Table of Contents

1. BPA vs. RPA vs. IPA: what’s the difference?
2. Understanding business process automation
3. Understanding robotic process automation
4. Business process automation vs. robotic process automation
5. Understanding intelligent process automation
6. Intelligent process automation vs. robotic process automation
7. Why your company should navigate the BPA vs. RPA vs. IPA dilemma ASAP
8. IPA vs. RPA vs. BPA: what is the right automation technology for your business?
Business process automation (BPA), robotic process automation (RPA), and intelligent process automation (IPA) are buzzwords that fall under the broader team — business process management (BPM). The BPM concept revolves around improving business processes through audits, scenario modeling, monitoring, and continuous optimization. Its outcome may involve digitalization and automation, but overall, BPM activities are human-centric. On the other hand, BPA, RPA, and IPA systems involve some level of automation. Its complexity may range from scavenging data across a company’s IT infrastructure and third-party services to replenishing stock based on real-time and historical sales data. Yet, business folk often get the IPA vs. RPA vs. BPA all wrong, which may bring about confusion when evaluating automation options for your company. In this article, we’ll investigate the key differences and similarities between IPA, BPA, and RPA solutions, analyze the drivers for automation adoption in business, and provide expert tips for choosing viable automation options for your organization.

BPA vs. RPA vs. IPA: what’s the difference?

IPA vs. RPA vs. BPA: key differences
IPA vs. RPA vs. BPA: key differences. Image source: custom (ITRex Group)

Understanding business process automation

Being the first step towards enterprise automation, business process automation relies on off-the-shelf or bespoke software-driven by “if-then” programming and API integration. These systems link other applications within a company’s IT infrastructure and facilitate the movement of data across ERP, CRM, DMS, and project management solutions. BPA software streamlines mundane work like customer account management, employee onboarding, report generation, and eProcurement. For example, an HR department that does not leverage business process automation has to schedule interviews with candidates over the phone, manually route their papers across the associated departments, ensure document review via follow-ups, and onboard new employees. With BPA, a candidate can simply fill out an online form, which is automatically forwarded to the company’s HR, accounting, and legal units, eliminating duplicate paperwork. During the review process, candidates are kept in the loop thanks to automatic notifications. And if the candidate is hired, the onboarding process, facilitated by a corporate learning management system, will take mere hours instead of several days. Your company should consider investing in business process automation if your work involves:
  • Data aggregation across the entire IT infrastructure
  • Extensive help desk support
  • Employee attendance and project time tracking
  • Frequent procurement operations
  • Multi-level approval workflows

Understanding robotic process automation

The goal of robotic process automation is to make repetitive tasks less labor-intensive for humans. The technology relies on software bots that mimic human activity on the UI level, logging into and interacting with software systems the way your employees would. RPA only works with structured data, which can easily be organized into tables. Thus, RPA bots look for specific information in places indicated by RPA engineers. Unless they’ve been spiced up with artificial intelligence capabilities, RPA tools cannot make judgments about the data they use or the processes they revamp. Experts consider RPA a quick, non-invasive form of automation that neither disrupts your company’s business processes nor requires a complete IT infrastructure overhaul. Nevertheless, your RPA project can easily go awry, if you fail to align your business and IT teams or select the wrong processes for automation. It makes perfect sense to tap into robotic process automation if your employees:
  • Deal with vast volumes of structured data
  • Perform copy-and-paste operations frequently
  • Handle processes involving multiple stakeholders
  • Generate massive amounts of reports

Business process automation vs. robotic process automation

The key difference between RPA and BPA arises from the very nature of automation technologies. While business process automation does not take the human out of a process, advanced RPA tools can fully automate up to 70% of tasks in document-intensive industries. Other BPA vs. RPA distinctive characteristics include:
  • Technological architecture. To function effectively, BPA tools should be integrated with your company’s IT systems and third-party services at the back-end level. Robotic process automation combines API and user interface interactions, acting as an add-on to your enterprise software.
  • Level of automation. Business process automation relies on employees to validate and traverse information across an organization. For instance, when BPA solutions detect missing data in an IT system, they would signal an error and notify a human specialist. On the contrary, RPA bots would attempt to source the missing data on their own.
  • Development costs. Compared to business process automation solutions, whose cost may range between $10,000 and $100,000 for a middle-tier software system, RPA tools boast lower implementation costs.

Understanding intelligent process automation

Intelligent process automation marries BPA functionality and RPA bots with different subsets of artificial intelligence, such as computer vision, natural language processing, and machine learning. IPA technology builds on the concept of transfer learning, meaning companies can use algorithms trained on particular tasks for other related jobs. IPA solutions help companies perform data analytics and automate decision-making within a single business unit or company-wide. While human employees need to monitor IPA systems’ performance in the early stages of intelligent automation deployment, the accuracy and autonomy of AI algorithms increase over time. The ITRex team typically encourages customers to take a shot at intelligent process automation in cases when:
  • An organization produces extensive amounts of unstructured data
  • Its workflows are knowledge-intensive (think credit appraisals)
  • A company’s employees need to constantly review data for inconsistencies and possible fraud

Intelligent process automation vs. robotic process automation

How does robotic process automation differ from intelligent automation? The RPA vs. IPA differences could be boiled down to the three essential characteristics:
  • Unlike RPA tools, AI-powered automation solutions can analyze unstructured data, such as plain text, images, videos, social media posts, and sensor readings — or translate it into formats suitable for robotic process automation
  • Robotic process automation systems take over standalone tasks, while IPA systems can orchestrate entire processes
  • Although some RPA bots display limited cognitive capabilities, their logic is stipulated by software engineers. Fully trained AI systems, in contrast, can consume new data and become smarter with little to no involvement of your in-house IT team or third-party consultants

Why your company should navigate the BPA vs. RPA vs. IPA dilemma ASAP

By adopting automation technologies in particular departments or across the entire organization, enterprises could prevent employee turnover, cut operating costs, and outperform competitors. Sixty-six percent of companies surveyed by McKinsey in 2020 were piloting solutions to automate business processes, while 31% of respondents had at least one business function fully automated. Unsurprisingly, the debate about IPA vs. RPA vs. BPA is now more heated than ever. The growing interest in the business process management technologies is fueled by several factors:
  • Digital transformation craze. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns that followed became the biggest digitalization stimulus in modern history. Today, large enterprises deploy over 175 different applications, while smaller companies make do with 73 apps on average. And given that IT spending could exceed $2 trillion this year in the USA alone, the digital boom shows no signs of slowing down.
  • Information overload. To do their jobs effectively, modern employees have to routinely toggle between almost two hundred applications! This, in turn, causes information overload, which costs a company with 50,000 employees up to $1 billion annually!
  • Employee shortage. While the pandemic took a toll on multiple sectors, contracting the US economy by 19.2%, the recession affected some sectors more heavily than the others, resulting in massive headcount reductions. For example, the shortage of qualified nurses in the USA could soon reach 1.1 million, while the labor expenses in healthcare have already exceeded the pre-pandemic levels by 12%.

IPA vs. RPA vs. BPA: what is the right automation technology for your business?

With the global IPA market set to reach $13.75 billion next year and 50% of companies using AI within at least one business function, intelligent process automation is undoubtedly the next incarnation — and a logical evolution — of enterprise automation technologies.
Why choose between BPA vs. RPA vs. IPA
Why choose between BPA vs. RPA vs. IPA? Your company could use them all! Image source: Gradient Flow
Yet, the path to full-blown IPA is strictly linear, so we must learn to walk before we can run. While companies are getting increasingly confident in business process automation, just 53% of enterprise AI projects make it from prototypes to production. And even though applied AI tops McKinsey’s technology trends list, robotic process automation is likely to lead the enterprise automation race for the years to come. But there’s a catch. To dominate the automation landscape, RPA systems need to be able to handle longer, more complex processes, acquire high-level AI capabilities, and seamlessly interface with other business process management technologies. One likely scenario here is the emergence of semantic automation solutions — i.e., intelligent software agents that learn to perform tasks through visual observations rather than being explicitly programmed to do so. And we’ve already seen RPA vendors like UiPath, Automation Anywhere, and Microsoft Power Automate enhance their platforms with such capabilities. To navigate the BPA vs. RPA vs. IPA landscape and reap automation benefits faster, your company should:
  • Assess the nature and quality of your operational data — and the value it could deliver
  • Perform a comprehensive IT infrastructure audit to measure your company’s digital maturity and determine the prevalent technology stack
  • Detect workflows and processes that need improvement
  • Conduct in-depth interviews with the company’s stakeholders and external consultants to evaluate the feasibility of an automation pilot
  • Set automation objectives using the SMART criteria
  • Select suitable automation technologies in collaboration with your IT department and/or external automation consultants
  • Do not overcomplicate things; why train and deploy machine learning models when your company could do with several RPA bots?
  • Establish an automation center of excellence (COE) and devise a framework for automation governance, security, and quality assurance
  • Create an automation implementation plan spanning proof of concept (POC), initial automation deployment, continuous user feedback analysis, and gradual rollouts across other business units and, ultimately, company-wide
On a final note, it’s worth mentioning that many companies solve the IPA vs. RPA vs. BPA riddle by strategically combining the three technologies instead of using a single automation option. And the fact that most BPA and RPA platforms are now moving along the IPA trajectory further proves our point: the future of business process management lies in the greater convergence of enterprise IT systems.
Are you looking to automate repetitive tasks, synchronize data within your IT infrastructure, and facilitate strictly regulated review and approval processes? Our IPA experts are here to help! Contact us to discuss your automation needs and choose between BPA vs. RPA vs. IPA wisely.