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IDC: ‘Every organisation should develop an automation strategy in 2021’

by Gary Flood

“Think of technologies like RPA as using automation to bring yesterday’s systems into the ‘present’ of work:” why IDC’s taking part in UiPath’s upcoming Reboot Work Festival

 Later this month (December 15 to 17 inclusive), Robotic Process Automation (RPA) market leader UiPath is hosting a special ‘Reboot Work Festival’. The virtual event’s aim: highlight the ways companies are using automation to reinvent the way they work and free their employees to realize their potential.

On Day 2 at the EMEA version of what seems to be a major global automation debate is a special ‘Meet The Analysts’ event, with a topic of “Where are we and where are we going?” There, the vendor’s Chief Evangelist, Guy Kirkwood, will be in dialogue with senior analysts covering all things automation and digital transformation.

In advance of the show, RockingRobots reached out to one of them, IDC’s Neil Ward-Dutton. Ward-Dutton is a VP at the research group, leading its AI and Intelligent Process Automation practice; he told us his job revolves around “driving a broad collaboration of analysts across Europe to create world-leading AI and automation research and strategy results for clients”. We now present a slightly edited version of our conversation; for more information on Reboot Work, including the full EMEA agenda, please go here.

The main theme of Reboot Work is the role of automation/robotics/RPA in the future of work. This is obviously a complex issue, Neil–but what are your maybe top 2-3 thoughts here?

I think there are two sides to this. Firstly: automation has been a feature of the business landscape since the 1800s! And the history of IT is really the history of automation in business. But what’s happening now is quite a shift from where we’ve been. Since the first information systems took hold until perhaps 10 years ago, organisations typically bought or built business systems that ended up hard-coding assumptions about what I call the “who, what, when, where and how” of business practices. The result of all those decades of investment is often hundreds of systems, none of which really fit the requirements of modern digital workplaces.

Modern digital workplaces, enabled by the Web, cloud platforms, mobile platforms, and more, create a completely new canvas that makes far fewer assumptions about the “who, what, when, where and how” of work. Today’s automation strategies–often led by RPA–are an attempt to bridge the gaps between what modern digital business operations need, and the business systems that commonly exist.

So really, you can think of technologies like RPA as using automation to bring yesterday’s systems into the ‘present’ of work (before we even get to the future). And secondly, particularly when AI and ML get added into the mix, automation technologies are now creating opportunities to create collaborations between a virtual workforce of digital assistants and human workers.

What do you want to tell us about at the conference? It’s fine to give us a high level answer–let’s not blow your presentation!

At the event, I’ll be sitting down with a peer from another analyst firm and Guy Kirkwood, UiPath’s Chief Evangelist. We’ll be talking about two simple things: where we are with automation in 2020, and where the market is going next. We’ll talk a bit about technology for sure, but we’ll also talk about how practices are changing as organisations look to use automation more broadly and deeply.

Great answer, sounds intriguing. Our final question today, Neil: If there is ONE thing to do about automation at my organisation in 2021, what should it be?

Simple: every organisation should develop an automation strategy in 2021, if they haven’t got one already. And that automation strategy should answer a few key questions, including:

  • To what extent should we look to automate work?
  • What kinds of work, or kinds of use cases, should we try to tackle in the short term, and what should we postpone?
  • How will we measure success, and how will we prioritise investments?
  • And last but not least, how will we build collaborations between technology suppliers, our own IT people and key business stakeholders (including regular workers)?

Food for thought indeed. Thanks Neil, and see you at the show!

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