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The Times are (Rapidly) Changing

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by Wayne Butterfield December 16, 2016

Back in 2012, when discussing an early-days RPA implementation I was leading at O2  in a side track of an annual BPM Automation event, I encountered a lot of raised eyebrows followed by mutterings of screen scrape and “this will never take off” grumblings.

Four years on, it’s very apparent that RPA has arrived and is here to stay. Just last month, I participated in an RPA & AI conference in London, where more than 25 percent of the businesses attending had already fully implemented RPA, and where fewer than one in 20 of the hundreds of delegates had no prior knowledge of RPA. At least seven or eight different vendors were at the event, showcasing their products and touting their customer successes across multiple industries.

The trajectory of the RPA market is chronicled in detail in Leslie Willcocks and Mary Lacity’s ground-breaking and thought-provoking book, Service Automation, Robots and The Future of Work, which, in addition to covering my work at O2, includes contributions from my new ISG colleagues Steve Hall and Rob Brindley and chronicles the work done by another ISG colleague Paul Donaldson when he was at Xchanging.

The book’s case studies and success stories underscore how even the most bullish RPA advocate would be surprised at how far and how fast the industry has progressed. Still, it’s important to remember that most enterprises (65 percent of the audience at the London event, for example) are still at the start of their RPA journey. Most businesses, moreover, aren’t implementing RPA at lightning speed. And while we highlight RPA success stories, we also have ample evidence of the travails that await if RPA is poorly implemented.

But while we can say that the RPA market is maturing, and while the Bank of England Governor recently highlighted the potentially significant impact of more advanced cognitive and machine learning applications on the UK job market and beyond, AI is still looking for a home within most businesses. Like Big Data before it, if you’re not talking about it, then you feel like you’re missing out.

In reality, initial AI user examples and business cases for AI use are still embryonic, and those killer user stories I so often hear about in the RPA space are yet to become common knowledge. As the technology continues to evolve, and as the commercial model becomes more mature and all those incubation labs that have been set up to “test” AI start to deliver results, the next wave of back-office transformation will quickly evolve from sci-fi to reality.

Looking ahead to 2017, expect to see RPA and AI working hand in hand in pioneering organizations, creating seamless, human-less experiences for customers from the front office to the back, improving customer experience at a lower cost and enabling legacy businesses to compete with “digital-first” start-ups across any industry.

About the author

Wayne Butterfield, formerly of Alsbridge, is an ISG Director specialising in Robotic Process Automation.