2020 has been a year of accelerated adoption of Intelligent Automation. A recent survey by the World Economic Forum found that more than 80% of business executives are accelerating plans to digitise work processes and deploy new technologies; and 50% of employers are expecting to accelerate the automation of some roles in their companies.

This comes at a time when the Intelligent Automation industry itself is maturing. Enterprise vendors like Microsoft have recently entered the market; and leading vendors have expanded capabilities to include document processing, Machine Learning integration, and low-code app development.

As a result, public and commercial organisations that have been holding back, are likely to start their automation journey in 2021.

So, what does 2021 have in store for Intelligent Automation? Here are my thoughts on the key trends for organisations leveraging Intelligent Automation:

1. Focusing on total value

Rather than purely focusing on savings, organisations will need to look holistically at their operations to determine which processes to prioritise for automation. While driving efficiencies is still the primary driver, the need for business resilience and risk reduction are increasingly important.

2. Addressing long tail automation

In every organisation there is a long tail of digital processes that historically have not been considered for automation due to low effort reduction estimates (typically less than 1 FTE) and high automation costs. With the recent availability of low code automation development, and reduced automation operating costs, these processes will become ripe for automation.

3. Legacy reduction through Automation

Robotic Process Automation has traditionally been used to access legacy systems where APIs are not available or sufficient. The recent introduction of low-code app development capabilities in the key automation platforms now provides a cost-effective and rapid option to replace legacy systems and processes.

4. Move to the Cloud

The pandemic has shown us that organisations need to be able to operate remotely and has reinforced the value of scalable cloud services. This coupled with the automation vendors move towards cloud centric automation platforms, I expect an increasing number of organisations to move from on-premise automation to the cloud. The key benefits include reduced total cost of ownership, reduced time to automate, and increased scalability.

5. Setting Automation Targets

In 2020, many organisations recognised the importance of automation in delivering operational savings, managing demand changes, and improving resilience. Whereas previously process automation has been reactive or opportunistic, the trend in 2021 will be towards tracking levels of automation by business area. Benchmarks of percentage of processes automated by area and industry will emerge and management teams will set targets to be achieved.

The global workforce is adopting automation faster than expected and Intelligent Automation is quickly moving from a ‘nice to have technology’ to a business imperative. 2021 will be the year that organisations embrace what’s possible with automation and drive tangible business outcomes.

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