Published: February 24, 2021 – Author: Scott Teeple
Digital transformations have been underway for several years now.
Some enterprises have been on the leading edge, while others have been slower—some downright resistant. That is, until now. One study suggests that COVID-19 expedited digital transformations by 5.3 years. According to Constellation Research’s 2021 CIO Report, 77.3% of CIOs surveyed stated that digital transformation initiatives were the top IT budget priority this year. Of those surveyed, 72.7% said that more automation—including robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and workflow—was how they were going to address the challenge of doing more with less and obtain value in 2021.
As much as I want to believe that things will get infinitely better due to the vaccine’s rollout, I think the hard reality is recovery takes time. As we try to recover from the complexities caused by the pandemic, here are five ways I believe intelligent automation space will move forward in 2021:
Enterprises will have to trust intelligent automation:
Due to COVID-19, enterprises need to build continued trust and rely on intelligent automation and capabilities. We will see intelligent automation move from a nice to have to a must-have. Companies like Dominos, which have reimaged to be a technology company and delivered outside of a manual workforce, have pivoted to new heights. Of course, the delivery is still manual…at least for now. History repeatedly shows us that companies who were too late to adapt (think Blockbuster, Blackberry, or Kodak) fail.
The remote workforce will change how process improvement is done:
Gone are the days where the majority of the workforce are under one roof at the same time. A recent study of over 9,000 global knowledge workers showed that only 12% wanted to return to the office full-time, the other 72% wanted a hybrid model. The discovery phase, the start of any improvement project, will be much trickier because you will no longer sit and observe over workers’ shoulders or sit in large whiteboarding meetings. Process discovery will need to become more digital because of this. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data science will also expand their capabilities around process analysis and predictive modeling, changing how improvements are measured and communicated, not in boardrooms but dashboards.
No-code/low-code application and citizen developers growth:
In 2020, we saw the popularity grow for low-code/no-code platforms, like Appian, and the technology industry’s push to citizen developers. In 2021 you will see this trend continue, and larger enterprises escalate and prioritize empowering citizen developers. As of lately, large, well-known players, like Microsoft, have entered the automation and robotic process automation (RPA) scene. They are putting their vision of democratizing automation for everyone into place, alongside their continued focus on empowering IT leaders and traditional developers. Microsoft has a huge opportunity to disrupt the marketplace due to enterprises already having large investments in Microsoft products and end-user acceptance of their products. They also have a proven history with successful digital transformations on its side. That is not to say that these late entries don’t have a huge gap to overcome. So if you are not watching these late movers and shakers, you should be.
Mergers, acquisitions, IPoh my!:
In the ever-changing world of intelligent automation, I foresee more prominent players purchasing the mid-level tools in the market. We’ve already seen global brands SAP acquired Contextor and just this year, Signovio. Microsoft acquired Softomotive, Salesforce acquired Mulesoft, Appian acquired Jidoka, and Pega acquired OpenSpan. I think there are several reasons why this will continue to happen, the first being the big ERP and CRMs of the world are going to want to expand their integration capabilities and drive configurability and customization through these new platforms. Still, they might not have the expertise to do it quickly. They will turn to the mid-level tools, which have a reputation for doing it well because it is cheaper for them in the long run than to start from scratch. Second, they want to create a single ecosystem to provide all your cognitive, infrastructure, and business analytics in one single source of truth instead of “Frankensteining” out their ecosystems.
Lastly, some of the larger RPA companies will file for an IPO in 2021 to achieve the same single-ecosystem making it hard to ignore the rapidly growing intelligent automation space.
Intelligent Automation as-a-service:
In the last couple of years, we have seen automation tools become more connected through REST and other API services. We have seen the pendulum swing toward intelligent automation programs attempting to be run in-house. Now we will see it go back to being mostly outsourced. Why? Intelligent automation will gradually become an as-a-service product instead of a technology that you buy. Automation can no longer be viewed as just RPA alone. Enterprises need to shift from RPA to true intelligent automation that brings all the parts (RDA, RPA, MI, AI, etc.) together, resulting in much harder to manage and maintain. As 2021 progresses, more enterprises will outsource their intelligent automation support maintenance and design, and planning. This will open the door to more “end-to-end” automation as a service business model, including identification, development, maintenance, and platform infrastructure.
Although no one can honestly know everything 2021 has in store, I think it is safe to say that the intelligent automation space is in for a wild, exciting ride.