RPA, AI and the big guns could make 2021 a vintage year in tech

Photo by Kirill Shavlo

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the fastest growing acronym in technology right now. That's according to me. I've read numerous claims over the last two years about how RPA is growing fast in the enterprise software category, and the stats back this up. Growth in 2019 turned into more growth in 2020, so what does 2021 hold for RPA?

I believe more growth. In fact, our tumultuous 2020 presented so many new scenarios for automation to blossom that a Champagne producer might consider it a vintage year. Health-wise, definitely not. So many people lost their jobs, their homes and many lost their lives. It's been bloody awful in this respect. From a business point of view, it's been economically tough and uncompromising.

From the ashes of the burnt ground of 2020 has come the promise of change. A revitalised economy in 2021 (fingers optimistically crossed) will lay the groundwork for multiple new businesses born out of our new ways of working. Yes, landlords may pressure our bosses to encourage workers back to the office, but the reality is there will be resistance. We are reimagining how we work. So, how does RPA play its part in imagining a new way of working in 2021?

How the big guns will help RPA flourish

There will definitely be bigger companies in the RPA market. Adobe and ServiceNow laid down their gauntlet a few years ago in what is becoming a competitive, yet still incredibly fertile marketplace. Adobe in particular has expertise with documents. It made sense that it would diversify its offering to make the process of automating document scraping and processing available to its customers. And we will all benefit from more big names entering the market – RPA companies of all sizes – because the automation segment is still comparatively small. The big companies will help get the message out that automation is a good thing! Innovation will take centre stage, and we'll see more diverse scenarios of how RPA can help streamline processes, save time and save money.

We'll be able to do more and be more ambitious with automation. We'll be able to take small RPA projects and scale them up! The knock-on effect of enhanced security protocols will come to the fore, and tech-shy companies may finally begin to embrace the benefits of technology simply to survive. Some might say: "Do digital or die."

Photo by Mina FC

SMEs may become prime targets for RPA suppliers, though solutions may have to be simplified to convey the benefits to small businesses. For large businesses with more complicated, unstructured data, 2021 could lead to more flexible bot development that works together with AI. RPA will become the worker bee for the AI queen, digesting and processing multiple repetitive tasks while reacting dynamically to rules-based scenarios. I imagine there are loads of companies out there who would like to better forecast outcomes!

RPA and humans: a powerful combo

And while technological change will occur in spades, cultural change will follow. (I am ever the optimist.) Work culture simply has to adapt to make this happen. Change is inevitable, more so after 2020. Automation will aid business transformation, and an adaptable workforce will ensure this happens like clockwork. It takes two to tango. One without the other will be a tough ask, and the firms that get this right will prosper.

Expect successful companies to gain from the marriage of RPA and human know-how with increased productivity, especially if "citizen automation" plays its part in smoothing processes across remote locations. We are all coders and developers now, with so many no-code and low-code tools at our disposal.

We are all part of the automation movement. And because of the continuing growth of RPA, advances in technology and our ability to adapt to new opportunities, I believe 2021 will be a vintage year for the harvest.

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