RPA (Robotic Process Automation): Predictions For Next Year

This week UiPath filed for its IPO (on a confidential basis) and it will likely hit the markets in February. Like other enterprise software companies—such as Snowflake, C3.ai and Palantir—the offering should do extremely well.

UiPath is the leader in RPA (Robotic Process Automation), which allows for the automation of repetitive and tedious tasks. And yes, the sector is the fastest growing segment of enterprise software. A key reason is that the ROI (Return On Investment) is quick and substantial.

Consider that UiPath is on track to generate over $360 million in revenues this year and the customer count is more than 6,300. The company also recently raised $225 million at a valuation of $12.2 billion from investors like Accel, IVP, Dragoneer, Coatue, Sequoia, Kleiner Perkins and Capital G.

This IPO will certainly raise the visibility of the RPA market and there will probably be more dealmaking. Keep in mind that there are a myriad of smaller operators in the sector.

But what are some of the other trends we may see? What’s on the radar for next year? Let’s take a look:

Muddu Sudhakar, the CEO of Aisera:

“Larger players are entering the market. One notable case is ServiceNow, which bought Element.ai. This will bolster workflow automation to compete with Automation Anywhere and UiPath. ServiceNow wants to have document scraping, build a knowledge graph, and perform analytical queries against the knowledge graph.

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“Then there is Adobe, which bought Workframe. Adobe is the ‘Document Maker’ and owns knowledge and PDF creation as well as document scanning. Adobe wants to own the whole automation process for documents.”

Tolga Tarhan, the CTO at Rackspace Technology:

“The digitization of work at this new scale will cause tech leaders to rethink enterprise security and the increasingly popular zero trust strategy will take center stage.”

Alex Rinke, the CEO of Celonis:

“One group we are seeing in the automation space is the ‘hyper-automate everything’ crew, where you can find a lot of the RPA vendors dropping bots on everything that moves. The impact of Covid has driven reduced workforces to look for any help they can get, and in the short term, the automation-fix might feel good but the automation-tax is going to be high once those bots start limping and eventually breaking down. This approach has proven to be brittle and fail when the business changes, because it automates steps regardless of the business context, process situation, management objectives, etc. It ‘assumes’ there is always one way to execute things—which is never the case in business.”

Eric Musser, the General Manager of Intelligent Automation at Pega:

 “Next year, we’re going to see a fall-off of RPA vendors as they try to diversify their solutions and expand into other markets. Businesses are waking up to the fact that RPA has not lived up to the hype and delivered the promised value. Standalone RPA vendors are going to be scrambling to rebrand themselves.”

Michael Gilfix, the Vice President of Cloud Integration and Chief Product Officer of Cloud Paks at IBM:

“RPA, when paired with AI, can help CIOs for example, self-detect, diagnose and respond to IT anomalies in real time. RPA can help close the loop and ensure consistent data across all tools that connect to the AI system, for example, IBM’s Watson AIOps. This can increase data quality and improve the accuracy of AI, as well as the productivity of engineers involved.”

Sebastian Schroetel, the Vice President and Head of Intelligent Robotic Process Automation at SAP:

“Accelerated by the pandemic, a broader and more agile implementation of automation in all functions of an enterprise is becoming an ultimate priority. By enabling business users or citizen developers without coding skills to automate processes and tasks, companies are much more flexible and quicker to adapt to changing business requirements. Those business users are also the ones who know their processes best and can therefore unlock a full citizen automation experience. Citizen Automation is the application of the current Low-code/no-code trend to the business process automation world.”

Vadim Tabakman, a Director at Nintex:

“As things start to settle around the workplace and return to some level of normal, RPA vendors will not be able to continue to do the same thing they did in 2020. Evolution of the business will be required, as they set themselves apart from the rest of the pack.”

Dennis Ortiz, a managing director of strategy and analytics at Deloitte Consulting:

“RPA will become part of the AI solution set. While less complex in nature, RPA will be a foundational component of an array of AI solutions.”

Jon Knisley, the Principal of Automation and Process Excellence at FortressIQ:

“As the market transitions from point deployments within a specific business unit to wider adoption across an enterprise, the issue of data security and privacy will get bigger and suppliers will face greater scrutiny.  Suppliers will need to be able to mask sensitive corporate data and personally identifiable information (PII) to meet requirements.”

Michael Beckley, the Chief Technology Officer and cofounder at Appian:

“2020 was about buying RPA bots and AI services. 2021 will be about organizations looking to scale those technologies, realizing the full value of those investments by unifying the modern workforce–with humans in control.”

Guy Kirkwood, the Chief Evangelist at UiPath:

“RPA will become the new ERP. I predict that the community of global system integrators (GSIs) and audit-based consulting companies will encourage and train thousands of workers to embrace automation. And that GSIs will do so in the same way they did with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software in the 1990s. My view is that these firms recognize that the automation industry is poised for explosive growth and see a very real opportunity to sell business strategy and enablement services to help their clients reap new benefits, much like they once did with ERP.”

Shay Antebi, the Chief Technology Officer for Kryon:

“The largest RPA providers will be forced to explore new verticals, and the small-to-medium enterprise (SME) sector will be one of them. I expect to see RPA vendors will go all-out to appeal to SMEs. But if they’re going to gain any traction with this market, they have to revamp their entire user interface. The UX will have to be far less complex and onboarding needs to be more straightforward.”

Rajendra Prasad, the Global Lead for Automation at Accenture:

“We will witness the rise of the digital co-workers, with AI and machine learning augmenting human workers and helping with human + machine collaboration. This includes not just chatbots, for example, but AI assistants helping with project management, testing or data management. Paired with a culture of modern engineering (Agile, DevOps) and a continuous innovation mindset, automation in software development and application management are opening the door for IT to be an innovation partner to the business.”

Eric Tyree, the Head of AI and Research at Blue Prism:

“AI-infused automation will increasingly be linked to core strategic initiatives such as improved customer focus, revenue growth, capital allocation, supply chain management, risk management, cost and operational efficiency and more. AI-powered digital workers will be leveraged as primary tools for executing on corporate strategy and managing enterprise scale risks.”

Spiros Liolis, the Chief Technologist at Micro Focus:

“While RPA is still in very early stages in supply chain operations, many if not all, organizations have established automation in supply chains for efficiency and speed. Technologies such as bar-code scanning, QRs, RFID, resource planning, and CRM are very well established and to a large degree, they offer automation, speed and agility. But these were mostly single system automation, usually with very structured data. For more complex systems, or systems with unstructured data, manual intervention is key. Today, by introducing intelligence with cognitive and machine learning, RPA systems mimic many human actions. With these additional abilities to RPA, we can automate tasks that are rules based, and follow workflows and instructions for processing inputs and developing outputs. Furthermore, RPA can be gradually ‘trained’ to forecast outcomes and enable digital decisioning. While putting these pieces together won’t happen immediately, developing a strategy and creating a roadmap of the implementation and integration, while gradually introducing a change culture, will allow the organization to drive necessary digital transformation.”

Tom (@ttaulli) is an advisor/board member to startups and the author of Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction, The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems and Implementing AI Systems: Transform Your Business in 6 Steps. He also has developed various online courses, such as for the COBOL and Python programming languages.

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