Robotic process-automation (RPA) programs are well past the point of initial adoption and now boast automation estates well into the hundreds. And while support and maintenance issues, excessive technical complexity, and high costs of ownership have presented significant challenges as process-automation programs have grown and matured, a new survey of 400 senior industry executives conducted by Blueprint Software Systems shows many organizations are well on their way in their business process-automation journey.
According to the research, the accelerated adoption of RPA has led to increases in both the total cost of ownership and operational expenses for RPA—reaching nearly half of million dollars per year on average for most companies and more than $1 million annually for businesses with more than 10,000 employees.
These rising costs, coupled with a strong desire to automate more complex, end-to-end business processes as opposed to simply smaller, rules-based tasks, seem likely to drive more organizations to adopt newer-generation, intelligent automation platforms. This is good news for the four platforms which are continuing to dominate the market—Microsoft Power Automate, Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, and UiPath—despite a number of new entrants looking to disrupt the traditional leaders.
Of those four, Microsoft Power Automate appears to be well-positioned to make strong strides in the market. While its existence in the RPA space has been relatively short, Microsoft is experiencing a marked increase in popularity, no doubt attributable to its reduced licensing fees that significantly lower the total cost of ownership for automation, its ease of use, and its extensibility with the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem.
Microsoft also appears to be getting a significant boost from the fact that a number of companies are building and deploying net-new automations in Power Automate, especially after Microsoft bundled it for free in Windows 10.
With newer generation, cloud -native automation platforms becoming available with better capabilities, more companies are also entertaining multi-platform strategies for their automation practices. While expensive and seemingly inefficient, organizations still seem to be drawn to using specialized tools for specific use cases. In addition, companies are finding that different tools are more compatible with their enterprise architecture. SAP, for example, is used to automate SAP processes.
Since the RPA vendor market is relatively young compared to other enterprise software segments, organizations still appear to be evaluating what RPA platforms are available and which will be most effective for their specific needs.
What do these trends mean for the future?
With growing automation estates and a desire to consolidate automation practices, companies appear to be increasingly focused on three key areas: improving RPA governance; automating more complex, end-to-end processes; and applying RPA more broadly across the business and achieving scale.
In addition, more than one in five of the participants in the Blueprint survey identified RPA re-platforming as one of their main objectives as they look to modernize their automation estates from legacy client-based platforms to new generation, cloud-based solutions.
Given these priorities, the next frontier in the automation space would seem to be a move beyond task-based automation onto complete, end-to-end intelligent automation with the application of machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate decision-based business processes. By automating routine tasks, analyzing large amounts of data, and enhancing user interfaces, machine learning and AI will be able to automate more routine tasks, freeing up workers for more mission-critical or high-value work that technology cannot easily accomplish.
Tony Higgins is chief product officer with Blueprint Software Systems