RPA and Process Automation—It’s An Upside Down World

For the past six months, I’ve taken a deep, research-driven look at the state of the market for digital process automation. The result? Take a look at our newly published report, The State of the Digital Process Automation Market: Current Assessment 2019 which offers a broad view of the digital process automation market and vendor landscape.

This week we’re putting the finishing touches on The State of the Digital Process Automation Market: Trends 2020-2025, which examines five megatrends impacting the process automation market, and describes what comes after the process automation and RPA markets consolidate, AI/ML seriously impacts work automation, and intelligent business automation platforms emerge.

While exploring the depths of these topics, I’ve concluded–

Something isn’t right with the state of the process automation market.

It’s as if the technology world is upside down when it comes to the role of robotic process automation (RPA) in automated business processes.

Consider these two facts:

  • RPA automates tasks.
  • Digital process automation automates business processes.

Now ask yourself, from a pure automation perspective, which has a bigger scope and broader role in transforming business processes?  Is it RPA or process automation? What about in making companies more competitive and setting them up for a more digital/intelligent future?

Of course,

the answer is digital process automation. To put it into perspective, tasks are performed within business processes.

So, why is the world upside down?

The business process automation world flipped upside down when RPA valuations sky-rocketed, to the point that even the biggest of the big vendors—say IBM—can’t afford to buy RPA companies but instead must partner with them, resell their products, and add value on top of them. Sure, in a very few instances, prescient process automation vendors got into the RPA space (rather than the other way around) including Kofax, Nintex, Pegasystems, and SAP. But the rest of the process automation players must now partner their way into combining process automation with RPA—in essence, marrying process automation with task automation.

The implications of an upside down world:

  • RPA vendors are on the verge of kicking-off an acquisition spree, buying the more broadly positioned process automation vendors  (the very ones that can’t afford to buy them.)
  • In a process market driven by RPA vendors, buyers may be presented with an efficiency/productivity vision of process automation, rather than transforming processes by drawing upon the full gamut of task and process automation, human insight and innovation, and dynamic engagement with customers.
  • While perhaps not that stark, an RPA-led process automation world will clash with other styles of work and automation, particularly dynamic case management, which concentrates on dynamic processes, human insight, and one-off changes to an instance of work while in-flight.

Perhaps this draconian view in which process transformation hinges upon efficiency, productivity, and removing humans from the flow of work is too extreme.

But definitely, there’s a deep conceptual and philosophical difference between:

  • Using screen scrapping technology to automate routine tasks that were overlooked when the business created application software, versus
  • Transforming outdated processes using intelligent process automation platforms that draw upon a rich mix of task automation, process automation, process mining, advanced analytics, content services, customer journeys, etc., to deliver transformed processes.

If RPA companies end up leading the good fight toward automation because the world is upside down due to crazy valuations, then these vendors must look beyond their constrained task orientation, to see the very complex business processes around them.

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