In this article you will learn about the current state of RPA, the RPA Market Sentiment and its consequences for your RPA Strategy as well as my vision for where RPA will head in the future.
The Gartner Hype Cycle is a well-established tool to assess the state of a new technology. I am always amazed how closely most successful and disruptive technologies have followed the ups and downs of this renowned curve. And RPA seems to be no different, however, I believe it is important to distinguish two types of RPA. There might be more RPA types but the most prevalent are Task-specific RPA and Cognitive RPA. Traditional RPA was focussed on automating certain tasks by mimicking human actions. This is the most common type of automation, if done correctly it enhances productivity and yields significant cost-savings for the organisation. Cognitive RPA or Cognitive Automation uses advanced AI technologies to automate decision-making which in turn enables end-to-end business process automation rather than task-based automation. Cognitive automation is able to make sense of unstructured data which historically was the domain of human cognition.
It can’t be denied that task-specific RPA has in many cases failed to deliver the expected business outcomes for which there might be a number of possible reasons. Yet, the intend of this article is not to analyse the root-cause of failed RPA implementations but to assess the state of RPA more holistically.
For Cognitive RPA the situation looks different, I think many business leaders were hoping for Cognitive RPA solutions, but what they often got was a task-specific RPA solution which naturally hasn’t met their expectations. Now that Cognitive RPA technologies become more mainstream we can expect that the market will again experience a phase of “Inflated Expectations” for Cognitive RPA.
If we look at the market sentiment for RPA I believe that the vast majority of organisations would fall in either one of the three classifications. There is obviously the large segment of companies who haven’t even looked into using RPA for business process improvement, I call them the ‘Newcomers’. Predominantly they have a neutral view on the opportunities that RPA can bring. Then we have a seemingly large group of RPA users that have had negative or disappointing experiences with task-specific RPA, let’s call them ‘Detractors’. Of course, there are also many organisations that harvest benefits from their RPA implementations, these are the ‘Promoters’ of the technology.
Each of the groups has different needs and from a consulting perspective that means a customized strategic approach is required. Detractors need support to turn the ship around. The first step is to analyse what went wrong and more often than not it turns out to be a poor choice when selecting the most suitable business process. Depending on where they are at on their RPA Maturity Journey different approaches and solutions are available (more on this topic on my earlier article (‘The RPA Maturity Journey’). In some cases, Cognitive RPA might be the answer to their problem. RPA Newcomers need guidance to avoid the pitfalls of RPA. Managing expectations and developing a solid RPA strategy should be top of mind at this stage. Promoters have achieved good outcomes with task-specific RPA, they have RPA governance in place and they are now ready to uplift their game. Cognitive RPA will enable them to shift focus from efficiency to effectiveness and what I mean by that is explained in my RPA Vision in the next paragraphs.
Most companies that I am aware off, embark on the RPA journey with cost-savings and productivity gains in mind. Yes, some may call it ‘hours-back-to-business’, but still, only rarely I hear off organisations implementing RPA solutions with the strong desire to deliver immediate benefits to their customers. RPA business cases list FTE savings, throughput and quality improvements as the primary benefits and sometimes you can see secondary customer benefits. The reason for this is probably that most RPA implementations are task-specific automation with a strong focus on process efficiency.
My vision for the future of RPA is that with the help of cognitive automation we can shift the focus from company benefits to customer benefits and eventually to value innovation. This is not to say that customer benefits come at the cost of company benefits or vice versa, they go hand-in-hand but typically the focus is on either one. In my experience, company's RPA priorirties evolve from a strong focus on cost-savings to building additional capacity. The next milestone is building an RPA Center of Excellence and with the right governance in place, organisations have now developed a capability that allows them to scale automation solutions. So far, it’s mostly the company that benefits from RPA. But with the rise of cognitive automation, especially when fully integrated with task-specific RPA, end-to-end process automation has become a reality. A typical business process can be broken down into activities, decision points and idle time. Activities can be already automated, but decision points usually involve human decision making which is also the main reason why many business processes are sitting idle for a relatively long period of time. With cognitive automation we can automate decision points which will enable straight-through processing and eliminate idle times. Cognitive automation will drastically reduce the total duration of business processes, which means customers will get their claims processed and approved within minutes rather than days, account activations and responses to requests can be done within minutes rather than hours. Do you have other examples where cognitive automation delivered customer benefits, don't hesitate to share your use-cases with me and the readers.