2020 was the year Robotic Process Automation (RPA) went mainstream, emulating the human role in moving data and orchestrating business applications to automate daily routines. Most organisations dabbled with RPA at least, automating obvious candidate processes to speed turnarounds, reduce costs and improve accuracy.
In 2021, Intelligent Automation will go mainstream, combining RPA with cognitive capabilities and cloud. With over 60% of data in organisations still not digitised or structured, RPA cannot be triggered. Increasingly, therefore, we will see AI-driven data ingestion capabilities integrated with RPA to put eyes on the bots. And the bots are acquiring other skills too, often cognitive, to automate human-to-robot interactions across multiple channels, to inform the conversation, help make decisions and trigger execution. The adoption of RPA has been driven largely from the back office, but front-office automation will be the big play of 2021 and even better, the automation of entire processes from the customer touch to fulfilment. We do this using the concept of the multi-skilled digital worker.
Using 21st century Intelligent Automation tech we must reimagine 20th century business processes.
But we shall transform whole operating models too, as the bots are scaled and organised into utilities, optimised to meet variable demand and improve productivity 24x7. We call this the multi-purpose digital workforce, a concept which describes bots waiting in line to be fed work from the control room, which can itself be automated using machine learning to read SLAs and dynamically schedule the bots. This means admin work will be stripped out of business silos and consolidated into the digital workforce, complemented by a handful of people to handle exceptions. The cadence of operations will change too as bots are tasked say, in the daytime, to handle customer requests and are switched during downtime to handle, say, financial and regulatory reporting. Organised as an enterprise asset, the multi-purpose digital workforce is infinitely agile with bots switched to meet demand from anywhere anytime against changing priorities.
RPA has been implemented largely on-premise, with bots tied to desktops, specific processes and within particular areas. This is largely a consequence of old-fashioned siloed practices with lines of business having their own budgets to buy their own bots and automate their own processes. It doesn’t speak to end-to-end automation across boundaries and leads to much robotic capacity going idle. In 2020, Covid made remote working a reality but cloud was already enabling it. The digital workforce was always conceived as a virtual concept because the bots don’t recognise silos or geographies and can work with any system from anywhere. 2021 will see increased adoption of cloud, and cloud-delivered cognitive services, which will speed the virtualization and transformation of business operations yet faster.
Many organisations have wrestled with RPA implementations, often failing to strategize and finding the implementation harder than expected, believing they could move at the speed of configuration alone, forgetting about the need for new policies and infrastructure and environments and time spent on redesigning processes up front and for evolving and maintaining the automations once deployed. The more progressive delivery partners understand this and can advise their clients; mistakes have been made, learnings captured, and the experience is out there. In 2021, these learnings will be brought to bear so that the full potential of automation can be realised. Multi-skilled digital workers will automate processes from end-to-end and the multi-purpose digital workforce will optimise robotic capacity 24x7 to create super agile and highly productive operations.
Then, we’ll see the development of integrated human-digital workforces, playing to the strengths of humans, bots and AI alike. But that is maybe a story for 2022!