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Intelligent Automation vs RPA: Choosing the Right Tool in 2024

As the adoption rate of automation technologies is increasing in the enterprise, different types of process automation terminologies such as RPA, intelligent automation, cognitive automation, or hyperautomation in the market can cause confusion among business users or leaders. Vendors use these terms interchangeably which increases confusion.

With this in mind, this research is intended as a guide for business leaders to understand the key differences between these tools in order to make sense of them and identify the right tool for their business.

What is RPA?

RPA is a tool to create software bots to automate repetitive and rule-based tasks with minimal human intervention. Companies use RPA tools to automate back-office tasks such as:

This list is not exhaustive. You can explore ~70 RPA use cases in various industries and business functions from our comprehensive list.

What is intelligent automation?

Intelligent automation, also called cognitive automation or hyperautomation, is a technology that combines RPA with technologies such as:

This allows intelligent automation bots to handle complex and unstructured inputs and to learn and improve their own processes.

RPA vs Intelligent Automation

The emergence of RPA technology can be dated back to the early 2000s, while intelligent automation or hyperautomation are more recent developments.

Gartner, for example, ranks hyperautomation among the top trending technologies for 2022. As defined above, intelligent automation can be considered as the new generation of RPA.

In their primitive form, RPA tools are based on older technologies of screen scraping and workflow automation. They allow non-technical users to create software bots with drag-and-drop capabilities to automate repetitive and rule-based tasks. 

Intelligent automation tools integrate RPA with AI technologies such as ML, NLP, computer vision, or OCR, allowing bots to better understand the nature of business processes. This enables them to be used in complex and non-routine tasks, handle exceptions, and make decisions according to the changing environment.

Choosing the right tool

It is worth noting that most tools in today’s RPA landscape either offer built-in cognitive capabilities or allow developers to integrate AI, ML, and other technologies to create intelligent bots. So do not reject a tool outright based on how the vendor names it. Look into its capabilities to see if it can automate your business processes.

The first factor you should consider when selecting a process automation solution is whether the tool offers cognitive capabilities like machine learning and to what extent. Even if you don’t need a tool with cognitive capabilities now, you will most likely need them in the future.

For instance, an insurance company that wants to automatically approve claims that meet certain rule based criteria can rely on an RPA tool without cognitive functions. However, an intelligent automation tool that integrates AI with RPA can also check fraudulent claims before they’re reviewed by experts or auto-extract data from claims documents. Therefore, a future-proof step towards process automation is to work with a tool that allows you to integrate AI models when you need them.

The method for programming bots and price are other factors to consider when choosing an RPA or intelligent automation solution.

  • Programming options: There are different ways to program bots such as by coding or with low/no-code tools. Feel free to check our article on 5 types of RPA programming methods.
  • Price and implementation: Intelligent automation tools can be more expensive and can take longer to implement.

Feel free to check our comprehensive articles on how to select the best RPA solution for your needs and different types of RPA tools. We also have data-driven lists of RPA software and intelligent automation solutions.

For more on RPA & intelligent automation

If you have any questions about RPA, you can read our comprehensive whitepaper on the topic:

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And if you want us to guide you to find the best RPA and intelligent automation tool for your business:

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Access Cem's 2 decades of B2B tech experience as a tech consultant, enterprise leader, startup entrepreneur & industry analyst. Leverage insights informing top Fortune 500 every month.
Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.

He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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