The COVID-19 pandemic has created a massive disruption in business operations. The dramatic shift to employees working remotely, some sectors like supply chain getting hit hard, and demand-side shocks are just a few examples.
Organizations are thus looking at digital transformation as a way out of this crisis. So, what was a nice-to-do exercise prior to the pandemic is today a must-have. However, we predict that the next wave of digital transformation will be different from the earlier ones where RPA or Robotic Process Automation will undoubtedly be at the forefront of this transformative change.
Our prediction is based on the following reasons:
Since its emergence, RPA has always been a favorite technology for business operations executives. Its attractiveness lies in its simplicity to use and quick ROI. As RPA started gaining traction in enterprises, IT organizations have taken notice and accepted it as an Enterprise Technology. Today, almost every large enterprise has RPA deployed in its business operations at some scale.
Gartner predicts that 90% of large organizations globally will have adopted RPA in some form by 2022.1
Also, Everest Group expects RPA adoption to experience a significant uptick coming out of the crisis. Driven by pent-up demand for automation, the RPA market will grow at a CAGR of 45-50% over the next two years.2
Beyond numbers, Forrester believes that automation has moved to heated board-level discussions that often end with statements such as “If we don’t automate everything we can, we may not survive.”3
Therefore, it’s clear that RPA has been adopted widely by enterprises across the globe and has become an integral part of their technology stack today.
Interestingly, RPA has not just become integral but has achieved business-critical status in a short period. This is because RPA is usually deployed for mission-critical functions like finance and accounting, sales and fulfillment, and procurement. RPA bots today run critical processes that are running businesses across the globe. RPA has allowed enterprises to create resilient operations, especially in the pandemic world where remote working has become a norm.
In one of the shining examples of resilient operation, a large electronics manufacturer created an “always-on” digital workforce with over 550 RPA bots built on the AssistEdge RPA platform. These bots, deployed in the F&A domain, ensured delivery of commitments with on-time quarter-end accounting closure with 100% coverage during the critical COVID pandemic when the global organization faced huge disruptions in their workforce.
A new technology that has emerged recently, Process Discovery, has allowed enterprises to capture every system-user interaction in the organization. While this data has primarily been used so far to discover and prioritize automation candidates, it has a far bigger potential than this use case. The system-user interactions are “bits and bytes” of the business process — the lowest level of data that you can gain. Combined with existing Process mining, Process Discovery can provide an end-to-end view and tremendous new insights on business processes. Interestingly, AI and Screen emulation — core concepts behind RPA — are the fundamental blocks of Process Discovery too. Hence, RPA has, directly and indirectly, created a new treasure trove of granular process data that enables process transformations.
By automating a significant number of routine and manual tasks and business processes, RPA helps create bandwidth within the operational workforce. The human potential gets unlocked.
The new data, as explained earlier, and newly available bandwidth are allowing enterprises to re-imagine and re-invent their business processes and operations with a “customer-first” approach. RPA bots remove inefficiencies in internal business processes and remove bottlenecks that were taken for granted. This helps organizations in re-creating their customer journeys.
For instance, one of the global logistics organizations automated their container booking process with AssistEdge RPA. This process was very complicated and time-consuming. This meant they had to keep the process offline, where customers submitted their requests through a form, and their bookings were confirmed later. However, post automation, the time was reduced significantly, and the process was completely touchless. This enabled the organization to make the process available online to its customers, and the customers could directly book the container slot themselves. This had a big impact on the speed of booking and, in turn, on the ROI for the organization.
Thus, we have seen that RPA has now become an integral part of the business operations and technology stack. It drives business-critical processes and has created new granular data and workforce bandwidth for the new digital transformation wave. Of course, RPA alone cannot drive this transformation; some failures will occur in RPA implementations, and human intervention and oversight will be required to handle bot exceptions. Also, current RPA is limited to task-level automation. Automation will need to move beyond task automation and manage/orchestrate the entire process. It will require a combination of RPA and other complementary technologies, like Low-code development, Workflow, Case management, and Process Mining.
We’ll cover more about that in the next blog in this series.