Robotic process automation is experiencing another moment in the spotlight after Automation Anywhere, a San Jose, California RPA startup, raised $250 million in its latest funding round last week, according to a company announcement. The financing brings Automation Anywhere's valuation to $1.8 billion and cements its place as a tech unicorn, as CB Insights notes.
RPA has gained steam in the last few years as technology vendors have worked to automate rote tasks employees must undertake, such as data entry, routine queries or financial calculations. In December 2016, consulting firm McKinsey declared it was an acronym executives needed to know. And since 2017, more executives have mentioned RPA during earnings calls, with about 80 mentions at the start of 2018, according to CB Insights analysis.
More than half of organizations have begun working to implement RPA, according to a September 2017 Deloitte survey of 400 businesses. Almost universal adoption of RPA is expected within the next five years. While most organizations want to increase adoption over the next three years, scaling challenges remain. Just 3% of organizations have implemented the tech across their digital workforce, according to the report.
Automation Anywhere is not alone in the RPA market. Other companies like Blue Prism, UiPath and Pegasystems have been carving a niche in the enterprise technology market.
Rather than physical robots, RPA technology relies on software to automate particularly repetitive tasks. In 2016, PwC estimated businesses could automate 45% of work activities; McKinsey estimates 30%.
With automation in place, the global workforce would see as much as $2 trillion in cost reduction — an upside of particular interest to business leaders trying to create a more efficient workplace.
Considered entry level AI, RPA systems operate as digital agents to augment and streamline tasks workers are taking on. Think Clippy, but more advanced.
Business leaders expect RPA to help improve compliance, quality and accuracy of reporting, productivity and reduce costs, according to the Deloitte survey. All advantages could benefit a business, but hyping the technology could lead to disappointment, especially given the challenges companies face in releasing it at scale.
Whether it's RPA, chatbots or project planning technologies, more companies are trying to prepare for the future of work. In the workplace, outdated tech can hurt retention, and in an employee's market, firms will vie for expertise driving up the price point of wages.
By creating a more fluid workplace technology culture now, companies will be in a better position to compete long term.