Intelligent Process Automation is More Than RPA

IDC defines digital transformation (DX) as the continuous process by which enterprises adapt to or drive disruptive changes in their operations, customers and markets.  We’ve been talking about DX for some time now, and we are currently seeing many organizations scaling their initial pilot and/or siloed digital transformation programs to enterprise-wide, integrated initiatives. IDC calls this the era of multiplied innovation and predicts that worldwide spending on the technologies and services that enable the digital transformation of business practices, products, and organizations will reach $1.97 trillion in 2022, at a compound annual growth rate of 16.7%

Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) technology is a critical and integral component of an organization’s core DX strategy. Process automation reduces errors and improves quality, increases productivity, drives down operating costs, and improves the customer journey by simplifying interactions with the organization. In addition, IPA offloads mundane and routine tasks from human workers, enabling those workers to focus on higher-value activities and improving the overall employee experience. This aids talent acquisition and retention.

However, it is important to understand that IPA is not a single software category. IDC defines IPA as a group of software technologies that individually or collectively manage, automate and integrate processes. Though robotic process automation (RPA) has been the segment gaining the most attention in recent years, other important process automation technologies include integration and API management, event-driven middleware, process-centric application platforms (including traditional business process management and workflow software), capture software, process mining applications as well as a nascent area we call decision automation. In total, IPA software was a $12.2 billion market in 2018, with year-over-year growth of 14.6%.  The reality is that multiple software applications, in different combinations, are likely required to most effectively and efficiently automate a variety of business processes across the organization.

Furthermore, injecting artificial intelligence (AI) technologies into processes effectively transforms them, making them more intelligent, more automated, more dynamic, and able to address a larger number of business use cases.  By integrating AI with automation technologies, we not only increase the benefits of automation, but can drive further innovation and develop new value. For example, organizations can use machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), optical character recognition (OCR), and analytics solutions along with other automation technologies to intelligently process inbound communications. Communications can be evaluated, categorized, and sorted. Relevant data can be extracted and delivered to relevant enterprise systems. Humans can be notified of next best actions.

In our research, 46% of respondents indicated that deploying software robots or “digital workers” for repetitive knowledge and information worker tasks will result in reskilling those employees and/or transferring them to different roles.  IPA also augments employee capabilities by enabling them to work side-by-side with digital workers. Over a third of survey respondents (38%) told us that IPA will enable employees to work smarter. And 35% of companies expect more than a quarter of their workforce to be actively using AI in their daily jobs by 2021.

IPA technologies are also creating new jobs, in roles such as data analysts and scientists, AI and machine learning specialists, process automation specialists, and information security analysts, to name a few. The Future of Jobs Report 2018 from the World Economic Forum finds that the increased demand for new jobs will offset the decreasing demand for others.

High-performing organizations will deploy a diverse, scalable, modular technology stack that can address a broad number of corporate use cases. The technology must be IT-endorsed and governed, but accessible to – and configurable by – business users.  The technology stack must be aligned with corporate and industry policies and regulations. It must enable “digital coworkers” that are capable of self-learning and continuous improvement. And the company must provide business users with tools that enable them to effortlessly link together multiple technologies and systems to effectively automate appropriate tasks and processes.

Most importantly, automation is not one-and-done. Organizations must embrace change and adopt a culture focused on agility and innovation. Only then will they be able to tap into the benefits of automation, keep pace with changing market demands, and access the best technologies to get the job done.

Holly Muscolino is the Research Vice President, Content and Process Strategies and the Future of Work, IDC, responsible for research related to innovation and transformation in content and process solutions, including intelligent process automation and content workflow services.