Most of us were ready to say goodbye to 2020 months ago. The calendar remained stubborn, but the time has finally come, and we are looking ahead to a new year with hope.
While 2020 was devastating to some industries, the pandemic had the opposite effect, for the most part, on companies that provide automation technology and services. As organizations looked to build resilience, enable remote employees and maintain productivity while reducing costs, automation became a higher business priority for many.
Heading into 2021, it’s obvious that RPA and intelligent automation technology will continue command a higher share of IT budgets. But what else is in store for automation? RPA Today invited industry luminaries to weigh in with their predictions for the coming year.
The demand for “hyperautomation” – the use of low-code development to rapidly unify AI, bots, and people with data in the same workflow – will force the integration of the modern workforce. 2020 was about buying RPA bots and AI services. 2021 will see organizations looking to scale those technologies and realize the full value of those investments by unifying the modern workforce – with humans in control.
At the same time, AI will become cheaper and more accessible than ever. Software vendors and AI service providers like Google and AWS will continue to strip the complexities out of operationalizing AI using low-code techniques. Use of broadly applicable and high-value use cases like AI-enabled Intelligent Document Processing will become widespread. This will result, however, in the escalation of tension between providers accessing data and consumers seeking data privacy and protection. Increasingly strict regulatory policies will put the onus on software and services vendors to ensure their products and services are compliant
Michael Beckley, CTO & Co-Founder, Appian
Whilst Covid-19 has put enormous pressure on organizations to adapt at speed to massive disruption and ongoing uncertainty, it has also accelerated their willingness to shift gears in their operational models. A surge in demand for cloud is a direct response to an increased focus on resilience, flexibility, and the ability to absorb sharp spikes and drops in demand. Equally strong is the trend towards embedding software-based digital workers to manage processes and workloads across the business in order to increase efficiency and improve responsiveness to customer needs.
Put these two trends together and it underpins the acceleration of adoption of fully flexible intelligent digital workers available on demand in a SaaS model. I predict this acceleration continuing and this approach becoming the norm in less than five years. Equipped with their new digital resources, organizations will also have a radically different cost model, allowing them to disrupt markets, launch new products and services and rapidly innovate.
Terry Walby, CEO, Blue Prism Cloud
If there’s anything executives realized in 2020, it’s that they need to take a more strategic approach with RPA and have a complete understanding of how their processes work overall before they start any initiative. Enterprises were too quick in adding RPA to a lot of projects that didn’t deliver the value they expected. They need to take a process and data-driven approach to validate where intelligent automation can best deliver value. I anticipate seeing more coupling of process mining with RPA or intelligent automation platforms so business leaders can have greater confidence that process improvements will yield the most optimization—even down to the individual worker level.
Monitoring how staff interact with systems and applications is gaining greater traction, as companies seek to have a deeper understanding of what employees actually do when they perform a particular task and identify common actions. By combining this task-level monitoring with the higher-level process mining, organizations are better able to direct resources, identify opportunities for change, and ensure compliance as needed.
Mark McGregor, Director of Process Intelligence at ABBYY
In 2021, personal robotic assistants using AI-powered sentiment analysis and real-time speech analytics will revolutionize the customer service industry. With the pandemic likely to continue its impact on businesses into next year, customer experience professionals will need to lean more on process automation and personal robotic assistants to optimize productivity and stability. These technologies can support employees in new ways, such as detecting a negative sentiment during a customer interaction, or analyzing whether a customer service representative is owning the conversation and truly addressing the customer problem.
Oded Karev, General Manager of Robotics Process Automation, NICE
We will continue to see more defined vertical breakouts and subject matter leadership distinction of RPA players. More specifically for the buyer communities like “Providers” that are a subset of the industry. Also, the demand for automation platforms will continue to strengthen based on Covid disrupting resources for business workflows as operators look for new ways to compete while recovery happens in 2021.
Steven Gerhardt, Managing Partner and CEO, Element Blue
2020 was the year RPA became an operational necessity. 2021 is going to see agencies that had RPA before Covid teaming digital labor with other labor (i.e., AI, ML, NLP, chatbots, etc.) to start delivering new digital services to citizens because digital enabled them to stem the tide of Covid work.
State governments will be more aggressive in their adoption of RPA. The states that came to RPA during Covid are reporting out, and the value of RPA is unquestionable. Given their budget constraints, their citizens’ demand for digital services, and their mounting backlog of work, state governments will turn to an automation-first mindset.
Also, as we enter 2021, we will see process mining, testing, and teaming of other digital labor across every level of government. Agencies will finally free staff from tedious and mundane but necessary tasks and have their staff perform more citizen-facing work.
Jim Walker, CTO and Evangelist for Public Sector, UiPath
In Latin America in 2021, we will see the acceleration of the implementation of regional Centers of Excellence for global companies. We will also see more regional emerging technology vendors such as RocketBot RPA that will complement established global leaders like UiPath and the industry leaders. And, consolidation in the market will continue.
With those new regional CoEs and a reduced set of technology vendors, a fragmented market of RPA implementation vendors in Latin America will be consolidated into 3 to 5 regional companies and 3 to 5 international companies.
Fernando Leibowich Beker, CEO, BeeckerCo
Contact center, telephony and omnichannel solution providers will begin partnering with Attended RPA companies. Eventually, this will produce industry-specific, AI-based solutions that assist contact center agents for most customer interactions. In some cases, these solutions will replace contact center agents with enhanced self-service solutions in the following communication channels: voice, SMS-text, chatbots, screen sharing, interactive voice response, social and/or video interfaces.
Also, off-shore BPO operations will be the first to deliver RPA-based automation at scale. This will cause a major disruption in the BPO industry. It will also drive large enterprises to rapidly adopt RPA. This will produce greater productivity gains in all economic sectors by 2022.
Chris Vitek, RPA Industry Veteran and Contact Center Specialist
While most organizations started 2020 with business continuity plans in place for what their risk models and experience would have guided them to plan for, by the summer, a majority of them had proven to be of little use given the lasting impact of the pandemic. As we enter 2021, companies in every industry are updating their crisis management and business continuity planning. The thinking will now have to include a whole new world of risks and the solutions will have to be equally as encompassing.
Organizations that use off-shoring for various reasons, will look at how they can use more automation to help offset the risk of being shut down during another event like this one. Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plans will now contain entire overviews and details of what business critical processes have already been reimagined and designed with a “digital first” approach. Those fully automated processes or processes that operate with this new Synergistic Workforce approach can continue to be operated from anywhere, at any time, with teams of this new grade of retrained and qualified people
Jon Theuerkauf, CCSTO, Blue Prism
Because Covid forced a more rapid adoption rate (especially in certain sectors), the momentum will continue to build. The industry and researchers are predicting it, but also the foundational first steps have been laid at a faster pace this year and with success. Therefore, I anticipate that organizations will continue to build upon these initial successes with increased confidence in 2021, taking more risks to expand beyond the financial/accounting realm into other areas of the business that are positioned for big automation wins, particularly the supply chain.
RPA tech providers are aggressively working to add innovative functionality to their platforms, in addition to developing relationships with complementary technology companies to make integrations simpler for partners and customers. This, together with the 2020 adoption rate, has positioned the industry well heading into 2021. I’m optimistic.
Kimberly Chesser, Director, Marketing & Sales Enablement, Element Blue
I think the “cat is out of the bag” as more and more hospitals and healthcare organizations are realizing it is time to automate or face losing to the competition in a very tough market. The maturity, marketing and aggressive development by top RPA vendors are coming to fruition and paying off. Machine learning will be the next evolutionary step in the RPA journey. RPA will continually get smarter and be able to do more.
Jerry Adach, Director Enterprise Data and Automation at Central Maine Healthcare
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