The RPA sector is defined as one of rapid technological evolution, and every year it seems like what we thought to be bleeding-edge capability in January turns out to be proven and deployed technology long before year’s end. With this rapid pace of growth and maturation in mind, where might the RPA sector be by the end of 2018? Here are seven predictions.

The first wave of automation-inclusive UI design

To date, RPA has been adaptive in nature – automation software has done the interpretive labor to ‘see’ the application screen as humans do. But as more and more repetitive-task work becomes automated, software designers will begin taking the strengths and weaknesses of computer vision into account in designing applications that will be shared between human and digital workers. This will show up in small ways at first, particularly in interface areas that are challenging for RPA software to learn quickly, but over the course of 2018, ‘hybrid workforce UI design’ will become a new standard for enterprise software vendors.

Process mining makes RPA more accessible for midmarket & emerging large market segments

Early adopters of RPA have already established that detailed process mapping is key to successful task automation across the extended enterprise. For Fortune 1000 firms, that can be fairly straightforward, with retained consulting and systems integration partners on hand to assist in the process of mapping task flows for RPA implementation. Smaller firms, however, don’t always have the luxury of engaging large consulting firms to assist in this process – so vendors developing their own automated process mapping technology, or partnering with third-party providers like Celonis, will find demand booming in the midmarket.

Human skill bottleneck hits providers without education/certification plans

It’s ironic that human skill capital will end up as the limiting factor in the growth rate of successful RPA implementations, but 2018 will close with a clear shortage of qualified automation designers and deployment management professionals. Those organizations (like UiPath, Blue Prism, and Automation Anywhere) that saw this coming early on and established academic settings for the education and certification of on-platform skilled practitioners, will thrive. But those lacking these programs may find themselves in a skill bottleneck in the market – one that will begin to materially inhibit growth.

RPA becomes a designed-in factor for disruptors

In conversations I had with organizations implementing RPA during 2H17, one common factor came to the fore: that their initial FTE rationalization gains had already been realized, and going forward, they were looking to RPA as a means to manage significant growth in their operations.

For organizations coming to market as disruptors, this trend is even more pronounced, and organizations with designs on being disruptive forces are increasingly building automation capabilities into their growth plans from the ground up. Building an organization on a foundation of a hybrid human-digital workforce is a different endeavor entirely from retrofitting an existing company with automation – and as a result, we should begin seeing some real innovation in organizational design beginning this year.

Japan becomes the adoption template geo for big bets

To date, Japan has produced some of the largest implementations of RPA, with UiPath’s late 2017 deployment at SMBC pushing the envelope still further. Japan is betting big on RPA to become a sustainable source of competitive differentiation, and as more large organizations there implement large-scale RPA projects, the best practices library for RPA deployment at scale will expand in kind.

Companies worldwide looked to Japan for guidance in implementing robotics once before, during the rise of robotic manufacturing in the automotive sector. 2018 will see a second such wave.

RPA proves its case as a source of compliance gains

RPA has been marketed with a number of different value creation characteristics already, with the obvious cost reduction and quality improvement factors taking center stage. But RPA has significant benefits to offer organizations in regulated industries, most notably in the ability to secure access to sensitive information, systematize the process of accessing and modifying that information, and standardizing the documentation process and audit logging work associated with it.

2018 will be the year that organizations begin to see meaningful returns from adopting RPA as a solution to compliance task challenges.

Demand for specialist implementation navigators grows significantly

RPA implementation has been a partnered endeavor since the technology first arrived on the scene, with software vendors allying themselves closely with large consulting firms and systems integrators to optimize their client deployments. But demand is emerging for focused, automation-centric services, and right on time, the industry is seeing a surge of new RPA specialist service providers like Symphony and Agilify.

As buying organizations begin to ask more of their new – or revamped – RPA implementations, demand for these providers’ services will grow swiftly during 2018.

A NelsonHall Blog.

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