UiPath’s recent release of its S-1 filing is the latest sign that the recent robotic process automation boom is set to continue, even as the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight and some companies begin the move away from remote operations.
The pandemic is changing a lot about how work gets done in North America, and its accelerating effect on RPA adoption is one example of note. In March 2021, UiPath released its S-1 filing and made its intention to pursue an IPO clear. UiPath is growing fast and making money, in part because 2020 was a good year to be a company with an RPA platform.
Robotic process automation refers to tools that use software bots to complete repetitive tasks such as data entry, form competition and appointment scheduling. The technology becomes even more potentially powerful when combined with artificial intelligence or natural language processing.
For companies, RPA software can save money on labor costs and by reducing errors. But while some employees welcome the adoption of RPA as a way to free them up to spend more time on high-value job tasks, others worry about automation eliminating their positions entirely.
RPA in 2021
With the new and sudden reliance on remote operations across industries, RPA gave many companies a way to keep operations moving without requiring people to be in the same physical space. Growth in the sector is expected to continue; a research report from Research and Markets found that the RPA market was valued at $2.039 billion in 2020 and will have a compound annual growth rate of 31.5% from 2021 to 2026.
Even before the pandemic hit, rapid growth in RPA adoption was expected. Deloitte’s third-annual RPA survey, released in 2019, found that more than half of respondents were already using RPA in their operations. At that time, Deloitte expected that to reach nearly three quarters of companies in the next two years, with saturation for RPA expected in the next five.
Then 2020 happened, and RPA boomed. Gartner expects global RPA software revenue to hit $1.89 billion this year, up 19.5% from the last. "2020 was about buying RPA bots and AI services," said Malcolm Ross, deputy CTO at Appian. "2021 will be about organizations looking to scale those technologies, realizing the full value of those investments by unifying the modern workforce — with humans in control."
According to Deloitte, scaling RPA across an enterprise means focusing on improving the tools in use, increasing the level of automation in operations and developing the enterprise’s analytical capabilities. Investment in RPA software is also one way for organizations to push their digital transformation strategies along. But finding success in that approach will require a holistic approach to RPA integration.
Up to now, many RPA implementations for repetitive tasks have been siloed, said Ross — who believes it’s time to change that. "In 2021, it is time to make RPA digital workers part of the full-time workforce and include them in overall process flows," he said. "Enterprises will look to BPM [business process management] and workflow technology that allows for seamless modeling across humans, RPA bots and AI services in complete process flows."
Some of that organizational process will likely involve assessing the impact of RPA adoption thus far. When the pandemic hit North America in early 2020, companies had to adapt their operations quickly. Adaptations that got them through those early months may not make sense down the road, or be the most effective solution — especially as RPA tools become more advanced and better implemented throughout organizations.