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Seven predictions for robotic process automation (RPA) in 2020

(Image credit: Image Credit: Cordis Technology)

The RPA industry is growing at a rate like no other. Gartner has coined RPA as ‘the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market’ – and predicted that the global market for RPA services will hit an estimated £5.98 billion in 2020. It is set to be a pivotal year for automation – and one that will see an exciting variety of big shifts, as the RPA industry matures and the global economy reacts and adapts to it.

Overall, the pace of RPA maturity will continue to accelerate. It’ll be spurred on by economic shifts, a new generation of workers, and the speed of technology advancement. Organisations will react by standardising and scaling their automation, and enterprises will move to acquire and merge smaller RPA vendors to remain competitive. Shifts both large and small will push the RPA industry to new levels, which will make an 'automation first' mindset a strategic imperative for businesses. This means that organisations will need to address business challenges with a hybrid human/software workforce, using software robots to automate daily processes and freeing humans up for more creative, strategic tasks.

Below, I delve into my seven RPA predictions for 2020 – and examine how the business landscape is set to change.

1. The global economic downturn will encourage the adoption of automation

Signals from the financial market don’t paint an optimistic picture. The fall of long-term interest rates and the retraction of corporate investments reflect increasing instability from global tensions, conflicts, and trade wars. If consumer fear takes hold and demand collapses, we could be facing another recession. Normally, organisations would lay off employees and struggle through, but automation is demonstrating new ways forward. As businesses face the realities of working in an economic downturn, I predict they’ll adapt their business models with automation – which will enable them to scale up robots rather than scale down human employees.

2. RPA will become the YouTube for automation

In 2020, RPA is going to claim its place as a central platform for other enterprise automation tools: it will become the repository for automation in the same way that YouTube is for video content. The centrality of RPA will run parallel with the development of automation code that is more useful and reusable, enabling it to spread even further than it previously has. In turn, this will enable organisations to reuse code across industries and geographies. This is the front end of an even longer-term trend, as RPA becomes more accessible and extensible.

3. More organisations will combine and reuse robots

In 2020, organisations will learn how to better standardise robots and apply them across use-cases and departments, and eventually across companies and industries. This will result in more predictable deployments and easier scaling – rather than adopting automation in silos, which constrains the benefits of RPA.

4. Students entering the workforce will drive automation deployment

For most of business history, human employees have been stuck having to connect and integrate increasingly outdated technology systems via repetitive, manual work. In 2020, students entering the workforce will be familiar with better options and will force lagging businesses to transform and modernise their processes. They’ll be asking why we’re doing the same things the same ways after all these years—and many organisations won’t have adequate answers. Given the proclivity of students to learn automation in school, as evidenced by research, they will start automating bits of their jobs. As these new employees get more efficient and effective, the now vivid benefits of RPA will outweigh any remaining hesitancy, compelling organisation to change.

5. We’ll continue to be surprised by the intelligence of machines

The powers and abilities of machine intelligence are continuing to grow. Tasks that we once thought uniquely human are quickly becoming doable by software. The growth of AI will remain exponential, similar to Moore’s law, and there will be plenty of surprises in store. Every innovation we’re seeing in AI and computing is happening on top of innovations in quantum computing. We’re regularly increasing the number of qubits in quantum computing, and the potential use-cases for this power is vast. Limitations that we’ve previously accepted as immutable won’t last.

6. RPA will become a topic discussed on the world stage

The impact of automation is proving to be societal in scope. In 2020, extra-governmental organisations such as the United Nations and the World Economic Forum will discuss RPA in the context of jobs, wages, and global economics. Individual countries will also become increasingly interested in what effect automation will have on their societies. Prioritising RPA in these socio-political contexts and policy discussions will be crucial if robots become key players in the coming economic downturn.

7. Consolidation among RPA vendors and automation-led services companies will accelerate

As larger, more established organisations move into the RPA market, they’re going to acquire and merge with upcoming RPA vendors. The leaders, identified by the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Robotic Process Automation Software, Forrester Wave, and Everest PEAK Matrix reports, likely won’t face acquisitions, because their valuations are too high. Enterprise entrants to the RPA market will instead acquire and merge with smaller organisations to compete with these leaders. Global service integrator companies and other technology companies are already buying up automation-led services companies. In 2020, the consolidation of these challenger companies across services and technology businesses will continue.

Preparing for 2020 and beyond

While it’s hard to keep up with the advancement of RPA and AI, having insights into these trends can give organisations a head start, and provide them with a competitive advantage. Given the potential that RPA holds for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and across all industries, developing a digital transformation strategy that encourages an automation-first mindset will be vital for a company’s future survival. I can all but predict some of the changes 2020 will bring, but only the innovative will react, adapt, and lead.

Guy Kirkwood, chief evangelist, UiPath (opens in new tab)

Guy Kirkwood is an evangelist on intelligent automation and RPA. He has 20 years' experience in outsourcing and a particular interest in the future of shared services and BPO.