Despite the hype and excitement surrounding AI in both B2B and B2C markets, public mindsets toward robotics, by comparison, still seems a little less evolved. However, these two technological revolutions are inextricably linked and immense progress has been made in recent years. Whether the public is aware of it or not, robotics process automation (RPA) has been making big waves in many industries.
To explore the sector's growth, where it is heading and what it all really means for not only ambitious businesses but the average employee who has been told for years that robots were coming for their jobs, DATAx spoke with the CTO of RPA firm Kryon Nathaniel Davidson to get an idea of how close we are to the "robo-apocalypse".
DATAx: What have been the key RPA developments over the last 12 months?
Nathaniel Davidson: There has been tremendous growth and opportunity for this industry – in my opinion, more than ever before. Global spending on RPA software is estimated to reach $680m by the end-2018, representing an almost 60% increase year over year, according to the latest report from Gartner. Kryon's success this year has been a direct reflection of these numbers.
DATAx: What options do firms currently have in terms of exploiting automation within their enterprise processes?
ND: Any task that is repetitive can theoretically be automated. Enterprises currently adopt automation where it is applicable to increase the efficiency of their operations, save large costs and better adapt employees to elevated roles. Tasks like gathering and analysis of data, inventory management, strategic planning, scheduling, logistics and taskforce management can be automated with AI tools.
DATAx: What are the biggest fallacies in the robotics industry right now?
ND: That robots will replace the human role. While there is a fear that emerging technologies will pose a threat to existing roles, in actuality, this could not be more misguided. In a recent survey Kryon conducted of 1,000 employees across US enterprises, more than 60% agree that software robots and people could work successfully side by side. A majority of respondents indicated they would not only embrace automation to relieve them from burdensome, time-consuming tasks, but they also believe RPA would enable them to contribute greater value and innovation to their organizations.
The Future of Jobs Report finds that 85% of corporations plan to retrain existing talent to extract the potential benefit from initiatives such as intelligent robotics. Likewise, 82% anticipate hiring new personnel with applicable tech backgrounds in support roles. Proficiency in new technologies is only one part of the equation, as 'human' skills such as creativity, brainstorming and negotiation will likewise retain or increase in value, as will attention-to-detail, flexibility and multifaceted problem-solving.
We're additionally looking to redefine the complications companies face when looking to implement RPA – but we have the solution with Process Discovery. This feature, unique to Kryon, automates the automation by discovering what processes are susceptible in a given company, and then, at the push of a button, begins to perform immediately. Think back to when full teams were needed to shadow employees for weeks to months to find the processes that could be improved.
DATAx: At the moment we have seen an increase in industrial adoption of RPA but it seems like the consumer end of it still hasn't taken off. Do you see this changing in 2019?
ND: Consumerization of automation will act as the enabler for mass adoption and simplicity of RPA development. Kryon's industry-leading Visual Learning approach, based on machine vision, will win as the method that requires the least skillset to perform.
Inevitably, consumers want that same convenience, ease and reliability in their personal lives that enterprises now have access to. In 2019, this will increasingly become more available in more consumer scenarios. Gartner recently released a survey that spotlights consumers as the most likely to use AI to help save time and money, with 47% saying they use AI if it gave them easier access to information such as in travel, transportation directions and similar everyday activities.
DATAx: What are your predictions for the robotics global market for 2019?
ND: RPA and the consumerization of automation will lead the merging of three technologies in 2019: Business process management suite (BPMS), if this then that (IFTTT) and virtual assistants and performance management systems. Integration systems such as BPMS, IFTTT and RPA are all variants of automation. Virtual assistants are a sister technology of RPA. Virtual assistants are extremely limited in what they can do in terms of out-of-the-box functionality (beyond, "hey Siri, what is the weather like?")
RPA, however, is missing an intuitive user-experience to interact with the person it is designed to help. Virtual assistants will identify the problem, predict the best outcome and aid the user by completing the task automatically. This symbiotic relationship will merge the two technologies into a robot-per-employee best outcome relationship and evolve virtual assistance into standard real-assistance.
Moreover, performance management systems such as KPI dashboards and business analytics require manual configuration to collect their data. Future systems will tap into process discovery analytics, with practically zero back-end manual effort. Accurate real-time data on all processes and all business applications will provide business users with a view of continuous operational improvement, operational efficiency, identification of weak spots, and optimization through automation and guided assistance to onboard, reduce error and improve compliance.
I think it's also important to watch augmented reality (AR) technology for professionals. AR glasses in the enterprise will overlap with virtual assistance as a new approach to interact with professional users, alert on escalations and trigger automated back-office procedures in the business setting.
Overall, we'll see more and more companies gravitate toward incorporating some sort of RPA into their business model. It is really obligatory if a business is to incorporate full traceability and visibility into its processes. Analysts have forecasted that by 2020, 9 out of ten business will adopt RPA – that progress will be made throughout 2019.
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