“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” —Henry Ford
Technology predictions are hard to nail. But when it comes to the future of work, we’re pretty comfortable looking into the crystal ball.
On one hand, we’re in the midst of a digital revolution in which technology is advancing at exponential speed. Artificial intelligence is gaining in adoption. We’ve gone from room-size computers to devices that fit in our hands, from hard-bound encyclopedias to Wikipedia.com, from stick shifts to self-driving cars in just a few decades.
On the other hand, some patterns are cyclical and predictable, the ebb and flow revolving around enduring business drivers rather than rapidly-changing technology. Are intelligent agents really new? Business leaders will always want efficiency, quality and profitability. At times these priorities have come at the cost of the customer experience, and at times the customer experience has driven how these goals are met.
The digital revolution has had a major impact on the human and digital workforce, today’s workforce. We’ve gone from a pre-internet local labor pool to a global and/or outsourced workforce to where we are today: A workforce made up of humans and technology working side by side, all over the globe, to amplify each other’s strengths and value, in order to drive business priorities.
Robotic process automation is a key component of the digital revolution, driving much of the long-tail process automations that were previously impossible to achieve. Let’s get out that crystal ball and take a closer look at RPA’s rapid evolution, from where it’s been to where it’s going.
RPA’s Early Beginnings
Robotic process automation evolved into its current state from two basic pathways.
A solution for Business Process Outsourcers (BPO) to continue to deliver annual savings. BPOs reduce expenses by outsourcing lower-level manual tasks and processes to cheaper labor from lower-cost places around the globe, but they needed a way to continue to deliver annual cost savings to their customers when cheaper labor sources were tapped out. In an effort to continue to reduce costs, BPOs were among the first to adopt RPA and drive demand for the technology.
A solution for web data extraction and integration. Twenty years ago, Kofax RPA™ was created to automate the collection of information from complex and dynamic content across the web—some would call this screen scraping. Soon companies—for example in transportation and logistics, an industry with multiple customer, supplier and internal systems—began using RPA to string together multiple data extraction and integration tasks from disconnected systems into an automated process.
The State of the RPA Market Today
From its diverse beginnings, RPA continues its trajectories of growth and innovation. One research firm calls RPA’s market adoption “meteoric,” predicting a compound annual growth rate of more than 28 percent by 2026 to $1.4 billion. Forrester believes more than 4 million robots will be in production by 2021.
But we know that market share doesn’t necessarily translate to innovation. Yahoo!, MySpace and BlackBerry are perfect examples. The key to RPA innovation lies in both responding to and anticipating future customer needs. In the Q2 2018 Forrester Wave™ on Robotic Process Automation, author Craig Le Clair notes, “RPA has followed the pattern of many software markets: Needed features rise to the top…and enterprises push vendors toward a set of “must have” capabilities.” Yet, as Henry Ford pointed out, customers don’t always know what they want. It’s incumbent upon RPA vendors to drive innovation by anticipating future customer needs before customers can themselves.
Here’s what we’re seeing in the RPA landscape in 2018.
RPA has landed and is here to stay, but it’s still in an early stage. We used to call RPA an “emerging technology” simply because there was more interest than adoption. It is still emerging today; however, we can definitively say that RPA is driving an automation renaissance in organizations all over the globe.
RPA’s appeal is simple: Several years ago, everyone was implementing Business Process Management (BPM) systems, which took 3-5 years to generate ROI. RPA is the automation equivalent of a surgeon’s scalpel. You can be very specific (i.e. surgical) in solving problems that don’t require approval from many departments, across the organization, which can drag down speed and payback period and ultimately success. A focused robot can be up and running in weeks, delivering a quick win and quick ROI. Combined with incredible potential for scalable automation and business improvement, it’s easy to see why RPA is the golden child of the automation era.
That’s not to say RPA replaces BPM; in fact, they’re highly complementary technologies. Which brings us to….
RPA is best at automating repetitive manual tasks. RPA’s core value lies in its ability to automate the repetitive manual tasks of accessing, aggregating, updating, analyzing and processing data across systems, which is currently performed by millions of human workers. Much of this work happens outside of legacy systems and BPM tools, in the gaps between systems and portals and websites.
Could you build an invoice processing solution or a customer onboarding process with robots? Yes, but why reinvent the wheel when a BPM software already exists with the pre-built case management and governance capabilities needed to orchestrate entire end-to-end business processes? RPA complements BPM rather than replaces it, and vice versa. The automation renaissance driven by RPA will revitalize and cause greater demand for BPM applications, and together RPA and BPM deliver incredible enterprise agility.
RPA is also creating a renaissance in document capture, or cognitive document automation (CDA). While robots are good at entering, extracting, combining, delivering and integrating information, they don’t always understand what that information means. CDA is a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and software robots that automate the acquisition, understanding and integration of documents and electronic data needed in business processes. CDA automates the processing of unstructured data contained in documents and emails—the intelligent “head work” of understanding what the document or email is about, what information it contains, and what to do with it.
RPA is enabling a new generation of intelligent applications. There’s a lot of talk about artificial intelligence (AI) and its relationship to RPA. Kofax offerings have included machine learning for 15 years. RPA, Intelligent OCR, BPM and AI technologies like machine learning, natural language processing and predictive analytics are coming together to create an intelligent automation architecture that’s fundamental to the workforce of the future.
The Future of RPA
Time to get out our crystal balls again: Where is RPA headed? Our unique position in the market, powering business processes of more than 600 global enterprise customers, BPO providers and shared services organizations, gives us an exclusive lens into RPA’s path forward. Here are three trends we see on the horizon:
RPA architecture must be able to scale with the enterprise, securely. Plenty of companies have launched a proof of concept (POC), but scaling across the enterprise requires not just business inputs like a roadmap and Center of Excellence (COE), but also an enterprise-class RPA architecture that can cost-effectively scale across use cases, business units, divisions and global offices.
Consider security, compliance, total cost of ownership and the roadmap of your RPA vendor. In the near future, an on-demand cloud architecture will be important.
Bot-building will become self-service. As far back as 2011, Gartner was highlighting the gap between what applications can do and the unmet needs of the business user in The Consumerization of App Development. This gap is largely due to lack of IT resource availability and justification of expensive programming resources. In the new digital workforce, a generation of “Apptepreneurs” and “Citizen Developers” will arise, essentially democratizing what was formerly an IT role.
In RPA, there could be a future where business users—not just business analysts—will be able to build their own robots. This ability will again transform the value of RPA: Imagine your own workweek and some of the boring, manual and painful things you have to do. Wouldn’t it be great if a robot were doing that grunt work for you?
AI technology and RPA will solve more business problems. Tech media and some vendor marketing treat artificial intelligence like it’s a magic black box, but consider what happens when you ask Google, Alexa or Siri a question. Sometimes they’re laughably unintelligent, completely missing the point and unable to pivot. Recently, Facebook’s algorithm flagged an excerpt from the U.S. Declaration of Independence as “hate speech” and took the post down, later apologizing and explaining that intent and context are complex issues.
The first generation of customer service chatbots that replaced humans completely typically failed in this regard. While AI involves intelligent “thinking” work, the outputs are only as good as the inputs and what is learned by the algorithm from the inputs. In the case of the chatbots, those tech early adopters quickly found that people asked all kinds of questions they haven’t anticipated, which is why many AI deployments today are used to augment humans, not replace them entirely.
Now and in the future, the combination of AI + RPA is about picking the right cognitive moment: Where am I going to apply this technology? Artificial intelligence has been used for years and will be increasingly utilized to transform the workforce of the future.
As the #OriginalBot powering automation innovation for 20 years, Kofax RPA helped create the past, is driving the present and inventing the future of RPA.
Find out why Kofax was ranked as a Strong Performer for our strategy, current offering and market presence—and how Forrester views the current and future state of the RPA market—in The Forrester Wave™: Robotic Process Automation, Q2 2018.
Download your copy today.