In a business environment where automation is becoming increasingly essential, understanding the trajectory of robotic process automation (RPA) is more important than ever. But what exactly can we expect from the future of RPA in 2024? How will the bots themselves change? How will the market change? And what will these changes mean for buyers?
In this post, we’ll look at the changes you can expect to see in RPA this year. We'll look at the influence AI will have on RPA, the shifts in the market landscape, and the growing RPA trend of embedding it into larger automation offerings.
To begin, let’s look at the changes to RPA bots themselves.
In the past, RPA bots have mainly been used for two specific use cases: automating tasks and connecting to legacy systems. When you try to stretch RPA beyond these uses, you run into issues (addressed in this blog: Is RPA a Self-Defeating Automation Strategy) for three main reasons:
But with the rise of artificial intelligence, all this may change. Gartner® says in the 2023 Critical Capabilities for Robotic Process Automation1 that “almost every RPA vendor has experimented, or plans to experiment, with generative AI (including GPT models) in their products or is enabling APIs to known GPT vendors.” These experiments will likely result in AI evolving the bots themselves. Thanks to the abilities of AI, bots will get better at those human-like activities and need less human intervention:
Discover more automation trends in the Gartner® Emerging Tech Impact Radar: Hyperautomation.
Currently, bots need a foundation of properly built data models, correct authorization rules, and guaranteed data quality before they can work fluidly on those repetitive tasks they’re so good at. In 2024, IT teams will improve how they present data for bots. We predict that the most effective bots will rely on a data platform layer (i.e., a cohesive data model that unifies disparate data sources and adheres to well-defined governance). Because of this, bots will be able to access data from anywhere in the enterprise.
Now that you know what will happen to the software robots themselves, what about the future of the robotic process automation market?
Per Gartner in the 2023 Critical Capabilities for Robotic Process Automation, RPA market growth is slowing.
The robotic process automation market’s growth rate was 22% in 2022. Compared with the 31% growth rate in 2021 and 63% in 2020, this slower growth shows that this market has passed through its initial excitement phase, and has now entered the early maturity stage.
If this trajectory continues for 2024, growth will slow even more as RPA enters the next phase of maturity and its use becomes more ubiquitous.
In the Gartner 2023 Critical Capabilities for Robotic Process Automation, we find that although growth is slow, the market is not stagnant. In fact, it’s becoming even more competitive as large vendors enter the market and RPA offerings evolve.
Despite its slowing rate of growth, the RPA market continues to evolve rapidly. As of January 2023, the global RPA market includes more than 60 vendors, but it is becoming more consolidated and competitive. Large software vendors are entering the market, and pure-play RPA vendors are jockeying for market position and evolving their offerings.
Discover five best practices for RPA success in our guide.
According to Forrester, RPA vendors are working to expand beyond just RPA. Instead of pushing pure RPA sales, they want to become broad automation suppliers.
Robotic process automation is at a crossroads. Many major RPA vendors that have evolved robust product offerings over the years now yearn to transcend RPA and move toward broader automation plays. They attempt to do this both organically and inorganically, making product portfolios ever more complex.
Gartner provides this insight:
RPA vendors are adding new products to their portfolios or are being acquired to provide more general task and process automation platforms with a wider range of capabilities.
This play makes sense for vendors, but it makes sense from the buying side, too. Taking a platform approach to automation prevents the creation of islands of automation within an organization. In addition, it means that different automation capabilities integrate seamlessly and that IT teams can manage updates and find skillsets for just one platform rather than many platforms—all leading to more operational efficiency.
While the trend of consolidation and broader automation plays ultimately help organizations, it means buyers will have difficult decisions to make.
RPA buyers must navigate these choices while balancing twin objectives: scaling and industrializing their RPA setups while up-leveling these into the even more diverse mix of automation technologies that is the automation fabric. This is not an easy ask.
Likely, buyers in the market for automation technology will need to look for ways to consolidate and streamline their automation capabilities—while ensuring that all aspects work seamlessly together.
So what’s the future of robotic process automation? In short, buyers will have to navigate these three changes:
Build an end-to-end strategy for automation that goes beyond RPA: Get tips for success in our Process Automation Guide.
1Gartner, Critical Capabilities for Robotic Process Automation 14 August 2023, Andy Wang Et Al.
2Gartner, Emerging Tech Impact Radar: Hyperautomation 28 March 2023, Cathy Tornbohm Et Al.
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