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What is business process automation?

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Business process automation (BPA) is the use of software to automate repeatable, multistep business transactions. In contrast to other types of automation, BPA solutions tend to be complex, connected to multiple enterprise information technology (IT) systems, and tailored specifically to the needs of an organization.

It’s common for organizations to apply BPA as part of a digital transformation strategy, in order to streamline their workflows and operate more efficiently.

A business process can be any set of activities that help a business reach a specific goal. In the context of automation, it’s usually a repeatable transaction that involves a series of steps touching multiple IT systems. 

Business processes include fulfilling and invoicing a customer purchase order, approving a loan application, completing data entry, onboarding a new employee, and additional financial services, human resource tasks, and business operations.

When managed ad hoc, these workflows typically involve multiple email threads, documents, and handoffs. Even minor human error can cause a cascade of inefficiency, with communication breakdowns, bottlenecks, and missed deadlines. These issues multiply at scale. 

Automation software aims to prevent these problems. By deploying a reusable and extendable business automation strategy, an organization can regain control over business processes, improve communication, boost customer satisfaction, and reduce confusion. Automating a business process can free time and resources, allowing employees to focus on core work rather than tedious, repetitive, and often frustrating tasks.

Robotic process automation (RPA) uses software to automate specific repetitive tasks. RPA software is trained to mimic repetitive steps that humans take, like copying and pasting data into a field.

BPA software tends to handle more complex tasks than RPA. Typically, an end user can train and deploy an RPA bot without the need for development skills.

Many RPA solutions are easily installed prebuilt software tools that run on top of existing systems without connecting to databases or accessing application programming interfaces (APIs). BPA solutions are customized for a specific organization, typically integrated into data systems or connected to APIs. It’s possible for a BPA solution to incorporate some RPA software.

Both BPA and RPA solutions increasingly use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies to better interpret unstructured data like emails, images, and audio files. This can lead to a personalized user experience as the technology can overcome ambiguity and interact with user needs.

Business process management (BPM) is a collaboration between business and IT teams to model, analyze, and optimize end-to-end business processes to help meet strategic goals. BPM is a continuous process that leads to improvement over time.

Both BPM and BPA attempt to improve tasks and processes that are repeated, ongoing, or predictable. Both aim to improve efficiency and to reduce costs and errors in order to deliver better products and services to customers.

While BPM and BPA have similar goals, they have different ways of achieving them. BPM takes a wide view of the organization, while BPA is a strategy to improve specific processes. A BPA and BPM combination can be powerful, as BPM outlines and provides a template for all of the business processes to be mapped and automated. When applied within a BPM practice, BPA can be used to continually monitor and improve process efficiencies. But they can work separately, too. Decoupled from an integrated business automation solution, BPM and BPA can function as standalone initiatives for improving efficiency and profitability.

Businesses need to save money and streamline operations. This may be why they turn to business process automation software—to help improve specific areas of the business. These use cases can include inbound detection, decision automation and augmentation, and automated response.

It’s best for business automation tools to run on different kinds of infrastructure—such as at the edge where business decisions take place, and in cloud environments that can scale to meet demand. One increasingly common strategy is to separate the user interface from the workflows themselves, which are constructed as services called through APIs. 

These considerations are all part of the design of Red Hat® Process Automation Manager, a series of lightweight services that can be deployed in containers—including on Red Hat OpenShift®—and also embedded in custom solutions. These qualities bring both scale and flexibility, making it useful for larger enterprises that have to automate many business decisions.

Red Hat Process Automation Manager includes tools to streamline processes, create new business opportunities, and develop new strategies to automate the business itself. As Red Hat works with the greater open source community on automation technologies, our engineers help improve features, reliability, and security to make sure your business and IT performs and remains stable and secure. Our solutions, services, and training give you the control you need to automate your business so you can focus on innovation and moving forward.

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