Digitization and the Spectrum of Automation: An Enigma for Business Leaders and Experts Alike
Updated: Apr 29
By: Arup Maity, QuickReach CEO and Founder
Digitization, of course, is the generic term for moving to paperless. The first time I visited a business office as a kid in India was with my uncle, some 40 years ago and it still lingers in my memory. There was a series of tables with little mountains of papers in folders and messengers running around, moving folders, and bringing tea to staff and bosses. Digitization is all about mapping, optimizing the processes, and moving to digital forms and workflows. The tea is another story.
Automation, on the other hand, is a heavily-misused term for years. In the early days, buying an accounting system was often termed as “automation” also. Today Robotic Process Automation or RPA, HR & Sales processes, low-code development tools, API Integration Platforms, and Intelligent Process Automation platforms are confusing business and tech leaders alike. While they are all enabling digitization and automation, they are not the same banana and each has its strengths and weaknesses.
RPA is best suited for automating series of tasks, typically done by one single worker on a workstation, either fully-automated (replacing the human) or as a sidekick running to assist the human operator do their work faster. It’s also good at doing an iterative sequence of activities like going over a list of bank transactions and matching with the accounting system data, for bank reconciliation or similar tasks. RPA is used for automating short-span multiple sequential or parallel tasks, typically on a single workstation, started and completed in minutes. It’s a software robot.
Built-in workflows like in SuccessFactors and ServiceNow do have processes that allow being automated with logic. They are limited and best suited for a specific area of business they are built for – HR for SuccessFactors and IT Service Management for ServiceNow. They are best used for digitizing processes for a functional area.
Low-code development solutions are meant to help build applications, without coding. There are typically best suited to build apps for a specific business transaction need and then connect to existing systems inside the company, fast without programming, saving on time to develop, and lack of skilled resources.
Integration platforms are the plumbing solutions between multiple systems, without programming, so they work in a connected manner. Some are best suited for connecting common online SaaS tools, while others act as a bridge between internal systems and orchestrating external access and integration.
Intelligent Process Automation, also known as iBPMS (next generation to the BPMS tools before), is the emerging category of solution platform that is best suited for digitizing and automating long-running processes in a business setting across
Business units users
Corporate boundaries providing self-service to customers and partners
Connecting to existing systems through API, and
Automating parts of the process through set logic and actions.
Intelligent process automation or IPA platform forms a digital layer enabling agile and iterative digital transformation initiatives. It allows the creation of custom forms on the fly, drag-and-drop process workflow, setting easy integration to 3rd party systems, and logic & trigger set per step of the process to automate as appropriate.
All of them help with digitizing and automating processes and workflows, the difference is in terms of the scope:
If it’s a set of the task done by an individual,
The sequence of tasks across a function,
A specific transaction application,
Connecting across multiple software, or
A mix of all of them on a process running across different human users, software systems with logic and automation built-in.
Large enterprise digital transformation would require not just one but a mix of automation tools and platforms optimally used for its strength considering the cost-benefit factors in the context of the business.