When I recently visited IBA Group in Minsk I was expecting to hear about their Cloud Computing solutions and some of their more recent developments in Machine Learning, but I was surprised to hear exactly how developed their Robotic Process Automation (RPA) expertise is today. I was surprised because their approach to RPA is not typical. They have experience of delivering real projects to real clients in multiple countries using the top 4 RPA software platforms.
Now contrast this to the typical RPA story in the media. Robo-bosses, robots taking over, and other mentions of robots replacing humans. When reading about RPA we usually read hype and grand claims of digital transformation, often from experts or IT companies with very little track record in this area. Yet IBA has been quietly developing expertise in all the major RPA platforms all over the world and there is no hype at all. They have just been getting on with the job.
RPA is now (almost) a $2bn a year marketplace and it’s growing fast. This area of business is only going to get more important as we move into 2019. HFS predicts that we are looking at $2.3bn revenue in RPA technologies in 2019 and this will grow to $4.3bn by 2022.
Traditionally HFS has been the least bullish of the analyst community. For a long time they criticised analysts such as Gartner for hyping the RPA market, but now even the HFS predictions look exciting. Gartner predicts that spending on RPA software is growing around 57% year on year, which is a phenomenal increase for any market, but what is really interesting is how all the analysts seem to be agreeing that RPA is no longer in the Hype Cycle and is now being accepted as a regular business process automation tool. Even the forward projections of Gartner to 2022 feature year-on-year growth of 41% – RPA has arrived.
When I arrived at IBA, I never expected to hear such a solid RPA success story – case study after case study of real RPA deliveries. I did a detailed interview with Vjacheslav Mikitjuk, director of Internet Technologies, that I intend to publish in the new year.
The RPA world is full of hype. HFS Research has been a vocal critic of the RPA hot air and fake news for the past few years, but even they now acknowledge that there are real solutions being delivered that are adding value all over the world. I witnessed this up close when I went to visit IBA Group and it was not even something that I had expected. They have kept their RPA expertise fairly quiet, but I’m hoping to change that in 2019 by telling the world what they have been doing.
To listen to the CX Files podcast featuring Andrei Lepeyev from IBA Group, click here.
The growth in corporate robotics feels rather like an overnight trend, but automation using robots has been changing the manufacturing industry for at least three decades. The difference today is that robotics is no longer restricted to factory production lines. Automation today is far more advanced than a machine capable of spray-painting car parts.
The reality in today’s environment is that several technologies are blending together to create new possibilities and solutions. Robotics, machine learning, and Artificial Intelligence are naturally connected because automation no longer has to just be the simple repetition of programmed bots – we can now ask the system to learn how to get better.
The IBM Watson system is a great example of this. Watson is capable of reading 800 million pages of data a second. This capacity to absorb new information constantly makes it incredibly useful for complex environments that are constantly changing. Cancer diagnosis is a good example because a traditional doctor will train for many years and then will work with patients in a hospital so their capability to absorb new research is limited. By training real doctors to work with AI systems such as Watson we can support and enhance them – allowing doctors to access a second opinion that includes knowledge of all published research.
Softbank in Japan has connected their Pepper ‘general purpose’ robot to a Watson ‘brain’ creating the possibility for intelligent assistants that actually have a physical form. It’s easy to imagine nurses treating patients with Pepper offering additional advice, or a bank advisor explaining a mortgage to a potential customer and Pepper offering further information and automatically checking compliance to legal regulations.
But this convergence of technologies is not taking place at the same speed in every company, or even in every industry. EWeek magazine recently summarised five important trends that give a good oversight on the growing importance of robotics in industry today:
- Most companies are not yet using Robotic Process Automation (RPA), but are noticing those that are using it; Capgemini research suggests that 39% of companies are already using RPA and many are talking of extremely positive results – such as a reduction in repetitive work and an improvement in quality. The companies that have not yet tried RPA are noticing these reports and will move quickly.
- RPA works best when used to create a Centre Of Excellence (COE); RPA requires a cultural change so it helps to create a mindset that you are not just automating existing tasks, rather the plan is to improve how the company works.
- Once companies explore RPA they deploy it everywhere; companies that have piloted RPA initiatives find that it is not just useful in the back office – automation can be deployed everywhere.
- Human jobs are changed, not eliminated; as with the Pepper examples, in most cases RPA enhances and improves what humans can do rather than just eliminating their roles. In research published by McKinsey, they estimated that around 90% of work functions cannot be automated 100% – the role of automation is to increase quality and productivity, not eliminate humans from the workplace.
- RPA plus AI will lead to new cognitive opportunities; by created automated systems that can learn we are entering a new cognitive era of business. Research by OpusCapita suggests that 81% of executives believe that this combination of RPA with AI will significantly change their business inside the next 5 years.
This highlights two extremely important – and opposing – points. Executives mostly (81%) believe that automation and AI is about to dramatically change their business, perhaps even their entire business model. However, only a minority (39%) of companies have already launched an RPA project.
It’s clear that this is where the future lies for companies across all industries so the future seems bright for service companies with expertise in both these areas. I even think that the 5-year time horizon is rather long – in my opinion this will all change before 2020. RPA and cognitive systems are about to change your business forever – are you exploring the possibilities today?