Contributor, Tom Reuner, Principal Analyst, Ovum
The recent inaugural conference on Automation Innovation in New York, skillfully organized by the team at the Institute of Robotic Process Automation (IRPA AI), was the perfect opportunity to take stock as to where the development of Robotic Process Automation(RPA) is today and how the presence of all the leading service providers underlined the fact that the market is progressing and almost all of them have refined their business model strategies to incorporate RPA . Read more about Tom Reuner’s initial observations from his attendance at the Automation Innovation conference.
Hype is the cornerstone of the IT industry, no topic is too small to get the usual treatment of having expectations inflated. We need (every now and again) the noise of the marketing machines to convey technological advances and innovations. Yet in the discussions around a disparate set of propositions typically referred to as robotic process automation (RPA), the leading service providers remain unusually coy. My initial reading of this observation was that the market is still in a nascent state of development and that service providers have not yet fully understood the impact on their business models. Within that context, the inaugural conference on Automation Innovation in New York, skillfully organized by the team at the Institute for Robotic Process Automation (IRPA AI), was the perfect opportunity to take stock as to where the development of RPA is today.
The relevance of the conference was underlined by the fact that the IRPA AI team managed to assemble the thought leaders and, more importantly, the leading technology providers. The lineup demonstrated that the original poster children for IT-centric and business process-centric approaches, IPsoft and Blue Prism respectively, are no longer the only players in town. Now we have Arago as an alternative IT-centric provider with comprehensive, cognitive capabilities and Deskover catering for business process-centric requirements – and more providers continue to enter the fray, some with overlapping propositions, others with completely new ones. In Ovum’s view, all of these innovations need to be discussed in the context of existing approaches not only to IT process automation, ranging from data center automation, to lower level scraping and desktop automation, but also to innovations in BPM. RPA should be seen as one tool in the sourcing tool box aimed at driving service delivery beyond labor arbitrage.
Somewhat surprisingly, sourcing advisors were the most bullish on the potential impact of RPA, calling out the impact of price reductions for major contracts as well as likely disruptive shifts in the provider eco-system. This might be explained in part by the fact that large transformational projects are few and far between and that RPA appears to offer new opportunities for them. Speakers Phil Fersht and Charles Sutherland offered a more nuanced narrative pointing out that the discussion on RPA needs to go beyond the narrow focus on eliminating FTEs. This was strongly echoed by Arago’s Chris Boos who pointed to the potential benefits of RPA in helping to free up employees’ time for creative and more fulfilling activities and in leveraging the captured knowledge in innovative business models. Lastly, Mark Fletcher from Automation Anywhere shared our view that he expects a convergence of IT and business process centric approaches that will fundamentally challenge the current outsourcing market’s dynamics.
In our view, the conference demonstrated that although approaches to RPA are maturing, we are still in an early phase of market development and the scarcity of talent with specialist skills is an issue. The outsourcers and advisors clearly recognize the fact: for instance, Cognizant poached the North American team of specialist consultant Virtual Operations, while Sutherland’s key RPA experts set up their own advisory business Symphony Ventures. By the same token, the presence of all the leading service providers at the conference underlined the fact that the market is progressing and almost all of them have refined their strategies around RPA. However, the questions raised by end-user organizations were a potent reminder that the marketing on RPA needs more focus and investment. End users wanted to know about specific use cases and how RPA fits into the more traditional approaches to process automation. If RPA is to gain more traction in the market, vendors will need to provide answers to these questions and address wider issues about the transformation of knowledge work. In summary, the leading RPA stakeholders still have plenty of work to do, but the buzz in New York was a clear indicator of the increasing interest in RPA and the commitment to work on and provide answers to these questions.