The myth of agile in RPA

The myth: It’s easier to be agile or use an agile methodology with an RPA tool than it is with BPA. (Respectively: robotic process automation, and business process automation.)

The agile approach is often applied to automation, with advocates claiming that it will help you deploy and manage RPA at scale. The idea is that RPA is better suited to an agile philosophy than other automation tools, like BPA.

But agile paired with robotic process automation isn’t all that it seems. Here’s a closer look at the myth of agile in RPA.

What is agile in automation?

Before addressing this myth of agile in RPA, let’s take a step back and look at what it means to be agile in any type of automation approach.

Agile: a set of methodologies about making small incremental changes ordered by priority.

Agile in automation is about applying these principles and methodologies when you’re implementing and fine-tuning your automation efforts. So, you build up your automated workflows — and change them — in small, manageable increments over time.

One offshoot of agile that also applies here is lean thinking. Lean thinking is an agile methodology about eliminating waste to improve efficiency.

This, again, is about making small changes to your automated processes to reduce wasted steps, resources, or time.

The reality of agile in RPA

RPA refers to automation software that automates through the user interface. This means that you train software bots to use a computer program to complete a task the same way a human would. (I.e., by making clicks on a screen.)

If the myth of agile in RPA is to be believed, this is the optimal method of automation to use with an agile methodology.

However, with RPA, breaking tasks into small parts can be difficult. The bot has to learn how to complete the entire process — not just one step of it at a time.

Additionally, once trained, small iterative improvements are then slowed by the bots. I.e., you have to re-train bots to handle processes differently / more efficiently, which can be time-consuming depending on the change.

In comparison: agile in BPA

Then there’s the other side of the myth to debunk — the implication that it is hard(er) to use agile methodologies in BPA.

Unlike with RPA, in a BPA system, granular code changes can be made quite easily.

Why? Because you don’t need to retrain the entire bot.

Business process automation is a rule-based system that works in the back end. That is, it follows conditional processing rules known as if-statements. These rules are step-by-step instructions detailing exactly how to complete each process.

So, to make a small change, you simply tweak one or a few of the rules for the process in question.

There’s no retraining a bot, and no rewriting the process from scratch. The way BPA works lends itself to quick-and-often changes, with the flexibility to tweak automated processes until they’re perfect.

The myth of agile in RPA

It’s hard to move fast with an RPA tool, and it’s clunky to make changes once a trained bot has been configured.

In comparison, business process automation can automate all the same processes an RPA system can. All, that is, while offering the flexibility to support an ongoing agile approach in your business.

Useful links

RPA vs BPA: the differences compared

How to apply lean thinking principles to improve business process automation

What is a rule-based system? What is it not?