Exploring the Differences: Low-Code vs. RPA & BPA

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Jacek Pietsch

Oct 31, 2023 • 6 min read
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In today's technology-driven business environment, the pursuit of efficiency and automation has never been more critical.

In this article, we explore the distinctions between Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Business Process Automation (BPA), and the pivotal role of Mendix within this landscape. By the end of this exploration, you'll have a clear understanding of how these tools align with your automation needs.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Robotic Process Automation, or RPA, has garnered attention for its ability to automate repetitive tasks that were once carried out manually. This automation technique is particularly effective when dealing with legacy desktop applications that lack APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Here's a closer look at the key aspects of RPA:

  • User Interface-Based Automation: RPA relies on the user interface of applications, mimicking user interactions through clicks and keystrokes. It operates on the principle of "learning by observing," where robots replicate the actions of human users.
  • Sensitivity to Changes: One of the drawbacks of RPA is its sensitivity to changes in the user interface. Any alterations to the layout or functionality of the application can disrupt the automation process, making it less reliable.
  • Limited User Interaction: RPA is primarily designed for automating tasks with minimal user interaction. It excels at collecting simple inputs but lacks extensive engagement capabilities with users.
  • Task-Centric: RPA is task-centric, focusing on automating specific tasks or processes within an organization rather than providing a comprehensive solution for enterprise-wide processes.
  • Incapability for Stand-Alone Applications: RPA tools are not suitable for building standalone web and mobile applications. They are purpose-built for automating processes using existing applications.
  • Scalability and Monitoring: RPA lacks the tools needed to efficiently scale and monitor complex applications, making it less suitable for managing large-scale software systems.

Business Process Automation (BPA)

Business Process Automation, often referred to as BPA or Business Process Management (BPM), takes process automation to a company-wide level. It encompasses a wide array of capabilities, with RPA being just one component. Here's an overview of BPA's broader scope:

  • Comprehensive Process Automation: BPA is about end-to-end process automation within an organization. It covers various aspects, including process mining and modeling, document processing, content services, decisioning software, workflow automation, and operational intelligence.
  • API Integration: To facilitate cross-platform and cross-departmental communication, BPA typically requires robust APIs. This capability is crucial for seamless automation across diverse systems.
  • End-to-End Strategy: BPA is not just a set of tools; it represents a comprehensive strategy for end-to-end process automation. It aims to optimize and streamline workflows across the entire organization.

Enterprise Low-Code Platforms (e.g., Mendix)

In contrast to RPA, Enterprise Low-Code platforms like Mendix offer a more versatile and comprehensive approach to automation and application development. Here's an overview of their key features:

  • Automation of Repetitive Tasks: Similar to RPA, Low-Code platforms can automate repetitive business tasks. However, they rely on APIs and can’t operate by imitating users' actions.
  • API Integration: Low-Code platforms can expose and consume various APIs, and build new interfaces based on merged data.
  • Advanced User Interfaces Creation: These platforms empower users to build sophisticated user interfaces, enabling rich interactions with end-users. This includes the development of web and mobile applications, even with offline functionality.
  • Monitoring and Feedback: Low-Code platforms provide tools for monitoring applications and gathering user feedback. This feedback loop enhances the iterative development process.
  • Agile Development: Mendix's low-code approach enables agile development, allowing organizations to rapidly adapt to changing business needs and evolving technologies. This agility is a valuable asset within the BPA strategy.
  • Complex Workflows: Low-Code platforms are capable of replacing legacy core systems by creating complex workflows, different endpoints, views, and user roles. They excel at building workflows and views based on intricate data structures without relying on external data sources.
  • Mendix in the BPA Toolset: Mendix, known for its low-code prowess, can be a valuable part of the BPA toolset. It enables the creation of new interfaces that integrate multiple data sources, such as ERP and PLM systems like SAP and Teamcenter. This integration provides 360-degree views of the delivery process.
  • Scalability: When considering BPA on a large scale, Mendix's scalability ensures that automation efforts can grow alongside the organization's needs. It provides the foundation for building robust, scalable solutions.

Choosing between RPA, BPA and low-code

In the realm of automation, understanding the differences between Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Business Process Automation (BPA) and enterprise low-code platforms like Mendix is crucial. The choice between RPA, BPA and Low-Code or integrating some of these approaches depends on your organization's specific needs and objectives.

RPA shines when you need to automate tasks, especially within legacy desktop applications that lack APIs. However, it's important to note that, depending on the UI can be less reliable in the face of unexpected changes or interactions. RPA also falls short when it comes to building new systems, while Mendix offers a broader spectrum of capabilities.

Business Process Automation (BPA), on the other hand, represents a comprehensive strategy for end-to-end process automation. It encompasses a wide range of capabilities beyond RPA, including process modeling, API integration, and workflow automation. Within the BPA toolkit, Mendix shines as a versatile low-code platform, enabling the creation of interfaces that integrate disparate data sources and fostering agility and scalability, as it offers a toolset for building and deploying new systems that consist of - a domain model, business logic, roles, and user interface. It can handle both task automation involving external applications but only using compatible APIs.

The choice between RPA, BPA and Low-Code should align with your organization's goals and the complexity of the tasks at hand. While RPA may provide quick wins in certain scenarios, Low-Code platforms like Mendix offer a robust foundation for building efficient, modern, and scalable solutions.

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Jacek Pietsch

Principal Mendix Expert at Netguru. Jacek leads the low-code/no-code initiative by shaping the new...
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