Taylor at the turn of the 19th century. In 1911, Taylor first published, The Principles of Scientific Management, in which he details how productivity can be greatly improved by applying the scientific method. Those interested to learn more can watch this video:

By taking a systematic view of how every business process is performed, it is possible to identify opportunities to improve business resilience and efficiency. Business Process Management typically will focus on re-engineering and modifying business processes to improve enterprise-wide efficiency and productivity. These types of projects can be far reaching, costly, and involved cross departmental support, resources, and budget.

What is Business Process Automation?

Business Process Automation or BPA seeks to automate workflows with the purpose of improving an organization’s efficiency. Think of BPA as a tactic available for those analyzing and managing how business processes are performed – in the search to improve business performance. Other tactics might include changing the order of how processes are performed, utilizing different employees with new skill sets, or outsourcing a particular step to a third-party provider.

What is Robotic Process Automation?

Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, is primarily an automation technology that utilizes software robots, commonly referred to as “bots” that often rely upon Artificial Intelligence (AI) to perform an assigned task. RPA is designed to operate processes in the same way that a human would – by automating a specific task. The best success comes from applying this strategy to repetitive tasks that are part of a workflow. Few employees miss doing the boring part of their jobs.

Read this article for a more complete description of RPA, The Complete Guide to Robotic Process Automation

In the hierarchy of BPM, BPA, and RPA, the broadest, most strategic program is the overall management of business processes and how they work. This field of study is the widest in scope, so the most strategic to an organization’s future direction. BPA and RPA fall under BPM as approaches to execute upon a management strategy.

The below table shows how these disciplines differ:

Business Process AutomationRobotic Process Automation
DefinitionA way to automate business processesSoftware that can automate a specific task or process
ScopeOrganization-wide focused automationTask-oriented automation
Evaluation RequirementsA complete review of end-to-end business processes and stakeholdersCan be performed on a specific task, within a specific division or department
Timeframe to ImplementTypically performed as a holistic process, built from the ground up, involving considerable time to implementCan be applied to a single task, as identified, without much expanded review and outside approvals
Resource RequirementsMuch higher, given the wider scope and lengthier time to implementSmaller, given the reduced scope and typically less integration to other department processes

What Else Is Different Between BPA & RPA?

As should now be clear, there are similarities between BPA and RPA with differences falling more along the size of the impact, budget, and time to implement. Three main factors distinguish BPA from RPA, which are summarized below:


Given that BPA is a process improvement concept focused on examining how an entire business process is performed, it follows that greater integration is needed. This may be between other enterprise systems, workflows, third-party vendor applications, or partner programs. This type of integration only makes sense if the end results can deliver greater performance improvement to offset the higher time, resource, and budget investment needed to implement.

Alternatively, the primary function of RPA is to replace time-consuming human tasks with software. RPA does not require the disruption of existing business processes and can be easily integrated in existing BPA software like ERP and CRM. A great example of this is a “chat bot” that pops up on websites. These task-oriented applications can simplify the customer support function.


When evaluating Business Process Automation vs RPA, consider that both BPA and RPA are designed to streamline a workflow. The difference is in the way that the automation is performed. Most RPA software today acts as a “screen-scraping” program. It collects data from an existing user interface, typically a website or existing user interface screen. BPA programs, however, are far more robust. They collect and share data between systems or workflows via data extraction processes or APIs.

Resource Commitment

As has been touched on before, one of the big differences between a BPA and RPA projects is the size and scope of the investment. BPA is far wider reaching, including multiple departments and applications, so will take longer, cost more, and require greater collaboration to complete. RPA is more localized to automate a specific task. Consequently, an RPA initiative can typically be implemented faster, with less cross-departmental involvement, and for less cost.

Each program has a time and place in an organization – the scope of the challenge you seek to overcome will help guide your decision on what program is best for you at this point in time.