Robotic Process Automation: the next big trend in enterprise digitalisation?

As investment in Robotic Process Automation increases, could it be the great new wave of enterprise technology?

Investors are pouring funds into Robotic Process Automation businesses, sending their valuations sky high. New York-based UiPath's valuation has risen from $70m two years ago to a staggering $6.4bn this spring. Silicon-valley based Automation Anywhere raised $550m from investors last year and is valued at $2.3bn. Meanwhile, the UK's Blue Prism has a market capitalisation of $1.5bn.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) software carries out mundane office tasks such as processing invoices and answering email enquiries. RPA software plugs directly into a computer monitor and replicates the work of a human employee, but with far greater accuracy and speed and for a third of the price.

Gartner says that RPA is becoming the fastest growing segment in enterprise software as organisations in finance, insurance and government look to automation to save costs and speed up operations. RPA's market revenue grew 63% to $850m in 2018 and is expected to grow hit $1.3bn in 2019. 

Combining RPA with AI and ML

For some, this latest trend in automation is unremarkable, just another step forward in the digitisation of business processes. RPA's revenues may be growing fast, but are tiny compared to other software sectors. They see RPA as relatively unexciting, a blunt instrument for automating simple office tasks. But the technology is increasingly using artificial intelligence and machine learning to carry out complex, multi-level processes. 

As analyst Marc Hardwick at TechMarketView says: "I don't think RPA in itself is a genuinely transformative technology. But when you start to couple it with some other areas, particularly artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud-based technologies, you have something which is quite transformative."

RPA is effective at handling structured data such as invoices and order-processing, but it has struggled with semi-structured or unstructured data from emails, letters or phone calls which don't follow a standard format. Adding in advanced technology helps broaden RPA's capabilities.

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