Workflow vs. RPA

The UK public sector faces increasing pressure to streamline operations, enhance efficiency, and deliver exceptional services to the nation. Across NHS, local government, housing, policing and higher education organisations, high-volume data processing is an imperative commonplace. Whether that be receiving and processing information directly related to service delivery, or ensuring this information is synchronised and accurate across several systems.  

Two prominent strategies for achieving these objectives are workflow processes and robotic process automation (RPA). Both approaches offer unique benefits and applications within NHS and local government operations. However, with some overlap in capability, it’s important to understand differences, similarities, and optimal use cases for each. In this edition of Tech Bytes, we’re comparing RPA and workflow. 


Workflow, also known as workflow automation or workflow management systems (WMS), is a technology designed to optimise business processes that include multiple touchpoints, technologies and systems. Workflows usually incorporate every step of a process from start to finish – this could include sending emails, creating PDFs and moving data between target locations, for example. It primarily focuses on the orchestration of business tasks and activities. 

Robotic process automation

RPA involves the use of software robots or "bots" to automate repetitive, rule-based tasks typically performed by humans. RPA aims to mimic human actions within digital systems, performing tasks with speed, accuracy, and consistency. It emulates keyboard strokes and clicks to perform tasks just as people would – such as data entry or rekeying - and is easily scalable to meet demand. RPA is a powerful technology alone but is often used with other technologies - such as workflow, eForms or AI. 


  • Both workflow and RPA aim to improve operational efficiency, productivity and accuracy by handling repetitive tasks and reducing (or removing) manual intervention 
  • Both technologies utilise elements of automatic working  
  • They can integrate with existing systems and applications, leveraging data and information across multiple platforms to streamline processes 
  • Both workflow and RPA contribute to reducing manual effort, minimising errors, and improving process efficiency, ultimately enhancing organizational performance 
  • They can be deployed incrementally, allowing organizations to start small and scale automation initiatives over time
  • They both allow for 24/7 processing 


  • Workflow primarily focuses on orchestrating whole processes, completing a series of tasks and activities 
  • RPA focuses specifically on the tasks themselves, emulating human interaction with software 
  • Workflow specifically orchestrates other technologies, where RPA works alongside them 
  • RPA bots can work attended (alongside human users) or unattended 
  • Workflow can incorporate human intervention at specific process stages (such as approvals, reviews or decision-making) but primarily operates independently 
  • RPA is used for repetitive, rule-based tasks 

Usage in the public sector 

In the context of the NHS and local government operations, workflow and RPA play pivotal roles in driving efficiency, improving service delivery, and optimising resource allocation. They are both highly valuable digital transformation technologies with different use cases. So how are they used? 

RPA is generally used in high-volume data tasks. It’s often a key player in infrastructure upgrades, providing a cost-effective route for large-volume data migration – an invaluable tool as the public sector continues to introduce newer technologies without ripping out legacy systems. Other common usages include data rekeying or integrating apps and eForms with back-office systems. 

Workflow, on the other hand, is being used for more complex processes. In the NHS for example, workflow is seen in processes such as appointment bookings – combining technologies to allow patients to schedule appointments online, send confirmation emails and pass data to relevant target systems. Similar processes in local government, such as licensing, payments and reporting are also benefitting from workflow technology.  

Which should I choose? 

In conclusion, while workflow and RPA serve distinct purposes, they are complementary tools that can drive digital transformation and operational excellence in the UK public sector. Arguably, workflow reaches its full capability when used in combination with RPA, apps, eForms, APIs and web services. By understanding the differences, similarities, and optimal use cases for each approach, your organisation can harness the full potential of end-to-end transformation to deliver better services. Interested in learning more about the benefits of RPA and workflow? Don’t hesitate to get in touch