Perhaps more than ever after this tough year, thinking forward to 2021 may be a much needed strategy to keep our morale up. Recent statistics about robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent automation seem to do a good job in this respect.
Despite the disquieting economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, a Gartner report from September 2020 forecasts that the global RPA software revenue will continue to rise, reaching $1.89 billion next year. This means almost 20% more than in the current year.
What’s more, it doesn’t seem to be only temporary; the growing trend in robotic process automation is expected to continue through 2024 with double-digit rates.
The IDC Worldwide Semiannual Digital Transformation Spending Guide makes a similar point. The digital transformation of business practices, products, and organisations is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of 17.1% for the whole period 2019–2023.
This is a very steady growth, which is even more impressive in this year’s context, marred by COVID-19-related uncertainties. It is, however, consistent, with the expectations we had in the summer, that robotic process automation can make a significant contribution to the minimisation of business disruption due to COVID-19, and, as a result, the popularity of the RPA industry is likely to be on the rise.
When artificial intelligence is combined with traditional automation tools, it gives rise to cognitive or intelligent automation (we’ll use the phrases interchangeably throughout this article), which enables the automation of increasingly complex processes and thus extends the range of automatable activities.
In what follows, we’ll give you more concrete details about the above mentioned forecasts for the year to come, and have a closer look at the trends in RPA and intelligent automation for 2021.
1. Intelligent automation will come to the fore
Both RPA and intelligent automation emulate human activity, but the former does this through user interfaces, while the latter uses machine vision, speech recognition, or other pattern detection capabilities. It borrows from AI an increased sophistication, and it leverages the learning potential of machine learning.
Consequently, it is likely to take strategic business behaviour to the next level, and to have a more significant impact on business productivity and efficiency than RPA alone. Tasks such as foreclosure audit review and resolution, internal communication monitoring, personalized offers and promotions, customer queries, risk exposure monitoring, personalized financial advice, etc. that you may have thought too complex for automation, will be amenable to cognitive automation.
Organisations are going to acknowledge the increased utility of putting together RPA and AI for greater efficiency of business processes.
2. RPA will become the new enterprise resource planning (ERP)
The organisations that are part of global system integrators and/ or audit-based counseling will notice the opportunity offered by RPA to sell business systems, and to empower services to better address customers’ needs. The same thing happened in the 90s with ERP software. In 2021, robotic process automation (RPA) will come to be viewed as the right technology to fulfill the same functions.
3. The differentiation of software robots will facilitate the right choice for your business goals
As the industry expands, more and more RPA tools become available. There are currently about 150 vendors with their own specific platforms, very different in terms of the general approach to automation, design quality, profitability claims, etc. Read our guide on how to choose the best robotic process automation tool for your company, if you want to find out more.
Choosing among them might be overwhelmingly complex for companies that plan to start the automation journey, because it requires understanding some rather subtle technical nuances. In response to this, there is a stringent need for more efficient categorisation of the kinds of software robots.
As an example of emergent classification, consider the division along the temporal dimension between tools that offer ‘quick wins’, and tools that are better suited for longer term, strategic transformation at enterprise scale.
4. The automation market will keep adapting to remote work
The shift to working remotely is one of the measures applied on a very large scale among the precautions meant to ensure population health in the pandemic context. We seem to be in a transition towards a novel, gig-based way of working, and digitisation can smoothen the passage.
Software robots enhanced with AI capabilities are perfectly suited for the front-office and back-office tasks on site, which leaves the staff better able to use their work time from home efficiently, focusing on original projects that can help businesses thrive in these difficult times. Bots can also deal with automatic status updates, reminders, meeting links, etc., and thus streamline remote work processes.
5. RPA adoption will extend well beyond IT-related areas
Another trend in RPA for 2021 is that the mythology which equates robotic process automation with “the influence of IT in the world of business” will start to lose ground. RPA is no longer playing the ‘newcomer’s’ role, rather it’s becoming a well known method for improving business productivity.
As its rate of adoption increases, and more and more organisations get to observe its benefits across a variety of businesses processes and departments, business leaders are furthering from the perspective that robotic process automartion is intrinsically tied to the IT teams.
The whole range of C-suite executives that expands across business and IT units (i.e., CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CHROs, CMOs or CIOs), will be focused on meeting the strategic business objectives, and RPA implementation will be perceived as a key contributor to this end.
This is a trend that is going to unfold through time. In fact, the above-mentioned Gartner report anticipates that until 2024, nearly 50% of RPA adoption will take place outside IT departments.
In the second year when we all have to learn to live with the pandemic-related changes to our usual ways of being, both robotic process automation and intelligent automation will be leveraged by organisations that are keen on creating or maintaining a competitive advantage. We believe that this is, in a nutshell, the bottom line of the trends in RPA and intelligent automation for 2021.
The developing cooperation of high performing, engaged, and productive employees, with increasingly complex software robots will make a difference between stagnant businesses and those that can thrive even during difficult times. According to both the statistics, and the trends that we spelled out, it is not at all an overly enthusiastic claim that RPA will be among the top technology trends for 2021.
This article was originally published on the CiGen blog.