Four key real world intelligent automation trends for 2021

With pandemic-driven demand for robotic process automation (RPA) and intelligent automation tools set to increase exponentially in 2021, vendors are obliging accordingly. With over 150 RPA and intelligent automation tools now available and all making big claims, but varying significantly in design quality, technical capabilities and delivery approach, organisations face making the wrong choice.

The problem is that the significant differing technical capabilities of vendors will prove the difference between achieving short-term tactical benefits with potentially great effort and risk, or strategic work transformation at enterprise scale with less effort and minimal risk. Greater automation vendor differentiation insights and a clearer demarcation of these important technical nuances will hopefully start emerging this year. Here’s what to look forward to.

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1. More sophisticated selection criteria

In 2021, there will be an overdue re-think of how organisations choose RPA and intelligent automation technologies. We’ll see greater selection rigour fuelling more informed assessments of these technologies’ abilities to successfully operate and scale in large, demanding, front-to back-office enterprise environments, where performance, security, flexibility, resilience, usability, and governance are required. This means that RPA and intelligent automation vendor selection criteria must consider meaningful, real-world insights and demand a demonstration of the following:

Overall level of coding required to create and train robots; from zero – to high effort. This is because for business users to swiftly respond to market demands, they don’t want to waste time and resources coding and introduce associated risks.
Proof of value ‘after’ the proof of concept. It’s only after proof of concept when an automation programme is scaling up that any serious tech limitations begin to emerge.
Collaboration capabilities for centralised automated asset sharing and reuse. This is because work transformation at scale is only ever achieved through joint effort.
Robots’ inbuilt capabilities. Measure the performance, productivity, operational resilience and system interoperability.
Overall transparency, security and auditability of process automations. In any enterprise environment, these capabilities are key, or shadow IT and digital chaos will be introduced.
Programme success potential. Question whether the achieved results will become noteworthy in the annual report – directly or indirectly.

These insights will become more important than ever to ensure that organisations see through the market hype to de-risk selection and avoid longer-term issues of programme failure, digital chaos and technical debt.

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2. Better measurements of value

For a RPA or intelligent automation programme to really deliver, a strategy and purpose is needed. This could be improving data quality, operational efficiency, process quality and employee empowerment, or enhancing stakeholder experiences by providing quicker, more accurate responses. By examining the experiences and proven outcomes experienced by those organisations with mature automation programs, we’ll see more meaningful methods of measuring the impact of RPA and intelligent automation. These can include:

New service and product offerings – those activities now being delivered that are impossible for humans to solely perform, or perform in a secure, compliant manner.
Productivity increases – how much time and resources are being generated back to the business.
Customer experience enhancement – those services that are now being delivered faster, error-free and without the reduced risks associated with longer response times.
Employee experience enhancement – how many people are being liberated to work on more intellectually challenging, fulfilling, value-generating work in their new roles.
Mining process data – how insight from automated process transaction data is being used to optimise, or reinvent workflows that enhance stakeholders’ experiences and create long-term value.

3. The digital transformation enabler

This year, there will also be a greater understanding of which vendor software robots really possess the ability to be ‘the’ catalyst for digital transformation. These robots are typically pre-built, smart, highly productive and self-organising processing resources, that perform joined up, data-driven work across multiple operating environments of complex, disjointed, difficult to modify legacy systems and manual workflows.

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These robots also uniquely solve the age-old problem of system interoperability by reading and understanding applications’ screens in the same way humans do – crucially without touching underlying system programming logic. This ‘universal connectivity’ capability means that all current and future technologies can be used by robots – without the need for APIs, or any form of system integration. No legacy systems are ripped out, and no major process change or mass data migration is required.

We’ll see these robots becoming the favoured route for testing and deploying any age of technology – they can be continually augmented with the latest cloud, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cognitive capabilities that are simply ‘dragged and dropped’ into newly designed work process flows. Ultimately, this means that digital transformation, which would traditionally be cost and resource prohibitive, suddenly becomes achievable. In fact, work that can now be achieved in months, would take IT programs and vast teams of people, years to complete.

4. More strategic approach to programme delivery

The pandemic did not magically scale automation programmes, but it’s a major change agent that’s helping crystallise enterprise priorities, while enabling a wider recognition of automation-enabled digital progress. Ultimately, for work transformation to deliver major value, organisations must think strategically, not tactically, about how they apply intelligent automation.

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Therefore, we’ll see a greater use of the Robotic Operating Model (ROM), which is the industry gold standard delivery methodology that provides perfectly choreographed, step by step, implementation expertise. Created many years ago, the ROM is still evolving; being continually enriched with insights gained from world-class intelligent automation deployments, to help others better launch, maintain, scale and sustain digitally enhanced work.

Alongside the technology, the ROM is probably the single biggest determinant of an automation program’s success or failure. It involves putting a structure behind how to identify processes, how to design them, how to test them, and how to automate them. Over the years, we’ve discovered that using the ROM, organisations can achieve up to eight times more success in terms of their roll out.

Final thoughts

The big challenge for organisations this year will be how to grow in a climate of global uncertainty, constant change and ever-evolving stakeholder demands – with increasingly constrained and disconnected resources. One solution will involve enabling forward-thinkers across the C-suite to re-design new ways of working better, by applying the most advanced, trusted intelligent automation capabilities across front, middle and back office operations.

We’ll witness a new era of ‘digitally enhanced’ work that’s being performed much faster, smarter, more efficiently, and safely – without limits and those organisations properly embracing this potential will be the ones forging ahead.


Peter Walker

European CTO, Blue Prism