You say BPA, I say BPM; Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

April 11, 2016


A lot of businesses think of Business Process Automation as nothing more than software purchasing, and approach it somewhat like shopping for gadgets; i.e. “hey, that looks handy, let’s buy that!” Sometimes this works out well, although frequently more work is created than is eliminated.
Business Process Automation and its relative, Business Process Management, are frequently used to essentially reduce the risk of unintended consequences of software implementations.

According to Gartner, Business process automation (BPA) is defined as the automation of complex business processes and functions beyond conventional data manipulation and record-keeping activities. It focuses on “run the business” as opposed to “count the business” types of automation efforts and often deals with event-driven, mission-critical, core processes.

Business process management (BPM) is a discipline that uses various methods to discover, model, analyze, measure, improve, and optimize business processes. A business process coordinates the behavior of people, systems, information, and things to produce business outcomes in support of a business strategy.

If that isn’t confusing enough, both are also related to Business Process Improvement. Is it all the same thing? Do we have to choose our favorite between them? How big is this learning curve? Is it even worth discussing if I’m a small or medium sized business?

Out of curiosity, I created word clouds with the search results from these terms. And not surprisingly, a lot of the words are the same, but there are also some interesting differences. Maybe we can use some of these key words to highlight a handful of the most important things to remember about your business processes when it comes to automating them.


This word appears in the Business Process Automation cloud and it describes the “why” you do business process automation at all. It’s about focusing your (human) resources to higher uses of their time and letting the automation take over the repetitive tasks.


This may be the most important word of all. While thinking about standardizing business processes and automating them with software, you must never lose sight of the customer’s expectations – the places where your processes themselves enable your customer strategy. This is a competitive advantage and must be handled with care during automation.

For example, many companies automate some customer service activities in a pretty standard way– emails are generated to customers based on certain triggers. These emails can be personalized to an extent based on the trigger activity (thank you for your purchase, etc.). This is pretty standard functionality that can be delivered in a lot of software applications without any customization at all,saving a lot of time and effort for what is essentially an expected acknowledgement.

But what if one of your particular competitive advantages is how you handle communications with customers? Maybe it’s extra personalized, maybe there is sensitive information that can’t go through email, maybe there are follow up logistics that are very specific or dependent. In this case, to automate the email contact might either require excessive customization or just be a bad idea. The key is to identify the points in your process that are a competitive advantage for your business before you begin to discuss process&standardization or automation.


Performance is really the desired outcome. Integrated software that is true work flow – that is, it really follows the flow of your work processes and facilitates quality outcomes – is not only a real productivity boost but frees up your people’s capacity to accomplish higher value activities, like improvement and innovation.

No matter what business process you’re talking about, if you take the little bit of extra time to understand the process from the customer’s point of view (customers can also be internal!) then you will have a much better chance of success.

(For a reminder of HOW to do this, see the previous two articles on Value Stream Mapping: part one/part two).

Better call the calling off off!

Topics: Business Operations

Selene Crosby

Six Sigma Expert

Ms. Crosby has 20 years of experience developing, implementing and improving successful business processes and projects in both technical and non-technical environments. Her areas of expertise include process improvement methodologies, process mapping, business process automation, analysis, project management, audit and internal controls processes, technical writing and training design. She is a Certified Analytics Professional (CAP), holds a Six Sigma black belt, Lean Bronze certification and an Innovation Engineering black belt. Ms. Crosby has been the Program Manager for Analytics Transformation at Andeavor Corporation (formerly Tesoro), worked in the Process Engineering Section at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) as part of the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC) program, assisting small to mid-sized manufacturers in becoming competitive in an increasingly global economy by becoming aware of and implementing process improvement and business strategies. Ms. Crosby held a variety of roles at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati OH from September 1998 to June 2012 and attained internal P&G certifications including Continuous Improvement, Business Process Transformation and High Impact Training. .
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