Demystifying Process Management and Automation Technologies: A Quick Guide

Businessman looking at road with maze and solution conceptThis white paper describes the different types of process management and automation solutions and some of the more common use cases for each type of solution. It also outlines where to most effectively apply new types of intelligent process automation (IPA) tools, like artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA), which are more accurately described as task automation tools.

The use cases for automation range from simple to complex. They range from one-off ad hoc routing, to complex, structured automated processes like supply chain management that spans organizations, to even more complex unpredictable, unrepeatable processes like natural disaster response – where neither the end, nor the best means, are known ahead of time.

We originally created this content as a whitepaper. If you would like to download a PDF of this paper, click here.

The solutions for automation are a mix of old and new, and vendors are incented to confuse the market. The solutions cover a mix of approaches – from decades-old document imaging – to the latest AI-based tools. The current trends include leveraging new IPA technologies like AI and RPA, and low-code development solutions. The vendors sometimes simply put old wine in new bottles, deceptively implying that old technology is more innovative than it is, or that very new, poorly understood and brittle tools are less risky than they are.

Regardless of the complexity and confusion that sometimes surrounds it, automation has proven successes. Insurance carriers are using automation to assist with policy issuance and portions of the claims process. Financial services are increasingly using automation for loan underwriting. Numerous industries are benefiting from automation within their back-office operations – such as Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable.

To help you better automate your own processes, let’s take a step back and outline the basic types of process management and automation solution approaches. We’ll also look at how the new trends fit – such as AI and RPAs, low code development solutions and cognitive agents.

Types of Process Management and Automation Solutions

There are four basic types of process management:

  • Simple work routing
  • Content-centric workflow
  • Business process management (BPM)
  • Case management

Simple Work Routing

Simple work routing is designed for basic request-submission-review-and-approval routing and tracking. Request and approval workflows are the simplest and most common. These are often effectively addressed with lightweight ECM solutions and document collaboration tools, or by the inherent routing capabilities of some business applications (e.g. SaaS-based HR and accounting tools). Examples include expense claims and vacation requests in HR.

This type of workflow is ripe for automation with RPAs – if the process has enough value and volume for RPAs to make more business sense than just leaving it alone or addressing it with more complex process redesign and process management approach.

Content-Centric Workflow

Content-centric workflow is designed for more structured and repeatable processes that involve human interaction and document routing. It’s often addressed by the workflow capabilities of an ECM solution. Broader BPM-centric solutions also play in this space. These are “classic,” moderately complex ECM applications that involve more rules complexity and process branching, integration with business systems, and scalability than simple work routing. Common examples include AP invoice processing, contract management, and documentation authoring/review/approval.

Content-centric workflow’s primary shortcoming is that it is document-centric and “medium” in complexity – it doesn’t lend itself well to processes that have significant data or social content, or that require significant rules complexity, integration with business systems and scalability.

But you can often improve content-centric workflow dramatically without having to jump to BPM or advanced case management. For example, some of the newer intelligent process automation (IPA) tools for document automation can classify, extract, and validate text and handwriting on ingested documents. RPAs can also enrich the extracted data, make or suggest decisions, and perform some actions like routing or transactions.

Demystifying process management and automation technologies

BPM

BPM is the next step up in process complexity. It is designed for structured processes that may involve both human-to-system and system-to-system process orchestration. BPM differs from content-centric workflow in providing more advanced data aggregation, transformation, integration from multiple sources, and business activity management (BAM) including process monitoring, analytics, and simulation.

BPM is mature and best used for large-scale deployments with enterprise-level transformation. It’s a big deal: it requires the redesign and transformation of underlying processes, and building new applications. BPM projects are often complex and expensive, although the trend in low-code development provides some relief.

BPM is best suited for the high value, high complexity processes such as loan processing, mortgage processing, and payment processing in financial services; claims processing in insurance; and procurement in manufacturing. The best BPM solutions include not just data-centric workflow, but also do a better job with exception-handling, user self-service, call center integration, and mobile channel incorporation.

BPM can take advantage of all the IPA technologies mentioned above. But it can also take advantage of AI technologies using probabilistic processing and machine learning, “deep learning,” and natural language processing. AI is potentially best used in areas such as content-heavy processes with all types of data. One opportunity is cognitive agents, that combine machine learning and natural-language generation to build a virtual workforce of agents that is capable of executing tasks, communicating, learning from data sets, and making decisions based on sentiment detection. (So, for example, complaints in email, voicemail, or social media can be prioritized for frustrated or angry customers.)

But there are some limitations. Today’s use of AI is most successful in limited, particular domains; it may not be robust and resilient to change in large-scale operations, and it must learn from experience.

Case Management

Case management – including adaptive case management (ACM) – is designed for processes that are highly variable, dynamic, and ambiguous. It relies on knowledge workers to determine how to structure the work throughout a complex “case” based on decisions needed, other teams to involve, information needed, etc. Most of the leading BPM vendors offer case management solutions or capabilities, as do most of the leading ECM vendors who provide content-centric workflow.

The simplest way to think of case management is as a superset of BPM and content-centric workflow: it includes them, but also addresses unpredictable open-ended processes which may be active for years (as in medical cases). Intergenerational wealth management, medical case management, and disaster management are all examples.

And as you might expect, case management can leverage the IPA technologies described above. Case management processes usually include steps that are repeatable and amenable to RPAs and other IPA tools, but they can also benefit from IPA technologies that can facilitate faster decisions in uncertain situations, such as advanced analytics.

Use Cases for Process Management and Automation Solutions

 

Solution Type

Description

Example Use Cases and IPA Fit

Simple Work Routing

Basic request-submission-review-and-approval routing and tracking. Often addressed through lightweight ECM solutions and document collaboration tools.

Processes with simple routing and manual task like expense claims and vacation requests in HR.

The tasks are often good candidates for RPA.

Content-centric Workflow

Designed for more structured and repeatable processes that involve human interaction and document routing. Often addressed by the workflow capabilities of an ECM solution. Broader BPM centric solutions also play in this space.

“Classic” medium-complexity ECM processes like AP invoice processing, contract management and documentation authoring/review/approval.

Good candidate for document automation to classify, extract, and validate text and handwriting on ingested documents.

RPAs can also enrich the extracted data, make or suggest decisions, and perform some actions like routing or transactions.

Business Process Management

Designed for structured processes that may involve both human-to-system and system-to-system process orchestration. Involves more advanced data aggregation, transformation, integration from multiple sources, and business activity management (BAM) including process monitoring, analytics, and simulation. Very high maturity; best used for large-scale deployments with enterprise-level transformation. Requires redesign and transformation of underlying processes, building new applications. Can become complex and expensive.

High value, high complexity processes such as loan processing, mortgage processing, and payment processing in financial services; claims processing in insurance; and procurement in manufacturing.

Can use RPAs, document automation, and is candidate for AI and cognitive agents.

 

Case Management

Designed for processes that are highly variable, dynamic, and ambiguous. Relies on knowledge workers to determine how to structure the work throughout a complex “case” based on decisions needed, other teams to involve, information needed, etc. Most of the leading BPM vendors offer case management solutions or at least capabilities, as do most of the leading ECM vendors who provide content-centric workflow.

Unpredictable open-ended processes that require flexibility, like intergenerational wealth management, medical case management, and disaster management.

CCan use RPAs, document automation, and is candidate for AI and cognitive agents.

 

 

Conclusion

To most effectively use the new breed of IPA tools, it’s important to remember that they are tools for task automation within larger processes. Each one is suitable for specific types of processes - not for all processes. Use this white paper for guidance on the best fit.

Download a PDF of this paper. Click here.

Rich Medina
Doculabs Vision Team
Our blogs are a group effort, from writing to editing to brainstorming topics. We collaborate to provide you with our best thinking that will help you use technology to improve how your organization operates. The Doculabs blogging team is Richard Medina, James Watson, Marty Pavlik, and Tom Roberts.