When I explore trends, I avoid looking at the obvious advancements we will experience in the next 12-24 months. Those are too easy to predict. But I also try to avoid the science fiction range of looking 10+ years into the future. While the concepts may be fun to consider, they are meaningless to most organizations today because their potential value is not yet tangible and their likelihood of commercialization is limited. The sweet spot for impactful trend spotting is really in the 3-6 year range. You have enough time to plan and course correct, plus you can assess the realistic impact on the business with some certainty.
We’re now at a point where automation should be returning huge dividends to those that deploy it. But why it’s falling short isn’t due to a lack of trying or a lack of deployment speed. Instead, accelerated approaches, like hyperautomation, and even regular old automation itself, won’t reach their potential until organizations have the right ingredients in their approach to automation.
Unsafe at Any Speed
Hyperautomation burst into the technology lexicon when Gartner named it the Top Strategic Technology Trend for 2020. But, there is a lot of nuance to the meaning of hyperautomation. Gartner defines it as “the application of advanced technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), to increasingly automate processes and augment humans.” It complements intelligent automation but provides higher-level functioning, which enables more predictive analytics and adaptive decision-making.
Hyperautomation sought to address many of the challenges companies faced when scaling their robotic process automation (RPA) programs and re-igniting excitement in the technology. Despite strong market growth, there were cracks appearing in the foundation. HFS Research’s Phil Fersht, ironically the analyst who introduced RPA to the world in 2012, declared the technology dead in his famous 2019 blog post. At the time, only 4% of companies had deployed more than 50 bots, and a Deloitte survey of 400 global firms found that 63 percent of surveyed organizations did not meet delivery deadlines for RPA projects. Regardless of how long it took, an EY study found 30-50% of initial RPA projects fail.
Hyperautomation was introduced to address all of these shortcomings in the market with its suggestion of speed. Unfortunately, as we all know, speed can kill.
More than a decade before the concept of RPA was even introduced, Microsoft’s Bill Gates taught us in 1996 that, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
This lesson still largely holds true today, and unless enterprises deeply understand their processes first, any efforts at automation will be less than successful. Hyperautomation just accelerates the path to magnified inefficiencies.
The Future is Better…and Faster
So what’s in store for automation once industry and practitioners get over their thirst for speed? First, they need to focus on solving the business issues that RPA is not addressing today. Only then can they make transformational progress on automation and get past the abysmal deployment and failure rates. Here’s how I see this situation resolving itself.
In my sweet spot near future timeframe of 3-6 years, I predict three major ideas will influence the next generation of automation technologies.
- The first is CONTEXT. To help address the issue of blindly automating an inefficient or incorrect process, you need better context. Having observability into the current state of operations will drive better decisions and better outcomes. You have to be able to understand today to improve tomorrow. Through a mix of AI-enabled technology systems, organizations will have increased awareness of their operations and will be able to make more informed, data-driven decisions. Automation activity will no longer just be fast, it will be fast and correct.
- The second is CONTINUOUS. All the current process technologies, with a few minor exceptions, are timeboxed. They are episodic. In today’s world, any core data system you are using to run your business has to be real-time and continuous. You do not run your security software for two weeks and then turn it off. Or you do not turn your web analytics on and off based on the data you are looking to explore. We’ll see this shift in automation as well. Organizations, applications, and processes are evolving constantly. And, if we are always just looking at a snapshot to drive automation, we are undoubtedly missing something.
- The third idea is COORDINATION. While this aligns with the letter C theme, it is really more about orchestration and how the systems, applications, and workflows integrate together to create better outcomes. They can self-adjust based on the changing conditions and requirements to work together more efficiently. Orchestration includes human-agent partnerships and managing the new digital workforce. This will really move us towards a next-generation operating model and a more autonomous enterprise.
Automation success requires a deep understanding of business operations, which are continually updated to account for change and adaptation, and which are utilized to orchestrate every aspect of the workflow and business. I hope they’re not termed “hypersonic automation”, but regardless of how the marketers decide to frame the next generation of automation technology, it will be more data-driven to better support key business initiatives across the enterprise.