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How to avoid the hype in “hyperautomation”

David Poole, CEO of enterprise transformation specialist Emergence Partners, explains what businesses must do to reap the benefits of hyperautomation

The business world has a history of trying and failing to keep pace with technology. But are things about to change?

The robotic process automation (RPA) market is taking the digital world by storm, with at least one unicorn and ever more products, services and add-ons being developed. Large corporations are queuing up to buy these tools, and there are already thousands of consultants designing and implementing process improvements.Yet, even today, after six years of mainstream exposure, Gartner estimates that 95% of buyers of RPA systems have implemented five or fewer bots. Thus far, the hyperautomation story has consisted of plenty of hype, without the automation to match.

A similar pattern is emerging in the low-code/no-code (LCNC) market. With LCNC, apps that used to take months or even years to build can be configured, tested, adjusted, connected and launched in a few days by citizen developers with an acute knowledge of their business.

For years, this has been touted as the next big thing. But, again, take up has been slow. As recently as 2018, Forrester found that only 23% of 3,228 developers surveyed worldwide were using low-code. Even so, Gartner predicts that low-code will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity by 2024.

RPA and LCNC have two things in common that give them huge potential to disrupt the whole software and technology sector:

*1 They are generic tools that can be used in almost any kind of business to enable rapid and transformational change; and

*2 They are democratising the enterprise-grade creation of new business systems, moving away from development models that for decades have been the domain of the IT department.

Both technologies will be integral to the realisation of hyperautomation, which seamlessly combines multiple technologies and human intelligence into an interoperable system of automation. Hyperautomation tops Gartner’s list of strategic technology trends for 2020, but the long gestation periods of RPA and LCNC, suggest that it won’t be an overnight sensation.

Much like solar power and digital photography before them, RPA and automation tools in general exhibit the characteristics of exponential technologies that conform to Amara’s Law. This states that we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate its effect in the long run. Such technologies usually fail to deliver on their potential initially while the markets work out the best ways to extract their value, innovate new products, imagine new pricing models, refine implementation approaches and build ecosystems. But once the experimental phase is over and the technology achieves scaled-up exponential growth, the long-term results can be astonishing. In the US, after a slow start, solar power has grown 48x over the last 11 years.

Lessons to learn
As the RPA market begins to reach maturation and LCNC goes through the early stages of a similar journey, what lessons can be learnt from RPA’s slow growth?

With nine out of ten enterprise adopters of RPA failing to get past piecemeal projects and pilots to achieve proper scale, according to KPMG, traditional operating models have clearly been too focused on ncremental improvements – on cost reduction over value creation. The risk with this approach is that businesses will hunt for short-term fixes to drive out further costs instead of designing an intelligent strategic journey that really benefits customers and employees.

In this context, beware:

*Old school software vendors rebadged with RPA digital business cards that are still only interested in shifting licences; and

*A lack of strategic thinking in the software buying process, encouraged by cheap offers and special deals from vendors, resulting in ‘random acts of automation’ syndrome.

Without a clear strategic direction and intent across the entire business and without frameworks to ensure that hyperautomation is achieved in a controlled manner, organisations will not reap the benefits.

Horses for Sources’ Digital OneOffice is an excellent example of a framework that smashes through traditionally rigid organisational structures, unifying front, middle and back office processes with strategic automation. Such systems need to be designed for teams across an organisation to analyse, design, automate, measure, monitor and reassess. Conventional management and organisational structures will need to be changed, performance measurement and reward processes re-written, recruitment policies and standards reimagined.

We are well on our way towards a highly augmented human workforce, but RPA and low-code/no-code will only realise their exponential potential if businesses resist the temptation of short-term incremental gains and focus instead on strategically integrated automation initiatives carefully designed for long-term value creation.

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