For students of technology and workplace practices though, it is the universal embrace of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) that will feature prominently on study lists. In what can be regarded as the golden age of automation, businesses have rushed to adopt RPA tools at rates never seen before and, in turn, allow employees to swap time-consuming, repetitive tasks for more productive and meaningful work. RPA is no longer an emerging technology, with executives increasingly keen to see definitive proof of results rather than being wowed by the latest automation ‘toy’.
As Robotic Process Automation enters the next phase of its evolution, here are eight trends to watch for in 2022.
From the moment the public got wind of an emerging technology that promised to complete certain tasks faster and more accurately than humans, there have been fears that robots were “coming to take our jobs”. While such automation fears should never be dismissed or ignored by business leaders, it is becoming clear that the mass job losses so many workers fear are not based on reality, with markets such as the United States actually adding jobs at a time when adoption of automation is at a peak.
The fact is critical thinking that can only be delivered by humans remains a fundamental part of many jobs. RPA’s rule-based nature may make it valuable for completing repetitive data processing tasks but it is unable to make decisions or adapt to evolving conditions. As noted by the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report: “The tasks where humans are expected to retain their comparative advantage (over algorithms and machines) include managing, advising, decision-making, reasoning, communicating and interacting.” Amid the so-called ‘Great Resignation’, RPA is even shaping as a hiring and retention tool in 2022 as it will allow managers to offer staff less monotonous and mindless work in favour of more creative and intellectual pursuits.
Organisations that have fought automation until now are quickly coming to the realisation that they have fallen behind their competitors. The coming year will see many once-reluctant businesses finally adopt RPA because it has become a critical tool for streamlining procedures and getting the most out of one’s workforce. While some companies have experienced hiccups in their automation implementation, this will be less of an issue as the number of qualified and knowledgeable suppliers is growing at a rapid rate. The evolution of RPA means each year will deliver less technical issues than the previous one and that will be no different in 2022.
With each passing year, the line between bots and digital workers (eg: software) is becoming clearer and that will be even more so in 2022. Robotic process automation will be more integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning techniques, with RPA bots to focus on tasks based on logged procedures with rules and AI that mimics human behaviour helping to tick off increasingly difficult tasks. Businesses will also relish how the integration will aid in connecting automation islands, thus helping achieve more seamless process automation and connection between departments.
From the earliest days of RPA, reducing paperwork has been a priority that has led to countless predictions that automation tools will signal its complete elimination. Recent trends would suggest that day is getting closer, with a significant move towards intelligent bots extracting, filing and processing data online. This year will see the virtual workforce of bots continue to eliminate paper invoices, client forms and other needless paper trails and, in turn, ensure higher productivity for mundane paperwork-related activities.
A current buzzword among many RPA vendors is ‘process discovery’, which sees their tools coming close to programming themselves. This is highly desirable for many clients and there is no doubt the push for more simplified rollouts will continue in 2022 and may even result in ‘no-code’ level automation for some simple tasks. On the flip side, there will be a concurrent rise in demand for specialist programming talent to customise RPAs that are required to do more sophisticated jobs. Some companies are finding that RPAs are more complicated and expensive to maintain than they thought and while interns and managers will be able to automate more simple tasks, there will be a simultaneous need for quality programmers to deliver the goods on complex projects.
Befitting an industry that is revolutionising the workplace, the RPA software market has boomed in recent years with dozens of vendors offering their products and services. That said, the sector has likely reached a threshold and this will create a significant shift towards specialisation and consolidation in 2022. While the big players such as Microsoft Power Automate and Blue Prism will continue to battle for top spot, smaller providers will aim to shore up their current market share and meet user expectations by focusing on niche use cases and specific lines of business such as automation for individual audiences like finance, HR or IT. It’s all about being strategic and tapping into a specific area of the RPA software market.
When it comes to a specific industry, it is worth noting that change is afoot for the use of RPA in financial and accounting processes. Traditional automation in the sector is nearing its end and providers are now focused on providing a better user experience and, most critically, removing bottlenecks in the financial industry. This will see RPA automation increasingly identify the customer journey, with the ultimate goal of creating workflows that seamlessly connect consumers with their banks or financial institutions. Navigating one’s way through the complexities of such organisations can be tricky for customers but high-end robotic process automation is rolling out to help them do just that.
There is a reason the catchcry ‘do more with less’ entered the business lexicon in recent decades and with the global pandemic continuing to cause uncertainty, it has never been more important. That imperative means robotic process automation is not only here to stay but will indeed thrive in 2022 as companies look to get the balance right and focus on better-automated design, planning and delivery. Having invested heavily in software and tools in the past couple of years, it is time for business leaders to reap the rewards as the combination of RPA, AI and machine learning allows them to improve efficiencies, reduce costs and make life better for their customers, employees and shareholders.
Accounts Payable staff are among those benefiting from RPA, with automated invoice and receipt processing helping reduce manual processes that can exceed 15 steps before a final posting is done. Discover how AI and machine learning is streamlining antiquated invoicing systems and bringing joy to accounting and finance leaders desperate to keep their competitive edge.