We have been through a decade of great technological change. Technologies that are at the center of our lives now – Smartphones and Social media truly became ubiquitous in the 2010s.
The same can be said of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) – the big three started out in the 2000s but got into their own in the 2010s. It was a great decade and a great year for RPA. Let us take a look at the past year and what we can expect in the new decade.
The last year of the decade has been the best so far for RPA. While it was mostly positive, Robotic Process Automation also did have a few hiccups.
Let us look at some of the positives and challenges of this year.
There were some big investments in the space thanks to the real value delivered by the tools mixed with some hype. This has resulted in more jobs and good cheer all around.
Both UiPath and Automation Anywhere are valued at around the $7 Billion marks now. The RPA industry as a whole is forecast to be a $16 Billion market by 2023.
The unicorn valuations for the top two was definitely a highlight. UiPath closed a Series D for $568 million with a valuation of $7 billion. Automation Anywhere also raised $290 million in Series B valuing the company at $6.8 billion.
With significant investments in the space, we are seeing that RPA tool vendors are adding more features making the platforms more sophisticated.
Jobs in RPA have also been steadily increasing. As per the Linkedin 2020 Emerging Jobs Report, “Robotics Engineer” was the second among the emerging Jobs in the US. The RPA engineer job had a 40% percent annual growth.
This was corroborated by Udemy for Business – 2020 Workplace Learning Trends Report. RPA was one of the top 10 fastest growing process & tools skills in the workplace. It was fifth on the list for UiPath skills.
That was the two brightest spots for RPA. There were a few challenges as well.
Robotic Process Automation continued to be plagued by Scaling issues. The mainstream users are waiting for the technology to be mature and proven.
As per a recent Deloitte survey of RPA adoption, only 8 percent of the Organizations adopting RPA have actually scaled (50+ bots). They found that more than one-third are still piloting and are at 1 to 10 bots.
As per HFS Research, only 13% of RPA adopters are currently scaled up and industrialized. They found that “most RPA adopters are still tinkering with small-scale projects and piecemeal tasks that comprise elements of broken processes.”
It looks like RPA has to cross a few Chasms before the disruptive technology is accepted by mainstream users. They do not like hype and we still have quite a bit of that in RPA.
While there are a lot of investments and clear value, there is some cheesy marketing backed by some eager to please analysts. This heady mix probably resulted in some bad decisions from UiPath.
The Company had to layoff around 400 employees which were about 11% of the workforce. Fresh off the WeWork hype and debacle, people used this as another example of exorbitant valuations.
This had nothing to do with the overall RPA market though as Forrester pointed out. The challenge was with reckless spending as the company scaled.
With that mix of hype and optimism, we enter 2020 with lots of money and momentum. What can we expect?
As we enter a new decade, we can expect RPA to become a mainstay in most of the organization’s digital transformation agenda.
Here are the top 7 themes in RPA for 2020 and beyond.
1. Human – Bot Collaboration
It is becoming more and more clear that automation has to be done with people keeping humans first. Therefore, there is talk of the “democratization of RPA and AI”.
We are seeing a push to make RPA tools as easy to use as Microsoft Office. This would enable people to automate their day to day tasks easily. It would also help them learn how to work with bots seamlessly.
Many vendors are already working towards that. UiPath is expected to complete its StudioX platform that aims to enable every business user to automate. The new Automation Anywhere A2019 is also a step in that direction.
It is easier to work with people first, help them see the benefits and then roll out more disruptive automation. That leads us to the next theme of Attended Automation.
2. Attended Automation
Attended bots are assistants that provide real-time guidance and assistance as you perform your daily tasks. It can automate most of your repetitive tasks like copy-pasting to multiple applications.
Attended Automation or Robotic Desktop Automation (RDA) would soon evolve into a tool enabling better work experiences. It would suggest the next best actions to be performed and even enable better collaboration with your teams.
RDA is one of the best ways to enable people to experience the human-bot collaboration that we discussed above. One of the defining themes of 2019 was the growth of Attended automation. As per UiPath, there are more attended Robots in the market than unattended now.
In the next year or so, we will see the creation of automation itself being automated. This is what our next theme Process discovery enables.
3. Process and Task Mining
One of the major challenges while implementing RPA is the ability to discover processes for automation. Once we have identified the processes to automate, the ability to capture the process complexity is the next challenge.
Process and task mining help you in that area. It provides you an X-ray of the processes in your organization provided there is sufficient data. With that, you can Identify, Prioritize, Optimize, Automate and then track the effectiveness of the Automations.
Celonis has been a leader in this area and got to a $2.5 Billion valuation in 2019. They also added Task mining recently which further helps RPA. UiPath acquired Process Gold in October and added it to its offering as a way to discover automation opportunities. Microsoft Power Automate also added FortressIQ that helps Passively identify key opportunities for process automation
This space is bound to grow and have a big impact on RPA in 2020 and beyond. We should be seeing Process Discovery providing the base automation code for developers to build on. So, automating with RPA could become much simpler and so would consuming them – from the cloud.
4. As-a-service platforms
Most of the RPA installations have been On-premise with a lot of help from IT or Service Providers. In 2019, most of the top RPA tools took big steps to move RPA to the cloud.
Some of the RPA vendors have already taken the lead. The latest version of Automation Anywhere A2019 is mostly cloud-based and can be consumed as a service. Blue Prism also has started offering RPA as a service with its acquisition of Thoughtonomy. You should soon be able to access most of the bot creation, deployment, and monitoring services from anywhere and any device for most RPA tools.
During the course of the next decade, we should see most of the bots as subscription services that can be browsed and bought from a Bot marketplace. As that happens, there should be more consumption options including Open-source RPA.
We saw a good amount of interest in Open Source RPA in 2019. One company announced a $5.6M investment to bring open-source RPA. We also had RPA vendor Softomotive announce a new project to develop an open-source RPA programming language.
Generally, as the Technology matures, we should see more compelling open-source options that could even overtake mainstream offerings. This could be the next big thing in RPA!
In the coming decade, we could see more mature open-source RPA solutions with significantly lower costs. This would lead companies to use Open-source RPA solutions to build innovative tailored solutions for their specific needs.
6. Innovation Hub
RPA is emerging as a hub to add and orchestrate emerging technologies like AI, Blockchain, etc. With Process Automation as the core, RPA vendors have moved to be a platform to solve business problems.
In the last few years, we saw top RPA vendors add their respective “Bot stores”. Automation Anywhere started by introducing their Bot Store in 2018. Blue Prism also added their “Digital Exchange (DX)” in the same year. UiPath also has an RPA marketplace called UiPath Go!.
These are like App stores where you can find and download pre-built libraries that enable you to use a whole range of disruptive technologies. Through these libraries, organizations have started to add Machine Learning (ML), Document Processing (ICR, OCR), Natural language processing (NLP), Computer Vision, Text Analytics, Conversational AI (Chatbots) and more.
With the addition of emerging technologies to RPA, it is starting to be a Transformative tool for companies. In the coming years, we should see RPA delivering these transformations at scale enabling businesses to innovate quickly and efficiently. That being said, we are bound to see some more consolidation in this space.
Gartner declared RPA as the fastest-growing Enterprise software segment in 2019. Though the overall market is still small, many of the vendors are growing. This cannot last though as there are as many as 70+ vendors as per the last count. Many of these solutions are becoming more and more similar and hence could consolidate.
Bigger Organizations are entering the space by themselves as Microsoft did or are doing so inorganically. We saw SAP acquire Contextor and create their SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation Suite. There could be more such acquisition happening with more established companies getting into RPA.
Service providers have been looking to add these capabilities and talents themselves. Accenture acquired Genfour and we also saw Sykes acquiring Symphony in 2019. This is a trend that could continue as the Service providers continue to be one of the biggest buyers of RPA tool licenses.
We also saw the RPA vendors themselves acquired tools that added value to their Automation platform – Blue Prism acquired Thougtonomy, Kofax added Nuance and Automation Anywhere added Klevops in 2019. We are sure to see more such acquisitions in the coming years.
Overall, the consolidation at all levels should make RPA a more mainstream, robust and compelling offering for the Enterprises.
Only time will tell if these promises would be realized. As we step into a new year and a new decade, the Process Automation space with RPA and AI looks to be one of the most promising Enterprise software segments.
Let us together work to create a future with technologies like RPA to enable amazing human experiences – both for employees and customers.
This was a guest article by Nandan Mullakara. He is passionate about Technology and the Future Of Work. He loves to improve the way people work using emerging technologies. On his website nandan.info, he shares his thoughts and experiences on Intelligent automation using RPA and AI.