If you’ve spent any amount of time in the technology realm, you’ve probably heard of the terms robotic process automation (RPA) and IT process automation (ITPA). Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but in all actuality, they are quite different in a number of ways. What are these differences and, more importantly, why do they really matter in the big picture? Let’s take a closer look.
For many people, the word “robot” instantly conjures up images of metal humanoid figures that can be programmed to mimic some of the tasks and activities commonly performed by humans. In reality, at least in terms of robotic process automation, there’s no figure at all. Rather, it’s a technology that leverages intelligent software to perform any number of ordered steps and workflows. The concept behind the term – that robots act like humans – is the same, but the way it’s carried out is different.
Given this definition, many are inclined to question whether RPA is really the same thing as ITPA. After all, both leverage technology to streamline operations, improve efficiency, boost productivity and effectively do more with less. While the two are certainly similar in nature, there are specific variances in their uses and applications that should be noted. For example:
They focus on different areas of the business.
For decades, IT professionals have struggled with maintaining peak performance at minimum cost while straddling a multitude of different applications and systems. These challenges stretch far beyond simple system integration issues and lie more in the area of optimization of operational processes. As a result, IT professionals have adopted certain process disciplines and universal methodology, the most noteworthy of which is the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). They’ve also turned to technology – particularly ITPA – to help close the gap.
Conversely, robotic process automation covers a broader set of simpler functions, exceeding well beyond the IT department and into just about every facet of the business, from accounting to marketing. Basically, RPA is being leveraged to make the jobs of the end-users easier and more efficient. ITPA, while its impact does theoretically reach outside of the IT department, is focused more on the needs and pain points of the company’s IT infrastructure.
Their functionality and features vary greatly.
Because of the grander scale and deeper needs that ITPA addresses, it requires a much more robust and sophisticated functionality. The processes being automated on the IT side of things are often much more complex than what’s required for robotic process automation. For instance, with ITPA, workflows that handle virtual server provisioning and configuration or that provide a closed-loop process for cyber security incident response will naturally require a more intricate level of programming.
On the other hand, robotic process automation serves the goal of streamlining the day to day operations of the end-user. This might be as simple and straightforward as automating a password input. Because the very nature of RPA is much less involved, the back-end programming does not have to be as complicated or complex.
RPA has a more polished user interface.
Again, because of the driving force behind each technology, there is a certain trade off allowed between a more enhanced UI and that of more advanced functionality. Because ITPA is more complex, its UI isn’t always as polished as that of RPA. This is due in large part to the personnel who will be using the technology in their day to day work. Highly skilled IT professionals will naturally find managing a robust ITPA tool easier than someone who has little to no technological experience.
Business users, on the other hand, typically require a more straightforward and user-friendly interface, which is why robotic process automation is more frequently applied at the end-user level. These tools are specifically designed to make leveraging automation as easy and painless as possible.
So, while the basic concept behind both technologies is similar in nature, the way these tools are developed and applied is markedly different. Of course, both have their own role in an organization and, when leveraged together can create a highly-efficient, cost-effective and hyper-productive work environment that will help the organization remain ahead of the competitive curve.