Money flows to robotic process automation

Survey finds IT departments are the first to be feeling its impact.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

When asked about their top priorities over the coming year, enterprise managers put customer engagement via mobile and social at the top of their lists. These are technology initiatives that have been around and occupying the minds of IT and business managers for the past several years.

Photo: Honda

There's a new contender for IT and business mindshare on the rise, however. Coming in at number two this year is robotic process automation (RPA), a survey of 454 enterprises conducted by HfS Research and KPMG finds. (Analytics is #3, and Software as a Service is #4.)

The Institute for Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence (whew, they cover a lot of ground) defines RPA as "the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a 'robot' to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems."

The IT department itself is seeing RPA first. Thirty-six percent of enterprises are implementing or piloting RPA against their IT and network infrastructure support functions, making this the leading area seeing such investments. Another 35% are deploying or piloting RPA against IT administrative functions.

Other areas of investment include the following: (Includes implementing and piloting.)

  • Costumer sales and support 33%
  • Procurement 31%
  • Marketing 29%
  • Sales 27%
  • Supply chain and logistics 22%
  • Industry specific process (e.g., claims processing) 21%

RPA seems to be catching the imaginations of higher-level business executives, a group usually not cognizant of technology flavors. Forty-three percent of senior VPs in the survey base say they intend to make "significant" investments in RPA.

Among industry groups, the high-tech and financial services industries leading the way with, respectively, 53% and 44% making significant investments in RPA over the next couple of years, HfS reports. "Only retail falls below 30%, which may be a result of highly distributed organizations finding it if challenging to find high-throughput, high-intensity process where there is real tangible ROI for the investment."

RPA puts businesses on the path to digitization, HfS explains. "Quite simply, you can't be an effective digital organization if you don't have your manual processes digitized and automated. That's what RPA does."

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