How do we know intelligent automation is real and not just more hype?

IA exists, is delivering results, and is growing, according to recent industry figures

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Photo by Sanjeevan SatheesKumar on Unsplash

For those that believe intelligent automation is just hype, consider that robotic process automation (RPA) advisors and consultants have seen their revenues grow five-fold over the past year, and that projections for next year are to double again.

Recent analysis estimates the intelligent process automation (IPA) industry at just under $300mn for 2016, and expected to hit $1.2bn by 2021—a nearly 40% compound annual growth rate (CAGR).

There has been an explosion of vendors to fill this rising demand.

Whereas a few years ago there were perhaps a dozen key RPA providers, today there are around 40 to 50 and growing.

Some—like Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, IPsoft, NICE, Pega Robotics (formerly OpenSpan), Redwood, UiPath, or T-Plan—have been around for many years, evolving their solutions to fit the process automation needs of modern-day support services.

Others, like Antworks, Arago, Celeris, Softomotive or WorkFusion have emerged more recently, with services specifically developed around the modern automation proposition.

Read more: Enterprise automation takes time 

No matter their provenance, however, these providers are keenly tuned to the needs of customers and constantly recalibrating their services to deliver to market demand.

The reason intelligent automation is so powerful today is that technology’s evolution has brought new opportunities well within the grasp of most corporations. The cost of computing power has been slashed, the cloud allows us to implement in days what used to take months, and “immediacy” has become a realistic expectation, with hard dollar payback achievable in under a year.

Most importantly, intelligent automation has put these capabilities in the hands of business operators where previously, these things were the sole purview of IT.

So, what does this mean for the enterprise?

It means if you don’t move fast, your competitor will. Every industry is now or will very soon be experiencing their own “Uber” moment, where black or yellow taxis were surprised by a young upstart taking over more than half the market share in a matter of months. Uber used a new technology platform and engaged users directly.

Corporations can take heed and leverage these learnings to their own advantage. Locational tracking works for your supply chain as it does for Uber’s customers. The benefits of artificial intelligence and recommendation engines are just as applicable to procurement as they are to picking a movie on Netflix.

Read more: Cindy Gallagher on why automation is business evolution

What is noteworthy is that we have been here before. Thirty years ago, the shared services model was being embraced by enterprises. Shortly after, offshoring and business process outsourcing (BPO) arose. The shared services and outsourcing (SSO) industry today is at $1T and growing.

IA is transitioning along the same path that BPO did, offering a technology-based alternative to traditional, or human, transaction processing – this time replacing low-cost labor with automation.

And, similar to BPO, some of the major players are choosing to focus on their core capabilities and partnering with niche solution providers to bolt on “expertise” via APIs (for example, capabilities around OCR, or turning unstructured data into structured data). Others have elected to build a comprehensive platform solution incorporating their own version of these capabilities instead of partnering with a best of breed solution provider.

There are plenty of case studies demonstrating—with clear, hard facts—IPA (encompassing both RPA and robotic desktop automation) is delivering results.

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There are just too many bone-fide examples of real business results to conclude anything other than the benefits of IA are real.

To make the most of these new technologies, organizational leaders must challenge assumptions, take calculated risks and encourage experimentation—all while embracing the risks inherent to any technological innovation.