RPA: What Will the Next Decade Bring?
A need to re-evaluate
In the past two months the decision by a well-known RPA vendor to lay off employees has consumed much media space, and spats were reported between some vendors with regards to their respective offerings and market strategy.
While organizations are still trying to figure out the magical benefits of RPA there is a need to evaluate what lies ahead.
One might argue that layoffs do not necessarily cast a shadow on the potential of RPA. Although many organizations have climbed aboard the RPA bandwagon, there are still serious apprehensions regarding scalability and return on investment (ROI).
This really depends on:
- whether organizations have established a Center of Excellence (COE) model;
- whether they've outsourced the set-up to a vendor; or
- whether they've adopted a hybrid model combining vendors and consulting organizations.
A study conducted by PegaSystems and published in CXO Today mentions some of the challenges associated with bot deployment and management:
- longer time frames taken to deploy bots;
- shorter lifespans of bots; and
- high maintenance costs.
Along similar lines, Nintex CEO Eric Johnson, in a write-up in Forbes, highlighted that as bots are hard-coded to key fields, they are rendered failures in the event of even small user interface adjustments.
A smart approach
From an organizational perspective, going forward, it is critical to detail a smart approach to automation. For example: What parts of the process and the business units are compatible with automation? What parts are incompatible? What automation levers are best used for optimization: RPA, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Deep Learning?
In my experience, organizations are sometimes better served leveraging methodologies like LEAN, Agile, Total Quality Model (TQM), Business Process Management (BPM) etc., which are still relevant and effective in driving continuous improvement.
In hindsight, enterprises need to adopt a balanced stance and not get carried away by the hype associated with many of the new technologies (Gartner mentions five stages of Hype Cycle in the technology life cycle, with the second stage labeled ‘peak of inflated expectations’). Customer or user experience will be a differentiating factor for many organizations as they venture into the automation space.
For vendors’ new product offerings, strengthening capability and utilization of bots need to undergo further evolution. Some of the RPA vendors have introduced ML, AI, and BPM features, and are experimenting in terms of reading languages, handwritten content, validation of signatures, image classification and so on. It will be interesting to keep a watch on the performance of Microsoft Power Automate, which will include an RPA solution.
Consolidation and disrupted pricing
Going forward, there is probably going to be some consolidation amongst vendors and current pricing models are likely to get disrupted. In my previous write-up I pointed out the absence of accepted standards in RPA, which will be very relevant in future [editor’s note: a working party of the IEEE is working on this exact issue].
For example, Softomotive, which is rated a strong performer by Forrester, has introduced a programming language for developers which is easy-to-understand and could be shared amongst developers, thereby eliminating the need to write a new code.
Re-examine value proposition
In terms of its value proposition, RPA needs to reinvent this for the business. At a recent Automation Think Tank meeting in Bangalore that I attended along with CFOs and CIOs from leading corporations, there was unanimous consensus that RPA does not result in FTE reduction. (Corporates shared this feedback based on their practical experience in deploying RPA.) This is an alarming sign, given RPA was sold solely on cost and efficiency saves. There is an urgent need to re-examine its value and impact.
Shirin Ghaffary of Recode quotes a recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois, which states that automation won’t wipe out warehouse jobs but will make them worse, in future. The study elaborates that tools like robots and AI management systems are putting pressure on workers to work harder, faster, and under more scrutiny – which impacts workers’ health, safety and morale. On similar grounds, the violation of employees’ privacy by RPA tools needs to be reviewed, though there is hardly any data in the public domain.
As organizations plan to scale up investments in RPA, they need to have broader visibility on the overall outcomes, rather than be constrained by effort and efficiency gains. There is even a move to drop the word “robotic” from RPA, as propounded by HfS.
What lies ahead for RPA is to assimilate the learnings over the past years and enable itself as a value-add for enterprises aspiring to be ‘digital.’
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