Beyond RPA: IDC’s Future of Work reveals how organisations are broadening automation toolkit with IPA, low-code tools to succeed with their digital transformation journey

Organisations around the world have reached a point where they understand the vital need to digitise their business operations. This realisation comes as part of their ongoing digital transformation journey. With access to low-code tools and cloud platforms, the business automation technology landscape has changed rapidly and now, organisations are addressing automation opportunities faster than ever before.

According to IDC’s Future of Work report, organisations are overcoming barriers to their digital transformation (DX) journey by adopting automation strategy that goes beyond robotic process automation (RPA). The two ideas going mainstream include use of a broad automation technology toolkit and broadening participation in automation initiatives. Here are some key insights from the report on the role of automation.

Failure to deliver on digital transformation

The report reveals that early process digitisation efforts have decidedly delivered mixed results. According to IDC, only 26 per cent of organisations report delivering an ROI on their digital transformation investments. Only 19 per cent have succeeded in mitigating business process risks to increase trust.

The IDC Digital Executive Sentiment Survey further shows that only 18 per cent have improved the speed with which “they can adapt to change.” The main reasons for these failures is the lack of integration and IDC report notes it is not just technology integration.

“Transformation failures occur because organisations are failing to integrate skills, cultures, processes, and organisational teams within and across business functions,” the report says.

The report also highlights that the digital transformation journey has always begun with the intent to reinvent products, services, and customer experiences. However, many organisations are now realising that the correct approach would be to lead outside-in and move away from standalone innovation teams.

The report makes a strong conclusion that most digital innovation projects get stuck with the “islands of innovation” phase. To deliver real transformation, the report argues for the need to create automation and integration platforms. These platforms should be designed to digitise “business operations across digital customer touchpoints and an evolving landscape of new and existing internal systems and processes.”

Broad Automation Toolkit to go beyond RPA

One of the common ways that organisations have embraced automation is by use of robotic process automation (RPA). The IDC research shows that market interest in RPA has surged over the past five years across industries. The promise of RPA is that it will free data and functionality locked away in legacy systems and automate routine data entry and administration tasks.

RPA also brings upgrades to “slow, expensive, error-prone, manually driven operations to make them more fit for purpose.” IDC says 75 per cent of organisations are prioritising automation investment in customer service and support while 75 per cent are prioritising business operations. The automation priority jumps to 79 per cent in finance while 70 per cent organisations prioritise supply chain management.

IDC says the use of specific automation tools and platforms do not translate into huge growth for one kind of technology. The report suggests that a strategic approach to automation demands a broader toolkit than task-focussed automation through RPA.

Organisations are increasingly relying on intelligent process automation (IPA) platforms along with public cloud infrastructure and easy-to-access low code tools.

What is IPA and what role does it play in digital transformation?

IPA refers to the group of software technologies that individually or collectively manage, automate, and integrate business processes in an organisation. The main technologies that work as part of IPA are AI, RPA, workflow, and application integration.

The IPA platforms are designed to unite these technologies with integrated solution design, delivery, and management approaches. The workflow technology acts as a coordinator between various activities taking place across the platform. In its report sponsored by Appian, IDC says IPA platforms add value to task-focussed automations in four ways:

  • Coordinating the work of people and bots: With IPA platforms, it becomes easier to account for situations where activities carried out by people need to be coordinated with activities carried out by bots. This broadens the strategic approach to automation beyond individual, structured, and repeatable administrative tasks.
  • Providing end-to-end visibility of processes and customer journeys: IPA platforms enable organisations to get vital visibility into end-to-end processes and task health and performance. This approach is better than focussing purely on task-level automation providing performance visibility and insights at the level of those tasks.
  • Enabling more ways for AI to add value to customers and processes: The potential application for AI is much broader than task-focussed use of AI to add value in the form of intelligent document processing. AI is being used to build conversational digital customer support channels allowing humans to address concerns that cannot be handled automatically.
  • Handling operational failures in automated tasks: Lastly, IPA platforms ensure that when automated tasks fail, there are humans to pick up the pieces. The IPA platform has an elegant approach to alerting users whenever they see bot failures and can even be designed in a way that they are addressed directly by a team of specialists.

Future of work is broadening participation of automation

Apart from the use of intelligent platform automation, IDC sees the future of work will be one where traditional routes are dropped in favour of using low-code development tools.

“Low-code approaches are sweeping across the business automation technology landscape — from workflow, case management, and more general system-of-record app development tools, to RPA, AI development platforms (specifically, their AutoML features), and application and data integration platforms.”

In addition to low-code development tools, automation technology vendors have also adopted cloud-based technologies and delivery models. The result is business automation tools and platforms that can create a new working environment. This environment places few constraints on “what work needs to be done by whom, when it needs to be done, and where it needs to be done.”

“We have created a real collaboration between IT and the business around automation. Businesspeople value the mindset of iterative design and development, and understand the value of engaging with IT early and often,” says Matthew Richard, CIO of LIUNA.

The Future of Work report by IDC concludes that low-code tools and cloud delivery are combining to enable organisations to maximise participation in the process of automation design and development. This wider participation is leading to improved application quality at lower risk. It is also enabling businesspeople to drive features and requirements in line with real needs.

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