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The 2017 RPA Landscape: An Annual Review

Blog: softmotive

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is dramatically changing the way companies do business, offering unprecedented opportunities for growth and innovation. As the pace of technological progress quickens and automation technology matures, it can be difficult for many companies to keep up with the change. This brief overview of the current RPA landscape will help your organization learn about the state of RPA, some of the current trends and where the technology is headed in the coming years.

The Evolution of the RPA Market

RPA’s origins lie in older technologies such as workflow automation and screen scraping. From early examples of the first learning robots, such as General Robotics Corp’s RB5X in 1984, to the AI chatbot Jabberwacky in 1988, RPA’s roots stretch back decades.[i] However, many of these developments were more valuable from a research perspective than from a business perspective. Many business applications of these technologies that were attempted had a reputation for being unreliable, inflexible or difficult to use.

As technology advanced, the value of RPA became more apparent. One of the most significant examples of how RPA was evolving into a practical, extremely powerful tool was IBM’s Watson, developed in 2006. This solution showed that an automated system could gather information, solve problems and interact in human-like ways.[ii] As underlying technology evolved, solution providers began to develop more effective tools, combining these technologies into more useful, practical packages. This gave rise to RPA as we know it now: an intuitive, robust set of tools that allows companies to automate a wide range of processes.

However, many were slow to implement new RPA solutions, believing them to be more hype than substance. A reliance on the proven benefits of offshoring to drive increased efficiency coupled with a distrust of new technology slowed adoption. Now, as RPA solutions have proven themselves and enterprises are looking for ways to manage growing worldwide labor costs, companies are finally deploying automation.

Today, surveys show that process automation is the top priority for global business service leaders.[iii]  RPA is being adopted and implemented at a rapidly increasing rate. In one recent survey, over 70% of respondents said they were currently utilizing RPA and 66% said they were either expanding their current implementation or thinking about it. Nearly 70% also said their RPA spending would increase in the next 12 months.[iv]

This increased investment is allowing companies to develop new products and services, reduce their reliance on offshore labor and improve productivity in the organization. It is also moving RPA from being an IT dominated field to be a major focus of business leaders. As automation becomes a primary driver of business goals, it is increasingly important that the company has an enterprise wide RPA strategy with coordinated implementation.

Current and Future Innovations in RPA

RPA is a constantly changing field with new technologies and innovative applications coming out every year. This opens many opportunities for forward thinking companies. IoT, predictive analytics and self-healing IT are just some of the trends companies are currently exploring and leveraging to drive business goals.

The largest industry adopters of the technology now include insurance, technology, banking and manufacturing, however practically every industry has begun implementing RPA into their processes.[v] This is allowing companies to explore new avenues of growth and keep pace with a changing economy.

RPA now can help improve a wide variety of processes. Some of the most common of these include:

Financial and accounting – Approximately 50% of businesses surveyed have automated financial operations. This includes billing, accounts payable and taxes.[vi]

HR – There is a wide range of HR tasks that can be partially or entirely automated, such as payment processing, benefit disbursement and onboarding.

IT – From software development to help desk ticket processing, companies are increasingly looking to RPA to help reduce costs and improve the performance of IT operations. This is an area in which to expect significant growth as technology improves and automated solutions are increasingly able to take on a greater workload.

Procurement – RPA has the ability to effectively automate requisition approvals, MRO re-orders, invoice processing and a wide range of other time intensive tasks associated with procurement.

One of the most exciting new innovations in automation is cognitive computing. This new field of technology attempts to simulate the workings of the human brain, allowing RPA solutions to learn, recognize complex patterns and become more powerful as they are used. As these capabilities mature, automated tools will become increasingly flexible and able to take on practically any task that a human worker could do.

Taking advantage of these new areas and implementing Intelligent Automation into your business requires a significant understanding of the current and future states of the technology. However, companies that do not act decisively and begin utilizing these solutions now will inevitably be left behind. Intelligent Automation is the future avenue of growth for modern companies, and investing in innovation will be critical to achieving business goals.


[ii] Ibid.


[iv] 2017 Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence Survey. June 2017.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

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