Processes are just about everywhere in organizations. They are in simple workflows. They certainly are guiding customer experiences. They are deeply embedded in transaction based systems, both legacy and purchased. They are even popping up as process snippets at the edge in IoT collaborations with sensors, controllers and machines. Now RPA is going every where too through simple software bots that complete work tasks that humans don't really want to do initially. Eventually bots will become smarter and do more complex work as the march to smart automation progresses. How will these work managers coordinate and cooperate now? What will the dance be like in the future between processes and bots?
Today It is Process Orchestration
Processes(BPM) and Software Bots (RPA) work well and in a clear fashion in that processes control the flow of these bots and the bots complete their tasks on the command of the processes that are likely better practice sequence of routine work. They tend to be well worn paths and the process controls the direction and bots dig down and do some of the work, mostly tedious human activity or messy systems integration today. There are pretty clear boundaries and there is some pretty impressive benefits of combining these forms of automation together. The case studies are starting to stream out into the public eye.
The Near Future is About Cooperation
As processes and bots become smarter with the infusion of multiple forms of AI (machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP) and decision based (Analytics, Decision Models and Heuristics), the starting point will likely manage the direction of the next best action. Tasks will become smarter as they take on more complex work therefore bots will sometimes determine the orchestration sequence. Processes will be come smarter and more emergent in nature as they work to milestones as well to proven sequences. Processes and Bots will become cooperating peers working towards common outcomes. The directing force will likely be the smartest one (process or bot) for the situation of successful work completion at the time. In some cases, it might be a customer or employee that is super-charged with knowledge or situational analysis. Kind of like the airplane pilots (both civil and defense pilots) of today except for business outcomes; not flight performance.
Long Range It's Goal Driven Autonomy for Both
The future of the process-bot dance will be radically different than today. As bots become smarter and able to operate autonomously (like swarming agents), they will bid on on work, complete the work with what ever resources are best at the moment and will leverage prefabricated process snippets (small process chunks that represent proven work sequences) and be led by goals and guided by constraints (governance guard rails). The real process is likely to be a mined picture of what happened for audit trail and optimization purposes.
It's clear to me that process and bots will be dance partners for a long time. The kind of dances will be varied and even emergent. These automation partners will continue for a long time, but the mix of control will be varied and hybrid in nature. Sometimes the process will control the flow and sometimes the goals will control the flow. Bots and processes will be both master and servant at different times and in different circumstances to deliver desirable outcomes moving forward.