Emilia Dunaj
Emilia Dunaj
Head of Technology Insights
November 2023, 7 min. read

Two key technologies leading the way in improving quality and accuracy while cutting costs in the business environment are RPA and workflow automation. They may seem similar at first glance, but each has a different role in optimizing business processes.  

But how do you decide which type of automation you need: RPA software, a workflow automation tool, or maybe both? To know which solution will benefit your business most, you must understand how the two vary. 

In this read, we’ll uncover the details about these technologies enabling you to make smart choices for your business’s digital future.

What is Robotic Process Automation?

RPA, meaning Robotic Process Automation, is the use of software robots, or ‘bots,’ that act like humans in digital systems. RPA software can be designed to perform various predictable jobs, such as data entry, report generation, file organization, and even complex calculations, with remarkable speed and accuracy. 

The benefits of RPA are numerous. It boosts productivity, reduces operational costs, and enhances employee satisfaction by relieving them from those boring repetitive tasks. A typical employee commits an average of 118 mistakes at work yearly. RPA takes that away. It’s like having a virtual employee who can tirelessly perform those monotonous tasks.

benefits of rpa

Here are the key features of RPA automation:

  • Speed and efficiency: RPA bots work all the time, day and night, making things get done much quicker.
  • Accuracy: They don’t make mistakes, so you can trust the work they do.
  • Easy to fit in: RPA works well with the systems you already have, requiring minimal changes to start working.
  • Flexible: You can increase or decrease their use as your business needs change.
  • Works with other tech: It can also team up with other advanced technologies like Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), making it even more powerful.

Imagine a company dealing with thousands of invoices monthly. RPA can automate the entire invoice processing task, from extracting data to updating records and issuing payments. It speeds up the process and frees up the staff for more strategic, value-added activities.

Exploring Workflow Automation

Workflow automation is all about making complicated business tasks simpler and more connected. It’s like setting up a domino effect where each task triggers the next one, but everything is done by computers and custom software

benefits of workflow automation

Key features of workflow automation:

  • Process integration: It links different tasks into one smooth flow.
  • Custom-made: You can set it up in a way that suits your business best.
  • Clear view: It lets you see the whole process, enabling better management and control.
  • Better teamwork: It handles routine jobs and fosters better collaboration among teams.

To illustrate how workflow automation works, consider an automotive company engaged in product lifecycle management, where the process of designing, testing, and launching a new car model involves multiple departments. Workflow automation can manage and synchronize tasks like design approvals, prototype testing, and marketing, ensuring that each step is completed in the right order and on time.

The primary advantage of automating workflows is that it makes complex tasks with many steps run smoothly and without mistakes. It reduces the risk of errors and delays, improving overall performance. The challenging part is getting it set up. It needs a good understanding of your current processes and might mean significant changes to how they are carried out.

Workflow automation becomes even more powerful when paired with artificial intelligence. AI implementation can bring advanced decision-making capabilities to the automation process, allowing for more intelligent and adaptive workflows. 

Generative AI could especially enhance workflow automation. This type of AI can create new content and ideas based on learned data. It can provide innovative solutions to complex problems, generate new process strategies, and even predict future trends and challenges. The combo can lead to highly adaptive and forward-thinking workflows, pushing the boundaries of traditional business process automation. 

Comparative Analysis: RPA vs. Workflow Automation

When we look at RPA vs. workflow automation, it’s like comparing a specialist with a manager. Robotic process automation is the specialist doing specific tasks really well, while workflow automation is like the manager making sure all different tasks fit together perfectly. 

Let’s see how they’re alike and different.

Similarities

Both workflow automation and robotic process automation are great at making business processes more efficient. They automate tasks, which speeds things up and helps the company work better overall.

Differences

These two technologies are quite different in how they work and what they do best. Automating business process flow is better for tasks where people need to work together, make decisions, and interact. It’s effective for jobs that require human touch and customization. RPA, on the other hand, is perfect for tasks that are the same every time and don’t need much human thinking or decision-making.

Workflow automation shines in complex processes that involve many steps, decisions, approvals, or teamwork across different departments. RPA is best for straightforward tasks like repetitive or rule-based actions that don’t involve complex decisions or approvals.

Another difference is that RPA is cheaper and easier to set up and adjust to fit a business’s needs. Workflow automation, while more complex and costly, is a valuable investment for companies that manage several different workflows.

Here’s a comparison table of workflow automation and RPA automation to illustrate these discrepancies:

AspectWorkflow AutomationRPA Automation
Scope of AutomationAutomates entire business processes, focusing on streamlining a series of related tasks.Automates individual tasks, especially repetitive, rule-based ones like data entry.
Complexity and FlexibilityHandles complex processes, integrating multiple systems; adaptable to changing business rules and environments.Best for tasks with minimal variation; less flexible in adapting to new conditions or workflows.
Integration and Systems InteractionDeeply integrates with business systems for accessing and manipulating data across platforms. Orchestrates different systems to work together.Interacts with systems at a surface level, mimicking human actions; does not require deep system integration.
Human InteractionMay require human decision-making for complex tasks or exceptions.Designed for minimal human intervention, automating tasks in a completely hands-off manner.
Implementation and ScaleMore complex to implement due to the broader scope but offers significant scalability.Easier and quicker to implement for specific tasks; may face scalability limitations.

The Synergy of RPA and Workflow Automation

These two technologies can actually work together really well. For example, a manufacturing company could employ RPA to automatically update machine maintenance logs and process work orders, ensuring timely upkeep and minimal downtime. Meanwhile, workflow automation could oversee the journey of a product from initial design through to shipping, coordinating steps like design approval, prototype testing, supply chain management, and final assembly. 

This collaboration ensures that while RPA efficiently handles specific, routine tasks, workflow automation seamlessly connects the broader sequence of events in the manufacturing process, leading to a streamlined and cohesive production cycle.

Moreover, integrating these, along with AI and the right application integration, leads to  Intelligent Process Automation (IPA). IPA is more efficient, incredibly responsive to real-time data, and adaptive to changing conditions. 

Synergy of RPA, Workflow Automation, AI and API

If you look at the market trends where a significant 66% of businesses have already automated at least one business process, there’s a clear indication that this technology is increasingly becoming a market standard. 

Conclusion

Choosing the right automation technology, whether it’s RPA for straightforward, rule-based tasks or workflow automation for complex processes, depends on your company’s unique requirements. It’s essential to align this choice with your business goals and the nature of the tasks you want to automate.

Automation can give amazing results for your business if you use it the right way. When you combine it with smart tech like AI, it can do even more. As technology gets better all the time, Intelligent Process Automation will be extremely important in making businesses run smoother and smarter.

So, before deciding which one to go for, it’s important to really understand your company’s goals, digital needs, and current processes. Right Information provides expert digital consulting and can provide valuable insights and guidance in this assessment phase. Once you’ve thoroughly assessed your automation needs, you’ll be able to pick the most beneficial solution.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. What is the difference between RPA and automation?
    RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, is a specific type of automation focusing on using software bots to perform repetitive, rule-based tasks.

    Other types of business process automation include:

    – Workflow Automation
    – Business Intelligence (BI)
    – Business Process Management (BPM)
  2. What is the difference between workflow orchestration and RPA?
    Workflow orchestration, often called workflow optimization, refers to coordinating and managing multiple business processes and tasks. RPA, on the other hand, specifically automates individual tasks within these processes.
  3. What is RPA software?
    RPA uses software robots to replicate human actions in business processes. It functions on a computer, employing the same interfaces a human worker would use: clicking, typing, opening applications, and using keyboard shortcuts.

    These software robots are designed to integrate seamlessly into digital systems, enhancing business process efficiency. They perform various tasks, such as capturing data, running applications, triggering responses, and communicating with other systems.
  4. What is better than RPA?
    This depends on the specific needs of a business. For complex, multi-step processes requiring coordination and decision-making, advanced workflow automation and AI-based solutions might be more effective.

    The blend of modern technologies can manage and automate more complex digital processes, learn and adapt over time, and handle larger portions of enterprise operations.
  5. What is automation workflow?
    Workflow automation refers to using technology to automate and coordinate a series of related business tasks. Head over to our What is Workflow Automation, article where we’ve covered this topic in detail.
  6. Which type of process can be automated?
    By definition, a process can only be automated if it’s done exactly the same way over and over again. This includes tasks like data entry, scheduling, and standardized customer communications, which follow predictable patterns and rules. The key is consistency, as automation excels when it can replicate a set process.
  7. Which activities can we automate using RPA?
    RPA process automation can replace various human activities, especially those that are repetitive, rule-based, and involve data handling, such as data entry, cleaning and extraction, accessing emails and systems, creating documents, performing calculations and reports, and checking files.