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Does RPA and AI Mean the Death of BPM?

It’s hard to believe that 55 years ago the Jetson’s debuted on TV.  Their world of video conferencing, flat screen TVs, drones, vacuum robots, and mobile devices has been with us for some time. And, while we may have to wait a little longer for flying cars, the onset of, and rapidly developing technology in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are bringing the Jetson’s fantasy world closer to becoming reality. 

With automation and robots being the hot topics du jour, where does it leave tried-and-true Business Process Modeling (BPM)? I have heard some say that BPM, or the need for it, will be dead within 10 years. They suggest that systems will learn and define for themselves what the process should be and how to be the most efficient. Adding fuel to the fire, even many analyst groups today categorize automation tools as “BPM tools.”  I must heartily disagree. Using “BPM” as a three-letter acronym to define automation tools creates confusion and obviates the very core of what BPM is about… Process! 

Even with what we’ve all been told will eventually happen with Skynet, it’s important to remember that all Robots and AI must start with at least a basic set or parameters or actions.  Even the acronym, RPA, dictates that Process is at the center. Before the first line of code is written, or screen developed, there must first be an understanding of the process. 

  • What actions do you wish the system or machine to perform?
  • What decisions need to be made? 
  • Based on those decisions and parameters, what are the alternatives? 
  • Where does that information come from? 
  • When does the system escalate for human guidance? 
  • Who does it contact? 
  • When is the job complete?

The most important questions however, are should this function or process be automated? Will the cost and time associated with automating really return the gains we hope to achieve? And, how does it align with our corporate strategy? These questions (and the previous) are all questions answered by understanding and documenting the process. RPA and AI are developing and becoming more advanced every year.  However, without understanding process, we are simply automating for the sake of automating. If you automate a system to do an inefficient process, you are just more efficient at being inefficient.

There will always be a need for Business Process Modeling, or what I like to call Process-Centric Business Modeling, which involves much more than automation. And, it is also more than just capturing process maps and diagrams of how your process is performed. A true BPM will help you understand the Strategies and Goals associated with your processes and why you perform them. It will show you where your processes may have regulatory, compliance or operational risks.  BPM will identify where those risks have controls to mitigate them and capture how effective those controls are. You will be able to quickly determine who owns a process and the impacts of change.  You will also be able to understand what systems or data your processes interact with. And before deciding to automate, BPM will help you visualize how the process is performing based on actual performance indicators. Then, once you decide to automate, your BPM solution should have the ability to deploy, or provide an output that can be readily integrated with a standards-based RPA engine. 

At iGrafx we have been doing BPM for over 25 years. For more information on Process Automation, and how our over 400 years of combined experience in Business Process Modeling can help you see your business holistically, visit our website

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