2020 is going to be a momentous year for Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as it takes over the business world. RPA is the process of automating mundane tasks such as taking data from one file and entering it into a business application like CRM. Its main purpose is to computerise repetitive tasks that are an inefficient use of people’s time.
RPA is not a what many people think it is – it is not a physical robot. It is an approach to working across multiple software applications by entering, maintaining, migrating, integrating, mining and testing data on spreadsheets. RPA is the equivalent to an employee who never sleeps, eats or makes mistakes on tasks that need constant repetition.
At the moment, only big enterprises are employing RPA at scale. 2020 is when we will see this trickle down to small and medium-sized businesses. RPA software revenue grew 63.1 per cent in 2018 to $846m and will grow further to $1.3bn in 2019. That means, according to Gartner, RPA is the fastest-growing segment in the global enterprise software market.
Two-thirds of financial processes are now automated, in one shape or form. The remaining third is taken up by ‘human’ requests for information – and the next advancement for RPA is to automate those processes too. As an industry, enterprise software might not quite be there, but RPA is one of the main trends driving industry leaders towards a more automated future.
At some point in the future, whether it comes in 2020 or later, more forward-looking companies will begin to share financial results in real-time – unlocking potential to provide instant access to a business’s financial health. This is known as zero-forecasting, which several larger enterprises have indicated as their objective in terms of transparency. RPA will be the force that drives the method of gaining transparency through the constant gathering of data/insights to develop stronger customer relationships and business growth.
The other key factors are AI and digital transformation, which are helping professionals re-engineer processes to take advantage of digital capabilities – easing the administrative and reporting burden.
Blockchain gains more traction
The blockchain is one of the most progressive and innovative inventions but it has gone through what Gartner calls in their “hypercycles”, the trough of disillusionment. It promised much but delivered very little. Ever since it emerged as the ‘next big thing’, there have been few meaningful applications for blockchain to be integrated and utilised in the real world.
So, what’s holding blockchain back from mainstream adoption? There are a few elements here, but it mainly comes down to cost, scalability and trust.
With industry leaders like Amazon or Microsoft committing to building services around blockchain, other businesses will follow with accelerated adoption. Leading businesses will tackle the issues that previously stopped blockchain from making its way into the mainstream – with real-world solutions coming into play in 2020.
Virtual currency will prosper with Libra
Facebook’s new virtual currency, Libra, has the potential to change the future of payments. In the past, virtual currencies have only been useful for storing value. But Libra is setting out to solve a real-world problem, and it could be huge, as it becomes the first electronic currency with the potential to be used as a means of exchange.
Facebook’s strength is its vast user base with its current network of 2 billion people – a third of the world’s population. Although the company faced legislative backlash in the United States for its failures to protect consumer data and having the platform used for election interference. Legislatures feared Libra could be misused by money launderers or put user’s data in a vulnerable place.
But, Libra could revolutionise the global payments system – with the proper regulation.
If, for example, a migrant worker wanted to send money back to their homeland, they would face a 6 per cent to 20 per cent mark-up on currency exchange and wire transfer. This kind of transfer is also risky and slow. If a family were to use Facebook, they could convert their local currency to Libra and use Facebook Messenger to directly transfer money to their family. It’s quick, easy and secure.
Money laundering was a main concern with the implementation of this virtual currency, but Libra actually solves the problem of money laundering. In the present, financial transactions are largely processed with a paper-based system. There can be little or no trace of where money is coming from or going to. The United Nations recently estimated that the criminal proceeds laundered annually amount to between 2 and 5 per cent of global GDP, or $1.6 to $4 trillion a year.
A digital currency such as Libra produces immutable records of every transaction made – where it came from and where it is going. It is like a cryptographically protected distributed ledger for currencies making it much harder to launder money.
There are a number of regulatory and legislative issues to overcome. This is a disruptive technology solution that questions the very notion of a centralised monetary system. Although the G7 nations have even formed a taskforce to look at the issue of cryptocurrencies, with a particular focus on Libra, it has the chance to prove its real value in 2020.
Aaron Harris, CTO, Sage