Robotic Process Automation (RPA): Is It Recession Proof?

Recession seems all but inevitable, as stocks have plunged to bear market levels. Yet there are certain industries that could be insulated. There will also likely be changes in consumer and business behavior that will be lasting.

No doubt, it seems like video conferencing and remote work will become increasingly mainstream. But there are other corners of the tech industry that could be poised for transformations. One is actually Robotic Process Automation (RPA). 

“RPA can help save an organization money by automating any repetitive task that a human does with keyboard and mouse, as well as tasks in legacy systems that can’t be accessed via APIs and Web Services,” said Vadim Tabakman, who is the Director of Technical Evangelism at Nintex. “RPA bots accelerate ‘low-hanging fruit’ processes in every business like opening email and attachments, filling in forms, reading from and writing to databases, making calculations, collecting social media statistics, and extracting data from documents, all very quickly.”

Such capabilities are likely to be essential as companies struggle.  If anything, there may be a dramatic boost in adoption of RPA.Today In: Entrepreneurs

“The RPA industry is at an inflection point right now because economic uncertainty makes efficiency, accuracy, and—above all—maximizing human intellect critical to survival and growth,” said Kyle Kim-Hays, who is the CMO of Softomotive. “Specifically, RPA will move increasingly from the ‘back office’ and IT-focused tasks, to the ‘front office’ and attended use case scenarios where business end users directly invoke and monitor automated tasks. So, RPA will become democratized as more people incorporate it into their day-to-day activities.”

But RPA is not just about efficiency. It can help with improving customer experiences, which will be essential in retaining revenues.  “Current Automation Anywhere customers are already increasing investments to increase ROI and potentially hedge against a declining economy,” said Prince Kohli, who is the CTO of Automation Anywhere.

Pat Geary, the Chief Evangelist at Blue Prism, agrees. “As long as economic uncertainty runs high, and companies face even greater pressure to keep profits strong without incurring costs, RPA vendors will thrive. We provide the operational agility to do more with less through automation. When companies can automate manual processes at scale, they can redeploy workers and focus on more strategic business initiatives, ones that will help them weather the storm that may come.”

RPA The Right Way

As is the case with any technology, RPA is not a cure-all. It certainly has its disadvantages, like high license costs and difficulties with scaling. Successful implementations also require a strong focus on change management within the enterprise.

“We are hearing from our clients that RPA/digital workforce has some significant benefits for an economic downturn and many have little to do with the actual technology,” said Tim Kulp, who is the Vice President of Innovation & Strategy at Mind Over Machines. “The process to build a bot requires detailed process documentation that provides people a chance to examine ‘business as usual’ with a new set of eyes and eliminate waste in the process.”

Tom Thaler, who is the senior product manager for ARIS at Software AG, believes that RPA has the danger of only showing short-term results. This is why he recommends a comprehensive strategy, which includes: 

  • Capturing impact: “Companies that successfully apply RPA start with a top-down assessment of the automation candidates. They have a clear understanding of their ambitions and how to predict and capture the impact. The focus is no longer on simple back-office processes, but is increasingly shifting towards core competencies and customer relevance. Process mining tools make it easier to spot opportunities for automation based on the right relevance criteria, but also deliver the insights for a post assessment of the achievements.”
  • Managing complexity: “A holistic automation approach makes end-to-end use cases available for automation. Handling that requires a specialized team at the core–a center of excellence (CoE). These competence teams act as enablers for the business and manage the complexity of the robotic process landscape. Following a structured approach, they produce new insights that are leveraged for continuous process improvement initiatives. This is addressed by enterprise business process analysis (EBPA) tools.”

Survival Of The Fittest?

During recessions, CEOs generally favor technology from companies with strong balance sheets and broad-based solutions. And this will likely to be the case with RPA. So yes, Microsoft should do quite well, especially since it has been forward-thinking with its own automation platform.

Then there are mid-size operators, like Appian, which should gain more traction. The company, which has been around for over 20 years, has a hefty cash balance, is publicly traded and has a full-suite of automation applications. 

“We are a one-stop shop for the modern workforce,” said Matt Calkins, who is the CEO of the company. “While RPA is a pretty good option for efficiency, it still does not handle exceptions well. This is why you need an integrated solution, such as with business process management, workflow, AI and case management.”

Keep in mind that this week the company announced a host of new features, including: 

  • Full-stack automation that orchestrates workflows for people, bots and AI.
  • Intelligent Document Processing (IDP), which is an out-of-the-box document understanding system powered by AI. 
  • Governance that provides more control over all enterprise automation technologies.
  • DevSecOps to perform tests, packaging and deployment of apps much quicker. 

In other words, RPA must go beyond just task automation. There must be a broader approach.

“The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is disrupting every industry but it also represents a major opportunity to address these very needs—taking advantage of new technologies from data and analytics to RPA,” said Mohamed Kande, who is PwC’s Vice Chair, US and Global Advisory Leader. “4IR investments can help companies weather any downturn while also positioning them to emerge stronger. And business leaders agree. Based on a recent survey we conducted, 63% of business leaders believed that 4IR technologies will provide protection against an economic downturn.”

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